For those unfamiliar with Arkane Studio’s upcoming sci-fi thriller Prey, it’s a reboot of the 2006 game of the same name. This time around things are very different, Arkane is focusing on branching story arcs and multiple endings similar to their other series Dishonored. In fact, a great deal of the game is building upon the successes of last year’s Dishonored 2, both mechanically and visually. This is another step in Arkane Studio’s mission to etch out and master a particular style in the AAA game scene that’s unique to them. Similar to how Naughty Dog has dominated the third-person adventure genre with Uncharted and The Last of Us, Arkane Studios has their sights set on dominating first-person adventures where characters, world-building and player choice drive the experience both with their breakout Dishonored games and now Prey.
It’s all about Yu
Of the many features being lifted from Dishonored 2 is a particularly great one. Prey will let players choose to play through the entirety of its campaign as either a male or a female version of the game’s protagonist: Morgan Yu.
This is an incredible move by the studio towards a more inclusive and representative approach to character design. More often than not the main character of AAA games is the archetypical Whitey McStubbly, and even when there are other races represented they are almost never female. But Prey will be one of the only AAA games ever made, along with EA’s poorly selling but critically loved Mirror’s Edge, to star an Asian woman as its lead. This is great news as in all aspects of our popular culture, movies, television and especially games, Asian representation is abysmal at best.
A lot of work from the team is going into ensuring that all kinds of players can relate to Morgan Yu. “We wanted you to identify with the character as much as possible,” said Creative Director Raphael Colantonio. “We did not want to impose personalities such as the ‘cocky extrovert’ or the ‘cynical introvert’” (Source). This is one of the key reasons that there is a male and female version of Morgan Yu, more than half of those who play games are women so it stands to reason that giving the option would be in line with not wanting to impose anything on the player (Source).
“The player has a large role in defining who Morgan is. Morgan is at a point in her life where she is having an identity crisis, and it’s up to the player to help guide Morgan along one path or another to define which version of Morgan you want to see.
“Morgan’s choices matter. How Morgan treats the people around her, and what Morgan does to respond to the aliens invading the station matter.” -Seth Shain, Lead Systems Designer
Story Driven, Thrilling Sci-Fi
The premise of Prey is incredibly interesting as a fan of space, alternate history and science fiction. The game is set in a world where Kennedy survived his infamous 1963 assassination and poured loads of government funding into America’s space program, making it flourish. This rapid development garners the attention of alien life and an alien collective known as the Typhon attack Earth. Teaming up with the U.S.S.R., America fends off the attack and actually enslaves the Typhon. Using their advanced technology, America manages to build the setting of Prey- the space station Talos I- a prison for the Typhon. But after a fatal incident involving some scientists aboard, the U.S. closes the facility, leaving it dormant… until now.
“You’re at the centre of an experiment that’s meant to alter what it means to be human.” – Ricardo Bare, Lead Designer (Source)
After several years, the privately owned TranStar Corporation buys the Talos I to begin their own experiments using neuroscience to harness the power of the Typhon. This ambiguous premise has me very excited to jump into Yu’s shoes and explore the mysterious space station on which she is stranded. From the demo, it seems that the scientists aboard the Talos I were attempting to manipulate matter in a way that would enable humans to enhance themselves giving them superhuman abilities… a similar premise to another series I’m very fond of, BioShock.
The vibes I got from Prey were very similar to the way I felt playing through the BioShock series back in 2013 and most recently last year in the PS4 collection. Alone in a flickering dark, being guided by a single voice through my radio is a familiar and equally disturbing experience in Rapture as it now is aboard the Talos I. Erratic enemies reminded me a lot of BioShock‘s Splicers, as I encountered them more and more I became better at discerning their patterns and dealing with them swiftly. Rummaging through drawers and garbage bins to get food, ammo and supplies is like second nature to someone who’s played through the BioShock games. And you even pick up a wrench as your first weapon!
The atmosphere in Prey feels eerily similar to BioShock. Whereas in BioShock you were leagues under the sea in Rapture, in Prey you are aboard a space station orbiting the moon. They’re both dark, strange settings outside of the realm of possibility yet still believable- that’s what makes them so effective. Talos feels like something humanity could produce in the year 2035 and something humanity could also ruin by playing god with science. And that’s exactly what happens.
It was… Aliens
The main enemy encountered in the demo were these teleporting creatures known as Mimics. Mimics are terrifying. They can take the form of everyday objects like coffee mugs or chairs and then jump out at you with a burst of scary music. They force you to look very carefully at your environment. What may look like an ordinary cubicle is actually a little off, there’s two office chairs. I smacked the one with my wrench and it turned out to be the mimic pretending to be an office chair, but because I noticed something was off I had the upper hand. Prey awards the attentive player, if someone were to blindly walk into that cubicle they’d be ambushed by the terrifying creature.
The music and sound design are absolutely on point. The electronic rhythms carry Morgan through every hallway, every room on this space station. There’s a poignant clash of electronic sounds and harsh percussion when a mimic jumps out that makes the game genuinely scary. I jumped several times during my short demo when the sound of a mimic materializing pounded into my ears. These moments are complemented by the way that the designers played with the lighting, it made scares that much more impactful. I had to back away from my small 24″ monitor several times because it was too much. I can’t imagine playing on a giant television, I would’ve probably cried.
Even though the demo is only the first hour it was all I needed to get sold on Prey. Whereas Dishonored‘s steampunk, Victorian England setting never really did it for me the core mechanics of player choice and an adapting story was incredibly compelling. Now to have those mechanics in a sci-fi thriller whose story and setting has me desperate to uncover the truth is all I need to get me hyped. Prey launches on PS4, PC and Xbox One this Friday, May 5th.