Prey: Mooncrash offers a surprising amount to do in a deceptively small space

Prey: Mooncrash is a game of refinement. It’s a piece of DLC that uses an economy of space by asking you to replay the same sprawling collection of areas repeatedly, with varying characters, varying skillsets, and an ever-changing threat to combat. It’s a game that will make you play Prey differently than you have before, and you’ll be grateful of it.

You begin in a simulation room, under vague circumstances, tasked with fixing a couple of bits and bobs to get the simulator running. That done, you’re in, and playing as one of five characters you’ll gradually unlock, attempting to escape from a devastated moon base overrun by Prey’s gang of alien antagonists.

To do this, you’ll use all of Prey’s weaponry and tactics, plus some that are either new, or I never found them in the main game. Gloo bombs, for instance, as a cousin of the Gloo gun. And each character is designed to best exploit a different aspect of Prey’s paraphernalia, with unique skill trees to expand.

There are five different ways to escape the moon base, from the super-simple escape pod route you’ll aim to reach on your first run, to far more elaborate means such as launching a rocket, which, well, requires you to know how to fly a rocket. And as you explore the really sizeable number of locations on offer here, you’ll gather new information, new key cards, and be able to exploit your skills in specific ways.

Die – and you will die – and you start over. Either from scratch if you’ve run out of survivors to play as, or picking up with the next character to continue on in the simulation in the state you left it. The ultimate goal of the game is to get all five characters to leave the base using all five methods, in a single run.

But that’s going to take a lot of playing before it’s possible. First you’re going to have to work out how to unlock all the characters, then how to reach all the escape routes, and then get each character powered up enough with upgrades and Psi options such that it is possible. And to do that, you’re going to need to run each character a few times.

Upgrades last over death, and even resets of the simulation. (In fact, “reset” is a pretty inaccurate term here, since the sim maintains many of the changes you’ll have caused through repeated plays. For an early example, you begin the first time in a small room heavily staffed by disguised mimics, but on further plays that’s all cleared out and the door’s opened, so saves the tedium of repeating the same simple actions each time.) As indeed do fabrication plans (items you can make in the fabricators), and the sim points you gain. These are used to buy items from previous runs to have in your inventory at the start of the next.

This is a neat device, meaning you don’t need to start with a measly wrench each time out, but rather can equip yourself with a couple of decent weapons, some repairs, and even spend a fortune on some neuromods. Then there are chipsets, more minor upgrades, that require repurchasing from your gathered pool each time. But, of course, also means you can’t spam the game, as you need to earn more sim points to be able to do this each time. Such points are earned mostly just by playing – discoveries, kills, repairs, and so on.

The result is a sort of first-person metroidvania roguelite, if you’ll forgive such extravagances. As you charge about trying to stay alive, you’ll find computers that require level three hacking, or machines needing a level three repair, and such abilities are another 8 neuromods away from level two. You note them down for later attempts, as you keep replaying these locations.

And if that concerns you, you worry you’ll get too used to the same places, even with the variety it offers, then I have two responses. First, I’ve been playing it a load, and despite assuming the same, it hasn’t happened yet. And secondly, multiplayer games. Mooncrash’s reuse of the same spaces with differing characters is a single-player rendering of that familiar multiplayer notion, where the spaces are interesting enough when combined with the changes in enemies, enemy placements, and tools available, to sustain it.

And, like multiplayer gaming, a good deal of Mooncrash is about perfecting your skills within that environment. While you won’t know what enemies you’ll face where in any given run, you’ll start to learn your way around the labyrinthine base, and be able to pick your route more deliberately, exploiting shortcuts and hideouts you’ve learned.

But what’s absolutely smartest about Mooncrash is how it requires you to play as those five different characters. Because it’s forcing me to play a single-player first-person-me-do in ways I usually avoid. Like anyone, there are ways I lean to in any immersive sim, preferring stealth, hacking and repairing over bombs and run-n-gun bravado. But here, as you play each archetype, you’re required to change your play-style accordingly. It’s making me approach Prey’s world in a way I haven’t before, and that’s refreshing and interesting.

I must say, I’ve yet to care a jot about the plot. Lots of work has gone in, as you’d expect from Arkane, with emails and notes and recordings and fragmented remains of banter, and the voice acting is superb. But I’ve yet to find a single bit of it interesting enough to remember. I do wish this were more engaging, such that it became another prong to motivate replaying.

It’s still pretty infuriating that it peculiarly features two loading screens, one after the other, each time you change areas. The only other issue I’ve faced is some proper framerate issues in the game’s initial simulation room, but once out of there it ran smoothly at 60fps.

