You wake up in your apartment and prepare for a seemingly normal day. You get out of bed, get dressed and go to work. You meet your brother at the lab, because science is a family business for the Yu family.
Then you discover that your earthly apartment life was an illusion, that you're really on a science station in the middle of space and all of your recent memories (going back years) have been wiped out — apparently, evidence suggests, with your full cooperation. You have an urgent message waiting for you on your computer ... a message from yourself. You watch yourself sit down on the video screen, hopefully to explain what the hell is going on.
So begins Prey, a sci-fi horror adventure developed by Arkane Studios' Austin office (their headquarters is in Lyon, France). It's creepy, it's intriguing, and it manages to stand out in a 2017 game lineup that is already packed with great stuff. It draws inspiration from terrific first-person sci-fi games like System Shock and Bioshock, as well as the also-developed-in-Austin Metroid Prime.
The space station on which the game takes place, Talos I, is the hub for experimentation on a hostile alien race known as the Typhon. These aliens command a variety of powers that appear supernatural, and that can be deadly to you as a player. The smaller, almost spider-like aliens that skitter around the station (called, appropriately, Mimics) can, in the blink of an eye, make themselves look like other simple objects nearby.
That coffee mug on a desk? Yeah, that might be an alien ready to pounce on you the second you get close. Same goes for the stack of papers. And the crate. Even that medical kit. While the atmosphere in Prey is sufficiently creepy on its own, Mimics add a significant element of fear to every step you take.
Like Arkane's other games (especially the recent Dishonored titles), Prey puts an emphasis on player choice and allowing you to "play your way." Talos I is large and non-linear, allowing you to branch out and tackle obstacles in a variety of different ways. While you will always be gently guided in the direction of the next major story beat, it's up to you to decide whether you want to sneak past trouble, hack your way to your destination or just blow things up in order to get where you need to go. Or, you can blow off the main quest for a bit and go tackle a side objective on the other side of the station.
One of those choices involves how much of your humanity you're willing to sacrifice for clever and powerful new abilities. The labs on Talos I are dedicated to studying the Typhon. The years of your character's life that have been forgotten were focused on giving humans the ability to harness Typhon powers.
From a pure gameplay standpoint, these abilities are a lot of fun to use. The Mimic ability I discussed earlier? You can steal that alien power and turn yourself into simple objects. You can even use this power for exploring. Need to get through a small opening, like you would see at a ticket booth? Just turn into a mug and roll on through.
Such freedom comes at the cost of occasionally unstable gameplay, with bugs being more common than one would like, but the overall experience is positive enough that the good overshadows the bad.
If you follow Texas video game development, the Prey name might be familiar. A game with the same name was released in 2006, produced (though not directly developed) by Garland-based company 3D Realms. While this new Prey gets its name from the same license, it actually bears no connection or developmental lineage to that original game.
This is not Prey 2, either (which was, at one point, a totally different game in development and shown off at QuakeCon in Dallas years ago). If you ask why it's called Prey in the first place, the simple answer boils down to saying "video games" with a shrug. Somebody decided the "Prey" name had value over something brand new, so here we are. (GamesRadar has a pretty good explainer piece on the weird development history of the Prey "franchise," such as it is, which spans two decades, three developers and only two games.)
Prey is a more methodical, often slower-paced experience than a shooter like Call of Duty or Doom, but its emphasis on exploration makes it a great game to kick back with after work — especially when the sun is down and the lights are off.