Prey is, if nothing else,a game that treads a well beaten path without making much of an atempt to set itself apart. It’s a little hard to describe without sounding like some kind of snob. But I’m going to try anyway. Prey is a game that shares nothing in common with the Xbox darling “Prey” from back in the day. A game about a native American trying to work through his alcoholism and family issues while aliens abduct the human race to use as food. But back on point.
In the 2017 Prey you play someone with no real memory waking up in a space station. You’ve had a special thing implanted in your skull that lets you learn new abilities like hacking. You then have to use those new abilities, and the plumbers wrench you found, to fight or sneak past the monsters who have taken over and destroyed the station while a female AI- yeah you guessed it. It’s System Shock 2 with a massive graphical upgrade and a few details changed. I don’t mean it’s really similar either, I mean its basically exactly the same thing minus the brain monkeys. (The 90’s were weird okay.). You don’t know what System shock 2 is? It’s a game that was made by looking glass technologies back in the late 90’s and was a huge success back in the day. If you’ve played Bioshock you’ve played a streamlined version of System Shock.
Now, lets get something straight. As I’ve said in the past, imitation without understanding is not a guaranteed path to success. However, if you have to imitate its probably best you imitate something good in the first place. Of course, if you try to imitate something someone else has already done you run the risk of becoming dull. And I would say that’s what’s going on with Prey. But it’s not! As it turns out, Prey isn’t ripping anything off, so much as its being made by the original team. Meaning its less an issue with not understanding your competition and more an issue with banking on nostalgia for something that got left behind for a reason.
That’s right, the people from “Looking Glass Studios” who developed the original System shock series were hired by the current developer, Arkane Studios, to make this. And its not only apparent in the story, but in a lot of game play design. Including an unwieldy inventory management system and in-depth stat customization for most things and even a research screen in your player HUD. In fact the only real difference I’ve noticed is the aesthetic.
But this leaves us with some big issues. Since this game is basically System Shock 2, and the Bioshock series (at least for the first game) is the spiritual successor to the System Shock series, doesn’t that mean its basically Bioshock and just purely more of the same? Well, yes and no. Truth be told Bioshock has done what most game series need to do. Innovate, in both story and game play, changing from the previous game as you continue down the line of sequels. But, because the early series still exists and isn’t that old well, its still completion. And thus where nostalgia becomes a double edged sword. True, copying the success of a massively popular series from back in the day guarantees some semblance of fun and income, but it means you have to compete with it, and with everything that came after it.
So, case closed . Its basically just System Shock 2 and Bioshock and henceforth deserves no one ever enjoying it or a place in the market. Well, no. Its not that simple. Let’s be honest, the late 90’s were a long time ago, and as I’ve said before Bioshock was just a stream-lined version of it and not a complete copy of it. So it is different enough to warrant a real and actual look at and score. Because, while I might be old enough to remember all this, not everyone in gaming is going to find it an issue. There is a younger crowd out there after all. They haven’t played System Shock and just throwing the name around isn’t going to give them a great idea of what this is.
So let’s look at it as it’s own IP, instead of judging it purely with nostalgia goggles on. Because System Shock 2 was so great, that must mean this game being just like it, is also great. Right? Well, again I have to say not so much. Part of what helped Bioshock be amazing was the fact it dropped a lot of what System Shock did poorly. And just copying System Shock means once again we get a lot of the same problems.
Wide open maps designed to let the player wander and explore can be nice, but it means story pacing suffers. The inventory that anyone who played Resident Evil 4 will recognize is also back as well. Meaning item management is back to being a chore and taking up a decent chunk of time. The new edition of recyclers to convert garbage into resources is nice at first, but you’re going to find yourself shackled to it and constantly heading back because a random lemon peel you picked up is stopping you from grabbing a gun and the only sensible thing is to trek back to your office and grind it up to bio matter cubes instead of just tossing it away. And that’s not sarcasm, biomatter cubes make health kits.
The combat also feels a bit as stiff too. Where the numbers attached to your gun and suit are more important then your skills at running around and using them. Also I know this isn’t a big thing but there’s a lot of glass. Like, a LOT of glass. To the point I thought the station was actually manufacturing glass as a side business.
In the end I could waffle on for pages and pages more about this game. That’s how on the fence I am. But in the end it does need a rating. To put it bluntly, while it does have all the afore mentioned problems. I like it enough that I plan to keep playing it and finish it. And while that’s not the sign of a game ready to change the industry around it, it does mean it must be doing something right. So 3 out of 5 stars. An average game and a testament to the fact nostalgia doesn’t go as far as it used to, in a market flooded with competitors willing to innovate.