Perhaps the most interesting thing about Prey is how much of its cleverness is wasted on me.
I knew from prior reporting that this game was different than standard games. I had heard of tales of fancy solutions to seemingly impossible situations. That “cheesing” encounters might even be necessary to survive. What I had not considered though, is how tunnel-visioned I had become on rote, formulaic solutions to cliched problems such that I had not even considered the possibility of trying something else.
The very first weapon you pick up is a wrench, which is about as tropy as you get. Then you get the GLOO gun. This is a weapon that deals no damage, but spits out expanding foam balls that can immobilize enemies, put out fires, seal flaming pipes, temporarily block arcing electrical panels, and become climbable platforms when it dries. The silenced pistol comes an hour or two later, and by then you will have encountered quite a few of the stronger enemy types with just a wrench and GLOO gun. The designers were very clearly trying to educate the player on all the myriad solutions to the problems they want you to solve.
Trouble is, I’ve been “trained” too well over the years.
It’s only well after the fact that I realize a better solution existed. For example, I walked into a room, and saw the windows sealed with GLOO foam. A note on the counter read “I sealed two Mimics in there, but there are casualties, so as many as eight.” I wrenched the foam out of the way, and used a combination of Wrench, Silenced Pistol, bullet-time, and panic to kill the half-dozen or so Mimics that popped out of the window.
After searching the now enemy-less room, I realized a few things. First, there was a broken turret in the hallway before this room. I could have repaired it, then set up the turret to cover the window. Second, there was a flammable oxygen pipe that run just under the window – which could have been shot to spray a jet of flame across the opening, catching the Mimics on fire. Third, I have Recycler Grenades, and could have just blown them all up. Instead, I chose the dumbest, most caveman solution possible and wasn’t overly punished for it.
Speaking of Recycler Grenades, these are items that basically convert everything within a certain radius into blocks of materials. And I do mean everything, furniture and enemies included. You can spend a lot of Neuromods (e.g. skill points) unlocking the ability to to lift ever-heavier items out of the way – and there are quite a few early rooms barricaded with heavy objects – or you can… just toss a Recycler Grenade at the obstruction and clear it instantly plus get some materials to make more grenades. This was not my own discovery, I had to read about it. It’s entirely possibly that I would not have even ever tried. That’s some goddamn 1984 doublethink shit, where you lack the language to even acknowledge your oppression.
To be clearer in my own language here, I am praising Prey. It’s just blowing my mind a bit that years of other, less clever games could essentially atrophy any out-of-the-box thinking. I even played Deus Ex back in the day, and I enjoyed all the sequels too. Part of me feels like Prey should punish more mundane gunplay more, or just forgo guns altogether.
At that point though, perhaps forced cleverness isn’t really cleverness at all.
Anyway, six hours in, Prey is an exceedingly unique experience with some really inventive scenarios. The existence of Mimic enemies cause you to really examine all the debris in a room, which can sometimes (and sometimes not, apparently) lead you to realize alternative solutions to an otherwise straight-forward enemy situation. The GLOO gun is pretty much the closest thing to the Gravity Gun from Half-Life 2 that I have seen a game introduce in a decade. And damn near everything else is similarly polished and grokkable in surprising ways.
Pick this game up when you can. On sale, of course, but on the next one.
Posted on February 12, 2019, in Impressions and tagged Bioshock, Deus Ex, Mimic, Prey, Puzzle, System Shock 2. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.
You really need to give Mooncrash a go afterwards. It’s extremely unique and the fact that they were able to turn this game into a “roguelite” and still make it work is quite impressive. Plus, the way it’s designed it kinda forces you to explore the clever solutions that you wouldn’t otherwise bother with. I think I enjoyed it even more than the base game.
I had a very similar reaction to Deus Ex: Invisible War. See my post: Choice in Deus Ex: Invisible War. From that post:
Absolutely. The designers either need to be extremely obvious with their options, or need to occasionally make a standard option unavailable, e.g. super tough encounter that needs to be “cheesed” to pass. That’s kinda antithetical to devs trying to give players choices though. Pretty severe Catch-22.
Perhaps if there are 4 playstyles, design each encounter so that it can be solved with 3 of the playstyles, but not the fourth. And of course each encounter has a different set of “valid” playstyles.
That way a player at least has to use 2 playstyles, and determine if one or the other will not work.
That’s some goddamn 1984 doublethink shit, where you lack the language to even acknowledge your oppression.
It is a little mind-blowing, if you think about it, no question.
Putting it in terms of language is brilliant, because video games in general have developed a set of conventions so familiar and yet separate from the real world that it might as well be called a grammar. Interactables tend to get highlighted in one way or another (and hint at their own purpose). Enemies are assumed to require a certain level of difficulty to get past, and bypassing them easily is either a glitch (we’re downright irritated at the devs for not making us work) or carries some opportunity cost (less xp, missing a cutscene reward…). Meanwhile, that mess of buckets, broken wood and rope in the corner of the room, which could be used to fashion all kinds of pulleys, ladders, traps, etc., is ignored because we know it’s just scenery. You can climb, or you cannot, the dialect is determined at the outset. Being good at a game is to learn and accept its lingo quickly; broad creativity is a waste of time – even in games like the Fallouts, where MacGyvering is ostensibly the order of the day.
As with things like UI design, flaunting the conventions carries a risk of annoying the player, so most games do not, and the problem spirals in on itself.
If you want more of a punish for using brute force methods, you can use a higher difficulty setting. For me the biggest game breaker were the typhon mods. They’re absurdly powerful and psi is never really a limited resource so you can just spam them. My first playthrough I didn’t use any of them and it required a lot more tactical planning early on to not take a ton of damage. If you’re on normal difficulty you’ll eventually overpower the game no matter what path you take though.