If you didn’t know, you can play a free demo for Prey (2017), Arcane Studios’ reboot to the 2006 FPS of the same name.
If you also didn’t know, Arcane Studios are the developers of the Dishonoured franchise, so it’s exciting to see them be given a new title to work on. Arcane are known for creating games that allow creativity through the numerous and interconnected mechanics they implement. Prey, with its focus on skill-trees and divergent paths to complete missions, promises to be much of the same.
What is most resounding is the resemblance to Bioshock (2007) and this is no bad thing. Prey is set in a retro-futuristic world where President Kennedy was never assassinated and the space programme went on to achieve feats never previously imagined.
You play as Morgan Yu and, after a brief introduction to the TranStar Corporation, you find yourself exploring the Talos1 space-station which is over-run by an alien species, with only a voice at the end of a radio-transmitter to guide you. Sound familiar? Swap space station for underwater city, and the alien species with the crazed denizens of Rapture, and it is exactly how Bioshock begins. You even start with a wrench as the first weapon.
The distinction is that, despite the retro-futuristic design, Bioshock’s Rapture differs significantly to the Talos1 space station of Prey. Where Rapture was a city long ruined, its inhabitants well into their state of crazed, degradation, Talos1 is undergoing this process. Arcane have also displayed their talent for world building which we have seen in the Dishonored franchise. This is achieved by traditional story-telling methods such as audio-diaries and computer-logs, but a strong sense of atmosphere is also achieved by an eerie, sci-fi soundtrack, and visual cues by way of level design. There is a palpable sense that something isn’t quite right and Arcane Studios are none-too-keen to give anything away, at least at such an early stage into the narrative. You spend your time asking the questions that they want you to ask: What happened here? Why am I here? And most pertinently: What are the motives of the TranStar Corporation?
Level design is also exceptional, at least from the opening area I played. Arcane have done a great job at drip-feeding information to you by way of the audio-diaries and computer logs. They also leave it up to you on how to achieve objectives. Early on, you are tasked with finding your way to the next room, and the game prompts you to either search for the key-card, or find an alternate route. Whilst it is too early to give a definite comment on how well this style of gameplay will be implemented overall, it is a promising start.
There were a few quibbles. On the PS4 demo I played, there was some input-lag which caused a delay between me using the controller and the game completing my command. As such, gun-play felt sluggish as a result and, given that the game has a combat-heavy approach, this dampened the experience. Also, the audio-cue that indicates a combat scenario is about to be triggered will sometimes begin randomly or continue long after combat has finished. It adds a sense of tension to the proceedings, but unintentionally so. Let’s hope that Arcane can resolve these issues before the game launches on 5th May 2017.
Arcane Studios have also moved away from the Void Engine, designed specifically for Dishonored 2 (2016) and have made use of Cry Engine to create the world of Talos1. Whilst this certainly makes for an attractive game, Cry Engine has a bit of a mixed history on consoles and this shows with the load times for Prey. That said, in-game performance is smooth, offering a consistent 30fps on PS4. However, this could vary on Xbox One, which we have not tested.
Overall, this is a promising first impression from Arcane Studios but based on what I’ve seen, Prey won’t be one of 2017’s most innovative games. They haven’t done anything that hasn’t been featured in previous games, but that shouldn’t serve to be a detriment. It may use dated mechanics and story-telling devices, but it uses these extremely well. In short, it could very well be its most intriguing game of the year.