Speedy blob enemies
Enemies are sparse through most of the game, so it is rare to be overwhelmed by sheer numbers, but it allows you to see enemies before they see you so you can plan your approach. Certain enemies eventually respawn in certain places, but I have never had enemies respawn without going through an area transition, so it is easy enough to run back and forth cleared areas without risk of getting jumped out of nowhere. The pacing of encounters is good enough since proceeding with the main story spawns new enemies, while most new areas to explore have enemies in them. There is no location based damage, so you are pushed to focus on tactics rather than aim optimization.
|Mimic||A common small enemy that moves quickly and attacks you in melee. It can jump around and off walls, it can do a significant amount of damage, and it can mimic interactable objects in the environment to surprise you. The wrench is the most efficient option in most cases, although you will want to use guns if there are many of them. It will try to jump around to confuse you and get behind you, but you can counter by running forward and turning around. It is often difficult to tell what object is a mimic in disguise, but mimics depend on existing objects to mimic, so noticing duplicate objects can help you. Approaching a disguised mimic will trigger it to pop out and jump at you, but there is a noticeable distortion animation that occurs first, giving you just enough time to react if you're prepared. Mimics are not smart enough to stay hidden until you turn around and will always attack when you get close, so you can check items by just moving up to them while having a charged wrench ready. There is also a Greater variant marked by a purple tint, which is tougher and less common, but it is dealt with the same way.|
|Phantom||A humanoid enemy that fires projectiles at you from a distance and whips you with its arms in melee. It is capable of super fast bursts of movement to dodge, close distance, and retreat, although it prefers shooting most of the time. It is best dealt with by sneaking up on it and using the stun gun and shotgun in combination.|
|Thermal Phantom||A stronger variant of the Phantom that summons a jet of fire at your feet, so you have to keep moving and hope you don't get stuck on the environment. They are harder to kill than Phantoms and are immune to fire hazards, but they will still fall to the stun-shotgun combo. Early on, when your weapons are weak, you can use a nullwave to disable their abilities.|
|Etheric Phantom||Another stronger variant of Phantom, which can duplicate itself. It attacks only in melee, but it uses it's speed burst to zoom up to you. Because of it's duplicate, it can easily confuse you, which makes fighting them head-on a challenge. When it dies, it leaves a pool of ether that damages you if you stand in it, so keep a small distance. However, it still falls to the stun-shotgun combo, since stunning it prevents it from duplicating.|
|Voltaic Phantom||Another stronger variant of Phantom, which emits electricity around it to shock you and prevent close range engagement. It also electrifies metal surfaces and puddles of water around it. It will slowly walk towards you and it prefers to attack in melee, making them susceptible to ranged attacks like turrets, but they will fire a ranged projectile attack if their movement is obstructed. If they get too close, the electricity will disable turrets. You can use GLOO to slow them while the turret works on them, but be careful not to land shots at their feet in front of them or the GLOO will block their movement and they will resort to projectile attacks that will wreck the turret. The stun gun doesn't work, but you can use an EMP grenade to disable their electricity, allowing you to rush them with the shotgun.|
|Cystoid||Small, motion-seeking suicide bombs. They swarm around in clusters waiting for you to get close mostly in micro-gravity environments, but they can appear in normal gravity environments to roll towards you. They are commonly spawned from Cystoid Nests, which are fixed to various surfaces, emit radiation, and react to motion when you get close, blowing up and releasing the contained Cystoids which home in on you. A cluster of Cystoids do a chunk of damage, but you can survive them. Since they react to motion, throwing objects at them will trigger them to detonate on the object, making them fairly easy to deal with. They also react to the Huntress Boltcaster darts and they won't destroy the darts, but it's not as effective in micro-gravity. You can also use the Q-Beam to quickly sweep them down.|
|Technopath||A large, flying enemy that can snatch and use turrets against you. It can also summon bursts of electricity at your position, so you have to keep moving. They are susceptible to EMP and the stun gun, so zap them and close the distance with the shotgun, but make sure to destroy any turrets it has first.|
|Weaver||A large, flying enemy that cluster bombs you with Cystoids, but prefers to run away, making it hard to engage in close quarters. It is protected by a shield that can be disabled with a nullwave grenade and it falls quickly to the Q-Beam afterwards.|
|Telepath||A large, flying enemy that shoots homing projectiles at you and uses mind controlled humans as suicide bombers. You are immune to mind control and a nullwave will disable its attack, allowing you to rush it with the shotgun. Mind-controlled humans can be knocked out with the stun gun or just killing the telepath quickly.|
|Poltergeist||An invisible enemy that crawls around on the floor and momentarily reveals itself when it attacks with telekinetic powers to hurl objects at you or lift you off your feet. You can hear them, but you can't see them until they attack. They don't have a lot of health, so when they appear, spray them with the pistol or GLOO. You can also use a Typhon lure to distract them.|
|Corrupted Operators||Flying robots with either a close-range flame-thrower or electric shocker. Later, there are military operators that shoot lasers at you from a distance. Regardless, the stun gun makes short work of them because of the electric damage, but they explode when they die, so don't stand too close. Turrets can also kill them, but not as quickly as the stun gun.|
|Nightmare||A giant boss enemy that respawns every once in a while. It is absolutely deadly, firing powerful homing projectiles from a distance while being able to close distance quickly to take extremely damaging melee swipes. Because of its size, it cannot move into areas with low ceilings and it can't climb, but it can still shoot you with its projectiles. Distracting it with a Typhon lure and rushing it with a fully upgraded shotgun works surprisingly well because it seems to get stun locked or distraction locked long enough for you to kill it. Turrets will also distract it, allowing you to get free shots on it while the turrets inflict some damage. If you don't want to fight, a countdown timer starts when the Nightmare detects you, so you can hide and run down the clock. Sometimes, you have to avoid it because it can spawn in front of the main elevator while you're in it. There's a forced animation that occurs when you exit the elevator, which makes it impossible to get out without being swiped or blasted by projectiles.|
Health and trauma
Before starting the game, you have the option to enable traumas. If you receive certain kinds of damage, you will receive debilitating injuries that cannot be healed with medkits, which includes concussions that blur your vision and reduce your maximum psi points, bleeding that causes you to take damage from sprinting, bone fractures that prevent sprinting, and burns that reduce maximum health. There are only a handful a situations that can result in such injuries. Being close to an explosion causes concussions, being shot by a turret causes bleeding, falling from heights or slamming into the ceiling from a lift field can cause fractures, and taking fire damage causes burns. These injuries can be healed by medical operators or by using specialized consumables for each specific trauma that can be fabricated if you can find the plans. The traumas add a layer of difficulty and immersion as they can make some head-on encounters more dangerous, most notably against a Technopath with turrets, which can leave you limping to a medical operator. However, the other traumas are fairly easy to avoid.
