Prey 2017 Part 1: The 451 Genre

By Shamus Posted Friday Jul 9, 2021

Filed under: Retrospectives 119 comments

I love this game. I loved it back in 2017 when I made it my GOTY. I loved it even more the following year when the Mooncrash DLC turned the game into a roguelike. Every time I come back to the game I appreciate it more.

No, this game has nothing to do with the 2006 videogame of the same name. The “Prey” branding doesn’t make a ton of sense here. The behavior of the antagonists is less predatory and more “viral infection”. Yes, they’re space-monsters who kill people so it kind of works, but we don’t usually talk about infectious agents / alien invasions in terms of predation.  It’s not that the name is invalid, it’s just not a great fit. The game was still untitled when the publisher came to the developers and suggested they use the name “Prey”, since they owned the trademark for it. And we all know how much Zenimax LOVES their trademarks.

Chris Franklin has suggested that the game could have been / should have been titled “PsycoShock”, which would have been thematically appropriateIt certainly would have fit better than “Prey”. and would make it part of the informal System Shock / BioShock lineage. There’s no evidence to support this, but it’s a really interesting ideaNeuroShock would also work, IMO..

The Immersive Sim

Here someone wrote psychoshock on the dry-erase board. It's very meta to imagine the characters in the game were brainstorming possible titles FOR the game.
Here someone wrote psychoshock on the dry-erase board. It's very meta to imagine the characters in the game were brainstorming possible titles FOR the game.

I guess we’ve decided that we’re calling this genre “immersive sim”? This is kind of confusing. Like, isn’t the word “sim” sort of explicitly reserved for Maxis-styled high-level simulation games? I guess it’s an improvement over “Thinking Man’s Shooter”, which is what we were calling these things 20 years ago. I always found that one a little pretentious. Also “451 Games” was popular for a while, but it lacks any sort of descriptive element that people like their genre names to have.

This genre was also called “Looking Glass Games”, back when the now-defunct Looking Glass Studios was the only one making them. I’m sad that Looking Glass went under, although maybe it was ultimately good for the hobby.  The former LGS staff became a sort of creative diaspora, scattered across the game industry and putting the Looking Glass DNA into other games and genres. Ken Levine went on to Irrational Games and made BioShock, Warren Spector went to ION Storm and made Deus Ex, and Doug Church also went to ION Storm and made Thief: Deadly Shadows.

What Is an Immersive Sim?

Link (YouTube)

The definition of this genre was never very clear, and at this point it’s a bigger mess than “RPG” in terms of ambiguity and confusion. There’s pretty much no way to discuss this genre without getting into arguments over design philosophy, developer lineage, and genre boundaries.

Titles which may or may not qualify as Immersive Sims:

  • System Shock (1994)
  • Thief: The Dark Project (1998)
  • System Shock 2 (1999)
  • Thief 2 (2000)
  • Deus Ex (2000)
  • Deus Ex: Invisible War (2003)
  • Thief: Deadly Shadows (2004)
  • BioShock (2007)
  • BioShock 2 (2010)
  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution (2011)
  • Dishonored (2012)
  • Thief (2014)
  • Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (2016)
  • Dishonored 2 (2016)
  • Prey (2017)

Yes, I realize this list is an argument waiting to happen. Lots of people would object to including the games on this list after 2004. Some would argue that Invisible War and Thief 2014 should be omitted because they were horrible and compromised on many of the core tenets of their respective franchises. Others would insist BioShock Infinite needs to be on the list because it’s part of the *Shock lineage.

Link (YouTube)

And hang on… what are the defining attributes of this genre, anyway? It turns out that nobody agrees on that either.

