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This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Prey.

Transcript Edit

I wonder how far they're willing to push this. I'm already having to call the Sequel Police every time they reboot an old game and not change the title, and now look. The first game to be named Prey isn't particularly old and, more to the point, is somewhere on the low end of bugger-all to do with this new game called Prey. Watch it, Bethesda; this is the kind of bullshit that brings down the Sequel Feds!

All right, both games are about alien invasions, but by that logic, it might as well have been called Space Invaders Episode 973. This really goes to show how utterly allergic these bean-counting, creatively bankrupt loaves of chunky shite are to new ideas: they had a perfectly acceptable original IP and still felt the need to slap on whatever pre-existing name they could find clinging to the side of the rubbish chute. Prey 2017's more of a spiritual successor to System Shock 2 than Prey 2006, not to be confused with the official spiritual successor to System Shock 2, BioShock; or Doom 3; or Dead Space; or basically every sci-fi horror game since 1999. Blimey, how many spiritual successors does one game need?! There'll be bloodshed at the reading of the will, I'll tell you that.

Prey 2017 - God, that's awkward to say, but Prey '17 sounds too much like a teen gossip mag - gains a few spiritual successor points by having basically the same plot as System Shock 2 as well: there's a spaceship, the crew encountered something alien, some kinky weirdo got it into their head to put the alien thing inside themselves, and now you've woken up on the ship with no memory and have to piece together what happened and firmly discipline the newly-monsterized crew by bonking them with a wrench. There's also plenty of influence from BioShock on display in that the whole place has a retro aesthetic about it like you're trapped inside an episode of Tomorrow's World from the 70's, you upgrade your character and skills by taking a foreign device and doing something harrowing to your soft, fleshy parts, and there's a bit of a moral choice thing going on, but don't panic; it's the sneaky kind of moral choice mechanic that creeps in so gradually, you barely notice, like a beetle in a package of liquorice allsorts. But whether you're good or bad, you're always the kind of person who searches every cabinet in the kitchen and then eats eighteen bananas in five seconds like a video of your mum on fast-forward. Another game I'm reminded of is The Evil Within, because Prey also opens with a somewhat interesting setpiece that's largely fuck-all to do with the rest of the game, but bollocks to it; maybe the hype videos will sell a few more copies. Get past that, and the game proper begins.

Your character is Yu. Morgan Yu, that is: scientist-executive-let's-face-it-probably-responsible-for-this-whole-mess-type person, and roughly the first direction you're given is a little note from your previous self instructing you to feed the cat and pick up some corn flakes, and if there's any time left, maybe think about blowing up the entire station to save Earth from the alien menace. Hey, fuck you, myself! You don't know me! Maybe while I'm going through the extraordinarily prolonged process of unlocking the self-destruct, I'll explore the vessel, meet survivors, and learn more about the backstory so at the end of all this, I can make an informed choice on whether I want to blow everything to space-Hell or find a less drastic solution, like hold the alien menace down and make it watch Independence Day on a loop for three days.

So since Breath of the Wild is so popular with the kids these days, open-endedness is back in fashion, and Prey is strutting up and down that catwalk with an enthusiastic goosestep. When the introduction's over, the game informs us we have the run of the entire ship, except for all the locked parts. But what's neat is that you can leave an airlock, explore the entire ship's exterior, and re-enter it by any airlock you want, though, hang on, they're all locked as well. All right, it's not that open-ended, and besides, I didn't see much point in exploring beyond where I had to go for the main missions because monsters continually respawn, a chest of drawers can only be looted once, and I wasn't convinced that I'd find more resources than I'd use up going walkabouts. Ammunition is always scarce, even though you can load armfuls of kitchen appliances and medical equipment into the recycler and turn them into more ammo as part of a rather on-the-nose metaphor for recent changes in American foreign policy, because at least early on, I was going through pistol ammo like a boarding school dormitory goes through tissues the night after free Wi-Fi is installed.

Combat took me a while to get a handle on, the way one gets a handle on a horse when the vet with the big testicle-clippers closes in. Like BioShock combat, it gets very chaotic very fast. It loves taking you by surprise; the starting enemy is a mimic that can disguise itself as small objects, so you're merrily searching a desk for old Dictaphones and breast milk pumps when a mug jumps up and sticks its tongue down your throat, then it runs out of your field of view and starts nibbling your bum while you blindly spin around looking for it, smashing your wrench about, and you feel like a gorilla in a phone booth with a wasp. The next enemy zips about like a nervous party host and has a really hard-to-avoid projectile attack that chops up your health bar like a fun-size Snickers.

On that note, Prey just can't get enough of murdering me without warning; I'm sure it never stops being funny for it. "Oops, the enemy created a big bomb right next to you where you didn't look and it didn't have line of sight. Why didn't you dodge it, you loser? Oh, you thought you could increase your spacesuit's thrust speed and lightly brush against a wall? Dead! That's what we do to Hurrying Harolds. Oh, what's this now? You're trying to walk across an empty room? I think someone forgot to stay at least ten feet away from broken electrical panels. Zap!" Blimey, was that built by the same contractor that made the consoles on the starship Enterprise? But the combat, at least, I eventually figured out; all you have to do is stick fistfuls of alien drugs in your face until you can psychic-beam all the motherfuckers to death, remember where all the robots are that restore your psi-points for free, and quicksave like a twitchy drinking bird toy. And Prey is, in all aspects, a game that you have to figure out, which I suppose is to its credit. It will be no bad thing to my mind if the trend for vaguely retro-style open-ended game world structuring continues; it's all tasty millet seed for the exploration parakeet.

Once it gets going, Prey is an effective enough self-contained action-RPG. What it isn't is an effective horror game. Part of it's the way most of the ship's lit up like a fucking IKEA showroom, but I think a lot of it's the old Arkane Studios character problem again. I'm not saying there's been no improvement; it's not as bad as Dishonored, the "Old Dunwall Most Monotone Voice" competition, but what survivors are on Talos I don't act much like their former friends and crewmates are having their nostrils split by space horrors two rooms over. They come across like they're just having a bad day at work. "Urgh, Mr. Henderson was in a foul mood this morning. I only stopped in to drop off the figures and then he tried to dissolve my arms and legs off with his acid-spitting maw."

Addenda Edit

  • Predator and prey: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
  • I just think that any consumer-grade pharmaceutical that you take by shoving a spike in your eye wouldn't make it past market research
  • "Prey 17" also sounds too much like an instruction for Catholic priests
Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
Q4 Halo 3 · Tabula Rasa · The Orange Box · Super Paper Mario · Medal of Honor: Airborne · The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass · Clive Barker's Jericho · F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate · Assassin's Creed · Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock · Mass Effect
2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
Q3 Webcomics · Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures · Alone in the Dark · Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures · The E3 Trailer Park · Ninja Gaiden II · Prince of Persia Retrospective · Soulcalibur IV · Braid · EVE Online · Too Human · Spore · XBLA Double Bill
Q4 Mercenaries 2: World in Flames · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed · S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky · Silent Hill: Homecoming · Saints Row 2 · Dead Space · Fable II · Fallout 3 · Guitar Hero: World Tour · Mirror's Edge · Left 4 Dead · Sonic Unleashed · The Year in Review - 2008 · Prince of Persia
2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
Q3 The Sims 3 · Ghostbusters: The Video Game · Overlord 2 · Red Faction Guerrilla · Wii Sports Resort · Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood · The Conduit · Silent Hill 2 · 2.5-D Hoedown · Tales of Monkey Island · Wolfenstein · Batman: Arkham Asylum · Beatles Rock Band & Guitar Hero 5 · Darkest of Days
Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey

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