In addition to health, you have suit integrity. Light damage to the suit is not a problem, but significant damage will increase the amount of damage you take and cause you to leak oxygen in space, requiring you to use oxygen stations. You can repair your suit with consumable suit repair kits or engineering operators, but suit damage should not be an issue if you are careful enough to avoid damage and visit an operator regularly.
There are also science operators, which replenish psi. These are not that common, but are useful when you want to experiment with psi powers.
Transhuman skills and research
Neuromods are items that act as skill points for buying and upgrading abilities. Learning an ability is cheap, but improving it takes progressively more neuromods. Neuromods are found as rewards for exploring the environment or crafted when you find the fabrication plan and have the materials. It is possible to get the fabrication plan early, but you will still be limited by the exotic material requirement to fabricate neuromods. Because you can hold onto neuromods indefinitely and can install them at any time, save them until you need a skill rather than wildly guess what you might need in the future. You can get enough neuromods to get everything useful by mid-game and there is no need to worry about viable builds as you will never be stuck without certain mods.
You will get a psychoscope, which is a multi-function, single lens goggle you can toggle that lets you research enemies by looking at them long enough. It can also accept swappable upgrade chips, which grant you various abilities like being able to detect hidden Mimics and increasing critical hit chance on weapons. Researching enemies grants you access to Typhon neuromods, which are exotic abilities that use psi points. Each enemy grants you access to certain abilities, so you should research all enemies, but you have to research the same enemy type multiple times to get all abilities that can be learned from that enemy. GLOO can be used to immobilize enemies to give you enough time to finish researching them before killing them.
Using the psychoscope also lets you tag any number of enemies with floating markers, allowing you to track them even through walls for as long as you do not trigger an area transition. However, this is not a feature unique to the psychoscope. Before you get it, the button to activate the psychoscope focuses your vision, which also tags enemies. Tagging Mimics lets you track them even when they hide after tagging them, so use the psychoscope as much as possible. While the psychoscope can be used freely without any batteries, it reduces your peripheral vision, muffles your hearing, and makes a constant humming noise, so it is best not to keep it on all the time.
There are a lot of choices, so I am only going to list the more noteworthy or unique options.
|Necropsy||Allows you to harvest extra organs from Typhon to convert to exotic materials needed for crafting neuromods. Early on, the returns are not particularly great. It costs four neuromods to get this, but fabricating one neuromod requires three units of exotic material, which means you need twelve units of additional exotic material to break-even on the investment. The extra organ you get per enemy is only a fraction of a unit (0.06 or 0.12). Big enemies drop organs that are worth 0.9 or 1.8 units. Over the course of the game, it does turn a profit. However, the difference works out to be around a dozen extra mods by mid game (i.e. cargo bay), which is significant, but you will be able to afford all of the most useful mods by then anyways. Many corpses stay, but some corpses are no longer lootable after a while, so it is useful to get this sooner rather than later.|
|Hacking||Hacking is useful for bypassing electronic security such as computer terminals and keypads, but doors that require keycards cannot be hacked. Hacking isn't really that useful beyond the second rank because few things require more than that to hack, the stuff you get from high-level hacks aren't worth the neuromods spent (i.e. you get access to a lesser number of neuromods than you spent to upgrade hacking), and there are usually other ways to gain access to locked areas like finding the code.|
|Leverage||Allows you to lift heavy objects, throw objects farther, and do damage with thrown objects. There are a number of doorways blocked with heavy furniture, but recycler grenades will clear anything that can be picked up without any neuromod investment. You could wall off areas with heavy furniture, but there's never a situation where it would be useful because you won't be fighting a lot of enemies at once. The most you can do with it is use it as a ranged alternative to the wrench to save ammo, but it's overall not that useful. There's also a physics exploit where you can move heavier objects by pushing it with lighter objects. All you have to do is pick up a Leverage I object and bump it into a Leverage III object to nudge it without needing to spend the neuromods.|
|Gunsmith/Lab Tech||By default, weapons can only be upgraded by one point for each of its stats. This ability allows you to use more upgrade kits to further upgrade weapons. Gunsmith upgrades the pistol, shotgun, and stun gun while Lab Tech upgrades the GLOO cannon and Q-Beam. Gunsmith is more useful early on since you won't get the Q-Beam until early-mid game. Upgrade kits are universal for all weapons, so you only have to decide which weapon and stat to upgrade. This is a priority upgrade because you can get more mileage out of upgrading weapons than the Firearms ability, which directly increases your damage. However, this skill is limited by your access to upgrade kits, so upgrade other skills first if you don't have enough upgrade kits to take advantage of the next rank.|
|Repair||Allows you to use spare parts to repair various broken devices, especially turrets. It's also useful to repair broken electrical junctions so you don't have to worry about GLOO'ing them every time you want to pass. It's useful to max out because higher ranks reduce the spare parts needed to fix things as well as make suit repair kits heal more suit integrity. At max level, you can fortify turrets with spare parts to give them extra health and it is a permanent upgrade even after the turret gets destroyed and repaired again, but it doesn't solve the physics problem of them being rendered ineffective after a single shot. If fortifying turrets also prevented them from being knocked around, it would be more useful. However, spare parts are not that scarce, especially when you have the Dismantle skill, so you might as well fortify turrets you plan to use. Turrets are not permanently destroyed unless hit with a recycler grenade, but repairing them costs spare parts, so you should still take care of your turrets by supporting them and only deploying them when needed.|
