- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 27, 2017

One scientist’s harrowing quest to contain a lethal extraterrestrial species from consuming humanity plays out in the role-playing, first-person extravaganza Prey (Bethesda Softworks and Arkane Studios, Rated Mature, reviewed on PlayStation 4, $59.99).

A player assumes the role of Morgan Yu, while awoken on the floating research facility Talos I that’s stuck orbiting around the Moon in the year 2032.

Chosen as either a male or female at the start of the game, Morgan not only has a bad case of amnesia but also must survive among dead bodies littering the space station and contend with life-sucking organisms called the Typhon.

Of course, a player’s creativity sets the tone for his success in this free-roaming adventure. He must choose strategies that combine stealth, gun-blazing attacks and tech ingenuity to maneuver through the gantlet of dangerous obstacle courses.

As he secures supplies and tries to solve the mystery of his current predicament, he will battle through fire, radiation, electricity, gravity, corrupted gun turrets, some mind-controlled crew members and those nasty Typhon.

Encounters with the Typhon are at first startling and then mostly annoying as a player’s main mission requires he go on an endless scavenger hunt to acquire and recycle junk to fabricate new, often life-saving, items.

For example, the first Typhon that guarantees a scare every time is the arachnid-shaped creature called a mimic that can transform into many common objects sitting in the facility. Going to pick up a banana now turns into a fight to the death, as the fruit becomes a jet-black alien that attacks with spearing tentacles and briskly climbs around near every surface.

Life gets really complex when more powerful creatures such as invisible poltergeists and fire-spewing Thermal Phantoms impede progress. All are never quite as grotesque or shocking as the beasts in the video-game franchise “Dead Space” or the Xenomorphs of “Aliens,” but they always pack a deadly punch.

Morgan eventually finds a select group of weapons such as a shotgun, pistol and disruptor stun gun, or tools that include a wrench or flashlight, to help survive, but none is more multifunctional than the GLOO Cannon. 

The bulky beauty spits out a blob of foam sealant that can temporarily cover an enemy; smother crackling arcs of electricity; and create barricades or even steps to walk on and reach higher levels.

Also available are powers tied to the Typhon and the coveted neuromods, usually found on bodies, that are not only an intricate part in the story but also increase Morgan’s skills when applied to his brain.

A player accesses a branching menu system and applies accumulated neuromods to enact abilities such as repairing machines, improving damage when using firearms and hacking workstations.

Less welcome to the action is the lack of ammo and med kits available as the dangers often become overwhelming. It’s a sweaty existence on the Talos I while avoiding instant death and precariously searching bodies, foraging for food, potent blueprints and upgrades.

What’s really appreciated is the world of “Prey” often taps into the claustrophobic isolation as seen in an “Alien” movie while offering an irresistible landscape to explore and resource manage comparable to the video game “BioShock.”

In fact, Arkane Studios (contributors to “BioShock 2”) have crafted such an intriguing world that I would have preferred to exhaustedly explore all areas rather than keep trying to duck and battle the annoying organisms.

Take the case of wandering through a museum exhibit offering a historical look at a U.S. and Russian space alliance. It’s highlighted by multimedia wall panels (activated by stepping near them) and a large painting of President John F. Kennedy. He obviously survived his assignation attempt and brokered a successful ascent into the stars.

However, a dangerous Phantom fleeting about like the Reverse Flash rudely interrupts my visit and shoots electrical bolts at me nonstop.

Even more intriguing is the chance to float around in space, outside Talos I, in a well-equipped suit with a propulsion system. I could hunt for more junk, admire the Moon and easily jump to other parts of the station using air-locked doors.

However, once gain, ruining any Zen moment was a cyst-shaped creature hiding in a corner of a solar panel blasting bolts at me, more of an annoyance than a thrill. For Pete’s sakes, I had serious work to perform.

Too many annoying Typhon is the first of my minor issues with the ambitious game.

Next, the irritating load times between starting up the game and moving to new areas of the space station hurt the narrative. It’s a wonder in the age of speedy CPUs that this is still an issue. I did appreciate being able to quickly save the game at any point, especially after a particular intense encounter.

Finally, a player will spend lots of time trying to open doors. He’ll read through emails on computer desktops to find codes, look through bodies and drawers to find keycards, and sneak around to find easier entrances.

Despite the minor grumblings, “Prey” is an often fun, though methodical, entrant into the exploratory shooter genre of video games and should easily take 20 to 40 hours to uncover all of its intriguing secrets.  

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