  • Isolated, confined setting? (System Shock, BioShock, Prey)
  • Non-linear (Metroidvania) level progression? (System Shock, Prey)
  • Silent protagonist during gameplay? (System Shock, BioShocks, Dishonored, Prey)
  • Exclusive first-person view? (System Shock, Thief, Dishonored, Prey)
  • Dialog choices? (Deus Ex, Dishonored)
  • RPG elements like improving skills? (System Shock, BioShock, Deus Ex, Prey)
  • Modding weapons? (System Shock, BioShock, Deus Ex, Prey)
  • Resource management via inventory Tetris? (System Shock, Deus Ex, Prey)
  • Freely switching between combat, stealth, and hacking as a means of progression? (System Shock, Deus Ex, BioShock, Prey)
  • References to the number 451? (System Shock, Deus Ex, BioShock, Dishonored, Prey)
  • Audiologs as a means of exposition? (System Shock, BioShock, Prey)
  • Difficult or disempowering combat that discourages “guns first” problem-solving? (System Shock, Thief, Prey)
  • Spooky tone? (System Shock, Thief, Prey, and maybe the original BioShock?)

Before you jump in and “Well, actually…” me, note that I’m not going to put all the qualifying asterisks on the previous list. This thing is fractal, and to do it right we’d need a Venn Diagram, a spreadsheet, an opinion poll, and two dozen footnotes. I’m just trying to show how complex this argument is. I’m not trying to make THE definitive list of these games, I’m just trying to show how troublesome it is to try and make such a list.

Everyone has their own ideas about what things define this genre, which means they have their own ideas about what games belong on the list. Heck, even if we agree the “non-linear progression” is key, we might not agree on where to draw that line. Both Thief and System Shock feature an open, multi-path level design, but System Shock is also open in how you move between levels and allows for backtracking, while Thief limits you to a fixed linear map progression through the game.

Space Station Games

As much as I love this genre, I’m an even bigger fan of the sub-genre that lives inside it. It doesn’t have a name, but for the purposes of this article we can call them “Space Station Games”. That’s an immersive sim game set in a sealed, self-contained location where almost everyone else is dead.

Or maybe it’s incorrect to say that SSG’s are their own genre. Maybe they’re just a story concept. Like, “Murder Mystery” is a genre, but “Murder mystery on a train where the inspector must solve the crime before they reach their destination” is a story concept. I like the genre, but I’m really here for the immersive sim story concept of being trapped alone on a space station full of monsters.

An SSG is my favorite type of game. (And to be clear, it doesn’t need to be set on a space station. Any isolated locale would do.) I’ll take an SSG over any other type of game. I love this genre so much that I wrote a fanfiction novel about it. And in my thinking, there have only been three SSG’s:

  • System Shock
  • System Shock 2
  • Prey 2017

BioShock doesn’t make the list because it’s too simplified for my taste. The level progression is much more linear; you can’t loop back and revisit the early areas of the game. The lack of an inventory system means an entire dimension of the game is missing for me. The game also makes combat a little too fun and empowering for my taste. And finally, the ultimate adversary of BioShock seemed a little pedestrian. The flawed people of Rapture were never as compelling to me as the malevolent AI of System Shock or the eldritch creatures of Prey.

I’m not trying to convince you that BioShock is a bad game, I’m just explaining why it didn’t make the above list of ultra-favorite SSG games despite the superficial similarities.

But Like, Whatever

Psst. Hey kid. I know you're holding a gun, but this ain't a shooter. You're gonna need to think and stuff. Good luck.
Psst. Hey kid. I know you're holding a gun, but this ain't a shooter. You're gonna need to think and stuff. Good luck.

Regardless of how we classify this thing, which genre we put it in, or how well it scored on Metacritic, this is my favorite entry in my favorite genre.

This series is going to be an anti-rant. I’m going to go through this game and pick apart why it works so well for me and my fellow immersive immersive sim-fans.

If you’re a fan of nitpicking, don’t worry. I’ll spend lots of time looking at other games and comparing them (unfavorably) to Prey, and Prey itself has a few small(ish) problems that are worth talking about.



[1] It certainly would have fit better than “Prey”.

[2] NeuroShock would also work, IMO.

From The Archives:

119 thoughts on “Prey 2017 Part 1: The 451 Genre

  1. thatSeniorGuy says:

    Yay new series! Haven’t played the game, but I’m up for reading whatever you’re writing about :P

    1. Alecw says:

      I can’t wait for this series !!
      I am surprised to hear you place Prey above system shock 2, however. For me, that’s the definitive experience and Prey, as brilliant an effort as it was, did not quite affect me as strongly as a story, nor was it as immersive a location and “secondary world” as the Von Braun. Prey is the Godfather 3 to SS2’s Godfather 2.

