Prey (2017) is doomed to be a cult classic rather than the outright hit it deserves to be. It’s not a perfect game, but its creators got enough right that one can’t help but feel like it deserves more attention. Prey’s story might not be the best, but its gameplay shouldn’t be missed. It’s an evolution of the emergent gameplay found in the likes of Deus Ex: Human Revolution and DisHonored. No matter what kind of problem the player is confronted with, they have all the tools they need to create their own solution to it. Prey’s contribution to this kind of system is its addition of consequences into the mix.
Power carries consequences in Prey; Choosing Typhon abilities grants plenty of raw power, but makes one into a target. On the flipside, human abilities result in fewer encounters but also less power when they inevitably occur. These limitations are good in that they encourage players to build a highly-specialized character, but there’s an inherent drawback to this approach. Focusing on one skill tree or another means that most players won’t experience most of what Prey has to offer since seeing more would mean committing to additional playthroughs. Just releasing a story-centric expansion wouldn’t fix this problem, so Arkane Studios tried something different in the form of Prey: Mooncrash, an add-on that manages to put the full suite of Prey’s systems in the hands of its players.
The bulk of Prey: Mooncrash plays out in a corrupted simulation of an isolated research base on the Moon. The player’s character is tasked with running through this simulation from the perspectives of multiple persons within it in the hope that they’ll be able to discover what happened at the real-life version of the base. It’s a masterful choice of scenario because it allows Mooncrash to side-step all of the constraints that hold the main Prey game back. Players of Mooncrash aren’t limited to developing one single character over the course of twenty hours. Instead they have five to work with, all of whom have their own skill trees to progress along. This means that players will eventually get to try out everything instead of pigeon-holing themselves into a single skill set. Mooncrash does more than overcome the main game’s biggest inherent problem though. It also builds on the base experience and manages to create something that’s potentially even more compelling from a gameplay perspective.
Prey: Mooncrash is full of both major and minor objectives, but the main goal is to complete a run in which each of the five available characters successfully escapes from the Moon. Doing this isn’t exactly simple; the environment, hazards, available items and enemies change with each and every run. Additionally, each character has a limited set of abilities, and several escape avenues require the skills of multiple characters to become viable. What’s more, the simulation’s corruption ensures that players cannot simply take their time. The longer they take, the more the corruption grows. At its higher levels, this corruption creates extremely dangerous enemies and makes survival incredibly challenging. Death can still come quickly if one isn’t careful, so just charging through won’t work. Players need to balance both caution and haste if they’re going to be successful.
The game becomes an exercise in strategy at its higher levels. Players must figure out when to use each character, what each one needs to do, which resources to use, which to leave for later, when to be cautious and when to brute force their way through for the sake of saving time. Every action matters. Every second counts. Once everyone either escapes or dies, the simulation is over and it’s time to start again. Players will want to start again too, because they’re always gaining points they can apply towards each characters progress. At the start, all characters will be weak and hardly able to survive past two levels of corruption. After a few runs, though, they’ll be in a state that would make Morgan Yu proud. Whether it takes players only three runs or thirty, most will eventually build up their characters abilities and arsenals enough to succeed, and they’ll have put all of Prey’s systems through their paces by the time they do.
Prey is an excellent experience hampered by the limitations of a modern full-length game. Prey: Mooncrash is that same excellent experience; it’s just not restricted like the main game is. With it, Arkane Studios was able to leverage the full potential of the gameplay systems they’d created and they made engaging with all of them into an explicit condition for successfully achieving Mooncrash’s main objective. Prey: Mooncrash isn’t exactly everything Prey should have been, but it is everything a fan could want from its gameplay.