With the reboot of Prey on the horizon, I was pleasantly surprised to find out it had a demo available. I was curious about it after spying a trailer or two, but was hesitant seeing that the developer was Arkane Studios as I haven’t been a fan of their previous work, but I could look past that. You begin by waking up in your apartment with your brother telling you to get aboard the helicopter he has waiting for you. After a long-winded cinematic scene that feels like it was lifted from Mirror’s Edge, you finally touch down and can get to the meat of the demo.
You’re hurried through a series of rooms where you’re made to perform tasks of the scientists choosing. All is well in science-land when suddenly everything goes to hell, due to the head scientist drinking a delicious cup of mimic. (An alien life form capable of absorbing the essence of any biological being it attacks and multiplying itself.) Basically, shadow headcrabs. Not to be outmatched, you inhale a large amount of succulent gas before waking up the next morning with everything just the way it was. With your newfound knowledge, you break out of your apartment and into the space station in crisis.
Now, with only an unidentified voice to guide you, you go from point to point armed with only your trusty Rapture-forged wrench (for a while) with the ever-present threat of the mimics looming over you. But this is where it lost me. The idea of an enemy that can seamlessly blend into any environment by becoming it sounds perfect, and as a concept it is. But I feel the execution is pitiful. Each and every time one springs into action, the game makes the same old horror-movie sting noise in a cheap attempt to scare you while the enemy itself just kinda staggers around wondering whether or not to attack you.
The combat itself lacks impact both in animation and raw numbers. Strikes feel soft and the execution animation for the wrench is nothing short of hysterical, it looks like you gently squish the mimic with the flat side of the wrench as opposed to brutally crushing its guts out. Ammo is rare and the guns are intentionally inaccurate, all the while you can be struck from afar since mimics can stretch themselves. Same with the GLOO gun. You take more damage faffing about with the damn thing than you would have if you’d just sprinted in swinging like a maniac. Irritatingly, the wrench is the ONLY weapon you’re not allowed to upgrade.
Prey also doesn’t want to let go of its Dishonored roots and it feels horribly forced. Your character is capable of scaling huge objects and jumping like he’s on the moon (providing you hold jump otherwise you fall like a rock). There’s an awkward section where (with another pop-up) it announces you can “play the game your way” by getting past a door with either a keycard or by taking the vent up on the side of a wall. It feels insignificant, either way you can achieve in a matter of seconds. The door could simply be open like the rest but it’s fearful to let go of elements that worked in other games.
You could argue this is just to encourage exploration to which I’d argue it does a bad job. I missed about half of the content of the demo on my first run just because I forgot my average man was actually Corvo from Dishonored. One area of the demo can only be reached by jumping over a staircase rail and running alongside a tiny ledge suspended 20ft in the air to reach another part of the station. From there you can find a key card to enter more areas including one with a mini-boss which can instakill you. After much effort I defeated it and my reward was a throwaway collectible and ammo for a gun I didn’t have in the demo.
Finally, I’d like to point out my gripe with neuromods, your way of leveling up in the game. There are plenty of mechanics available to the player, lifting and moving stuff around, hacking, repairing etc. But, at least in the demo, you’re shut out of a LOT of options due to not having a point in the necessary skill. It pushes the “play how you like” thing yet it can be so limiting. You can have an idea for getting past a problem only to be shut out and it’s infuriating. It feels like it’s trying to walk in Bioshock’s footsteps but without the ability to mix and match any ability you could possibly need. It’s a shame, really.
So, yeah… Not too impressed.