This is not the piece I was supposed to write about Prey.

I was all set to love Prey. I went in with no expectations in particular. Game trailers had been successfully avoided and I was going in blind. Within the first hour or so of playing I was completely drawn in by the utterly compelling, mindfuck of an opening and I was keen to learn more.

It was a fantastic first impression.

I don’t want to go into too many story specifics with Prey, partly because I don’t want to spoil these amazing twists for people and partly because my incomplete playthrough has left me with only a loose sense of what the story is. Prey is a first-person exploratory horror game, in much the same vein as the original Bioshock. Combat is gun and melee focused, with some wiggle room for superhuman body modifications and multi-purpose tools like the glue gun and nerf dart crossbow. These elements do a lot to aid experimentation and enable players to find what styles of play work for them.

If the kinaesthetics of play draw heavily from the best ideas in Bioshock, then the level design and environmental storytelling will feel very familiar to those who played 2013’s indie darling Gone Home. Like Gone Home, the narrative of Prey is firmly rooted in the past tense. As you explore former office spaces, reading old emails, post-it notes, and office memos as you do so, you start to get a sense of the stories and characters that once grew within these spaces. There are mysteries to be unravelled and histories to be explored. It may not look like it, but what makes Prey compelling to play is a lot like what I imagine makes archaeology a rewarding field of study.

The aesthetic is a neat blend of sci-fi tech disaster and Art Deco office design. It is a world where the tenants of the arts and sciences had found harmony with each other, before being torn apart by the savage forces of nature. It is the greatest imaginings of humanity torn asunder. Most of the game takes place within futuristic workplace, and it sure as hell feels like it. It’s an environment of wood panelling and electronic doors… of punch cards and touch screen monitors. A labyrinth of futuristic laboratories, bronze sculptures, and leather lounges with buttons. Prey is a marvel of interior design and architecture at times. That is, when there aren’t bodies strewn about or hallways on fire. These aren’t just pretty levels. They feel like real places where real people worked together.

If this all sounds great so far, that’s because it is. Or at least it would be, if not for the problems I had. The first problem is that the game feels too long. Reports indicate a first play-through could take anywhere from 30-40 hours to finish. This is about two or three times what I would want it to be. One of the strengths in Gone Home was that the entire story could be played through in around four hours. Environmental storytelling can be compelling, but it’s also very slow, indulgent and deliberate. It rewards meandering and pondering, and this becomes harder to encourage in players when it’s stretched out across a larger game.

This problem was amplified for me by one, key flaw I came across in my play-through: part way through my game, it stopped saving. At first I thought the problem had been my reliance on Prey’s autosave function (the best way for save functions to work in a game, by the way), but after repeating the same hour of the game a fourth and fifth time using manual saves I realised I had come to an impasse. My game data could no longer be trusted, rendering all my progress and engagement mute. It was futile to play the game at this point. How could I possibly trust the game with my accomplishments for over 30 hours if it was already behaving flaky by hour five?

It’s a shame, because I had otherwise found the game intriguing and many people whose tastes I connect with were singing its praises – even if some did feel it had worn out its welcome by the end. Perhaps with some patches I may return to Prey further down the line, but in a year that’s already been heavenly for spectacular game releases, I can’t see myself coming back anytime soon.

About The Author

Angus is a writer, a worrier, and a digital media wanker. He is a devoted fan of Dark Souls and Bayonetta with a profound weakness for alt-games, visual novels, and cute anime trash. Firmly supports diversity, video game accessibility, and believes there’s a game out there for everyone. Tweets and shitposts @angusuow.