|Suit Modification||Useful for increasing inventory space, especially as you acquire new weapons and ammunition for them. It is helpful early on to avoid frequent trips to the recycler. It will also let you install more suit chips, which provide passive bonuses like elemental resistances and speed in micro-gravity environments. There is some randomness to what chips you will get per playthrough, but it is common to find duplicate chips. However, you can't grind for useful chips and they are not retained in a New Game+. You cannot equip duplicates, nor can they be recycled because they are in a completely separate inventory. This leads to disappointment when you see a chip and then pick it up only to realize it's a duplicate. Duplicates also clutter the menu for equipping them.|
|Dismantle||Allows you to dismantle weapons for spare parts as well as loot spare parts from destroyed operators. Useful to get fairly early since you will fight operators fairly early and throughout the game. Dismantling weapons is not really worthwhile because you only get one spare part from most weapons and you forgo recycling them for materials. As long as you are careful with turrets, you should not run out of spare parts.|
|Materials Expert||Increases your recycling yields by 20%. Very important to get early to make fabrication more efficient, especially because junk doesn't respawn and your supplies are limited in the early game. Before you can afford it, just dump all your materials into the recycler without recycling them, then recycle after you get this.|
|Impact Calibration||Reduces stamina usage when swinging the wrench and increases wrench damage. Using the wrench helps you save ammo, so the increased damage makes it easier to take out Mimics as well as deal a finishing blow to a weakened Phantom. It's not a priority upgrade since Mimics are not that difficult to bash while there is no need to be stingy with shotgun shells on Phantoms. However, combined with Stealth and Sneak Attack, it is quite realistic to sneak up and melee regular Phantoms to death.|
|Combat Focus||Slow motion ability. It costs psi to use, but it makes it easier to track enemies since they tend to move quite suddenly and quickly. Higher levels make you move faster relative to your enemies and give you a damage bonus. I never used it because it's more of a crutch for bad aim and tactics. You should be surprise attacking with the stun-shotgun combo or hitting and running with the wrench. Even when things don't go as planned, I don't have problems dealing with Etheric Phantoms dividing and zooming around because they pause long enough for me to aim and blast them with the shotgun. Their speed is negated by the fact that they stop and give you time to react.|
|Stealth||Causes enemies to take longer to notice you when you're crouched and lets you run silent. It pairs well with Mobility to increase movement speed, allowing you to quickly sneak up on enemies and stun-shotgun them in the back.|
|Sneak Attack||Increases the sneak attack damage bonus. When maxed out, you can easily take down lone enemies, even one-shotting the stronger Phantoms with a fully upgraded shotgun.|
Typhon neuromods do not require any special pickups and can be installed with the same neuromods you pick up for human abilities. However, installing more than two (upgrades for a single ability counts) will make turrets hostile towards you because identify friend or foe based on the presence of Typhon material in your body. Hacking turrets prevents them from turning on you, so it is a good idea to do so whenever you can so you don't get surprised when you decide to try out these abilities on a whim.
|Kinetic Blast||Creates a physical damage explosion at the desired location.|
|Lift Field||Creates a trap that lifts and holds enemies in the air. Higher levels increase the height enemies are lifted, so they take damage slamming into the ceiling and when they fall down.|
|Electrostatic Burst||Creates an electrical explosion at the desired location. Stuns bots as well as organic targets.|
|Superthermal||Creates a flame trap that triggers when an enemy walks into it or when you cast it on them. Inflicts fire damage that continues to burn affected targets for several seconds.|
|Mimic Matter||This allows you to transform into objects like mimics can. It's useful for squeezing through tight spaces or evading enemies, but it's more gimmicky than a useful strategy. There are a few broken doors with gaps you can mimic through while having no other way around, but you aren't missing much if you skip them. Higher levels lets you transform into a turret capable of shooting with unlimited ammo or an operator capable of flying and attacking.|
|Phantom Shift||Allows you to dodge a short distance while leaving a decoy behind that draws aggro from you.|
|Phantom Genesis||Allows you to raise a dead human body into an allied Phantom that follows and fights for you. It can't follow you through area transitions, but it will be waiting for you when you go back. There are plenty of ways to distract enemies, so this is really more of a novelty item than an important strategy. The Phantom is also quite slow at following you and gets stuck at times.|
|Backlash||Shields you from one or more attacks depending on the rank. Useful as insurance for facing the Nightmare head-on, but it's not critical.|
|Psychoshock||Acts as a nullwave on a single enemy and inflicts damage as well. Because it's a psi power, it can be executed much quicker and more accurately than equipping and throwing a nullwave grenade, especially against Weavers since they fly. Psi is also cheaper to replenish than grenades, which makes turrets cheaper to use against Phantoms, so this is a useful ability.|
|Mindjack/Machine Mind||Temporarily mind controls an enemy to fight for you. Mindjack is for organic targets while the latter controls robots. Mindjack also releases a mind-controlled human, but the stun gun is a much simpler solution. There are very few situations where you will face multiple enemies at once, so these powers are of limited use.|
|Remote Manipulation||Allows you to fetch objects and push buttons from a distance. There's not much you can't fetch by conventional means and you can already push buttons from a distance with the Huntress Boltcaster.|
Psi abilities have a cooldown, so you can't spam a single power. However, each ability has a separate cooldown, so you can chain different powers. Unfortunately, there is no interaction between powers and no powerful combinations. You could combine superthermal and lift field so that the target takes burning damage while being helplessly suspended, but it's still a pretty inefficient way to kill, unlike stun-shotgun.
Overall, the Typhon neuromods are not that useful. There are also Electrostatic, Thermal, and Etheric passive resistances, which may be helpful for tanking damage, but that's about it. There's not much that Typhon abilities can do that can't be efficiently accomplished by conventional means. If there were physical-immune enemies, like a T-1000 that you have to suspend with a lift field and then roast with stackable fire, the elemental powers would be much more handy. There are no enemies that make me want to go, "Kill it with fire!", and no enemies that cost a lot of resources to defeat conventionally.