  2. Fizban says:

    It begins! Gonna love hearing in laborious detail all the reasons why Shamus loves Prey ’17. Like MATN gushing about fallout, but in slow-mo instead of a single video.

    Re: Bioshock: Oh I definitely consider the first game as spooky atmosphere. Particularly if you make bad weapon upgrade choices and don’t have the super powered DLC tonics and don’t know the camera gives you tons of free bonuses etc, I found combat quite threatening enough that I was creeping around in danger mode the whole game. I’d count the second game as spooky enough too, you may be a “big daddy” but you’re not any tougher than the first game, and where the first villains were fairly impersonal, the goal of 2’s villain (spoiler: killing everyone to harvest their memories and pool them together into one being) is like your usual body horror, now with added mind horror. They rely on combat and aren’t set up for stealth so their maximum spook is lower, but good enough for me.

    1. ydant says:

      Re: Bioshock: Oh I definitely consider the first game as spooky atmosphere.

      Agreed. Even though I know it’s got some serious problems, and the franchise arguably went downhill from there, The Original Bioshock is where I started, and it set the tone for the genre for me, and I think Prey follows in its footsteps very well. Creepy, suspenseful, lots of “just WTF is going on here?” atmosphere.

      I love the exploration and trying to figure the world out – probably the most important part of any of these games for me – and the single defining characteristic that makes me stick with and get immersed in a game.

    2. Bioshock started well, but the combat system simply wasn’t well-balanced and the enemies and their AI were just too simplistic. In theory, you had a lot of tools to use to figure out how to defeat your enemies. In practice, you could pretty easily just shoot your way through the game. I rarely bothered with plasmids or hacking turrets- and there wasn’t much nuance in shooting either. Just point whichever gun you have ammo for at the splicer that’s running straight at you and pew-pew.

      The game really highlighted for me how important it is not just to have a lot of systems in your game, but to have challenges that require the player to explore and take advantage of them. For all of it’s supposed complexity, Bioshock’s gameplay wound up being more shallow for me than a game like Halo which has fewer options but has better reasons to use them to their fullest.

      1. BlueHorus says:

        I had a similar experience with Bioshock: for me it was the arrow that pointed me at objectives.
        Not once did I need to consult a map or think about how I was going to get anywhere, because I had a giant glowing arrow floating above my head that did all the path-finding for me. Like being led by the nose.
        It even adapted to changes in the environment, like collapsing tunnels or locked doors! I mean, even Skyrim required more thought to navigate; occasionally I’d have to find a path up a mountain or a bridge across a river or similar.

        As for the combat, I just maxed out the summon bees ability. Wow, I don’t even need to AIM at the enemy anymore?

        1. Dev+Null says:

          Genuine question, because I can’t actually recall: didn’t Prey have quest arrows?

          1. Chad+Miller says:

            It did. It’s even implied they exist in-universe (both when other characters tell you about stuff, and when you use security terminals to search for people)

            That said, the quest markers weren’t always a foolproof way to get to something. It may be pointing to the other end of a broken elevator, or maybe somewhere else you can’t get to yet, or maybe somewhere you can get to but only if you have the right abilities, or maybe somewhere you could get to without any specific abilities but only after taking some non-obvious route from a maintenance shaft.

            1. BlueHorus says:

              Yeah, there’s often a hazard, or a locked door, or something similar in the way.

              You always know where the objective IS, but getting to it does require thought and problem solving.

      2. Echo Tango says:

        I haven’t played since it was new, but wasn’t part of the problem, that enemies moved so quickly in the original Bioshock? I vaguely remember not being able to shoot lightning or freeze at people fast enough, compared to the relatively short effect time. Or maybe it was just as fast to shoot them with normal bullets instead of switching guns. :)

        1. I don’t remember the enemies moving all that fast, but plasmids were kind of slow and short-ranged compared to guns. And they cost Adam. Ultimately… guns just worked. They worked well enough to not require me to try to change tactics at any point, and the upgrade system encouraged specialization anyway. So guns it was.

