This article contains major spoilers for Prey (2017). If you don’t want some of the story spoiled, then it’s probably best not to read any further.
One of the many qualities that makes gaming special is the player’s relationship with the game. Players are actively involved in what’s playing out on screen; we’re not just a passive observer. The best video game stories know how to leverage this relationship and use it to leave its players awed, amazed, or just plain shocked when all is said and done. Prey (2017) isn’t quite able to do that, but it was able to get me with a pretty good gotcha moment towards the end. It’s something I should have seen coming what with all the combing around I did on Talos I, yet I didn’t and thus I got hit with a moment that I still think about from time to time even a year later.
For those who haven’t played Prey (2017), the game places its players in the space suit/bulky uniform of Morgan Yu. At the outset, it seems like Yu hasn’t even reached the Talos I space station yet. They’re still going through the preliminary testing required before heading into orbit. That’s how it seems, anyway. The reality is quite a bit different. Faster then you can say “The Truman Show,” it is revealed that Yu’s life has been on repeat for several months and that they were actually having their memory repeatedly wiped as they tested dangerous powers derived from an alien species known as the “Typhon.” Now that’s a pretty big twist by itself, but it’s only a warm-up for the weirdness to come. After this early revelation (and I do mean early), Yu’s exploration of the station is peppered with cryptic flashes of alien imagery; angry, paranoid whispers; and even small snippets of mysterious conversations. They’re all things that don’t belong in Yu’s current predicament and yet they’re there all the same. Loss of memory is a major theme in the game, so it’s easy enough to write these flashes off as nothing more than the leftovers of destroyed memories. However, that winds up being a very narrow-minded assumption. In fact, it’s not even half-right.
As I neared the end of the game, I found what I thought was an alternate way to escape the station; something that seemed to ignore the mission prompts. All I had to do was gather the necessary information and my Morgan Yu could be home-free. It turned out that I was right, but also wrong. One of the NPC’s that had been giving me instructions throughout chimed in one last time as I made ready to leave, making known how disappointed they were in my decision. Then, instead of departing to some kind of alternate ending, I’m greeted with this:
(Video from YouTube channel: TheGood Kyle)
That almost certainly couldn’t have been a memory, but if that’s the case then what could it have possibly been instead. A smarter player probably would have looked at the clues and figured it out, but what was really going on was still flying over my head. It wasn’t until the end finally came that I understood, and my understanding of what had just transpired was turned completely on it’s head.
Before going on, I’d just like to say that Prey (2017) is actually worth experiencing fresh if you can. It’s much better than what popular opinion would have you believe. If you have any interest at all int giving it a try, then I suggest you stop here. Alright, so…
It’s revealed at the end that this was all a simulation, an experiment to see if the Typhon could be capable of developing a sense of empathy. Whether or not the experiment succeeds depends on the players actions in the game. Helping others and generally going out of your way to be kind/protective of your fellows means success (probably), while the opposite means failure (definitely). The results of your actions aren’t what matter because they more or less result in the same thing: earth getting overrun by the Typhon. Its how you arrived at those results that everything rests upon.
It’s a revelation one would like to balk at at first, but all the groundwork was there. The phantom voices, evidence personal impressions of two very different Morgan Yu’s, normal gameplay actions given moral weight behind the scenes. “Morgan” and by extension the player were being tested the entire time. What’s more, this too was hinted at in the very beginning of the game. That however, is a whole other post I think is best saved for another time.
Prey (2017) is a good game that brings an excellent twist to the table. It’s a bit too subtle for its own good and is held back by a few other missteps. However, it’s still a great moment in gaming that it’s host game fully earns by laying all the necessary ground work. There’s plenty more to unpack here, but, suffice it to say, there few other gaming plot twists that made me feel this glad to be got.
What’s your favorite gaming plot twist? Is there anything out there that managed to completely fool you right up until the big reveal?
Lede image captured by Hatmonster