A wrench, a needle to the skin, and the creeping knowledge that you have but a veneer of understanding. All pieces of 2007’s legendary first-person shooter, BioShock, and all highlights of my hands-on time with Arkane Studios’ Prey.
Prey takes on the name of Human Head Studios’ original 2006 game, and adopts little else from the title outside of a sci-fi theme. Arkane is building a new adventure, set in a near-future space station and surrounding scientist Morgan Yu.
Stepping into Morgan’s shoes is instantly engrossing thanks to a detailed world built much like that of Arkane’s Dishonored series. Computers and countertops are filled with lore text, at first made of family greetings and well wishes. Morgan Yu is living comfortably as a scientific subject on the Talos I. His apartment is filled with booze and personal amenities. He puts on his suit and goes to work on today’s innocuous experiments.
But as you keep reading, Prey’s truth changes.
Morgan Yu is a head of TranStar, a company enacting dangerous experiments with alien genetics and human brains. His apartment is filled with props and two-way glass. He puts on his suit and picks up a wrench next to the desiccated corpse outside his enclosure.
Morgan Yu isn’t sure who he is as he swings through the Typhon swarm overtaking the suddenly panicked station, but two conflicting voices over his radio want to help. The mysterious January and Morgan’s own brother ring in my ear as I travel, their detached faces hovering in the corner of my screen. They each have explanations for the experiments that have wracked Morgan’s memory over the last months, for the mortal state of Talos I, and for Morgan’s involvement in it all — the lucid Morgan of the far past, or maybe confused test subject Morgan of the last months, or maybe the blank slate of a Morgan now at my hands.
As January phones in with instructions, Morgan enters the station’s golden lobby, the stepping stone into Prey’s open world. Its rooms, corridors, and even the zero-gravity outdoors are one contiguous playground connected by a variety of pathways. The broken elevator can be repaired and used to access a new weapon, the security booth can be hacked for bonus loot. Optional labs lie below my feat, housing test subjects and dark Phantoms that mutter Morgan’s name in passing.
Travelling through these places, I became quite personal with what seems to be Prey’s iconic enemy: the mimic. These spider-like shadows operate by an unpredictable AI that allows them to take the form of any physics object in the room. Nearby coffee cups and trash bins could launch at your head as you pass by, but more thrilling are the moments where, at the slight open of a door, a handful of mimics jump in panic and warp into their disguises. I hear them mutter as I step inside, squinting at countertops and taking only half breaths.
Aliens serve as more than a never ending source of anxiety and a few jump scares, both of which craft a dreadfully successful tension. Morgan can eventually imbue himself with their powers via eyeball injections, risking his identity as a human in return for strength. Those who forego more extreme genetic splicing can flesh out his human traits, growing more proficient in hacking, stealth, and more.
Prey’s premise largely revolves around identity, in ways that make thoughts of BioShock unshakable for me. What does a man become without his own memories? What can he become with the instruction of some unknowable voices? The answers will lie in how far you will go to acquire new powers, and what Morgan you become as you wrench smash your way to answers.