Difficulty Curve in Prey

My experience with Prey is much like the tragic lifespan of the noble avocado. The game is good at the beginning and only gets better and better as they throw more challenges at you. The game’s mechanics become more realized and “ripe.” The game reaches this peak excitement… then the next thing you know the game is rotten. It becomes easy, you no longer need to be cautious and you feel like you’ve seen it all before. In the post I wanted to talk about why Prey turns into some mad suck at this point of the game.

Before I get into some of Prey’s issues, I wanted to say that I had an incredible amount of fun with the game. It probably has one of the greatest introductions in any game I have ever played. It has great world building, level design, some of the mechanics are super unique and they mesh very well together. I recommend trying it out for yourself before I starting dunking all over it. I know a lot of people who love this game and I can’t blame them. When the game’s systems work how the developers intended, the game is great! The issues that I did have the game did not ruin the experience for me on their own. They compounded and made each other issue much worse.

In Prey, you navigate a space station that has been taken over by a hostile alien race called the Typhon. The first type of typhon you come across is the mimic, a small spider like creature that can perfectly imitate any object that is similar in size. You need to use visual clues to find them before they smack you some. I played Prey on Hard mode (cuz im hardcors as yall knows) and these suckers can do some real damage. This such an incredible enemy design! I started playing this game like it was a survival horror, slowly sneaking through rooms just they dont jump me and vacate my bowels! Sadly, as one of the game’s many upgrades, you can scan a room and find any hiding mimic, which totally ruin anything that made them interesting. In trying to give the player a sense of progression, they stripped away one of the game’s most interesting mechanics.

Another mechanic in Prey that starts strong but slowly deteriorates is the item management systems. Prey has an incredibly interesting item system where you can break down objects into base components, take those components, and turn them into useful items (as long as you have the schematics for the item you are trying to make). This creates an incredible game play loop where you have to manage a balance of useful items you intend to keep and total junk you can break down to make more useful shit. You could argue that Prey’s item management system might be the game’s most integral system. How stocked you are on health packs and ammo affect how you approach combat. In Prey, you unlock new abilities by spending “neuromods”, which can also be crafted after a certain point of the game. The upgrades change how you solve problems and turn aliens into mush. When you reach the point in Prey when your character is all decked out in fully upgraded weapons, a huge carrying capacity, and a shit ton of upgrades, you lose this need to conserve and and stockpile items. I killed dudes easily, I had more than enough health kits to gobble down that made playing recklessly viable, and I had enough shotgun shells to fill a swimming pool. Once you reach this point, you lose any weight that these mechanics had.

Another factor in Prey’s decline is the way enemies provide new challenges to the player. Prey’s baddies take many different shapes and sizes and they have many different ways to combat them. It’s a puzzle to find out what items work best against each type of enemy. Like before, this design decision works great at first when you are still encountering new enemies, forcing you to learn on the fly the best way to deal with the situation. You feel great when you use your liberal arts, big brain education to figure out “trick” to take out a new enemy, but this aspect is about as deep as knowing whether you should throw rock, paper, or scissors. When you discover a baddie’s weakness, fights with them become trivial. Even the “Hardest” enemies in the game can be taken down in a few seconds if you are using the right weapon. By the end of the game when you’ve seen all the different types of enemies the game has to offer, it feels like you’re solving the same puzzles you already solved 80 times before.

Okay so what’s the take away? What beautiful wisdom must I impart upon your squishy grey matter? Prey’s issues stem from a bad balance between progression and difficulty. The game’s mechanics rely on a player’s lack of experience or their lack of earthly possessions. They work in the beginning of the game but fall apart by the end.

Prey is amazing when it’s mechanics are first becoming realized to the player. They all fit together perfectly and build on one another. It creates this balancing act where every decision you make matters and effects every other mechanic. However, when one part of this engine becomes trivial, the rest get dragged down with it. Easy combat makes the item management and the upgrade system pointless. Having way too many items stockpiled allows you to play recklessly and result with the player not taking combat seriously. When the player gets a million upgrades, your damage output becomes massive so you can spray down any enemy in a second. All of these issues get worse before they get better, resulting in a game that works wonderfully at the beginning but turns foul by the end.