Prey’s new game modes are an odd bunch

Goodness me, I’d forgotten how brilliant the opening of Prey is. Bluffs and misdirects, some delivered on immediately, others saving surprises up for later, it’s an ever-backward-pulling camera as your complex situation begins to dawn upon you.

And thank goodness it is quite so good, because if you want to play Prey’s New Game+, or it’s Story Mode, you’re going to have to go through it in its vanilla mode before you can see the differences. There’s just some question about how much either adds. As for Survival Mode – well, it’s great, but it’s not a survival mode.

All three of Prey’s new modes are a little peculiar, in both their purpose and their delivery. Let’s start with…

New Game+

Perhaps the more eagerly awaited option, Prey’s NG+ is a way to replay the game, but with all the neuromods, suit chipsets and scope chipsets you picked up on your original run. Although not immediately. Like any pre-order bonuses you might once have had, all your extras are in the locker in Yu’s office on board the Talos 1. So you are of course going to have to discover you’re on the Talos 1 once again.

Once the superb intro is completed, and you’ve access to the main lobby, you’ll want to rush straight to your room to ensure you get the benefits of this replay as soon as possible. And then this done, you’re equipped with the Scope far too early, given access to all the strength and power you’d previously unlocked, and as such able to breeze past all the carefully designed obstacles to progress long before you’re meant to.

Which does make it all rather strange. Not least because, to my experience at least, the enemy levels have stayed just the same as before. So, in this mode I was immediately finding all the starting neuromods as ever, and quickly filling in gaps I’d left, adding to my roster of Psi powers, and walking around the station like a god.

A huge portion of Prey’s mastery was in its metroidvania-style pathway through its meticulously laid out “open” design. You’d note those doors blocked by obstacles too heavy to lift, or remember that you could see through the window to all those enticing treasures on the other side of an unhackable door. Or indeed perhaps you’d find a room so packed with Reapers that you’d have the good sense not to go in there just yet. So to approach the game and just able to lift those obstacles, or hack that door, or nonchalantly psi-blast all those freaky aliens without paying attention, does somewhat… break things? It certainly spoils the brilliance of the game.

And yet, despite that, it’s awfully fun to do it. It feels like cheeky cheating, returning to this place that was once so bloody terrifying, so overwhelming in its scale and complexity, and just stomp all over it. It’s like returning to your primary school as an adult, and noticing how tiny all the desks are, and how entirely unimposing the library is now you’re looking at it from this height. I’m just not entirely convinced this lack of difficulty makes for a compelling reason to play the whole game again, especially as it removes Prey’s greatest power: fear.

It’s worth noting that due to some sort of anomaly, you can’t just launch into NG+ straight away, even if you previously finished Prey. I don’t know if it’s a bug, but when I (and others) tried to launch it I was informed, disconcertingly, that I had not finished campaign. But do not panic – instead you have to load up the last save you made before you completed the game and play through its last few minutes again. It’s very annoying, obviously, not least because after a year it’s tricky to plunge into the game at its most difficult! But that done, it let me select my campaign to start from.

Story Mode

This is, in essence, an ultra-easy mode. Having played the opening sections of the game again this way, it’s hard to see that it does any more than lower the amount of damage you take. If enemies are weaker to attacks, it’s hard to notice. You just don’t need to worry as much if you stand still hitting them with a wrench, because there’s a much better chance you’ll survive playing in such a dumb way.

I didn’t notice fewer enemies. And you’re certainly not impervious to damage. I ran up to a Typhoon and stood still, and it still bashed me to death in a few hits. That’s more hits than usual, but you’re still going to need to engage in all the game’s combat to keep going.

Which leaves me wondering why this is described as a Story Mode at all. Because let’s face it, Prey was never the most difficult game. I played through the whole thing on Normal, and never really felt particularly challenged. Easy was already there below this, and a breeze. So an ultra-easy option, while absolutely a welcome inclusion (the more modes the better, and games can never go too easy to ensure they’re as inclusive as possible), feels perhaps a touch redundant in this particular game. Were it to make more substantial changes, perhaps add some sort of narrative reason why you can’t drop below 1 health, or why you’re extra-powerful in your attacks, or anything that would actually make this a genuine option for those who want to avoid combat, then I’d understand.

But more importantly, Prey’s combat is such an integral part of its story! The fights with Nightmares and Weavers and Technopaths are often included for narrative purposes, not just to make it more difficult to walk across a room. That’s one of the most splendid things about Prey – every detail is so thought over. You can’t have the story of Prey, and not have the enemies! Their origins, the conversions of crew members into them, and the mysteries behind their purpose are all essential to the story being told. Prey already was a Story Mode!

In the end, Story Mode neither makes the game easy enough to make combat irrelevant, nor tweaks any other aspects that I can identify. It’s “Ultra Easy Mode”, and if that’s something you were after, then ace.

Survival Mode

This is by far the most exciting prospect when first read, and therefore perhaps the most disappointing to discover. What it adds is great! But it’s not a survival mode, and any hopes for a permadeath version of the game, or one where resources such as health and ammo are massively reduced, should be abandoned, I’m afraid.

What it instead means is, for any mode of you play, from a regular game, NG+, even Story Mode, you can add in “survival mode options”. These are Weapon Degradation, Traumas, and Oxygen. You can opt in or out to any, all or none of them. Let’s take them in order.

Weapon Degradation means, well, that. As you use your shotgun or pistol or Gloo Gun or whatever it might be, they start chipping away at a percentage of integrity. Get to 0% and they’re useless and stop working. This means the game has also added in new kits for fixing weapons to pick up, and indeed given a greater rationality (beyond recycling opportunities) for the way you keep finding more and more of the weapons you’ve already got all over the station. It doesn’t make a lick of sense that a shotgun should stop working after you’ve fired it a few times, but it gives you an extra complication and makes looting new weapons with higher starting percentages a more exciting prospect. Also you can stumble upon souped-up weapons with that mathematically troubling prospect of being 150% good.

Traumas are also great. Which isn’t a sentence to take out of context. Here it means you’re capable of getting a variety of injuries that can’t be healed with food and health packs. You might get burned, broken boned, and so on. Or your suit might get damaged such that it’s no longer protecting you as well. These are all clearly indicated via symbols near your health bar, and are addressed by finding kits or medibots. It adds a good deal to the experience, and means you not only want to take combat more seriously, but also have extra panicky jobs to get done in the fray. Oh, and when you’re bleeding you leave bloody footprints everywhere, which is great for decorating.

Oxygen means that if your suit gets leaky, you’re going to start to struggle to float out there in space. You’ll need to patch up, or be much more careful in your extra-stationary explorations. Again, it’s an extra tweak that makes the game more interesting to play.

Conclusive Thoughts

It’s a strange old muddle, isn’t it? Clearly this week’s Prey news is all about the superb addition of Mooncrash, but new game modes for the core game are always welcome. It’s just whether any of the two proper modes are actually that useful that’s in question.

New Game Plus is obviously interesting, but that they haven’t scaled the enemies to match your new abilities is a huge shame. It’s fun to play God for a bit, but it means the game’s wonderful combat, and need for canny improvisation, are both reduced to trifles, which does rather undo an awful lot of Prey’s brilliance.

Story Mode isn’t a story mode, nor I would have thought a particularly needed lower difficulty option. I’m going to guess I’m wrong about that, and Arkane had heard plenty of people asking for it such that it felt necessary. But it’s an odd one either way.

And Survival Mode isn’t a mode at all, but rather additional options for all the other ways to play. Very welcome ones, but a pretty huge disappointment for anyone who thought, “Ooh! Hooray! Have they added permadeath and scarcity?!” (I am never ever going to be that person, but I know for sure they exist in their squillions.)

Anyway, it’s all free, and all optional, so stop complaining.

26 Comments

  1. woodsey says:

    You know, I could swear I read an interview where they talked about weapon degradation before the game was released. I think the idea was that the weapons would all be a bit shit because they were 3D-printed.

    Can’t say I’m surprised they dropped it from release though. Ever since Far Cry 2 people have been salty about the idea, even though it works perfectly in that game.

    Anyway, the traumas system sounds coolio. Playthrough #3 I suppose.

    • Whelp says:

      Weapon degradation is just an antiquated gameplay concept, and generally doesn’t add anything worthwhile to a game. Even the designers of System Shock 2 practically admitted that it was a mistake in the end.
      It is a neat addition and adds to the atmosphere in Prey I guess (3d-printed, previously-owned guns will break easily, but you can still find mint 150% ones in security lockers), but the upgrade system in the game means you’ll probably invest resources into pimping out your guns (and maintaining them with kits) instead of replacing them when they break. It’s basically all pointless, is what I’m saying.

      • woodsey says:

        Eh, I find “antiquated gameplay concept” an unconvincing argument for most things. People were saying that about health bars a few years ago.

        Again, it definitely works in Far Cry 2, thematically and gameplay-wise, so there’s nothing inherently wrong with the idea.

        I think you may well be right in your other comment that it might not make much sense in combination with the weapon upgrade system, though.

        • Archonsod says:

          Works to do what precisely? I don’t think I ever even thought about it during FarCry 2. At best it encouraged you to return to a safe house between missions to replenish your worn gear with fresh gear, but since you’d usually want to be doing that anyway to save/fast travel it was largely redundant.

          • woodsey says:

            Works to create tension and force improvisation. It’s not a huge thing (making all the moaning all the stranger), but having a gun jam or blow up in your face, or a rocket misfire, makes everything feel that bit scrappier.

