Prey - it's like Dishonored had a baby with BioShock in space... and you're going to love it

Spoilers for Prey's first hour follow below.

Prepare to love Prey. While this game is technically in the same franchise as a weird FPS about Native Americans and aliens from 2006, the two share minimal similarities. Try to think of this as Dishonored 2 in space, with a handful of BioShock’s smarts thrown in for good measure. Interested? You really should be. Recently several members of the GR+ team were invited to play the opening hour of Prey. Even in this relatively straightforward slice of the game, the options available (different play styles, alternative puzzle solutions, a wealth of things to see and do) are impressive. Way too much for a single person to sample. So, we’ve decided to split this feature into two - the impressions of Lucas Sullivan and Andy Hartup. We both played the same version of the game, and hit the same narrative beats, but the stuff we did in between is… very different. Here’s what happened.

Waking up and taking a chopper to the testing facility - what Lucas did

My Morgan Yu wakes up confused and charmed by her surroundings. As I slump out of bed, I'm awe-struck by the gorgeous view from my pristinely decorated apartment. It's an idyllic vantage of a San Francisco-esque cityscape circa 2032, befitting the wealth that comes with being a brilliant engineer/scientist/super-smart person. Though the room is unfamiliar to me, I enjoy poking around my work desk, reading selections of neuroscience literature and pocketing errant bits of machinery - burnt circuit boards, used plastic tubing, frayed wire - which will surely come in handy for later crafting (and feed my pack rat nature in first-person RPGs).

Already, there's a powerful sense of exploring a physical, inhabited space. I raid the fridge, grabbing some green tea and a pomegranate in case I get hungry later in the work day. Alex Yu, my brother and fellow researcher, leaves a message reiterating how glad he is that I'm taking part in his program. I find the celebratory wine he's sent me on the kitchen counter, and accidentally down the entire bottle first thing on a Monday morning, my vision blurring instantly. A fine start to the day.

Waking up and taking a chopper to the testing facility - what Andy did

My Morgan Yu wakes up, grudgingly, and swats at his alarm clock to shut it off. I make a beeline for the bottle of booze sat on the work surface of the kitchen and greedily guzzle it to see what happens. My vision blurs as I rummage around the apartment looking for more drink. I decide to find out what happens when I pick up my coffee machine and drop it into the toilet. Nothing. After picking up and throwing a few more items in my apartment, I decide to forgo the morning shower, and hastily pull on my clothes before flinging open the door to leave. There’s a maintenance worker in the corridor who greets me with a polite bit of chat. I head back into my room, locate a mug, and lob it at the maintenance worker who just seems to shrug it off as it shatters in her face. I hate Mondays.

I head up to the roof where there’s a chopper waiting to take me to work. I climb aboard and relax as I’m sped over the San Francisco skyline to the testing facility where I work. There’s a lovely rolling intro sequence here, where the credits appear over the buildings as you fly past, and a Blade Runner-esque soundtrack fills your ears. It’s so soothing, I even stop searching the chopper for stuff to throw. This day is getting better. I’ve got a good feeling about it.

Alex Yu - ate all the pies

Alex Yu - ate all the pies

Undergoing some tests - what Lucas did

When I arrive at the testing facility, I have a quick chat with a hovering Science Operator drone, who reassures me that everything will be fine. But as I inquire further, she falters, blurting out "All our labs meet the... minimum... safety standards. Strange, that's never happened before. I'll have to file a maintenance request." I'm distracted from the foreboding glitch by a stylish art-deco painting on the wall advertising the TranStar company.

The tests themselves seem simple enough. A panel of researchers walk me through a series of rooms, each with a rudimentary assessment of my motor skills. It's somewhat confusing when they ask me to hide behind a tiny chair in an otherwise empty room, and there's a creeping, fascinating feeling of unease as my administrators' words start to take on a strangely confused, disappointed tone. I'm left wondering if my results have any effect on the rest of the game, a la Call of Duty, or if my attempts at quickness and compliant obedience don't ultimately matter.