The problem with the "Play your way" design is that in order to make every play style viable, you have to dilute the value of any one style, resulting in meaningless choice. You look for the most efficient path to do everything and you end up with only a handful of staple strategies that solve most problems at minimum cost, such as sneak, stun, shotgun. There are achievements for playing through the game without using Typhon abilities, without using human abilities, and without using any neuromods, indicating that the game was balanced to enable those play styles, but it undermines the point of all of the game's tools.
Ideally, the game should push you to utilize newly introduced tools to adopt new strategies for new situations, so you can see the value of each tool you are given and apply them when needed. For example, there may be multiple entrances to a room with many enemies coming in from each direction, so a lift field would be useful for blocking an entrance. Another situation would be a horde of enemies coming after you in an open arena, so Phantom Shift is extremely useful to avoid getting surrounded. Instead, the game makes a promise that it doesn't deliver on, showing you all of these cool powers that have little practical use. However, the game does have enough meaningful variation to not be repetitive. Playing efficiently still requires some thought and having extra features doesn't hurt the core mechanics.
Recycling and fabrication
There are a lot of junk items to pick up and you should pick up everything that can be put into your inventory. You can bring all of your loot to a recycler, dump in all the junk, press the button, and it will all be turned into a pile of balls and cubes of raw materials that you can mass pick up by holding the Use key. It is all a satisfyingly streamlined experience of compulsive hoarding and the cathartic release of emptying your inventory to become wealthier. There are four types of materials: organic, mineral, synthetic, and exotic. Organic materials are found from food and other organic matter, minerals are found from metal and stone, synthetics are found from plastics, and exotics are found from Typhon organs. Junk items that have no use beyond recycling are marked grey in your inventory and you can auto-deposit them at the recycler. However, don't just recycle junk, recycle excess consumables, ammunition, and weapons. As long as you deal with enemies efficiently, you should have plenty of supplies, although there is no way to farm materials.
Fabrication requires you to find the plan for each item. Afterwards, you can go to any fabricator to print out items at the press of a button as long as you have the materials needed. You can only fabricate one item at a time and you can't define a number of copies you want, but it's simple enough to just press the button again and again. The most worthwhile stuff to fabricate are neuromods, weapon upgrade kits, and shotgun shells. Everything else can be found plentifully in the environment unless you play poorly and waste stuff. Neuromods require exotic material, which are not easy to come by compared to the other materials. Junk does not respawn and enemies respawn infrequently, so fabrication is limited by the availability of materials.
Controls and interface
Overall, movement is smooth and responsive, especially after getting the movement speed neuromod. The thrusters for your suit can be activated indoors to cushion falls from high places by holding down the jump button. However, it has massive air control. This makes it very twitchy and hard to land exactly where you want. It's particularly aggravating because a lot of exploration platforming involves landing on narrow pipes and structural supports, but there are no situations in the game where you need such a high amount of air control. To compensate, you have to quickly tap in the direction you want and tap back if you go a little too far, but sometimes this can lead to back and forth jank.
The reticle is below the centre of the screen and it does bug me slightly. A low reticle unbalances my peripheral vision when focusing on it, which is slightly less immersive. It also makes micro-gravity navigation a bit awkward because you move relative to the centre of the screen rather than the reticle, so you can't use the reticle to aim your direction. It also doesn't symmetrically fit with the psychoscope interface since the lens is centred on your screen. You can edit a configuration file to centre the reticle, but it doesn't work with the Q-Beam, which still fires at the old reticle location. The low reticle is tolerable, especially because the mouse control is responsive, but I still prefer a centred reticle.
You have ten quick item slots that you can assign weapons and psi abilities to. For the sake of ergonomics, I assigned them to ` to 5 and Z to V instead of 1 to 0. However, there are eleven equippable weapons in addition to the wide range of psi powers, so there are not enough slots for everything. Allowing you to have additional quick slots on the F-keys would have been better. Having even more quick slots that gaming keyboards can use would be ideal. I wonder how realistic it would be to design a flexible quick slot system that uses all unbound keys?
In order to access all your items and powers, you have an item wheel that gets bigger as you get more powers and it spirals out to avoid cramming everything into a closed circle, which is pretty smart design. But like all item wheels, it breaks the action to scroll through a menu. A power like Phantom Shift would benefit from a dedicated button because it works like dodging, but you have to assign it to a quick slot, which can be awkward to press on demand compared to something like Left Shift, although that is used for sprinting. Then again, most powers are not really vital if you play smart.
There are also a number of options to enable or disable HUD elements to customize the amount of information you have available, such as objective markers and even the detection indicator on enemies. I would recommend disabling the detection indicator because it is visible through walls and makes the stealth aspect less tense. This is especially true for the Nightmare because it is always on an alert state, which allows you to see and track it. It also disables the ability to tag enemies, which makes it harder to keep track of enemies, especially Mimics, which adds a layer of difficulty. However, the psychoscope can still highlight enemies, so you will need to rely on it more. Damage numbers also pop up on screen when you attack enemies, which may be useful for damage analysis, but is ultimately excess screen clutter you can turn off when you already have an enemy health bar.
You play as Morgan Yu (You can be either male or female, but I played as male), the vice president and director of research for a technology corporation called TranStar. You wake up in your apartment and go to work where you meet your brother, Alex, who is the CEO. You are asked to run through a series of tests where you are asked to perform actions in the most intuitive way you can, such as moving blocks out of a circle, hiding from the examiners, and pushing a button on the opposite side of the room while the examiners watch from behind a glass. Despite the main examiner's reassurances, you seem to be doing things he wasn't expecting. In the last test, you fill out a personality quiz on a computer. However, a shape-shifting, black creature appears and attacks the examiner, sending everyone into a panic, but the test chamber you are in gets gassed and you are knocked out.
