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Bethesda's New Prey Is Absolutely Scary Good
Much like the plot of the actual game itself, Bethesda's Prey has flown under the radar until it didn't. For whatever reason, Bethesda's reboot of the highly praised 2006 game Prey wasn't the recipient of much media coverage. But then, like in the game itself, one new piece of information turned the entire narrative upside-down.
A few weeks ago, Bethesda released a demo for the game entitled Prey: Opening Hour. In the demo, players could explore the first narrative hour of the game. And while the function of any demo is to hook players into investing in the full game, it was almost frightening how efficient Prey: Opening Hour was in its mission.
On the Origins of Bethesda's Prey
Bethesda's Prey has some relation to the 2006 game of the same name, from 2K Games. That game, the original Prey, received top marks in almost every review, earning itself an 83/100 on Metacritic. At the time, critics saw Prey as the spiritual successor to the wildly popular System Shock series, and a sequel, Prey 2 was planned.
However, when Prey 2 fell into development hell, any mourning was short-lived. In 2007 2K came out with another favorite game. This one was from the master craftsman responsible for the success of System Shock 2: Ken Levine. Levine's new game, Bioshock, and the franchise it spawned became the heir apparent to the System Shock throne. With no Prey 2 to compete with, Levine and Bioshock had secured the throne.
But now it seems that Bethesda is making a fantastic play for the throne with this Prey reboot. In the first hour of the game, it is impossible to ignore the game traits which had become hallmarks of the Bioshock series. The twisting plot, the dark mythos, the psycho-thriller aesthetic, the disembodied voice leading you through the game, even the starting weapon (a wrench) are reminiscent of Bioshock.
Prey vs. Bioshock
But to say that Prey or Bioshock steal from each other is a trite oversimplification. Instead, the two games are like Shakespeare's Hotspur and Prince Hal. The two have commonalities of course, but the overarching relationship is that of bitter rivals, each desperate to be more like the king than the other.
The gameplay of Prey is fantastic. Once the player has made it through the tutorial and the actual plot is revealed, the terror drummed up by this psycho-thriller is enough to make even the most hardened gamer check her corners. The early moments are reminiscent of the first time we entered Rapture, with a soupçon of Alien: Isolation to make sure everyone is appropriately terrified.
Where Prey Shines
Once the player acquires a more traditional weapon than a wrench, the influences of developer Arkane Studios becomes plainer. For anyone who has fallen in love with the Bethesda Games style, don't expect the same feel in Prey. Dyed in the wool Bethesda fans might see this as a downside, until they are hard scrabbling across a space station, shooting over their shoulder at a swarm of shadowy alien monsters. That's when the contributions of the Dishonored series' developer becomes most vital.
Between a psycho-thriller build, a dark behind the scenes mythos, and a plot with a new twist around every bend, it's hard to define Prey's strongest attribute. But whatever it is, the game is addictive. In their reboot of the Prey series, Bethesda has delivered what looks like the next gaming masterpiece. Even after I'd reached the geographic boundaries of the demo in every direction, I continued to roam the space station in search of more clues. That's how satisfying this game is.
To those looking forward to purchasing Prey, you've made the right choice. But to those who are defensive of Levine's work on the Bioshock series, and worry that playing Prey may impune his honor, I only have one question...
Would you kindly give Prey a chance?
The demo Prey: Hour One is available now. The full version of Prey comes out Friday, May 5th.