Mooncrash also introduces some of the new optional content for the main game, including weapon degradation, and specific body traumas that then need to be healed. The former is a bit of a naff inconvenience, really. For no discernible reason, your guns get worn out at an astonishing pace through use (I don’t know anything about guns, but I’m pretty sure they last more than a day). The traumas are more interesting. Get injured in particular ways and you’re hobbled until addressed. Sometimes this limits how much health can be restored, but more interestingly, it might mean you can’t sprint or jump without incurring further injury, forcing you to quickly adapt how you play in that moment.

I’m still going with this, crashing and sneaking and leaping and flailing through the interconnecting sectors, and being absolutely properly terrified of the new Moonshark monstrosity that haunts the central hub. Whether it will hold my attentions long enough to persist to try to get all five off the base in a single run seems a lot less likely, but I’m having a great time for now.

Mooncrash is an enormous paddling pool compared to Prey’s Olympic swimming pool. There’s none of the depth, but it’s a heck of a good time to splash around in.

Prey: Mooncrash is out now on Windows, for £13/$20/20€, via Steam – it requires the full version of Prey

36 Comments

  1. Dorga says:

    The fact that it forces the player to change their approach is what entices me the most. When I play immersive sims (although less so with Prey itself) I’m physically unable to move from either a non lethal playthrough or a ghost non lethal one, even if it means save scumming and ignoring a big and fun side of the game.

    • Yukiomo says:

      I’ve managed to switch from “use save scumming for completely nonlethal” to “try your best to be nonlethal and only reload if you die” in immersive sims, which I’ve found to be a much more enjoyable style. I still don’t know if I could force myself to do a full-violence playthrough though without outside incentives like Mooncrash.

      • Dominic Tarason says:

        Mooncrash tempts you pretty well to go the aggressive route. Max out a power or two and load the Volunteer up with psi-hypos and you can practically snap your fingers and will most of your enemies out of existence without having to ever fire a gun.

  2. Dominic Tarason says:

    While we’re largely on the same page, I do disagree with John a little on the weapon degradation not working. I thought that, while unrealistic, it brought a lot of the main game’s design decisions into sharper focus. Now there’s suddenly a reason for you to find multiples of weapons all over the place, or even pick up fabrication blueprints for them. Repair kits become a vital part of your bag of tricks, and sometimes a broken gun forces you you to rely on maybe under-used powers.

    • Darloth says:

      Also from what I’ve seen of people streaming it, a broken gun isn’t one that won’t fire AT ALL… it just fires a single shot and then needs to be unjammed or reloaded or whatever.

      So if you really, really need one shotgun round or a single pistol shot, you still have that option.

  3. baqueta says:

    Really intrigued by this. I love that Arkane are being given room to experiment within the genre, and it sounds like a really smart way to tackle some problems inherent in the”choose your own playstyle” approach.

    I do worry that it will see even less commercial success than the base game though, even taking into account that it’s only available as an expansion, not a standalone.

  4. Premium User Badge

    subdog says:

    Prey is one of my absolute favorite games of the last few years, but I can’t bring myself to be interested in a Prey that relies on rogue-lite randomization. That’s the exact opposite of what I want in an immersive sim.

    • DoubleG says:

      I strongly recommend you should give it a shot, as someone who loved the original and was skeptical of this approach.

      This is one of the best pieces of DLC I’ve ever played. Not only have they added a lot of extra playtime, but they’ve also made me enthusiastically engage systems from the original that I wouldn’t have touched if this was a normal story expansion. They’ve pulled off a very clever trick with this one.

      • Godwhacker says:

        Seconded. It’s possibly a hard sell if you’re in the “I must do everything perfectly” mindset, but being forced to step outside of that- in the way that Death of the Outsider and The Dunwall Trials did for the Dishono(u)red games- is hugely refreshing.

        It’s genuinely wonderful.

        • klops says:

          How did Death of the Outsider do that? If you can say it without big spoilers? I’m in the middle of Dishonored 2, and once again I’m not so happy with my playstyle, quite similar to Yukiomo above.

          • Godwhacker says:

            DOTO takes away the chaos meter, meaning you can stab your way through it without changing the eventual outcome. I was a lot more kill-happy with that than I was with the other two, which in turn led me to using a lot more of the devices and strategies in the game.

          • mavrik says:

            Yep, there’s even a whole mission that has “Kill everyone… quitely!” additional objective. Absolved of the usual lethal guilt, I’ve enjoyed figuring out how to gruesomely kill everyone a lot.

    • Darloth says:

      The enemy and loot placement is randomized…

      But the plot, and the levels, are not.

