The mood of the game tends to pivot between panicked horror and inadvertent comedy, with my desire to fool around including not just the aforementioned death by helicopter but also the number of times in 40 minutes I found myself whacking actually-not-an-alien inanimate objects with a wrench, convinced I was vanquishing a shoe menace. The Typhon, the game's name for the coalition of aliens laying waste to the space station, feel much more menacing than most alien invaders I've encountered in video games, and my early fights against them were terrifying.
It doesn't help that you start the game with a cold open, waking up to an alarm bell. It turns out that you've been experimenting with a new technology that causes you to wipe your memory regularly, so your character Morgan Yu doesn't know anything that you don't know, meaning you have absolutely no information you haven't gathered yourself, and there's no ominous voice-over from Yu to tell you when you're in deep trouble. Both you and Yu will be working things out together, which is quite a satisfying process, with you exploring the doomed space station like a child would, piecing together details not just about your current plight but also about the alternate timeline the game is set in.
The game owes an obvious debt to System Shock and its spiritual successor Bioshock, and the shooter pedigree is immediately apparent here. Each of the weapons I got my hands on in the opening hour was well designed and interesting to use. The Shotgun was still a shotgun, but it had a fancy ammo counter embedded in the side, and its close-range firepower felt much more necessary when the only offensive weapons I had leading up to its acquisition was a wrench and a gun that sprayed rapidly expanding foam all over the place. All of these weapons can be upgraded with a bunch of different things, but I didn't get to see the long-term effects of this system, applying my first upgrade shortly before reaching the end of the demo. Ammo felt fairly scarce, and the need to scrounge bins and drawers immediately brings feelings of helplessness, which meant that every tough victory felt like much needed catharsis.
My only issue at this stage is that there's no real sense of your character's presence. You feel a little light on your feet, and jumping or fast movement feels like you're floating across the landscape as a camera instead of a young man/woman — Morgan Yu comes in both varieties, and you can choose which you prefer at the game's opening — frantically trying to survive. It's not a big issue, but considering every other aspect of the game is aiming to drop you into this fantastical world, it feels weird for it to mess this part up.
Prey is looking promising from this early segment, and while I try not to go in for hyperbole, it's hard not to see this as a must-play when it launches in May.