Alien-infested space station
You wake up in your apartment again, but when you leave, you find a dead body in the hallway with a wrench. You are contacted by someone named January who tells you that you are not safe and need to escape. All the doors are locked, so the only way out is your apartment balcony, which also has a stuck door. You smash the glass only to find that the outdoor scenery is just an illusion, a "Looking Glass" panel that realistically displays images in three dimensions. You are actually inside a simulation of your apartment and the entire process of you going to work was elaborately staged. You are in the same facility where you performed the tests, but no one is around. January guides you through the facility, but the place has been overrun by an alien race called the Typhon. Mimics can shape-shift into objects in the environment to ambush you and they multiply with each human they kill, making them difficult to contain.
You learn that you are aboard Talos I, a space station orbiting the Moon operated by TranStar to conduct research into neuromods, which are hi-tech substances that you inject through your eye to rewire your brain to give you instant knowledge of skills. Apparently, you worked here, even though you have no memory of it. January guides you to your office, where you find a recording of your past self.
Amnesia and personality drift
You were testing a new kind of neuromod based on Typhon abilities. However, when a neuromod is removed from a person, the person loses all of their memories since the neuromod was installed. You were supposed to relearn everything between test runs, but Alex decided to skip it and make you relive the same day over and over. You created an intelligent robot, January, as a way to remember and carry out your plan. However, Alex cuts off the video, contacts you, and tells you he wants to explain his side of the story first, but then he gets interrupted and asks you to wait for him. January instructs you to go to the Hardware Labs to restore the server connection to see the rest of your video.
When you resume the video, you learn that your plan was to destroy the station because the Typhon are dangerous and will threaten Earth if even a single one gets there by accident. January briefs you on activating the station's self-destruct. There are two arming keys that you and Alex have, but Alex destroyed your key. However, you hid a fabrication plan for your key so you can make a new one, so that is your next objective. You can't go directly to Deep Storage where the plan is due to the main elevator being locked out, so you find another way around. You go through Psychotronics, where the Typhon research took place and where they first broke containment, the Gravity Utility Tunnel System (GUTS) where cargo is transported throughout the station, and the Arboretum where recreation and fruit production takes place. You can also explore other parts of the station, like Life Support and the Power Plant to scavenge resources and do side quests.
January explains that you were given blank neuromods for the last test, so you could remember the events when you woke up after the containment breach. It also explains why the examiner was confused to why you weren't using the Typhon abilities you were supposed to be testing. You learn through e-mails and audio logs that neuromod removal doesn't just wipe your memories, it also changes your personality. One of your past selves wanted to just flee the station, so you hid a keycard to use Alex's personal escape pod, which you can follow through on if you choose. You also learn that neuromods are made using exotic materials extracted from Typhon. However, the only way to produce more exotic material was to sacrifice humans to Mimics so they could multiply. These humans were convicted criminals and euphemistically referred to as "volunteers", but not all of them were completely evil. You also learn from one of your past psychological evaluations that you were abhorred by the human sacrifices, which further supports destroying the station. You also learn that you were once directly involved in sacrificing a criminal who has a family and you gave the kill order in cold blood, indicating you were also once someone who believed in progress above human life.
Choosing who you are
When you reach Deep Storage, Alex attempts to stop you by locking down most of the station. You retrieve the fabrication plan and escape into space through an ejectable data pod. You re-enter the station through a breach in the cargo bay, where you find the surviving crew of the station. They are in a standoff against a horde of Typhon who are blocking the only way out of the cargo bay to the rest of the station. After resolving the situation, you have to lift Alex's lockdown, which can be done by going to the power plant and resetting the reactor.
With his attempts at stopping you thwarted, Alex directs you to his office and instructs you to watch a video of you and Alex during the early tests before your personality drift. You were impressed by the Typhon neuromods and believed in uplifting humanity at any cost. You also developed an advanced nullwave device to stop the Typhon without destroying everything if they ever broke containment because destroying the station would waste all of the progress made, but the device wasn't finished. Unfortunately, as neuromods were added and removed, your personality drifted so much that Alex didn't recognize you anymore. He did what he did because he wanted his brother back, to keep shifting personalities in the hope of you becoming your old self again. In order to finish the device, Alex needs scan data from Typhon Coral, which is a floating, web-like, golden substance Typhon use to communicate.
After scanning the Coral, you are interrupted by Walther Dahl, a mercenary hired by the TranStar Board of Directors to silence the facility with military operators and retrieve all valuable research data. After thwarting Dahl, Alex tells you that the Coral is communicating to something deep into space. He gives you the fabrication plan for the newly designed nullwave device as well as his arming key for the self-destruct as a sign of his trust that you will do the right thing. But then, a massive Typhon organism, called the Apex, appears outside the station and begins consuming it. To kill it, you have to choose whether to destroy the station or install and activate the nullwave device. You also have the option of helping the survivors escape off of the station using the shuttle Dahl arrived in before making your decision.
Whatever you choose, you wake up strapped to a chair with Alex and three operators representing the characters you met throughout the game. You are not Morgan, but a Typhon, and everything you went through was a simulation based off of Morgan's memories. They comment on the moral choices you made for the various side quests and decide whether to spare you. The Typhon lacked mirror neurons, which prevented them from empathizing with others, which is why they are vicious killers despite being able to communicate. Alex had mirror neurons planted into you like a neuromod for Typhon and the simulation was to test the success of integration. Alex shows you that Earth had already been taken over by Typhon and that you are the key to resolving the situation. You can make one final choice to help Alex or kill everyone.
The matter of choice
There are a number of side quests that require you to make moral choices. I read this article talking about how Prey avoids a Mass Effect 3 ending where your choices didn't matter. However, the Prey ending is just all the characters repeating your decisions to you. Regardless of your decisions throughout the game, Earth is taken over and everything you did was just a simulation. Nothing mattered anyways. This points to a bigger meta problem: all of your moral choices are made in a simulation called a video game. None of your choices in-game have any effect on the real world, so why get so emotionally invested over a weak video game ending? The real world may be crumbling all around you while you spend all of your time inside a simulation pretending to be a hero.