For the final part of the test, I'm answering a survey, which starts with mundane questions but quickly veers into impossible ethics questions revolving around the classic Trolley problem. I'm trying to pick answers that fit with my heroic goody-two-shoes roleplaying style, but none of my options seem quite right. Suddenly, the test becomes the least of my worries, as the main administrator's coffee cup suddenly bursts into a black mass of tendrils, wrapping around his head and sucking the life out of him until only a mummified-looking husk remains. The room fills with gas as a frantic lockdown ensues, and I pass out.

Undergoing some tests - what Andy did

When I arrive at the TranStar testing facility, I hurry Morgan into the elevator. There’s a weird floating drone here who is obviously meant to speak to me, but I can’t be arsed, so I head straight to my appointment. My brother is waiting to greet me when I arrive. He’s a portly chap called Alex and I stare closely at his jowly face, puzzled at how we could be related. I smell something fishy. He invites me to head into the test chamber, where I’ll be put through my paces by a bunch of scientists.

The test is strange. My first task is to pick up a bunch of boxes and drop them. Hey, I’ve been throwing objects all morning - this is slightly overkill on the tutorial. Next I learn to hide behind a chair, and after that I mantle over a low wall. It all seems insultingly easy, and - sensing a trap - I make sure that I carry the chair into each test chamber, just in case something bad happens and I need to hide. The final test is a series of questions. I deliberately try to shock the unimpressed eggheads behind the observation glass by telling them, yes, I’d push a fat guy under a train to stop it. They simply nod and agree and… oh my, a strange black tentacled beast has attacked one of the scientists! Now it’s getting interesting. Suddenly the room fills with gas and I pass out...

Breaking through the illusion - what Lucas did

That nightmarish disaster fades into the Groundhog Day scenario seen in Prey's debut trailer: I'm back in my apartment awaking to the same day, as if nothing happened. I run to my bathroom mirror to see if anything's amiss; sadly it has no reflective surface (meaning the scene in the cinematic trailer is just for show). But when I open the door to the hallway, it's clear that something's gone very wrong. A technician who greeted me earlier is now a blue-tinged corpse on the ground; I callously follow my gaming instincts, looting her body for supplies and picking up her nearby Hephaestus Wrench for self-defense. At that same moment, a voice calls in to my earpiece, identifying herself as January and telling me I need to escape. 

What follows is an incredible moment I'm loathe to spoil, but if you've read this far, you clearly don't mind insight into Prey's opening hour. The only option for my exit appears to be the door to my apartment's beautiful balcony, which has been locked all this time. With a swing of my newfound wrench, I bash through the glass - and instead of stepping into the sunlight, I stumble into the cold metal of an observation facility. It seems my flat was just a glorified hamster cage. Signs I find alongside it state clear Sound Stage Rules, like "Do not interact with subject off-script". 

That phone call from my brother was just a recording, which I dig up in the files of a nearby computer; in the next room, the animatronic helicopter I'd been riding in shudders to and fro, the audio track of my nonexistent pilot malfunctioning into choppy, disquieting mumbling. The elevator I'd been taking to the rooftop isn't an elevator at all - it's just a static chamber, and its broken door reveals that the lobby I'd entered through reforms from my hallway into the testing facility, similar to Kirin Jindosh's incredible Clockwork Mansion in Dishonored 2. The entire scene makes for an amazing Truman Show moment, and instantly establishes the sense of mystery that's hooked me on Prey's intriguing plot.

Breaking through the illusion - what Andy did

I wake up in my bed, the alarm beside me informing me that I have an appointment with my brother at 9am… wait, this is the same as yesterday. I get up and swig some alcohol to help steady my nerves. Clothes on, coffee machine dropped in the toilet, and I’m ready to leave. Outside, the mild mannered maintenance worker I’d lobbed a mug at yesterday is dead. I’m pretty sure her passing is unrelated to my antics, so I loot her corpse with a clear conscience, snaffle the wrench that will undoubtedly be my starting weapon, and drag her body into my apartment. Just because I can.

