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Prey: I Think I'm Paranoid

What a marvelous time to be a science fiction fan. Cinema has seen something of a genre renaissance in the last decade or so; we've seen lots of movies that forgo obvious and safe routes in favor of riskier, smarter storytelling. Moon, Inception, Gravity, and Ex Machina come to mind, but this year alone will see the release of two films directly linked to a couple of fantastic Ridley Scott originals. I'm in hog heaven over here. Say what you will, but I loved Prometheus and am almost incontinent with excitement over Alien: Covenant. And as for Blade Runner 2049, well, let's just say that I believe Denis Villeneuve is capable of delivering on 35 years of expectation and speculation.

Video games are also representing the genre quite well this year. Horizon: Zero Dawn and NieR: Automata started 2017 off with a series of bangs. But in less than a week, Bethesda Softworks will throw their hat into the ring, capping off what has been easily the strongest first quarter the video game industry has seen in years, if not decades. A demo featuring the first hour of Prey, Arkane Studios' newest game, has landed on Xbox Live and PlayStation Network. First impressions are strong. Very strong.

It's vitally important that you experience the opening moments of Prey for yourself; going into detail would ruin it. The events that transpire in the first twenty minutes? You do not want them spoiled. By me or anyone else. So I refuse to do so. Just play it.

Here's the extent of what I'm willing to share. It's the year 2032 of an alternate timeline in which John F. Kennedy survived his assassination attempt and doubled down on the space program. While the human race on Earth made some headway towards understanding the final frontier, we in turn were noticed by the Typhon, a hostile collective of alien species possessive of seemingly limited intelligence, but obviously incredible powers. Mankind somehow managed to get the extraterrestrial menace under control, and through the power of the private sector, are now developing ways for people to acquire and use abilities once thought exclusive to the Typhon.

You are Dr. Morgan Yu, a scientist in the employ of TranStar, a research and development megacorporation who does the legwork to get exactly those results. And your workplace is Talos-1, a massive space station in low orbit around the Moon. Due to events prior to the beginning of the game, you've suffered near-total memory loss. But that's the least of your worries; the Typhon have broken free of their containment and alternate between wantonly slaughtering the personnel and multiplying. You're low on facts and short on friends, but it turns out someone is looking out for you, and it's a more familiar face than you might expect...

Prey wears its inspirations on its sleeve; if you look closely, you can see embroidered in allcaps: System Shock 2. Yes, the legendary cyberpunk series is finally getting both a remake of its first outing and a third installment, but imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And while we did see something of a spiritual successor in the BioShock franchise, Prey seems much closer in both tone and mechanics to those great originals, at least based on my experience so far. If you're a fan of shooters with role-playing elements, Prey is likely going to be up your alley.

Take, for instance, character growth and inventory management. First off, you don't have bottomless pockets or the ability to hold tons and tons of random stuff. Inventory is handled via a grid-based system, just like in System Shock. But while what you can carry is important, what you can do is perhaps more so. A series of special trees govern Morgan's abilities in Science, Engineering, and Security. By utilizing special (read: horrific) devices called Neuromods, Morgan can instantly learn a skill, increase proficiencies, and more. But what's so horrific about the Neuromod, you ask? The medium through which that knowledge is forcibly imparted is a needle. That you stick through your eye and into your brain.

And that's hardly the most unsettling thing about Prey. You remember how I mentioned that the Typhon have special powers? Well, one of the most common Typhon organisms is capable of camouflaging itself to resemble any inanimate object. From your first encounter with a Mimic, the entire experience is completely suffused with dread. You will trust nothing. That suitcase in the corner? That coffee cup on the counter? That discarded banana peel on the floor? All of those have the potential to transform into a spidery mass of black goo and try to kill you. Have fun.

All of Talos-1 is your playground in Prey, though, given the circumstances, that might be a generous way to describe poor Morgan's predicament. Arkane have referred to this game as "open station," a description that will likely lend itself well to smart quest design and diverse environments. While it seems to draw inspiration from games like BioShock, it will clearly lack the linearity of the 2007 classic, its sequel, and... whatever the hell Infinite was. And where human ingenuity and resource fails, technology will likely be there to pick up the slack; between the station's Intranet and AI-driven constructs called Operators, Morgan is hardly alone. Of course, that might not be such a good thing in hindsight...

Prey's credentials cannot go unnoticed; from the direction of Raphael Colantonio (co-creator of Dishonored), the music of Mick Gordon (Doom), and the writing of industry legend Chris Avellone (Planescape: Torment), there's an awful lot of A-grade talent at work on this game.

As much as we would like to (but for reasons beyond our control), we will unfortunately not have a Prey review ready for you on day one. But do check back; we'll do our best to keep you updated on this extremely promising release.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos
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