The ’60s Space Program Lives on in Arkane’s Stylish and Spooky Prey [Preview]
"The greater our knowledge increases, the greater our ignorance unfolds." - John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States of America
For thousands of years, visiting space was a dream thought untenable, though it didn't stop many of the great artists of any given era from supposing what was out there in the cold void beyond our atmosphere. It wasn't until Russia launched a satellite into orbit that our own President John F. Kennedy kicked the American space program into high gear. He never got to see us land on the moon, but JFK's influence on the space program was felt for decades.
Nearly 50 years after planting a flag on the moon however, space exploration once again feels like a dream. We've seemingly reached the peak of what current science will allow us to explore and discover. Now what space might be like is again left to the artists of the world to interpret.
If JFK had lived, the space program may have unfolded quite differently. The urgency of finding more out there could have lead to our greatest minds searching the depths of space to learn all the secrets, good or bad, that they could. That's the world Arkane Studios supposes exists in Prey, its promising and haunting revamp of a cult classic first-person shooter.
TranStar's Talos I space station is what you'll call home for presumably the duration of Prey. In playing the first hour, we only got a glimpse at the inner workings of the massive orbiting home to scientists, business people and the security personnel working for TransStar. As Morgan Yu (you decide your binary gender at the start), you'll be working closely with your brother Alex Yu to explore the rigors of prolonged exposure to space on the human psyche.
The world Arkane has created is just as robust and intricate as Dishonored or BioShock, and the style similarities aren't easy to swat away. While Prey takes place in 2032, the influence of the '60s is apparent the moment the credits start to roll. The Saul Bass-inspired title sequence is clever, and immediately links the presentation with that era. Once you begin walking through the station itself, the posters, decor, equipment, and atmosphere all carry a bit of a Mad-Men-through-a-modern-lens vibe. This isn't an alternate 1960s where technology advanced at a faster rate, but rather a futuristic take on the nostalgia of the original space race.
"There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all." - John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States of America
Even back when he was giving the iconic "space speech" at Rice in 1962, Kennedy knew any worlds beyond ours weren't necessarily safe. While I don't quite think he was talking about aliens (unless you believe all those YouTube videos), any mysterious setting beyond our current comprehension would certainly qualify. Fantastical planets and solar systems in fiction have been rooted in this idea, even before JFK acknowledged it way back when. Without delving into the story more than the footage Arkane has already shared, it's safe to say the developer is turning over familiar rocks, with unfamiliar results.
The friendly gray beings with big eyes aren't waiting for you with open arms in the halls of TranStar's Talos I space station. The threat at the center of Prey are the Typhon, an alien race capable of mimicking ordinary objects, and even evolving into walking, talking creatures with tremendous strength and speed. They aren't amicable in the least, and it takes very little time from the start of the game for you to make their acquaintance.
Weapons on Talos I have the same kind of clever ingenuity and grounded science you'd expect from a developer like Arkane based on its previous efforts. Nothing we used in our time in Prey felt completely fabricated for the sake of being a video game. Your core weapons early on are merely a shotgun, pistol and wrench, with only the Goo Gun providing any kind of unexpected turn. It's a purely defensive weapon --- one that freezes Typhon in their tracks with enough shots --- but it's also a tool in solving some of Prey's vertical puzzles. Nothing is included here without a dual purpose.
The technology in Prey is practical, though there's a bit of Euro-futurism in there with the likes of Terry Gilliam and Ridley Scott providing a baseline of what the years to come may hold. It's much like having a production designer like Syd Mead on hand to make sure that no matter how advanced the equipment, the technology never looks foreign. Though I suppose in his own way lead visual designer Emmanuel Petit has just as much an eye for that kind of thing as the cinematic masters of the form. It's all something wonderful to behold and witness. While the gameplay is solid, as you would expect from Arkane, it's the world-building the developer brings to the table that makes Talos I so believable.
"[As] we set sail we ask God's blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked."- John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States of America
There's still a lot we don't know about Prey, most notably how the game holds up beyond its first hour. The promise for greatness is there however, as in our brief time with Prey it hosted all the atmospheric hallmarks of Dishonored and BioShock without copying them outright. Space has long been considered the final frontier, and there's much we don't know about the truths it holds. We have to let fictional accounts like Prey scratch the exploratory itch for us. Heading into the great unknown is a frightening proposition, but it's one we're willing to endure for the sake of science... and video games.
Prey will be out on May 5 on the PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.