Space is a goldmine for any aspiring horror writer, with countless elements, which immediately work in the genre's favour. You have characters that can be immediately trapped with the monster, very limited supplies and no end of entertaining ways to die. Prey seems to realise this, as it provides one of the most hostile and chilling settings seen since Alien: Isolation. You have guns, you have powers, but in the face of what you're fighting that means very little.
Set on a space station intended to study potential cures and creations to benefit humanity, you play as the director of research, Morgan Yu. However, upon awakening aboard the station one day, you find that everything has gone to hell. Bodies are drifting in the void and a mysterious alien force has claimed the station for itself. Now it's up to you to survive and uncover the mysteries of this place.
Prey is a game where you can see every influence cropping up, from the classic releases to the modern titles. From stat description alone you can already sense the System Shock inspiration kicking in, and the more art-deco elements present definitely brings to mind Bioshock more than once. What helps to definitely offset this is that the game does play with a few of the ideas, and those it mimics it executes well enough to forgive this potential flaw. You might be stabbing yourself in the eye with a superpower-inducing drug with a dark secret, but the secret itself and how it is presented proves to be very different from what you might expect.
The same elements or terror are present, with enemies constantly hounding your every step as you head about the base, but the style of fear it inspires is distinctly different. There's a constant sense of paranoia cast by the deep flickering shadows in many areas, and your limited supplies mean that - while you can fight back - it is often a costly affair. Many enemies have been made so that you're forced to constantly watch your back as a fight could break out at almost any moment. That lamp over there? It could be a very powerful mimic hiding in plain sight. Those bodies? A hiding alien could easily manipulate and bring them back to life, even moments after you killed them. Even once you do start to get to grips with taking them down, the resident invincible mini-boss shows up to slap you about, until you can briefly fight it off or simply hide until it retreats.
Surprisingly for such a big budget release, Prey also proves to be extremely rewarding of creative thinking, ingenuity and even breaking the rules. While Arkane proved that they can create fantastic worlds, this one takes it to the next level, allowing you to adjust and adapt your abilities at every turn. For example, you can use your abilities to remove certain memories from a foe to turn a situation in your favour, and even precision shots with a nerf gun can allow you to remotely type keys into a terminal. While there are rules, which have been set up here, you can always find ways around them.
Unfortunately there are a few failings that cannot be ignored. At first glance the story seems extremely clichéd and one-note, and it takes quite some time for you to truly get to grips with it. What's more, many of the ideas present are delivered with some unfortunately heavy handed elements which makes it harder to notice the more nuanced ideas at first; a problem which is only made worse when it's later revealed that quite a few seemingly major choices were largely arbitrary in the grand scheme of things.
However, the big ones here stem largely from odd blind spots in the PC port, which are more irritating rather than truly game breaking. The UI for starters features a number of very bizarre elements which run counter to the game's actual functionality, and the game settings can't be saved if the .cfg file they are pathed to features non-Latin letters. Equally, the inventory design itself is excellent, but you bump into oddities, such as how it starts glitching when full and can often outright refuse to stack items in one pile when you automatically grab them. None of these are game breakers (and nothing here even comes close to Dishonored 2's problems) but they're things which start to weigh down on you after a few hours, after you're forced to repeatedly stop and fix what shouldn't be a problem in the first place.
As a result of all this, Prey might not be quite the revolutionary experience some predicted it would be, but nevertheless hits all the right notes to be a great space borne horror experience. If you're starved of Dead Space and looking for something new to satisfy that itch, then definitely take a look at this one.
PREY / DEVELOPER: ARKANE STUDIOS / PUBLISHER: BETHESDA SOFTWORKS / PLATFORMS: MICROSOFT WINDOWS, PLAYSTATION 4, XBOX ONE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW