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...
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.
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.
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.
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.