I suspect that the Prey ending is a veiled criticism of the Mass Effect 3 ending controversy. Gamers can get so outraged over a simulation, which demonstrates a stark contrast between the heroes they play as and the real life people they are. In Prey, even if you play as the good guy, you still have the option to just kill everyone in the end. Why give you this choice if the game is over and there is nothing left to see? They are the developers who put you through the simulation, you are the player, and you have the choice to go on the internet to rage and issue death threats or you can just calmly work with the developers and discuss how the ending could be better. It asks you whether you are a different person in the game than in real life, whether there is a personality drift every time you enter and leave the simulation. Then again, I'm not sure if Bioware would have had any incentive to create the Extended Cut if there were no outrage. You can't just refund the game after you experienced everything up to the ending, so outrage is the only tool consumers have to punish a rushed job.
So, what does it mean for choices to matter? The outcome of your choices were already shown to you after you made the choices, so why would repeating them to you at the end of the game count as meaning? For choices to have meaning, there needs to be future extrapolations of the consequences of your choices rather than just a pat on the back for being good or a scolding for being bad. There is no exposition of how your choices affected the future because they never happened, so the simulation theme ends up being a convenient cop-out. There's also no exposition of what choices the real Morgan made.
Thematically, the game can be classified as horror because it deals with exposing yourself to unknown and unnatural threats. However, as you understand the Typhon and become more powerful, the game becomes more action oriented. Overall, it seems like the developers wanted to make a horror game about dark shadows that you catch glimpses of in the corner of your eye, but it didn't work out that well because it is quite clear that the Typhon are tangible entities. The Mimics create a sense of paranoia as you have to scan every room and Poltergeists make for tense encounters of trying to figure out where they are as they attack, but Phantoms are pretty run of the mill and don't blink in and out like hallucinations.
Good horror should make you feel unsafe and not in control of the environment. Instead of finding an enemy, enemies may find and jump you. But then it might clash with the "Play your way" design since it would make stealth unreliable. You would have to spec your character to deal with surprises, such as having Combat Focus, while the possibility of an enemy appearing from nowhere might be perceived as unfair or annoying. You won't walk into a room to rummage through stuff only to have an enemy walk in on you.
Prey doesn't take the Mimic duplication and disguise theme very far, as the Typhon can't mimic humans or mind control on a deep level. The idea that neuromods inject Typhon material into your brain is an opportunity for an indoctrination theme, but the story doesn't quite go there. Morgan talks about having a dream where something deep into space is looking at him even though he can't see it. His Typhon neuromods gave him some sort of instinctual link to the Typhon, allowing him to subconsciously sense the Apex Typhon, but it is nothing more than cheap foreshadowing, mentioned without any purposeful tie-in to the story. There is also an audio log of a scientist who had a dream of a dark shape appearing in a Looking Glass screen. It sets up a theme of paranoia and descent into madness, but the game doesn't follow through with it.
Many of the environments are bright and colourful, which detracts from the sense of dread, but the Volunteer Quarters managed to be an unnerving experience for me from the pitch blackness, the electrified floor and dim, poisoned lighting when you get the power on, and first encounter of a Poltergeist. It was a very isolated set piece, so I am a bit disappointed more of the game is not like that. However, as the game progresses, the Coral spreads, environments you have been to will change, and more enemies will appear, representing the accelerating takeover by the Typhon and an increasing sense of urgency to finish the game.
Most of the characters are quite ordinary and most of the e-mails and audio logs talk about the life and times of the TranStar employees, which means they are mostly filler. There are only a handful of relevant lore items, like first contact with the Typhon, but overall, there is not much in the way of a horrifying narrative that led to the events on the station or the nature of the Typhon. It would be better if books and audio logs were at least related to the story. I don't care about Talos I being a former Soviet space station or how a lesbian relationship grew and fell apart, I want to know how the Typhon broke containment. There should be books on the nature of personality and morality. How about the creation of wealth and the uplifting of people out of poverty? Or about social caste systems and the effects of inequality? These topics would form narratives of what is right and wrong, which should help you decide your ending decision.
But Prey is built around postmodern themes. In simple terms, postmodernism is about seeing everything as subjective, even science, logic, and authority because those things have led to morally abhorrent conclusions like eugenic sterilizations, Nazis, and communism. Postmodernists reject traditional narratives and prefer to experience things in the moment, interpreting things however they want and doing whatever intuitively feels right without being told what to believe. They look at tradition as a form of social control rather than as a system that has been demonstrated to work. Prey shows a number of postmodern themes:
- Smashing the illusion of civilization in your apartment represents breaking free of what society wants you to be, wiping the slate clean and starting on your own path in a different world.
- Morgan's personality can drift to the point that it makes you, the player, a perfectly viable possibility regardless of Morgan's history and intellect. It reflects the idea that personality is completely random and not influenced by your prior knowledge, experiences, and reasoning ability, or lack thereof.
- The "Play your way" design is intended to make every play style equally viable so that the developer is not effectively dictating your choices by presenting scenarios that can only be beaten a certain way.
- The isolated horror set pieces and irrelevant lore items reflect a non-committal to overarching narratives, while the ending does not culminate into anything beyond going down a list of what you have done to decide whether you are a good or bad person, which reflects only a rudimentary grasp of narrative. Even if you gain acceptance, you can just reverse it all with the final choice as a, "Screw you, I'm not a part of your narrative!"
Alex showing you the kind of person you were and trying to turn you back represents an authority telling you what you should be, which is supposed to enrage postmodernists enough to disobey and destroy the station. Postmodernism does not care about logic, only the feeling of being in control of your own life, which makes it chaotically arrogant, even childish. January doesn't provide much of a compelling argument for destroying the station. It claims that it was programmed to refute Alex's arguments point by point, but it explicitly skips doing so, which suggests that the developers could not come up with convincing logic, so they just hand-waved it. It is also possible they were trying to avoid creating a narrative telling you to destroy the station, letting you come up with your own reasons regardless of logical validity.
But in the end, it looks like the nullwave ending is the rational choice. As long as the station exists, people can still decide what to do with it later rather than have one man unilaterally making the decision to end everything. I wouldn't say postmodernism is all bad because deconstructing concepts and considering alternative, deeper meanings is useful to being an effective critic. However, it is easily used to conceal ignorance while pretending to be sophisticated.