I get a call from an anonymous source called January, who tells me I need to escape. I’m suspicious and check my emails. Yes, sure enough, six unread messages all telling me to escape. The elevator in the corridor is dead, so I head back into my apartment and attempt to smash my way out of the window… and this is where Prey reveals its dirtiest secret. I’m in a testing facility. Morgan’s apartment is a lab, where scientists can study him day and night. Yet it’s deserted now. I check a few computers and read through emails both interesting and dull. Someone has been logging my morning routines, and I’m slightly disappointed to see they missed out the part about me drinking a throwing stuff around. Guess it’s just generic text. Oh well, time to leave. Wrench in hand, I head for the nearest exit.

Taking on the Typhons - what Lucas did

January informs me that the aliens taking over the testing facility are known as Typhons, and it's not long before I see the Cacoplasmus species, colloquially known as Mimics. My first encounter with the Mimics reveals their proclivity for terrifying jump scares that make you question every object in your surroundings: while exploring a staff break room, I spin around to see a blur in my peripheral vision morph into a shuddering pizza box. As I approach, the Mimic springs back into its tar-colored tendril form, and I bludgeon it to death in a panic. 

This kind of creeping suspicion and paranoia-inducing distrust of your environment will clearly be a key theme in Prey, courtesy of the Mimics. Soon after, I get a close-up view of what'll happen if I fail to ward them off: a guard behind a glass barrier walks into view screaming and choking, a Mimic shoving one of its tentacles down his throat. After it sucks the life out of its poor victim, it splits into four more Mimics that skitter out of view. Despite (or because of) the fact that I'm now incredibly on edge, a gaggle of Mimics catch me unawares in a nearby room; after I smack my attackers down, I start feverishly smashing an ordinary, inanimate stack of towels nearby just to relieve some of the the strangling tension that's made me fear everyday objects. I'm not sure how long that kind of terror can last over the course of the game, but the adrenaline rush it creates is working wonders right now.

Taking on the Typhons - what Andy did

If I’m going to get out of here alive, I need stuff. As I start to loot the place I get another call from January who warns me about a bunch of creatures called Mimics, who can disguise themselves as anything. Sure enough - as video game law dictates - I’m attacked by a creature formerly disguised as a chair. I smash it to pieces, and open up the corpse to loot another item. There are plenty of useful things to find - food for health, weapon ammo etc - and also a bunch of trash, which I assume will be useful later. So I pocket everything. After a few more Mimic attacks, I’m confronted by the game’s first puzzle. I need to get out of the office area I’m trapped in, the door for which requires a key card. Disappointingly, the card is sat on a desk directly in front of me. Sensing a trap, I look for an alternate route and quickly discover a hidden vent above a filing cabinet. I climb up, open the vent, crawl through, and drop down on the other side.

It’s here I find a GLOO Gun - a weapon that fires globs of a sticky, glue-like substance that can freeze enemies solid. After testing it out on some Mimics, I smash their sad, petrified bodies with my wrench. January then calls to tell me that I’m not who I think I am. Morgan Wu actually has an office in this facility, and he’s recorded a video that explains everything. That’s where I need to go.

Along the way, I find something called a Neuromod. Think BioShock’s plasmids. I pull the scary-looking needle towards my face and plunge it deep into Morgan’s eye (this would be utterly traumatic in VR, by the way). Here I’m greeted with a menu of skills to take on board, and I opt for enhanced Strength, so I can pick up more stuff. The Neuromods are vital to Prey’s bizarre opening hour - according to January, using one has the potential to wipe your memory, which explains why Morgan is being forced to relive the same day over and over (and why he checks his eye in the game’s first trailer) and be continually studied by scientists. But clearly that isn’t happening now. It’s time for some answers.

Finding a way into our overrun offices - what Lucas did

In order to figure out just what the hell is going on, my omnipotent helper January tells me to head back to my (that is, Morgan's) office to watch a recording that'll explain everything. To reach it, I set foot into the spacious lobby of the Talos 1 space station, getting a good look at the vast nothingness of space outside (interrupted by some troubling explosions from elsewhere on the ship). The Talos 1 is split up into segments with their own load times, but you always have the option to backtrack to a previous area if you so choose, and the progressions seems encouragingly freeform. 