    3. Volvagia says:

      BioShock 2 kind of disappointed me, because it was the wrong genre. BioShock 1 is so effective because it involves beating a villain using a mechanic set that IS, essentially, what that villain believes in/what the narrative is about. And I thought creating the sequels around continuing THAT idea was insanely fertile. BioShock 2 should have been a Real Time or Turn Based Strategy game and Infinite should have been a David Cage/Telltale style game with a metric ton of branching choices. Yes, essentially telling people, “This franchise doesn’t have a solid mechanical genre, but instead a narrative conceit of insistent deconstruction/illumination of the ideology of mechanic sets. Want to see what Game 4 would be?”

      1. RichardW says:

        That’s interesting. Would probably play horribly, but interesting.

      2. Chris says:

        I havent played BS2, but i always felt that infinite really made the wrong decision with its gameplay. I think it should play like you’re a private detective in a sky city. You look around, talk to people, look for clues, find out that if you ask about elizabeth some people get suspicious about you. This could also work well with the slavery/racism theme. Initially youre at the front of the bar, being served well and being around well-dressed people. Then your leads lead you to the back of the establishment and into the slums where you see the dark side of the place.

        But no, you walk around for 5 minutes, shove someone’s face into a skyhook, and shoot policemen that move like mentally ill splicers.

  3. GGANate says:

    If there was ever a game that was mismarketed, it was Prey. As Shamus states, there is no reason to tie it to the 2006 Human Head title. All I heard about the game before it came out was displeasure that it wasn’t the alien bounty-hunting game that was briefly shown off and then canned. I remember reading a Rock Paper Shotgun review describing how you can transform into a can and I was like “that’s pretty interesting.” Never was the connection to Looking Glass/System Shock made explicit, and while I can understand that, considering Arkane/Bethesda didn’t own the license, they should’ve used a heavy wink/nod approach, because this is the triple-a Shock title people have been pinning for for years. Prey is what I thought Bioshock was supposed to be, and it really deserves the attention that that series has received. Unfortunately, immersive sims have a bad habit of not doing particularly well in sales, and it’s doubtful that we’ll ever get a sequel.

  4. Greg Johnson says:

    I hadn’t heard the term 451 game before, but my first impression was that it was a great label for Prey, because once you find out about the enemies, the natural approach(if you had no limits on ammunition/equipment) would be to emulate Fahrenheit 451 and use a flamethrower on anything even slightly suspicious.

    1. Chad+Miller says:

      Yes, one of the cool things about this game is how quickly it gets you in the habit of attacking office furniture, just in case.

      1. beleester says:

        It was fun for the first few hours, but after a while I would walk into a room and be like “Great, another thirty random props I need to bludgeon in case one of them tries to eat me.”

        1. BlueHorus says:

          Better than my late-game experience: just forgetting to check for mimics because I had such a high health and weapon stats that they were an annoyance. I was more irritated at having to deal with MORE of them than scared they’d actually hurt me.

          But that was kind of true of all the Typhon, after a bit…

          1. Chad+Miller says:

            I think Poltergeists were supposed to fulfill that role for after you already have the detector chip or otherwise don’t care about mimics in general.

            Personally I did appreciate that they tried to keep the player from feeling too safe even in well-lit areas that should theoretically be clear of threats, but I did also find that I was maybe a bit too comfortable in the late game.

        2. Viktor Berg says:

          Here’s a proposed solution: pelt every room with recycling charges (drag objects together first). More materials and you give mimics nothing to, well, mimic.

    2. Steve C says:

      Well that’s when the “on a space station” part of the genre becomes an important consideration. Can’t just set everything on fire.

  5. fungus says:

    Well, I knew landlords were bastards but to compromise their core tenants? Who will rent after that? And I have no idea Invisible War and Thief 2014 even were in the property business.

    Was it supposed to be ‘tenets’?

    1. BlueHorus says:

      Nah, that’s the new Christopher Nolan movie ;-P

        1. fungus says:

          Thank you for that! It really brightened my day. Or it didn’t. Yet. But I will definitely brighten one of the days.