      The state the levels are in becomes more random later, forcing you to adapt to how you transition it, but you can certainly learn the level, know that there’s a good closet full of good stuff up on the floor above (just not know which stuff), and benefit from the interesting interconnected plot bits that Prey did well. It’s only just roguelite in the sense of the term, since so much DOES stay the same, it’s a really interesting mix of genres.

      I wasn’t that interested in it either until I watched someone play it for half an hour, and then I proceeded to watch them play it for another 2 hours and now I’m probably going to buy it when I have time to dedicate.

  5. Kingseeker Camargo says:

    From what I’ve seen in my brief experience so far, at least one of the new body traumas has Yu apparently bleeding profusely, which not only affects the actions you can do but also has you leaving bloody footprints all over the place.

    Of course, I set out to try and paint all the floors red.

    10/10!

  6. mashkeyboardgetusername says:

    One thing, I’ve heard there’s a time limit on each run of this. How restrictive is it? I think in the launch article comments Dominic commented that it was fairly forgiving (I’m not sure I’d go for a 5 escapes run anyway, assuming it’s only a steam achievement you get for doing that) but wouldn’t mind more detail. I tended to play Prey almost like a puzzle game, observing each set of phantoms and their environment before deciding how to try to deal with them, so would’t enjoy the pressure of a ticking clock.

    • Godwhacker says:

      It’s pretty forgiving- you’ll definitely be able to get one survivor out easily within the time limit. More than that and you’ll have a challenge, though there is a pick-up from certain enemies that adds time to the clock. Also I understand you can find a fabrication plan for it, so once you’ve got that you can be a bit more liberal with your time.

      One thing that should be clarified here. There are ‘escape attempts’, where you try to get a single survivor to escape, and there are ‘simulation resets’, where the whole simulation gets reset and the elements randomised. The simulation state persists between escape attempts- you can leave caches of weapons and equipment for the next survivor to find, for example, and any unlocked doors will stay unlocked. However, if there’s a reset, that cache will be gone, and you’ll need to find the keycards all over again.

      Resets are triggered if all survivors are either dead or escaped, if the time limit is reached, or if you do it manually. The (eventual) goal is to get all five survivors to complete an escape attempt without a simulation reset.

      I’ve not done it yet, but I’m definitely going to try.

      • Dominic Tarason says:

        Yeah, the clock-rewinding items can be both bought before starting a character’s run, or just fabricated during a run. Note that they only wind the clock back to the start of the current phase, so if you activate it a second after you upgrade to Corruption Level 3 (of 5 – if you hit 6, game over), it’ll do nothing.

        And yes, it is very advisable to leave gear for your next character. I’ve stupidly left with an entire inventory of super useful gear on a character, leaving none for the next.

      • DoubleG says:

        Adding to all this good information — the game is very gradual about about adding the time constraints and additional characters, so your first few times through the facility you can move slowly and explore more or less at your own pace. Your first go doesn’t even have a timer.

        • Dominic Tarason says:

          The first run also has an extra, super-easy escape route that’ll provide an easy route out. This won’t be so simple later. As John mentioned, a few things do change permanently within a save file, like the two ‘tutorial’ Typhon scanners right at the start being disabled on later cycles.

  7. LoverOfChickens says:

    This sounds like a super annoying challenge mode, but a nice changeup nonetheless.

    • Dominic Tarason says:

      It really does just feel like more Prey, with each character having their own story mission, skill trees and unique abilities. It just adds a little time and resource pressure to the mix. A lot of people seem to be skipping of this expansion because of weird gut feelings that aren’t actually backed up by any evidence.

      • mcnostril says:

        Unfortunately those weird gut feelings seem to be Prey’s curse in general.
        I’ve had to repeatedly convince people to get over this inexplicable ‘eeeeeeh’ that Prey somehow elicits, even friends who are fans of the genre. It’s actually rather baffling.

        • TΛPETRVE says:

          Y’know, I’m not even all that surprised. For all the praise the two System Shock games get for their influence, I don’t know many people who actually like them all that much. And Prey is System Shock through and through, minus most of the nuisances (if sadly also minus a memorable villain). It’s a seemingly unspectacular and obtuse piece of work that likely appeals more to fans of esoteric sci-fi such as Beyond the Black Rainbow than it does to the average SF consumer.

          • bacon seeker says:

            It’s obviously not on the level of Halo, Mass Effect, Gears of War etc which are what come to mind when you mention “average SF consumer” but I think System Shock 2 actually does have a pretty enthusiastic fanbase despite its age. Prey did introduce some additional turn-offs unfortunately with the bland art style and enemy design being perhaps the biggest

          • woodsey says:

            I actually really like the approach they take with the brother, in lieu of a more overt or traditional villain (at least until the end).

