While for the most part, we often turn to video games as a way to indulge into some much-needed mindless escapism, every now and then a different kind of experience comes along. Rather than solely playing a game with the intent of living out an ultimate power fantasy that’s otherwise not possible in the real world, games like the newly released Prey cause us to also scratch our head, if only for a little bit.
Of course, this is nothing new. Since the days of the original System Shock and its sequel games have dealt with weighty concepts like artificial intelligence, sentience, and what it means to be human, but narrative experiences such as this have recently been a lot harder to come by, especially in the Triple-A field. We need more philosophical sci-fi games like Prey yes, but more importantly in order to so – we need to support more philosophical sci-fi games like Prey.
Having only played the game for roughly 3-5 hours now, Arkane Software’s new title immediately makes its fictional inspirations known, drawing heavily upon the likes of Blade Runner, Alien and even Total Recall, wearing them rather overtly on its sleeve. It helps that the setting of Talos I as a space station is just inherently cool to explore and poke around in, while always for the most part being unnerving at the same time too. If these on-the-surface elements are the pulling force designed to initially draw players in, the themes of identity, free will, and determinism are what makes you stay.
Minor spoilers concerning the game’s preliminary opening hour (available to download and try out now on PS4 and Xbox One), but as soon as you wake up for the second time on the same day as protagonist Morgan Yu, it’s hard to imagine anyone struggling to be intrigued. If witnessing Dr Simmons getting consumed by what we later know to be an alien race known as the Typhon didn’t do it for you, as soon as that apartment glass shatters, in a philosophical sense things really start to get interesting. Immediate questions that arise should be: “What’s going on?”, “Where am I?”, and “What happens now?”
Putting Prey to one side for a second, there are plenty of other games that lead the player to ask similarly life-affirming questions within the context of their settings. Whether it be the exploration of consciousness and immortality found in Soma, the existentialism and absurdity of Dark Souls, or even the individualism and utopianism of the original Bioshock. These games all understand that in order to successfully convey and explore such complex, thought-provoking themes, solid and refined gameplay mechanics are a must.
This focus on providing players with a clear and understandable control scheme is thankfully something which Prey absolutely nails, despite the vast number of options and upgrades available. So far I’ve been locking down neuromods and overhauling weapons like nobody’s business, so here’s hoping the game’s story continues striking that perfect balance between thought-provoking story beats and fleshed-out gameplay. Not since Dead Space have I wanted to dig into a world more, and now thanks to Prey’s more open nature I can.