Space is scary. If movies like "The Martian," "Avengers: Infinity War," and the classic "Alien" franchise have taught us anything, it's that everything wants to kill you in space. You've gotta find ways to eat, to make the trip back to Earth, and in some cases to fight off extraterrestrial life forms hell-bent on eating your fleshy bits. Prey, the 2017 game from the Dishonored series developers Arkane Studios, focuses quite a bit on that last one.
Prey's release was marred by controversy. It isn't the first game to feature that name--that honor belongs to the game released in 2006 that was developed by Human Head Studios. The 2006 title featured a Cherokee man who was abducted and ended up harnessing spiritual energies in his fight to survive. It was supposed to be followed up by another game developed by Human Head Studios, but business got in the way, and Bethesda Softworks used the Prey moniker for a completely unrelated game whose only similarity to the first title was the fact that it involved aliens.
None of that affects Prey as a game, though, and I can't help but find myself engrossed by Arkane Studios' work. The developer is one of the few committed to creating games that rely on interconnected systems underpinning a largely open play space that you can approach in several ways. Want to shoot your way through the space station without augmenting yourself with the game's "neuromod" upgrades? You got it. Feel like stealing the aliens' powers for yourself while abandoning your humanity in the process? Cool. Prey is like a puzzle that can be solved any way you please.
Other games, such as Grand Theft Auto V, also pride themselves on being sandboxes that you're free to explore at your leisure. But those games can often feel like they lack purpose. Prey doesn't suffer from that problem. Although you can do all the side quests you like, eventually you'll have to progress the story if you want to do more than whack aliens and collect scraps. That story, along with the game's art style and soundtrack, lends Prey a sense of tension that other system-based games sometimes lack. Like I said above: Space is scary, and Prey never lets you forget that.
I enjoy pretty much everything about Prey. The art style is like the love child of Bioshock and Dishonored. The music is at once catchy and foreboding. And the game itself usually feels good to play, although there are some difficulty spikes that can really mess you up if you aren't paying attention. My only quibble is that it sometimes feels like you have too much freedom. I often find myself wishing I had chosen a different neuromod, for example, or wondering if I was about to get destroyed because I'd used up all my ammo in unnecessary fights on my way to the objective.
Having too much freedom is a refreshing problem to have with a modern title, though, and I suspect the fear of missing out will be alleviated for anyone who doesn't mind playing a game more than once. As for me, I'm going to shove those needles into my eyes and hope that I'm not going to regret the upgrade I chose later on. I've got a mystery to solve and some aliens to kill... as long as I play with the lights on and don't think too much about how Prey is the latest piece of entertainment dead-set on convincing me that everything in space wants me to kick the bucket.