            Any weapons you store in a safehouse will be worn anyway. You can only get brand new ones at gun stores, which there are less of. And you can save anywhere, so it’s not like you’re constantly dipping in and out of either one.

      • DatonKallandor says:

        And Prey showed that if you just try to make System Shock without weapon degradation, it gets really boring quickly. Turns out it’s really important to making the scavenging aspect of it work and stop the player from just becoming a combat god the moment they pick up their first shotgun and stay at that power level for the rest of the game.

        So in retrospect it weapon degradation in System Shock 2 wasn’t a mistake after all – it simply plays worse without it.

  2. Whelp says:

    I was never a fan of the concept myself, but isn’t “walking around like a god” the whole reason to play NG+ in a game like this?

    The first game ever (to my knowledge) that had NG+, Chrono Trigger, had multiple endings that depended on *when* in the storyline you fought the last boss, so it made sense there.

    • Excors says:

      In games like this I usually do all the side quests and explore every nook and cranny. By the end of the game I’ve found every item and leveled up lots and unlocked skills etc much more than an average non-completionist player would, but the end-game combat has (sensibly) been balanced for those average players. That means the game usually becomes disappointingly easy and dull, and doesn’t give me any reason to use the cool new abilities I’ve unlocked.

      NG+ should be designed for the most dedicated players (because that’s who’s going to bother playing it) and I think it should aim to restore the challenge. Assume the player has unlocked everything and force them to start using their skill and ingenuity again, and using all their weapons and character abilities, by upping the difficulty enough.

    • Cederic says:

      I’d say so, yes, although Borderlands (and sequels) just bumped difficulty to match.

      Just finished Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, over 50 hours of non-lethal completion play through. Followed by a six hour New Game+ romp in which I killed anything that had a weapon or used a derogatory term about my augmentations.

      If I’d had to start over from scratch I’d have skipped the ‘kill stuff’ play through so for the effort needed to add New Game+ (i.e. almost none) it’s a nice addition.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    Wait, Prey was too easy? I stopped playing in frustration at the invincible black spider monsters milling around and eating my ankles off while I ineffectually whacked them with my wrench.

    • Whelp says:

      It was super-easy on normal (for me) at least. And if by “spider monsters” you refer to the basic mimic variants, the old Bioshock “stun and bash” tactic works really well (“freeze” them with the goop gun, bash them with the wrench.)

    • MrBehemoth says:

      I’m with Drib … I found it really hard and I’ve kind of dropped off. I want to go back, but it has to be when I’ve got lots of time and energy. I did hear that if you try to play it as if it was a horror game – evade, escape, hide – then it’s easier.

    • Stevostin says:

      I played it on Very Hard – maybe lowered it after a time ? Also no neuromod, why would anyone use one, the game really tell you you shouldn’t if you want to remain human. To me neuro mod don’t even exist in the game, why are ppl talking about them?

      Anyway it wasn’t easy. TBH it wasn’t hard either. It was skill resilient. There was little to learn that would drastically change an outcome. You’ll take damage no matter what so hit them hard. You need ressources and you need to progress fast bc they do respawn. You can’t stealth your way if you want to explore everything so for most of us a good deal of “options” aren’t really there either, just wipe new map clean, explore the shit out of everything then only start to avoid respawning conflicts if you can.

      Prey is a good game and we need more of that kind of game, but it tries to do everything in an original way and fail to do anything in a really succesful way.

      “we have an original story with twists”=>there are so much of them nothing matter. Also dramaturgy is broken, it’s impossible to care about any one or any thing.

      “we have an original take on combat” => combats aren’t satisfying

      “we have an original art” => it’s a mix bag of stuff that don’t clearly go anywhere

      “we have ethics on skills” => so most of those skills will never be used or tried.

      “we have original, shapeless enemies” => meh

      etc.

      I am glad I played it but the Moon extension is more of everything that’s not great in the game (gameplay) and less of what could have been good (same game, but with a less convoluted, more satisfying story). Hopefully the franchise is dead and Arkane can start over a new franchise on a fresh slate.

  4. Mouse_of_Dunwall says:

    The Survival mode sounds really interesting. I’m gonna have to try that in my next play through.

    Really looking forward to diving into Mooncrash, but I haven’t had the time to properly start it yet. This weekend I shall do nothing but play Prey, I swear it!

    • Whelp says:

      I don’t know why I would want to voluntarily emulate SS2’s weapon degradation system in Prey, but more options are always good… I guess?

      The game has a pretty extensive weapon upgrade system, so you’re probably just gonna craft repair kits anyway, which will just work out to an extra resource sink in the end.

  5. Viral Frog says:

    “Because let’s face it, Prey was never the most difficult game.”

