Sunday, July 26, 2020

Mind Games - Prey (2017) - Part 1

I can't believe I haven't played this one on stream yet, especially since it's one that I never tire of. Arkane Studio's Prey is one of, if not the, most criminally underappreciated and undersold games of 2017.

Where Dishonored and it's sequels derive heavily from the Thief franchise that game before it, Prey drinks from the same well as System Shock did. In all but name, this is the closest we'll get to System Shock 3 until the actual System Shock 3 exits development hell.

It is my hope that by the end of this series, you will come to love this game the same way I do, if you haven't already.

Credit to Sam Callahan for providing the thumbnail.

As I said while recording during the stream, this is one of the best opening sequences I have ever seen in a video game. So much groundwork is being laid to establish and set up threads, both in terms of the overarching story and the abilities we will gain access to over the course of the game, that I can't help but be in awe at the work that must have gone into it.

The opening simulation, complete with helicopter ride and fake elevators to get into the test chamber, culminates in a fantastic moment where we have to literally step through the Looking Glass (which is both a very unsubtle literary reference and a cool nod to Looking Glass Studios). But more than that, it helps establish what will become a vital plot point for the story that follows: The process of uninstalling Neuromods erases all memories from after it's installation. Erasing the neural connections established by Neuromod can only be done by wiping out the memories and experiences built on top of it.

That's before we get into the double duty of the three tests that we undergo in the facility. When playing through the game for the first time, these segments are perfect for helping a new player familiarize themselves with the basic control scheme. Most of it is standard stuff, but it can be helpful even for people with immersive sim experience to reestablish their muscle memory. They're all simple tasks, with no time limit on how long players can take.

And yet, these same tests take on a whole different meaning on a repeat playthrough, when we're already aware of the existence of the Typhon and the incredible powers they possess: Powers which the Talos 1 researchers are attempting to install into humans. Each of these tests were designed to test one of these powers. The three boxes, which we use to learn how to pick up objects in the world, we supposed to be used to test the Typhon power to generate an anti-gravity field. The chair we hid behind was something we were supposed to mimic in order to blend in with the scenery. And lastly, the button on the other side of the wall we learned to jump over was meant to be manipulated telekinectically from a distance. Without us knowing, the game has already previewed abilities that we may or may not acquire for our own as we explore the space station.

To top it off, we head back to our office, guided by the ghost of our past self, from before the mind wipe, established yet another important back of the story: What does it mean to be "you"? The final questionnaire hints at this, but every time Morgan Yu finishes with an experimental Neuromod and gets their memory reset, they don't come it the same way they went in. Their personality changes in ways both subtle and overt. And as a result, we need to ask the question of who the "real" Morgan Yu is, assuming such a concept even applies anymore.

Get ready, because as this series continues we'll be sure to enter into a Mind Game. It's time to see how deep down the rabbit hole we can delve.

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