Platforms: PC, Xbox One, PS4
Release Date: June 10th, 2018
Reviewed On: Xbox One X
Developer: Arkane Studios (Arkane Austin)
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Price: $19.99 (When purchased separately from base game)
Prey, developed by Arkane Studios (of Dishonored fame) is a game very near to my heart, for a variety of reasons. When I played it last year, I instantly fell in love with the immersive elements, the mysterious story and the incredibly well-realized setting. So when I found out that there was going to be an expansion, revealed at the Bethesda E3 2018 conference and titled Prey: Mooncrash, I was extremely excited. After spending countless hours with this DLC, I’m ready to share some in-depth thoughts.
I’ve already written a guide that will help any newcomers get started with this DLC. That’s not what this is about. In all honesty, this isn’t even a conventional review. Instead, I want to try and talk about what makes Mooncrash so special. I’ll try to avoid spoilers as much as possible but due to the nature of the game’s story, I’ll have to make some concessions.
The premise of Prey: Mooncrash is deceptively simple. You start off as Peter, a hacker indentured to Kasma, a major rival corporation of TranStar. Your job is to replay a simulation of TranStar’s Pytheas moonbase. Using the memories of five different playable characters, you’ll navigate the moonbase, gathering data for Kasma while unraveling what happened to each of the five protagonists and why Pytheas has gone dark.
When I started playing Prey: Mooncrash, it was rough. I died, frequently and in increasingly-complicated ways. To top it all off, in addition to being extremely difficult, you’re on a timer. Spend too long within the increasingly destabilizing simulation and you’ll die. Normally, this would be a recipe for disaster (at least as far as my taste in games is concerned), yet Prey: Mooncrash has succeeded at something I never before thought possible: forcing me against an in-game timer in a difficult environment and getting me to enjoy it.
Amazingly enough, I like it because you are supposed to fail. You’re supposed to die. That’s the entire point. You don’t accomplish everything in one or two or five runs. Each time, you pick a goal and stick with it. One run, you might fulfill a particular objective like escaping with one character in a particular fashion. The next run might be dedicated to a story objective that has just been unlocked, or simply gathering a number of Neuromods. Once you accept that premise, you find yourself able to enjoy the atmosphere, soaking in the design of Pytheas and its many, many, many variables across different simulation runs.
The Talos 1 space station in Prey was one of the most detailed, lived-in environments I experienced in a game last year, so it’s no surprise that the Pytheas moonbase in Mooncrash continues that trend. There’s a variety of detailed environments, with realistic living space for every single crewmember (and yes, you can use a security terminal to find every single one of them). Professional workplaces are clean and tidy, while engineering test stations are littered with junk. Every item’s location makes sense: if you want food, check the various fridges and drink stations or find the kitchen. The entire DLC looks great, with a sleek design befitting Arkane’s work. The soundtrack and audio design is also excellent, with tense music and a new track for the closing credits.
You’ll have to layer the paths of your characters very carefully in order to accomplish particular goals. They all have different abilities, such as hacking, repairing or even skill with weapons. In order to accomplish some of the various Kasma objectives, you can’t simply pick one character and do it. You might have to hack a keypad, so another character can access the room inside. It would have been very easy for this type of structure to come across as tedium but instead it’s fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable.
On top of that, the randomized environmental hazards, small layout changes and different enemy spawns keep the many runs from getting too repetitive. Instead of knowing exactly what’s around the corner, you need to check station logs for info and be prepared for a variety of possible dangers.
With this kind of structure, it might seem like the narrative would take a hit. I’m very happy to say that’s not the case at all and while the much of the story is told in nonlinear fashion, it works well as the mystery of what has happened unravels. Motivations are uncovered, plots and grudges revealed and each of the five characters has a unique bit that is well worth focusing on. One in particular takes a concept introduced in the base game and completely flips it on its head, in a way I really wasn’t expecting. The storytelling methods used here are nonconventional but appropriate, playing out emotional scenes that have you quite literally in the heads of the various characters.
All together, this has provided an unusual, genre-defying layout for an expansion I never realized I wanted and yet I truly love. With a combination of roguelike elements meshing well within the playground that an immersive sim provides, Prey: Mooncrash is an evolution from the original game, a crowning achievement in structure and design for which Arkane Austin deserves every praise. It’s easily one of the best expansions I’d ever played.
If you played Prey and enjoyed it, you absolutely need to check out Prey: Mooncrash. Even if you weren’t completely sold on Prey‘s gameplay, I’d argue that this expansion is worth taking a look at. I’m definitely eager to see what else is coming for the universe of Prey.