Prey, Injustice 2, Star Trek: Bridge Crew, and Friday the 13th. The thing these games have in common is that they were all released in May and were the primary considerations for our Game of the Month. It proved more difficult to select a winner than we might have initially anticipated, not because of the games’ parity of quality, but because they’re all so different. Comparing Star Trek: Bridge Crew’s virtual reality cooperative adventures to Injustice 2’s fighting game mechanics and Prey’s single-player sci-fi exploration to Friday the 13th’s asymmetrical multiplayer felt at times more like comparing apples to onions rather than four video games. Ultimately, however, by adopting a creatively open-ended structure and pushing forward the way gamers make moral decisions, Prey emerged as the winner of this four-way deadlock.
Back in 2006, the original Prey was a sci-fi corridor shooter about alien invasions and Native American interdimensional travel (check out this trailer if you forgot). The 2017 reimagining of the franchise eschews that game’s original sensibilities, hewing closer to the likes of Bioshock and System Shock 2. Prey establishes the series’ new universe and background fiction rapidly, bringing along with it some common tropes as well as its own shadowy atmosphere that effectively draws players into the haunting space station Talos-1.
Developed by Arkane Studios, Prey is the developer’s first venture in years outside of their successful Dishonored series and attempts to bring with it much of the design philosophy from that series. Freedom and choice of play are core principles in Prey, as players are encouraged to engage with and explore the environment in creative ways. Rather than being applied within contained levels like Dishonored, however, Prey grafts this philosophy onto a structure of intertwined locations, giving players the freedom to explore a fully realized space station. Compared to the open-ended Breath of the Wild, the Talos-1 may feel a little restrictive early on due to locked doors impeding initial progress, but the foundation for unrestrained exploration through such a finely crafted space is there for Prey to grow into and for future games to experiment with.
Prey also brings in a subtle element of moral choice. Rather than having players pick between different options from a dialogue tree, however, these show themselves through quest chains and optional activities that the player must choose to actively pursue to engage with. While the choices themselves may tend towards more black and white, “save this person or let them die” or “help these people or help yourself” scenarios, the fact that players actually pick a path and pursue it rather than simply pressing a button is a forward-looking example of how video games can implement moral quandaries more seamlessly into gameplay. Aided by the immersion inherent in first-person shooters, Prey is part of a newer tradition of games that are capable of asking players more interesting and profound questions.
In comparison to its predecessor and contemporaries, it might be easy to call Prey (2017) a phantom of one franchise and an imitator of another. But that would do Arkane’s efforts a disservice. Prey creates a hauntingly realized, openly explorable space with an ambitious design philosophy and a substantial background fiction that all combine to make it TSG’s May Game of the Month.