In the fall of last year, I was late to discover that the Prey (2017) demo was available on Steam. I was hyped for the game since its reveal at E3, but was unable to purchase it at launch and figured I would wait. I started the demo download before I went to class, and when I came back, I can honestly say I was not prepared for the experience that followed.
2017 included a vast amount of AAA title releases. In the early winter months, we had titles such as Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (an article about that will reanimate from my mind in the future) and Horizon Zero Dawn. Other titles included Hitman: The Complete First Season, Breath of the Wild, Ghost Recon Wildlands, Persona 5 and Little Nightmares. Prey released in May, followed by Injustice 2, Crash N. Sane Trilogy, Fortnite (early access), Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, Middle-earth: Shadow of War, Super Mario Odyssey, Assassin’s Creed Origins, Wolfenstein II, Call of Duty: WWII and Battlefront II.
Even among that somewhat-brief list, it is easy to lose sight of Prey, isn’t it? My list is by no means exhaustive and does not include the bevy of other remasters and ports that followed, or games with cult followings. I believe that, though reviewed well, Prey was lost to the masses in a sea of stellar releases from last year. Even within my own radar, it became lost, as I was obsessed with both Resident Evil 7 and Friday the 13th: The Game for the majority of the year since they were the only two I could afford and spent the most time playing. Nonetheless, after playing Prey, it became clear that it was the sleeper hit of 2017. It reminded me of what games can do, and how they can make us feel.
I will avoid spoilers, but the way Prey opens had me hooked from the start. What seems like a routine day at work quickly escalates into a nightmare, and the tension only ramps up from that point onward. Armed only with a wrench at first, early Prey felt so much like BioShock. You feel powerless, alienated, and much like Morgan Yu, you have little-to-no idea what is going on.
In the tradition that my much-loved survival horror popularized, you pick up story details from audio logs and terminal data, which can include emails and notes. You learn about your fellow employees aboard Talos I, a space station built in an alternate future where Kennedy wasn’t assassinated and 1960s decor and culture thrived years later. Kennedy living is not a major plot point at all but the implication that we could be at the level the world is in Prey in the next few decades because of that is an interesting one.
I suppose I should cover my life around the time I first picked this up. I am a computer science major, a field which after three years still does not come easily or intuitively and I am surrounded by peers and faculty who could mostly not be bothered to offer assistance or the time of day. In summation, I feel an immense sense of isolation on campus when I am doing things in that part of my life, and much of Prey is about being isolated.
You find and interact with other characters, but the loneliness is exemplified by a minimalistic score and absolute silence beyond your breathing and occasional alien sounds when you are jetting around outside the station. Left with little but my thoughts as I control Morgan, they quickly subsided as I was thrust into this engaging world. This is made all the more remarkable by the fact that you encounter very few things that aren’t trying to kill you, and that the entire game takes place on and around Talos I, which feels massive.
For much of the game, you also feel powerless against the alien foes, the Typhon. I was in awe of their design and the lore behind them, which keeps being expanded upon as you research them in a feature very much like the camera in BioShock. In true human fashion, upon the first contact, they were captured and experimented on. Soon, it was discovered that we could upgrade ourselves by injecting their organic material into our brains with Neuromods. As for the rest, history can clue you in on that. After they break containment, so too does all hell on the station. Thus, playing as a character who was directly involved in the exploitation of this alien species, you suffer the consequences of your actions.
A quote seen and heard around Talos is “The last frontier is the human mind and we are its pioneers.” It speaks directly to the mindset our species has that we need to control and understand everything, no matter the effects. Seeing the downfall of that mindset is not uncharted territory for games, but with the way Prey ends, it puts every single action throughout your time spent on Talos into an entirely new perspective.
Not since games like BioShock (1, Minerva’s Den, and the Burial at Sea add-ons), Red Dead Redemption and The Last of Us have, I felt so emotional while playing a game. It was not constant, and more in the quiet moments after I would turn it off for the night and run what I just played through a highlight reel. Indeed, there were many highlights — Prey is the kind of game that is malleable to different play styles, ensuring no two encounters are the same.
I roped it in along with the above titles because, in my often anxious and low state due to how I am made to feel in my major, I found another escape. Another experience where my fears and insecurities could subside for a couple of hours. At its best, escapism allows us to transcend those worries in a way where we are conscious of them, yet can put them somewhere where they are not at the forefront of our minds and cease to have power over us.
In my case, I was able to take control of a situation that left me feeling powerless and even save the day with the choice I made. This came at a point where I was starting to take the reins back over my own life, and not without aid from people near and dear to me. I had thought for a long time and decided that for too long, I had let other people and things push and pull me at will.
Morgan Yu is by no means perfect — a trend I love in games — but the character’s situation was similar. Only after freeing the mind of all of those influences could Morgan see the way and what was needed to be done (well, the choice is left to the player, but I am following the logic with my choice). The game mirrored my own metamorphosis in this way, and it could not have come at a better time. As sappy, strange or cliché as that may sound, it is the truth.
Prey played a considerable role in reminding me that, in the end, everything is going to be okay.