One of the best things about all the Prey trailers Bethesda has released to date has been the fact you can turn into a coffee mug using abilities you’ve pinched from an alien race called The Typhon. With Mimic Matter, you basically beam yourself into replicas of any objects you find in the world and to begin with you’ll need to start small. Like the size of a mug small.
Doing so allows you to roll yourself through tight or precarious places unharmed, reaching otherwise inaccessible places. A bit like turning into a rat in Dishonored, which of course is a mechanic created by the very same developer that’s making Prey, Arkane Studios.
So when Bethesda invited Fandom to play with Prey’s alien powers, including the promise of being able to fulfil our dreams of becoming a mug, our heart skipped a beat. Our experience with the first hour of Prey had gone down like a glass of expensive French wine and we desperately wanted more. We even claimed it could replace the longing in our hearts for Half-Life 3.
Your veins are alive with Typhon DNA
For this playthrough, we were dropped in at around three hours into the game. You've got a few abilities to your name, but you're now at the point where you're about to get access to some of Prey's alien powers. Your brother, Alex Yu is telling you to move through the area you're in as quickly as possible and get to a part of the ship known, comically, as the G.U.T.S. so you can find the key for the escape pod and get the heck off Talos I.
But to get to the G.U.T.S., located in the lower part of the ship, you'll actually need to complete a few experiments that got interrupted when the Typhon took over the ship and sucked the very being from your comrades. First, though, you'll need to nab yourself a Psychoscope. You'll probably recognise this piece of futuristic headgear from some of the promotional material for Prey, all silver and geometric angles.
As soon as you discover the Psychoscope and take it from one of your dead colleagues, you'll discover that you can start scanning the Typhon, any other humans you discover and even the little Operator bots that zip around Talos I, in order to learn more about them. However, it's not just knowledge of their strengths and weaknesses you glean from this scanning, it's abilities too. So, while you'll need neuromods in order to actually equip them, the alien abilities are unlocked by scanning the related Typhon.
Actually being able to change into a mug, therefore, is a case of scanning as many Mimics as you can to unlock the various levels of the Mimic Matters ability. The higher your level, the bigger the object you can morph into, including the Operators and turrets.
Lights, Camera, Typhon
However, there's a catch. You have to scan a whole load of the things in order to unlock the related abilities, and they have to be alive while you scan them. That might be easy for the cheeky little Mimics, especially as the Psychoscope lets you see them while they're pretending to be an office chair or dustbin, but for the more formidable enemies, it becomes a tense game of cat and mouse. Scanning isn't quick either, it takes a fair few seconds to successfully log an enemy and even longer if they're frozen in GLOO Cannon gunk. Thankfully, you can shoot and scan but when you're facing a pack of Phantoms, you'll wish the scanner was faster.
Or actually not even a game mechanic at all, as when you start focusing on scanning aliens Prey quickly starts feeling like a high-pressure sci-fi version of Beyond Good and Evil or even Pokémon Snap.
Thankfully, Prey's alien powers are unique enough to (mostly) detract from the irritating way in which you obtain them. Of course, the Mimic Matter was the immediate focus for this playthrough, tumbling around the labs as a mug or a spool of wire. It's amazing how handy the ability is for accessing locked rooms or areas where the only route down is through a corridor of fire. Yes, you could use your GLOO cannon to temporarily stop the flames, but you could also just roll on down there as a microscope gone rogue.
There's one part of this area that involves choosing whether to subject a man to an experiment involving letting a load of Mimics into his cell. His one bartering chip is the access code to the armoury next door, but it's possible to mimic your way through a small gap in the window on the opposite side. He's understandably a bit grumpy about that and therefore it makes your decision whether to let him go free much, much harder – especially when you see he's a criminal with a hefty rap sheet.
Is Prey going to be any good?
From what we've played so far of Prey, we're a little concerned that it won't resonate with a wide enough audience to succeed. The opening story is an excellent sci-fi thriller that deals with themes of trust and morality that could be up there with the likes of Half-Life, BioShock and System Shock, but the strange alien scanning mechanic really detracts from how awesome having alien powers can be.
Hopefully, this is just one small part of the game that's particularly prominent at this point in the story. Because, if Prey's story and Morgan Yu's abilities live up to the expectations, Arkane's new game could go down as one of the greats.
Prey is out on Xbox One, PS4 and PC on May 5 worldwide.