    Did I not play the same Prey? I restarted three different times and used different builds each time and every single time, at the same point in the game, became virtually incapable of progressing. No ammo, no materials to craft ammo, couldn’t deal enough damage with my wrench, died to everything… I loved the game until that point. I played on Normal. This is the first game I’ve ever played that’s given me this kind of trouble ON NORMAL. I tend to play games on Hard or whatever other higher difficulty settings they have.

    • malkav11 says:

      Yeah, I found it sufficiently difficult on Normal that I was pretty turned off until I finally tried turning it down to Easy. And even on Easy I can still get smeared all over the nearest wall real quick against anything stronger than a mimic. I don’t know if I -need- a Story Mode or not, but I welcome the option if it turns out I do.

  6. Blake Casimir says:

    I wouldn’t mind all these additions being mediocre if it were actually possible to finish Mooncrash without the needless repetition associated with the rogue permadeath and reset system. This is what I’m really gutted about.

    Arkane: PLEASE allow us to play Mooncrash with save games. Until this is added, I have no intention of purchasing the DLC.

  7. Daymare says:

    Played Prey on some high difficulty. I loved its idea, loved the world, loved its style and was intrigued by the story. Maybe I should’ve gone full Alien powers, maybe that would’ve made it easier, because the combat was really hard, but not in a very satisfying way. I’m not sure if I should give it another chance, maybe on a lower difficulty or something, or of many if my gripes have been fixed at this point.

    But when I played it upon release, I was fighting with the inventory, trying to cram in stuff that I needed, sorting, converting as much as I could (which was fun the first five times, then became busywork).
    Add to that annoying broken soundeffects, then discovering that hours of my progress had apparently corrupted my saves to the point where I couldn’t enter some levels anymore.

    You could make “climbing” spots with the gloo-gun, but actually climbing onto them was a fiddly, irritating process that took minutes every time. Maybe I’m an idiot, I don’t know.

    I also had like, six quests in various places of its sprawling network of a spaceship, some if which I seemingly missed or couldn’t access for unknown reasons, partly, I’m pretty sure because of bugs. I felt, even after about 25 hours of progress, overwhelmed by having to navigate it all.

    Then disregarding all this bullshit, I returned to the lobby level and found it had been re-populated with a hilariosuly large amount of monsters, I couldn’t exit the lift without being instantly floored. Feeling my progress had been wiped that way and that further progress was blocked by broken saves, I finally gave up on it.

    I really wanted to like the game, but in the end it just felt fiddly and busy and irritatingly complex and, most of all, broken in too many ways to make it enjoyable.

    • Daymare says:

      I’m pretty sure I could’ve made it past that insanely re-populated level despite the difficulty and everything, by using the environment, the stuff I’d looted I’m sure it would’ve been possible.

      But that would’ve required amounts of patience I had at that point perfectly run out of.

      And I’ve bashed my head against Father Ariandel and Sister Friede ~30 times before I beat ’em.

  8. LogicalDash says:

    What good is Story Mode for the players that need it, if you need to beat the game to unlock it?

    • malkav11 says:

      I assume it’s New Game Plus and possibly Survival Mode that require beating the main game. I can’t imagine locking an extra-easy difficulty behind finishing the game on a harder difficulty because as you say, it’s completely backwards.

  9. Jernau Gurgeh says:

    Somebody try and sell me this game… there was a lot of hype and so I played the demo and just couldn’t see what the fuss was about. (Yes I played the fun but janky original Prey and no I wasn’t comparing this to that).

    I got the same feeling I had when playing Dishonored… yeah, it was sort of okay, but nowhere near as special or exciting as it was being made out to be by ‘old skool gamers’ (of which I guess I am one) tired of epic cinematic cover shooters etc and harping on about it being ‘gaming done right’. I felt like I was missing something, right to end credits.

    • Uninteresting Curse File Implement says:

      Well, if your point of reference us Dishonoured, Prey, in comparison, has one cohesive, interconnected world you can explore at your leisure, way more and more varied methods of interaction with less focus on killing, and much better story and writing.
      Dunno if that’s enough to sell you or not, but it’s a very different game…

  10. CaptWaffle1 says:

    There is actually a mod that exists that gives access to most of the traumas and the items that heal them….. I’ve been using it for a bit and it really adds something nice to the game. As for the difficulty- I found it quite difficult early on (played on whatever the hardest difficulty was: I always find that more immersive) but I gradually was able to push through while slowly accumulating items….. once I got the neuromod schematic and psychoscope- that’s when the game started to become quite manageable.

    Oh- the mod I’m referring to also has an extra that increases enemy health…. really brings back that “OH MY, THESE EARLY ENEMIES ARE QUITE HARD” feeling to those of us that have run through the game a few times. Not sure if this mod still works with the update…. I had all the traumas working on MoonCrash but not sure if they were enabled by default in the DLC anyways.

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