Prey is the best immersive sim I’ve played in a decade. I enjoyed the Bioshocks, I adored the original Deus Ex and Thief games, but other titles (We Happy Few, Dishonoured, Alien: Isolation) either failed to capture that feeling of total freedom tempered by your ability, or frankly I just didn’t gel with. I know there are many Dishonoured stans screaming at the screen right now.

Wading into the mind game

For me, the defining features of an immersive sim are unsurprisingly the ‘immersive’ and ‘sim’ parts.

Sim: 1) A focus on exploration, 2) Multiple routes to the same goal, 3) Overlapping systems that create opportunities

Immersive: 4) All the above feeling 100% natural and organic

Prey pulls this off masterfully. After the early game twist (which I’m not going to spoil here for the two people who haven’t already seen it) you’re let loose on a fully realised world that slowly opens up thanks to your own efforts, with open-ended goals that encourage exploration leading to finding new equipment and overcoming threats.

Swiss-army gun

As is tradition, guns and aliens comprise the bulk of both. While shotguns and pistols provide comfortable point-and-click-to-kill functionality, other tools are much more situational and open-ended. The first ‘gun’ you get is in fact the GLOO cannon, which can lock enemies in place with enough fast-hardening glue to create a thousand macaroni-art Mother’s Day cards. It can also block doors, seal gas leaks, and even build platforms to access new areas.

 

I’ve seen this on Japanese PornHub…

Giving new meaning to ‘eco-warrior’

Joining your omni-applicable arsenal are recycler charges that condense matter (like crates, equipment, enemies and yourself) into small cubes that you can use to 3D-print everything from ammo to upgrades, as well as a host of ‘psychic’ powers that provide new ways of manipulating the world.

To help with that endeavour, the world is littered with explosive canisters, flammable liquid, conductive water, moveable crates, and so on. With the limited resources available to you, certainly at the beginning, the game really feels like it’s pushing you to get creative and find the largest return on every bullet spent.

Closed-loop survival

Going back to recycling, while you can use charges to gather precious cubes you can also dump random junk and unwanted items (like duplicate weapons) into a Material Recycler. Not only does this free-up your inventory, as the cubes take up much less space, but you can then take them to a Fabricator – often but not always found right next to it. You’ll find blueprints throughout Talos 1 that you can construct as much as you like, as long as you have the resources.

You can even make an Xbox 9!

And you really will want every scrap you can find, because even a cleared area can be filled with murderous aliens on your return – usually much tougher than what was previously there. Often not fighting is the smartest move, though that does mean more time spent sneaking around and missing out on rare items. Other than escalating the tension, this slow encroachment of aliens on your turf makes the facility feel alive. Somewhat ironic, as it will frequently leave you dead.

The cost of neuromods increases the further down a tree you go

All this looting and fabricating will soon stuff your inventory, and you’ll despair at how many resources you have to spend to bring down your foes. This is where the neuromod system comes in. Think of them like the augmentations in Deus Ex, but injected directly into your eye and with considerably more downsides lore-wise. You can spend neuromods to increase your carrying capacity, lift heavier items, deal more damage, hack terminals, jump higher, run further, and a host of more exotic abilities. Not least of these is the ability to upgrade your items and weapons.

Finding or crafting weapon upgrade kits lets you add more oomph to your gear, with four stats to increase for each. You’ll also find chips that can add extra functionality to your suit, such as resistance against damage or more efficient movement.

All of these systems work together to reinforce the core gameplay loop of exploration (finding materials and weapons), combat (spending resources and using weapons/neuromods to overcome obstacles) and rest (replenishing resources, upgrading weapons/neuromods).

Turrets (pictured right) are great when used well (not pictured)

Some burn on re-entry

I’ve spent a lot of words praising the gameplay, and skirting around the story… So… It’s fine, overall. That’s it really. Certainly not bad, it was interesting enough to keep me pushing onwards but I never felt like I was working towards that big end goal. Looking back, I can see where my actions created the ending I got, but I was always more focused on the short-term stories and the narrative I was building.

Just two people who might not have made it

And that’s where it really shines. The smaller decisions you make feel impactful, even if the immediate effect isn’t apparent – and you might never know. Few decisions are truly black and white. Will helping these people escape endanger the world? Is this test subject a dangerous criminal, or mostly innocent victim?

Beyond story beats and twists, your own actions feel consequential. Even the simple act of unlocking a door, whether that’s to a new room or to space, feels like progress due to the scarce resources – gifting them to you, or giving you the ability to sidestep obstacles that drain them with a little spacewalk.

Preying on my affections

Odds are, if you’re a fan of immersive sims you’ve already picked-up and loved Prey. However, for the many people this game flew under the radar for, I’d heartily encourage you to pick it up. Prey drew me in and injected itself directly into my eyeballs, only pulling out once I’d seen the end-screen.

An evolving view I never got tired of

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