I see tradition as something that is better reinterpreted and modernized rather than rejected entirely because our ancestors didn't spend their lives coming up with it and passing it along for nothing. Objectivity as a concept exists because not all possibilities are equally viable at producing the best outcomes. If you are rejected for who you are, you are not being oppressed, you are simply eating the consequences of your individuality. The onus is on you to prove that your way of doing things is viable and will not lead to your own or other people's downfall. If you can't, don't be surprised to find no one of importance is willing to commit their time and resources on you.
In the beginning, the personality quiz presents the trolley problem. The questions were to determine whether Morgan would be willing to see eye-to-eye with Alex, whether Morgan would hold utilitarian views of morality and be willing to sacrifice the few for the many, thus justifying the sacrifice of criminals in neuromod production to uplift humanity. The trolley problem can be seen as a postmodern critique of logic-based morality. Logically, you would switch tracks to kill one person to save five, but being consistent with that logic would lead you to commit the distasteful action of pushing the one fat man. Why is there revulsion to pushing someone to their death, but not switching tracks? The Wikipedia article lists other variants of the problem such as whether you would kill a healthy person to harvest their organs to save five people who need transplants. I think the best explanation is that pushing the fat man or harvesting a healthy person's organs forces an uninvolved person to get involved. The idea that you can be randomly grabbed off the street to be sacrificed to save a bunch of other people's lives is a scary prospect, and it is even worse if the reason people are in danger in the first place is because of something they chose to take the risk on.
It is not that there is a conflict of logic. A relevant factor has changed and is not accounted for: personal responsibility. When there is no perpetrator to an incident, the moral responsibility falls on the victims to ensure their own safety. Switching the tracks does not disregard the personal responsibility of the victims to not get themselves into the situation in the first place while pushing the fat man does. You could say that determining personal responsibility is more important than the number of lives saved. Afterall, a lot of people wouldn't mind killing in retribution. The conclusion to be drawn is that human lives are not intrinsically valuable. It is the quality of each individual that makes them valuable.
No reason to be evil
Prey gives you a few situations where you have a choice to save people in danger or let them die, but there is no reason not to save them. There are no sacrifices to be made. You don't have to worry about rationing supplies or babysitting people. Being good is purely a matter of helping people in the immediate situation, not a long-term commitment that will drain your resources and put everyone at risk. There is no incentive to be evil because there is no long term good that will come out of it, such as being able to finish the game the way you want it. While Prey models moral dilemmas, it does not model moral nuance.
The problem with video game morality is that the things that encourage people to be evil do not make good video game mechanics. Time limits, resource scarcity, personal fatigue, extreme difficulty, and dead end choices would make frustrating gameplay, yet it is that frustration that makes evil attractive. You feel like you are losing control of your life because of other people draining you and holding you back from doing what you want, so you lash out at them because there is no escaping from it without great cost to yourself. Video games let you just quit and play something else that lets you feel like you have the moral high ground, even though you never had to make a real choice with unforeseen consequences the developers did not account for. In a real decision, by the time you realize your choice was a mistake, it is too late to go back on it without doing the unspeakable.
Imagine if you had to regularly give up neuromods to sustain NPCs that barely offer much in return. If you want to be absolutely good, you will find yourself severely underpowered. If you die due to being ill-prepared because enemies have abilities that cannot be countered by conventional means, you also condemn the people you saved. In order to succeed, you would have to let people die so you can empower yourself, playing calculus with human lives to optimize individual and collective strength. You could also have people help you in return after spending neuromods on them, but then they get themselves killed by enemies you could have easily handled yourself. If you let too many people die, you will have to listen to others berate you for being selfish, and you might end up killing them too because they will try to undermine your efforts out of their moral self-righteousness, even though you are in a survival situation and you are the only one who demonstrably gets things done.
You become evil because they are the selfish ones trying to take advantage of you while they hide behind a pretentious image of innocence and virtue. Proper evil requires context because evil for evil's sake is nonsense, but evil in pursuit of a higher good is rational. You realize that their good is evil and your evil is good, so it feels good to inflict suffering on them as a means of "correcting" them. Even those who haven't directly wronged you are wrong by association, being useful idiots who will turn you in for chump change, empower your enemy with their blind loyalty, and avenge their leader, so no mercy to them either.
The reason why evil persists is scarcity: the competitive pursuit of things not everyone can have, which leads to taking offensive action against others to seize what you want. If good is such a good thing, why isn't everyone doing it? Because no one is above reality, outcomes are what matters, and you can only be good because you can afford to. "Good" people conceal their limits and gracefully brush off people they don't want because they just don't have time to deal with every single person they come across. They engage in virtuous gestures without actually committing to anything, which is more about making themselves feel superior and attractive to those they actually want rather than being genuinely concerned for those beneath them. "Evil" people see through this passive-aggressive exclusion and false virtue, so they engage in hostility to punish these moral grifters who would otherwise get away with their hypocrisy. Good and evil are not always what you see on the surface because good can be used as a cover for evil while evil can be a tool to protect what is good.
Inequality of neuromods
Neuromods are said to be expensive so that only the wealthy can afford them. You could say that those who can afford them need them the least, so allowing neuromod production would exacerbate inequality. There's no way ordinary people can just work hard and catch up to neuromod-enhanced rich people, so the enhanced people will dominate all sectors of the economy. It could lead to a closed economy where the rich monopolize the natural resources, produce everything, and only need to trade with each other to get everything they want, while the poor can do nothing but camp outside the city walls and await death. The children of the rich will get fast-tracked with neuromods, allowing wealth to stay in the hands of rich families. While there may be rich people generous enough to donate neuromods to the poor, the scarcity of neuromods means only those few poor will be uplifted while the rest still have nothing.