            Prey is oddly melancholic, and much of that stems from Alex’s dialogue and the regret that he feels, real or feigned, now that he and Morgan are estranged.

            Also, Benedict Wong’s voice is like hot butter over gravel. So he has that going for him too.

          • Chris S says:

            He is a wonderful actor. They can’t afford him, but it was nice they did.

            I agree with your points that it was unspectacular, except for the art design which I though was great. The enemy design didn’t really fit into that art deco world. They lacked any real bite, but were nice enough sometimes.

            I really liked the melancholic tone, but the games real failure was to offer a decent ending. I will never understand how they can spend all this money on making these worlds, then faff the writing and have the game peter out with no direction. The late game agonist was cartoonish, and the game design degenerated into operator spam.

            If they can hire hollywood actors, surely a good script writer with reputation is a worthwhile investment. It’s beyond me.

            If you want a long tail of sales on these narrative driven games, you’ve got to have a good ending to generate a buzz. It’s not like a Bethesda game where the environments are enough to satisfy people. If you look at it purely from a mechanics perspective, it’s got really stodgy gameplay where you can’t even do the strafe dodging that makes a game like the original doom work.

            Good effort nonetheless, but I don’t think they can afford financially to make another one like it, and this dlc signals that very strongly. A shame, as they would ramp up and improve after that first effort.

      • MultiVaC says:

        To be fair all of the descriptions I’ve seen, both official and E3 coverage, don’t give a great impression. I was really disappointed when I first heard the original announcement because it sounded like some kind of rogue-lite or scored based leaderboard bullshit. I bought it anyway because I figured it deserved a chance, given that I’ve unequivocally loved everything Arkane has done since the first Dishonored. It wasn’t until I got my hands on it that I realized how cool it is, for all of the reasons that have already been said.

      • Humppakummitus says:

        The time limit worries me quite a bit. Speedrunning is the polar opposite of how I played Prey and the idea of losing a good run and having to restart because I ran out of time sounds awful.
        I’m still going to try, though.

        • ZApe says:

          This aspect had me worried at first as well, but it really hasn’t been a problem.

          Want to poke around and explore at a slower pace? Just go for it. I’ve had immensely enjoyable runs in which I’ve focused on a single character so I could scour every room and drink in the details. You’ll still likely find some good chipsets and earn enough neuromod upgrades that will benefit that character in subsequent playthroughs, even if you don’t successfully escape. That’s one thing I love about it – even if you play for an hour and die just short of your objective, you’ll have meaningful improved your chosen character to the point that it doesn’t necessarily feel like a failure.
          In fact, the playthroughs in which I’ve fallen short of escape or died a horrible death have been just as memorable as the ones in which I’ve actually pulled it off.

  8. Shazbut says:

    I just want to say this: Arkane, you guys are the best.

  9. malkav11 says:

    “Mooncrash’s reuse of the same spaces with differing characters is a single-player rendering of that familiar multiplayer notion, where the spaces are interesting enough when combined with the changes in enemies, enemy placements, and tools available, to sustain it.”

    Which has never been the case for me in multiplayer games, one of the big reasons I don’t enjoy them. So I am pretty skeptical of the idea here.

  10. Caiman says:

    This sounds so much better than the trailer and brief E3 appearance implied. It sounded like a run through a map with randomly generated elements, it implied none of the depth that’s actually here. I was getting this anyway, but now I look forward to it even more. First, though, I must finish the main campaign…

  11. Uninteresting Curse File Implement says:

    Speaking as another stealth perfectionist, inventory hoarder and obsessive quicksaver, this DLC forces you to leave such behaviours behind, and is balanced just right to make it tense, but not too frustrating.
    If you die, there’s none of this feeling of having thrown 40 minutes of your life away; you progress in multiple ways even when you fail.

  12. TheApologist says:

    I loved Prey so much that I just wanted to hear them announce: “Dear TheApologist, here is more Prey”. So I was initially disappointed. Now reading this it sounds more like Prey: Dead Rising Edition, which is a flipping brilliant idea, so I’m back in after all.

    • RQH says:

      It’s funny you say that. The menu screen of Mooncrash features a letter from the dev team that amounts to just that. “Dear Prey fan, this is more Prey. It works a little differently than you’re used to, but it’s still Prey.” Seems a little odd to put that letter where only people who’ve bought the DLC can see it. But count me as one of those who was skeptical, bought the DLC to support a game I love, and has found this structure surprisingly compelling.

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