One of my favorite things about being an avid gamer is when a developer manages to create a new and interesting experience. Playing around with a novel gameplay element for the first time can set the tone for an entire game. Valve probably nailed this feeling best with Portal and it’s namesake dynamic, but they aren’t the only team of devs that come to mind in this respect. I crack a smile just thinking about the amount of fun I had pouring over documents in Papers Please, or arguing over bucket placement strategies in Viscera Cleanup Detail. Arkane Studios managed to tap into this sentiment with their new sci-fi horror FPS, Prey.
Arkane is no stranger to the FPS genre, having previously crushed it with the critically acclaimed Dishonored and Dishonored 2. Extra points to the devs for resisting the urge to add colons and subtitles to their game titles. That shit got old a long time ago, somewhere around Call of Duty: Generic-Adjective Violent-Noun-Attempting-to-Glorify-the-Horrible-Realities-of-War. I digress though, as Prey suffers from its own title related shortcomings. Specifically, why is this game called Prey? Was there some underground movement of secret fans keeping a candle burning for the 2006 Xbox360 predecessor? I’m racking my brain here trying to remember anything memorable from that game beyond the whole “Native American gets abducted by Aliens” premise. There was also the Prey 2 that 3D Realms was working on until it got unceremoniously canned. I distinctly remember an interesting teaser about a human bounty hunter stalking aliens in a cyber-punk esque city.
Setting aside my title quibbling for a moment, I can’t help but notice that Prey borrows heavily from the Dishonored series. The character models have a distinctly…Dishonorey? Dishonest? Dishonorable? –look that you’ll immediately identify if you’ve spent any time with Arkane’s previous hits. The similarities don’t stop there either. Areas and objectives often have multiple different possible routes and solutions for the player to discover, based on their playstyle. It’s the same “play how you want” game mechanic from Dishonored that made it so much fun to romp around Dunwall as Corvo, twice over. I dig it Arkane, and good on you for sticking to your guns.
That’s not the Prey mechanic I wanted to talk about though. No, that honor goes to the enemies; the aptly named “Mimics.” If you’re even a remotely respectable nerd then you’ve run across some form of this monster trope. A creature might have popped up while looting some tomb in DnD, or you probably got eaten alive by something you thought was a treasure chest in Dark Souls. Get the picture? Yeah you do. In Prey, Mimics are alien organisms that have the ability to transform into objects to blend in with the environment. They have other abilities too, but those aren’t nearly as fascinating. It’s an exhilarating take on horror to creep slowly through a room, paying absolute attention to everything in your environment, wondering if either coffee maker or stool has aspirations of murder. You have to look for anything suspicious, or out of the ordinary, that could indicate a Mimic lying in wait to eat your face. I found myself thinking:
Why would there be two office chairs behind that desk?
Does that breakroom have three water coolers? Seems like an unnecessary level of hydration…
Is that garbage can following me?
Why the fuck is there a single roll of toilet paper sitting on a table outside of that cafe? No seriously, who brings their own two ply to Starbucks? That’s not normal. Not in my America!
It’s like they turned hidden objects games into an extreme sport. It’s Where’s Waldo meets Russian roulette and I like it. Outside of Prop Hunt on Garry’s Mod, I’m at a loss to think of a game that made Hide-and-Seek this much fun. Arkane found a new way to keep me on edge and for that, I salute them. Unfortunately, this mechanic feels progressively more underutilized. It’s introduced early, but seems to steadily decline in use as it takes a back seat to the same modern fps adventure cliches we have been saddled with since Bioshock; right down to the back story being revealed through random documents and audio diaries littered about the place. Real Talk: Are all game developers keeping secret audio logs of their hopes, fears, and random thoughts? Does anyone know any janitors at EA that can confirm or deny a constant problem with tape recorders left strewn about their offices? Has anyone told them we muggles don’t really do that?
Hey, I might be wrong though. I’m about eight hours in, and Prey may still find a way to turn things around. I hope so, otherwise I’m going to need to find another way to get my adrenaline packed Hidden Object fix. Reading Highlights in traffic maybe?