  6. Smejki says:

    Would you consider Alien Isolation to be an SSG as well? It certainly felt at least orbiting this genre quite closely.

    1. Nick-B says:

      My first though about SSG was Dead Space. Most people on it dead? Eldritch horror enemies? Isolated space location? Narrative delivered mostly by audio logs? Weapon modding? Painful combat? The only things it appears to be missing are metroidvania (which DE and most thiefs were missing) and inventory tetris (which thiefs and bioshocks were missing).

      Interestingly enough, when I read someone’s description of Prey (I’d have sworn it was Shamus if he hadn’t just started this series) and how various sections of the station get unlocked as you progress, I was picturing Dead Space (dark, claustrophobic). Interesting how these two seem almost polar opposites now that I’ve played Prey.

      Hmm, as long as we’re listing off the above checkboxes for dead space, I recognize another game that almost fits exactly: Doom (2016). Aside from painful combat, it checks all of Dead Space’s boxes.

      1. MelTorefas says:

        My first thought was Returnal, but then I guess that is also technically a bullet hell. I would still love to read Shamus’ thoughts on that one. (I am sure someone has already brought this up before though. I feel like he mentioned it himself at some point, but, my brain isn’t really on yet today.)

        Regardless, looking forward to this retrospective!

        1. evilmrhenry says:

          I take a “resource management” approach to defining the genre, so Returnal is a lot closer than you might think. You have multiple resources which are hard to acquire and non-renewable. You can spend those resources on getting through an area, and need to make decisions on if spending specific resources in specific situations is worth it. I don’t think it’s in the genre, but that’s mostly because the resources are traded for direct combat resources, not bypassing obstacles. Spending a key to get a medkit is a lot different than spending a key to unlock a door that bypasses a combat encounter.

      2. ShivanHunter says:

        I’d argue that an important dimension here is how much the game gives you authorship over your own victory/survival. In Dead Space/Alien Isolation, you’re pretty much limited to solving the challenges that the game puts in front of you. In Shamus’s SSGs, you spend a lot of time and effort doing open-ended preparation for those challenges (progression systems/inventory systems) and selecting which challenges to face (open-ended navigation through the game, ranging from “you can go ANYWHERE (but some areas will definitely kill you if you’re not prepared)” to Deus Ex’s “shoot this dude, talk to the dude, or hack this door, they’re all valid ways to get in”).

        The distinguishing factor here isn’t a particular feature or lack thereof; it’s whether the game is designed like a sandbox where you build your own victory, or an obstacle course where you push the right buttons to win.

        1. Nick-B says:

          Sure, Dead Space and Doom are not quite fitting under your criteria for open-world, progression systems/inventory systems. But you know what does? Skyrim/Fallout. Almost to a T, do those fit into those categories. Progression Systems/Inventory systems. Open-ended navigation through the game, exactly like “you can go ANYWHERE (but some areas will definitely kill you if you’re not prepared)”. It even includes Deus Ex’s “shoot this dude, talk to the dude, or hack this door, they’re all valid ways to get in”.

          Interestingly, I didn’t think of those two games as belonging to this “immersive sim” category, even though it almost seems to fit into that almost more than even the games on the list. Open world paths? Possibility to skip some combat via charisma stats or stealth? Crafting? Character progression (leveling)?

          1. Syal says:

            Skyrim and Morrowind are the games I would most describe as Immersive Sim; they’re games where you can walk to a tree and pick mushrooms off the sides, and take the clothes off a dead enemy’s back. That’s about the most immersive world you can make.