I use my Gelifoam Lattice Organism Obstructor, aka the GLOO gun, to blast globules of foam that encase the Typhons, giving me the time I need for maximum wrench-bashing. That potent combo ends up being my go-to method for taking out Mimics, as the GLOO slows their leap attacks to a crawl and eventually freezes them in place for a nice, charged-up wrench-slap. But my head-on approach feels ineffective against the humanoid Phantom Typhons skulking around the Talos' lobby. Though I'm able to plug some shotgun shells into one, it phases through the floor to regroup and flank me later. I opt for flight rather than fight and scurry away to relative safety.

Before long, I've found my way to the front door of my office, which is securely locked as video game design commands. This is the perfect opportunity to learn some hacking skills, courtesy of the Neuromod device January left for me in the lobby. Now that I suddenly know kung-fu - er, hacking - I brute-force my way into my receptionist's email account via a marble-maze-style mini-game (which imparts a nice sense of urgency despite its simplicity) and locate the door code. Open says-a-me. 

Finding a way into our overrun offices - what Andy did

I make my way to the next area, which takes me to the lobby of the Talos 1 space station. Yes, I’m in space. It’s cold and dark - a million miles from the sunny version of California I’d been lead to believe I was in. January explains that this is the real world, before pointing me to Morgan’s office on the top floor of the facility.

I head there but the door is locked, and I don’t have any way to hack in. So, I explore a little. I find a shotgun, murder some more advanced enemies called Phantoms, and eventually find myself on a staircase parallel with Morgan’s office. I have an idea! Pulling out my GLOO gun, I fire a stream of the sticky stuff over the nearby wall, creating a bridge between my current location and the window of Morgan’s office. I tentatively jump onto the foamy walkway, and walk across to my destination. Now that’s a smart piece of design. I smash my way into the office using the wrench, and quickly locate the message left my Morgan. I mean me. I mean… what the hell is going on here?

Exploring after the demo - what Lucas did

The recording happens to be made by Morgan's past self, but before my self-addressed warning can reach its apex, Alex cuts off the feed, telling us that he needs to explain his side of the situation in person. The demo's story content ends here, but we get the chance to keep on playing - and I take the opportunity to mess around with some of Prey's tertiary systems that should give players even more options.

Around the Talos 1, you'll find hulking machines called Recyclers. Toss in unwanted gear from your Deus Ex-style inventory, and the items will be broken down into raw crafting materials spit out into a bin on the other side. Not only do the materials look rad - my favorite is an exotic material fragment resembling a yarn ball made of purple crystal - but they should also fuel an economy of loot that lets you adapt to anything using the objects at your disposal. Other distractions I pursued involved collecting some agave flowers from the potted plants dotting numerous offices, putting out electrical fires with the GLOO gun, and hacking a turret just for fun (because it was already friendly). Further exploration clearly reinforced my anxiety about Mimics: if something in your surroundings looks remotely out of place, you ought to be very suspicious (and probably fearful) of it.

Exploring after the demo - what Andy did

Like Lucas, I use the Recycler to grab more GLOO gun ammo, and I spend time luring Mimics in front of the facility’s defense turrets, watching as they eliminate the alien threat for me. I’m just exploring the men’s toilets (amusingly, the women’s toilets are covered in GLOO foam, so I can’t explore them - I suspect that if I’d picked female Morgan Wu the reverse would be true) when… my time with Prey finishes.

And there you have it - the same hour of gameplay from two different perspectives. While there is a lot of narrative cross-over - and this is to be expected, given that this is the opening to Prey - the wealth of options should be plain to see. You can approach this game with radically different philosophies and playstyles, and still be amazed and satisfied by what it offers you. One thing Andy and Lucas definitely agree on is that Prey is one of the most promising games of 2017, and we can’t wait to play more when it’s released on May 5.

Andy Hartup