Prey is on track for high 8 to low 9 review scores
Bethesda’s upcoming open-world, psychological action game Prey will be one of 2017’s biggest hits.
Unfortunately, you won’t be able to read any final Prey reviews before the game comes out on May 5 on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Bethesda has implemented a widely criticised policy of not letting anyone – including media – get early access to their titles, leaving most consumers blind to a title’s quality on the day of its release.
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And given developer Arkane Studios has earmarked a 20 to 40-hour play experience for Prey, most media outlets – at least those who value quality over traffic - won’t be able to get their reviews live for around two days after its arrival on store shelves.
Prey (2017) on PC from Green Man Gaming
Prey (2017) follows scientist Morgan Wu on a terrifying adventure through the Talos space station where nothing is quite as it seems. Purchase it today from Green Man Gaming.View details
So what then will Prey score?
I have been given multiple opportunities to play a near-finished version of the game, jumping between the early and mid-game content. I’ve also enjoyed lengthy chats with both Arkane’s co-founder Raphael Colantonio, and Prey’s lead designer Riccardo Bare. These experiences have given me an opportunity to understand the premise for the story, its themes and its central mystery. I’ve been able to get a solid grasp of the open world space station environment and to see all the detail found its nooks and crannies. Plus I have got to see how the combat, enemy AI, skill trees and expanding arsenal work together to deepen the core gameplay and the variety of emergent experiences you’ll encounter as you progress.
Based on these experiences, I expect the game will track somewhere around the high 80s, possibility pushing towards a 90, on Metacritic. And here’s why.
The game’s beginning, which some of you may have now experienced via the demo, does a wonderful job of sucking you into the story. Not only does its sleight-of-hand reveal the scale of the world and the situation protagonist Morgan Yu finds herself/himself in, but it paints our hero’s mental state as being questionable at best. The theme of “who am I?” is immediately engrossing, and the idea that somewhere on this vast, open space station there is some sort of answer to this question – one that could be unique to you – is a great tease.
The combat in this opening hour or so does leave a lot to be desired. Early encounters feel cumbersome and not particularly challenging as our hero finds his feet and begins experimenting with the very first abilities and weapons in the game. But this slow start gives the combat a lot of space to scale.
When you jump into the mid-game, it’s out of the frying pan and into the fire. Encounters are genuinely terrifying. You frequently feel underpowered, trying to conjure up ways of combining your abilities, tools, weapons and the surrounding environment into not only an attacking strategy but also a defensive one. I found myself sneaking around corridors, chilled by some of the sounds coming from around the corner and all too aware of my meagre medical supplies. The benefits of scanning enemies to learn more about how they tick throws another curve ball into the mix, encouraging you to get close enough to an enemy to give them a once over without being noticed.
As each new ability and weapon enters your wheelhouse, and the variety of enemies you encounter at the same time increases, the more effective you have to be in your combinations. Meanwhile, the story and general lore are constantly drip fed into the gameplay’s narrative, allowing the world around you to expand both literally and figuratively. When you step into some of the impressively large open areas, the game takes on a metroidvania vibe, leaving you facing inaccessibly areas that you know will later be breached.
But do you have to wait? The game is perfectly fine with you experimenting in its sandbox and going wherever you can think of a way of getting, regardless of whether you are ready for what is on the other side. When you combine all of these elements together, I couldn’t help but feel a connection between this title and BioShock.
Released in 2007, BioShock is easily one of my favourite games of all time, with a Metacritic rating of 96 to match. In addition, Arkane itself is a developer that has earned a reputation for quality, with its previous two Dishonored games both tracking 88 on Metacritic. Publisher and parent company Bethesda also has a great recent track record with Doom (87) and Fallout 4 (88) well-received. I’m not suggesting that a title should be judged on those around it, but its further encouragement that the parts of Prey I have yet to dive into won’t let the experience I have already enjoyed down.
So what remain unknown? Does the story delivers and engages from its premise to its conclusion? Do the additions to your ability and weapon wheel consistently add valuable layers to the gameplay? Does the AI challenge scale with those additions to provide rewarding combat throughout? Can this large open-world environment be consistently filled with meaningful things to do? What are the zero-g sections like: do they add to or distract from the experience? And ultimately, do the decisions you make through the game have a satisfying impact on where the experience takes you?
Yes, those are a lot of unanswered questions, which is why you will have to wait for our full review for a definitive opinion. But based on what I have experienced thus far, Prey is the space-set BioShock I was after, and will likely find itself a score just below Irrational’s industry changing blockbuster. Hopefully, Bethesda’s decision not to let such scores flood into the marketplace ahead of Prey’s release won’t dampened its critical week one success.
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