        2. Duoae says:

          In Dead Space/Alien Isolation, you’re pretty much limited to solving the challenges that the game puts in front of you. In Shamus’s SSGs, you spend a lot of time and effort doing open-ended preparation for those challenges […] and selecting which challenges to face

          I was actually coming here to suggest Alien Isolation. Regarding your point, that removes most of the quintissential games from Shamus’ informal suggested list to something like:

          System Shock (1994) (Never played the original but if the remake is similar, it seems more linear than SS2 so maybe arguably shouldn’t be here…)
          System Shock 2 (1999)
          Deus Ex (2000)
          Deus Ex: Invisible War (2003) (I remember this being VERY linear… should this be here using that definition?)
          Thief: Deadly Shadows (2004) (arguably shouldn’t be here…)
          Deus Ex: Human Revolution (2011)
          Thief (2014) (arguably shouldn’t be here…)
          Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (2016)
          Prey (2017)

          Personally, I feel that Alien Isolation is a good “lite” SSG… one which actually incorporates the Space Station part of the genre ;). But more importantly:

          Isolated, confined setting?
          Non-linear (Metroidvania) level progression?
          Exclusive first-person view?
          RPG elements like improving skills?
          References to the number 451?
          Audiologs as a means of exposition?
          Difficult or disempowering combat that discourages “guns first” problem-solving?
          Spooky tone?

          Only cutting out of 5 the 13 points Shamus defined. IMO, it more than qualifies.

      3. RichardW says:

        I love the connective tissue to System Shock that the Dead Space series has. They were originally going to make System Shock 3 since EA technically had the rights, until they found a way more fun style of combat. That DNA is still very much there though and if there was a remake (a proper one, not that kickstarter thing) of System Shock 2 today I think it’d hew pretty close to what Dead Space did.

  7. Gautsu says:

    Deus Ex came out in 2000, Deus Ex: Invisible War in 2003, not 2000 as well.

  8. Lame Duck says:

    I think you’re getting ahead of yourself a bit here, Shamus; you’ve jumped straight into talking about the fuzzy edges of this genre but you haven’t even established whether any of these things can be defined as “games” yet.

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      “Immersive sim” is short for “Immersive walking simulator”.

      1. RichardW says:

        Now you got me wondering does Gone Home qualify?

        1. Zekiel says:

          Funnily enough I was just thinking that Tacoma (2nd game by Gone Home devs) should qualify as a SSG (though not an imsim)

  9. Vertette says:

    Crud, I meant to play Prey before you started this series. Looks like I know what I’m doing this weekend.

    1. Mr. Wolf says:

      Likewise. I’m pretty sure I’ve had it installed since 2018, but never quite get around to it.

      1. ColeusRattus says:

        same for me. Although, I have started it once.

    2. Xeorm says:

      Same. Next week’s gonna have a lot of this. Even more fun, since I’m night shift I’ll be playing this game all night. I’ll have to dim my lights for extra effect.

  10. Geebs says:

    And hang on… what are the defining attributes of this genre, anyway?

    Well actually they’re a) crawling through vents and b) stacking objects to climb.

    1. Henson says:

      I must’ve spent a full hour in the first section of the game before the airlock, just climbing to as many places as I could get.

  11. Glide says:

    I look forward to this! Your past writing on Prey convinced me to pick it up on sale despite the marketing and trailers making it seem like a thing I would not vibe with, and I’m glad I did – it was my single favorite game I played in 2019 and probably one of my all-time top 15 or so. I think the thing that really made it resonate with me was the sound design: a careful and prepared player could pretty much always avoid being ambushed by just listening for the distinct sounds each type of Typhon makes before entering a space. I’m a pretty low-skill-ceiling player in action games, and this ability to prepare and control the terms of engagement with each enemy set it head and shoulders above other shooters for my personal enjoyment right off the bat.

  12. kikito says:

    Could Alien: Isolation be catalogued as a 451 game and thus, enter the exclusive SSG genre? Let’s see:

    Isolated, Confined Setting (yes). Non-linear (weak no, small deviations). Silent protagonist during gameplay (yes). Exclusive first-person view (yes). Dialog choices (unsure, not prevalent in any case). RPG elements like improving skills (no). Modding weapons (no). Resource management via inventory Tetris (no). Freely switching between combat, stealth, and hacking as a means of progression (weak yes, you can choose sometimes). References to the number 451 (yes, on a door). Audiologs (yes, and text logs). Difficult or disempowering combat that discourages “guns first” problem-solving? (hard yes). Spooky tone? (hard yes)

    That’s 8 out of 13, I’d argue that it qualifies.