Even then, consumers only have so much time and money to choose who to do business with, so it is impossible for everyone to be successful. When there are far more people who do good work than you know what to do with, there is no reason to choose anyone other than the more popular people who do the best work. Basic economic theory does not tell you what happens to people who get crowded out of the market because they are just assumed away as nobody's problem. Automation will get rid of grunt labour, skill creep due to increasingly complex technology will make in-demand jobs unattainable for most people, and no one is going to subscribe to a million different independent creators. They have nothing to do because there is no use for whatever they produce when there simply isn't enough time to consume their products or even care about their existence. Some form of wealth redistribution is needed to humanely treat these people.
On the other hand, you could say that those who can afford neuromods have the opportunity-seeking, hard-working personality that allows them to make the most out of them, so they should have priority. You can have great skill in your head, but the limiting factor is your willingness to actually exercise it for others. Neuromods let you skip the work to become good, so it allows you to be complacent. When productive people are given the best tools, they can produce the maximum amount of wealth as humanly possible, which leads to excess wealth that they can sell at a bargain or even donate to the poor to virtue signal. As long as stuff exists, it has the potential of reaching the less fortunate, especially hand-me-downs when the rich upgrade their stuff. Any jobs the rich create will enrich the middle classes who will also engage in charitable activities. Profits go towards business expansion to create more jobs and reach more customers. This is the trickle-down effect of wealth creation. The fact that you are using technology you do not know how to create for yourself is proof that it works.
The rich are not morally responsible for the poor's existence. They did not create the poor, they just do things the poor don't. The more resources you forcefully divert away from high-value production to sustain low-value people, the less total wealth is available for distribution. In the extreme case, forced redistribution may actually worsen inequality because high-value products like neuromods, even computers will only be in the hands of the few because those who know how to make them would not have the capital needed to expand production and make those products accessible to more people through economies of scale.
It is absolutely naive to think you can solve poverty by just cutting the salaries of a few high-end CEOs. You are not the only person in the world who could use the extra cash. That million dollar salary you are divvying up? A million people are coming for their share. What's that? You only want to redistribute it among the company employees? Well, as soon as you prioritize and exclude people, you are contradicting your belief that all people are equal. Those poor people outside the company must be low-value to you, you disgusting person. The fact that the employees get to work in such a fancy company in the first place already makes them more privileged than the countless people working in small companies or even the countless people living in third world countries who demonstrate that population alone does not create the stuff everyone wants. Where do you draw the line of exclusion and why?
In Psychotronics, you encounter a criminal named Aaron Ingram who is trapped in the sacrifice chamber. You have the option to save or sacrifice him for exotic material, but he talks like a normal person and wants you to release him. The report you read about him indicates that he engaged in kidnapping, impersonation, and soliciting a minor. The situation suggests that even a criminal does not seem like a bad person on the surface. However, it is precisely this appearance of innocence that could lead you to trust someone who is untrustworthy, which is how you get kidnapped. Ingram does not backstab you if you save him and even warns you that not all people are as decent as him, which means saving him is technically the good option. You can say no one deserves such a cruel and unusual punishment, but what will happen to him after the crisis is over? If you pick the nullwave ending, he might be recaptured and sacrificed anyways. If you help him and the rest of the survivors escape off the station, he might escape and continue to kidnap.
There is also a dilemma you encounter while exploring the station bridge. Shuttle Advent departed for Earth not long after the Typhon were discovered to have broke containment. Since the Typhon were already roaming the station since the beginning of the game when no one noticed until it was too late, there is a chance that Typhon have sneaked onto the shuttle and is a danger to Earth. Communications are down, but you can still transmit a self-destruct signal to the shuttle before it reaches Earth. The morality of what to do is based on a pure guess. If the shuttle is clean, you kill innocent people for nothing. If not, you save Earth. The outcome of this choice is not reflected in the game, so it is a pure thought experiment. It is pretty much a variation of the trolley problem where the trolley has a chance to stop if it goes down the track with five people on it, but it is guaranteed to go all the way on the track with one person. I lean towards destroying the shuttle because a handful of humans is replaceable while Earth is not.
You may be willing to put an end to neuromod production by destroying the station because the immediate thought of killing people to produce neuromods is abhorrent. You might think that technological progress is not worth sacrificing human lives, that you're killing people just for the convenience of learning skills on the fly. By destroying the station, you would be saving the many convicted criminals who would be killed as a result of continued neuromod production as well as eliminate the risk of another containment breach that could potentially reach its way to Earth. Also, progress at any cost only encourages more people to do it, resulting in large scale immorality, especially when projects can end in failure. You could say that you are saving more lives by destroying the station.
Alternatively, you may be willing to say the sacrifice of the worst people in society is worth it to uplift innocent people out of poverty and give them purposes in life. Uplifting people can deter them from going into crime, which saves them from being sacrificed and also saves the lives of would-be murder victims. Criminals sentenced to life will live meaningless lives anyways at the expense of taxpayers so they might as well be put to use. It is also important to learn more about the Typhon to be more prepared for any other alien threats that come since we now know we are not alone in the universe. Further research into Typhon reproduction may reveal a way to synthesize exotic material so that we do not need to sacrifice people anymore. Although, it is not clear why animals don't work as sacrifices. The whole point of our existence is to grow and evolve, that's why we have technology. Why save more lives when it comes at the expense of the things to live for?
Prey presents deep morality issues, but it doesn't present that depth all that well, leaving things vague and expecting you to come up with your own reasoning for your choices. I imagine a lot of players are not smart enough to figure out the questions you expect them to ask, which is why it is better to spell things out. The idea of leaving things open to interpretation comes across as more of an excuse for corner cutting than a useful artistic intent.
I see people classifying this game using the hubris-laden title of "immersive sim" when it is really a survival horror. The only thing that differentiates Prey from traditional survival horror is the first-person perspective; that's it. You still play as a lone, weak person exploring an evil-contaminated environment, scavenging resources, finding keys, solving puzzles, killing monsters, and learning about what happened so you can put an end to it. The ability to upgrade skills, hack computers, and crawl through vents do not constitute a separate genre. While Deus Ex has similar gameplay without being a horror game, I would classify it as a survival action since you're a lone operative exploring and scavenging stuff in the field.