After last year's Dishonored sequel, Arkane's stock is pretty high. The studio is back with its second game in six months, then, and in Prey they have left the confines of terra firma far behind and are this time taking us into outer space, specifically aboard a space station called Talos 1, upon which takes place an immersive sim that puts horror and challenge at the forefront of its design.
The studio's trademark visual flair is there in abundance, and Prey looks and feels fantastic. Talos 1 is a beautiful and engaging play space, and while it lacks a little coherence at times, and even frustrates at others, nuance, detail and purpose have been woven into its construction. This is clearly the work of the same studio that crafted Dunwall and Karnaca, and despite the differences in terms of setting and tone, it's unmistakably Arkane.
What sets Prey apart, beyond the science-fiction setting, is the level of challenge. In Dishonored, Corvo and Emily - and by extension, you - were the hunters, but in Prey you're often very much at the mercy of your new enemy, the sinister Typhon that have taken over Talos 1. Some of the alien variants that you stumble upon seem extremely overpowered at first, and it often takes experimentation and repeated attempts to overcome them. Most of the time this challenge is fairly implemented, although at times it can feel like these difficulty spikes are placed in positions to create maximum friction and, dare we say it, elongate the experience a little.
Some of the Typhon are hard as nails, and to get past them you'll often need to combine cunning and ingenuity. Arkane has given you everything you need to succeed, though, and often it's simply a case of looking at the tools at your disposal, many as they are, and trying out something new. The same tactics won't work time and time again, and like the enemies you'll meet along the way, you've got to change things up if you're to thrive and survive.
The Typhon are a great enemy, and they come in many different flavours. They multiply, they take different forms, they use elemental powers, and some even have psychic abilities. These mysterious beings were prisoners aboard Talos 1 - "were" being the operative part of that sentence - and it's up to the player, in the role of all-action scientist Morgan Yu, to restore order one way or another. Morgan can be both male or female, although gender pick makes no real difference to the overall story.
Morgan has a lot of potential, and using neuromods the player can specialise the character in a number of interesting ways. We'd argue that progression is a touch too slow and it takes too long to learn and upgrade your various abilities, especially in the first half of the game. Arkane should be commended for the depth they've built into this aspect of the game, but it often feels like the rate at which new abilities unlock is a bit miserly, and it's hard to shake the feeling that more powers sooner would have made for a more satisfying overall experience.
Player choice is a central design tenet for Arkane, and the slow and steady pacing of character progression is undoubtedly to encourage a second play-through with a different focus. However, even taking this into account, we think that they built enough depth into the upgrade system to facilitate a more liberal unlock rate. Neuromods give you game-changing abilities, and after a while you can even scan the various types of Typhon and use the information gleaned from those scans to give yourself alien powers. These powers can then be combined with each other and with the rest of Morgan's arsenal to create even more tactical options for the player to explore.
There are a lot of choices when it comes to building your Morgan, but surely the most significant is the decision of whether to go alien or stay purely human. Going alien unlocks a range of new abilities, such as the ability to mimic items in the environment or use psychic powers, but as your DNA becomes increasingly alien the station's defences start to see you as more foe than friend. You can further enhance Morgan by using chipsets, a system similar to the bonecharms from Dishonored. Throw in weapons you can upgrade, various grenades with specific functions, and a crafting system that lets you turn junk into meaningful gear at machines dotted around the system, and you've got a huge array of options when it comes to customising the experience to suit your play-style.