Considering it’s coming from the same developer as Dishonored, it comes as no surprise that Prey is full of inventive toys to play with. Like Corvo, protagonist Morgan Yu has a tiny selection of conventional weaponry, bolstered by a much wider array of interesting tools and powers. From psychic energy bolts to grenades that turn enemies into crafting materials, there are dozens of fantastic items aboard the Talos-1 space station, and I’m going to shine a spotlight on a few of the best ones I’ve seen so far.
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One of the most impressive things about Prey is how it defies expectations. Like the mimic enemies, things may not work in the manner their appearance suggests. Mechanics you’ve seen in other games have unique spins and interesting developments. These are the five most interesting examples I saw during a recent hands-on preview.
Looks like: a fire extinguisher
Is actually: a stun gun, a terrain-crafter, a repair tool, and a fire extinguisher
It feels like it’s been a long time since anyone took obvious inspiration from Valve, but Prey’s GLOO cannon is very clearly Arkane’s answer to the gravity and portal guns. Despite the name, it’s neither a cannon nor a tool used to adhere items together. The red casing and hose-fed nozzle suggests it’s a fire extinguisher, and it can indeed be used to douse flames. This is just one of it’s many uses, however. The expanding foam it sprays quickly solidifies upon contact, and so is ideal for patching up leaking gas pipes, making exposed wires safe, or even blocking up doors with.
Most impressively, GLOO can also be used to create your own terrain. The foam can’t stick to itself, but will cling to practically any other surface. This means you can spray lines of GLOO across walls and then climb it like a staircase. Distant vents and doorways are never out of bounds provided you’ve got enough GLOO.
If you’re insistent on using this tool as a gun, you can do that too. GLOO will coat enemy typhons and trap them in place, allowing you to beat them to death with your wrench. It’s not quite as easy at it sounds, though; anything stronger than a small mimic can break out of that temporary GLOO binding, given enough time.
Looks like: a hand-held, throwable fragmentation explosive
Is actually: a tiny conversion factory with black hole technology
Recycler charges look amazing. They’re almost like miniaturised Arkane environments; a little ball of dense detail and lavish design. I love that there’s a heatsink and fan protruding from the side, gently spinning to keep its core cool. Why would a grenade need cooling, you ask? Well, because it’s not a explosive but an itsy-bitsy recycling plant inside a bauble. When thrown it opens up a black hole that sucks in everything around it – tables, coffee-mugs, even enemies – and quickly converts it into raw materials. These resulting items, satisfyingly, pop out of the singularity as it closes, bouncing to the floor like a child’s abandoned Lego kit.
The recycler is the best example of what Prey does best; meshing fiction with mechanics. Dead Space cast you as an engineer rather than a soldier, and all its weapons were repurposed tools. However, they were all, fundamentally, guns. Prey’s scientific setting means that conventional weaponry is rare, and so Morgan must rely on far more experimental items. While the recycler does function as a grenade – everything in a radius is destroyed – the fiction provides it a chance to do something else. That something else then directly feeds into another mechanic, namely Prey’s crafting system. With just one item Arkane have created a satisfying gameplay loop.
Looks like: a lethal crossbow
Is actually: an entertaining toy for ages six and up
With a name like the Huntress Boltcaster, I was expecting Prey’s crossbow to be a pin-’em-to-the-wall deadly delight. Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered that its bolts simply bounced off the heads of enemy phantoms. This isn’t because phantoms are super tough (well they are, but not made-of-titanium tough), but because the boltcaster actually shoots foam darts. Yes, Arkane quite literally Nerfed their crossbow.
So what use is a toy crossbow in Prey’s dangerous world? Well it’s handy for triggering switches at a distance, which can come in useful for opening doors when you’re not close or other buttons that are out of reach. I expect to see this ability facilitate elaborate traps, luring typhons through doors and into dangers. The foam darts are also a great distraction, allowing you to herd enemies away before you slip by.
Much like Alien: Isolation, Prey asks you to embrace distraction-led stealth in order to preserve yourself. Aside from the boltcaster, I also love the typhon lure. It’s another grenade-but-not, producing a glowing luminescence that attracts enemies. Combined with powers like lift field (a sudden reversal of gravity), it’s just the start of a sticky end for your foes.
Looks like: a SLR camera lens bolted to a shower cap
Is actually: a functional replacement for XP grinding
Games typically offer upgrades in exchange for XP, meaning the act of simply playing the game is enough to gradually unlock new skills. As with Dishonored, Arkane have once again rejected this idea in favour of an upgrades system that requires you to find hidden items in the world. In Prey you must collect Neromods, machines that you jab into your eye to rewire your brain. Neuromods are not enough to unlock the game’s coolest powers, however. For those you’ll need the Pyschoscope.
This weird head-mounted device allows you to scan typhon enemies and learn information about them. Scan the right enemies and you’ll unlock the ability to gain alien powers. Collect the right number of Neuromods and those new powers are yours. It’s a great method of making you feel actively involved in the process of unlocking your potential.
Furthermore, the Pyschoscope can be fitted with upgrade chips that enable it to do more than just scan enemies. For example, one chip can sense mimics in their morphed state, allowing you to get the drop on them. Functions like these make the scope far more than a single-use mechanic, and a valuable addition to Morgan’s toolset.
Look like: headcrabs and zombies
Are actually: nightmares in shadow form
As we’ve already established, Prey’s signature GLOO gun is almost certainly the result of a deep study of what made Half-Life 2 so great. But those influences don’t stop there. The first two typhons you’ll encounter – the mimic and the phantom – feel very much like headcrab and headcrab zombie 2.0. The mimic itself is an energetic headcrab, able to stretch and flip around with unnerving ferocity, and can of course disguise itself as almost any item. Their ability to launch surprise ambushes on you makes them incredibly dangerous for entry-level enemies. While a handful of headcrabs are easily dispatched with a crowbar, the same number of mimics are a genuine threat. Once again it’s an example of Arkane messing with established rules; small size doesn’t equate small danger.
As also mentioned previously, Prey likes to loop its systems together. Combating typhons isn’t just about clearing Talos-1 station of its extraterrestrial menace; scanning foes unlocks new opportunities to learn skills, and engaging in combat allows you to see how some powers are used. For example, the phantoms can use Kinetic Blast, which educates you in how to effectively use it before unlocking it yourself.