    1. Dreadjaws says:

      It’s odd. By reading Shamus’ words I also immediately thought of Alien: Isolation yet my experience with the game would never think of fitting it in this particular genre. Even though it does have the 451 number and the influences of the genre are palpable, it never reaches that particular spot where I can tell “Ah, yes, it’s one of those games”.

      This is why defining the genre is so difficult. It’s not something you can do with words, you have to feel it while playing the game.

      1. fungus says:

        I don’t think Alien: Isolation is one of 451 games, but there is no way I can prove it in any way. It just doesn’t feel right, despite ticking many of the checkboxes.
        It does start like a 451 game but then it changes and becomes something else. And less interesting for me.

        1. DeadlyDark says:

          I think, the main reason is that the game cheats with AI. The Alien is tethered to you, and instead of simulating his behavior, the game goes with more cinematic approach of him being always near you. You can’t see the strings, but you feel them. If the game simulated the Alien properly, you’d be able to manipulate him and the environment to your advantage, but in the actual game, it’s not really the case

          1. Syal says:

            Yeah, the System Shocks and Preys give you the kind of breathing room you need to stack every piece of furniture on top of each other in one giant pile. Once you clear an area, it’s clear. Low level stuff might respawn when you leave, but if you don’t leave it won’t respawn.

            We might add “the player is the aggressor” on the list. SHODAN and the meat monsters are eldritch terrors, but they’re mostly on the defensive as the player bulls forward to ruin their plans. You don’t have the sense that you can’t stay still too long or they’ll find you; they’re not trying to find you, they’re trying to keep you out.

    2. Thomas says:

      If SSG is a sub category of immersive sims though, the parts it falls down on are what I feel are the most defining features – RPG mechanics (I’ll bundle inventory management in with that), non-linearity, multiple approaches to solving problems.

      Shamus didn’t list it but I think ‘open ended tools’ is another checkbox as well. A defining feature of Deus Ex and Prey is being able to get round problems with outside the box solutions, like stacking crates or climbing on mines / potato gun.

      There’s also something about system based problems – that there’s lots of non-scripted AI for enemies that you can screw with to come up with ways of handling levels that weren’t necessarily designed.

    3. WaveofKittens says:

      Yes, certainly closer than Thief.
      (No clue why it ended up here. It was meant as a response to the contention that Alien: Isolation could be included as an SSG)

  13. Smosh says:

    It’s a surprisingly small list of games, and yet half of them are open to interpretation. I expected it to be longer, but I can’t think of a title that is missing. Maybe Vampire: Bloodlines could qualify, but we very much put that into the RPG genre (which as mentioned is probably the worst-defined genre of all, and that’s saying something). Calling “number goes up” a “role-playing” mechanic is so ludicrous I’m glad I don’t have to explain it to people.

    My favourite game was System Shock 2 for a very long time, so Prey was a great success, even though it still has quite a list of problems, some of which would have been easy to fix.

    As for the title: I actually am a huge fan of the first Prey as well. It was a great classic first person shooter with a ton of cool tech (portals! gravity!) and a creepy atmosphere.

    1. DeadlyDark says:

      Here’s the thing. Ultima Underworld 1 and 2 and then System Shock 1 have a clear progression in this regard. LGS tried to make a new way of RPGs. The ones that aren’t relying on stats, but instead something that is more diegetic (that’s why SS1 went with cybermodules, and SS2 is somewhat of a step back from this idea).

      So you can say that they are RPGs, but instead of providing you with explicit roles and stats, devs pick one or more roles for the player and then give you the tools to be play these roles. But what is and what is not RPG is a topic on itself. I mean, in 2015 and 2016 you could not escape “The Witcher 3 is not RPG” meme in russian internets

  14. Infinitron says:

    Where are Ultima Underworld and Arx Fatalis? Tsk tsk.

  15. Matt says:

    BioShock doesn’t make the list because it’s too simplified for my taste. The level progression is much more linear; you can’t loop back and revisit the early areas of the game.

    This is just a quibble, but I believe that you actually can revisit previously explored locations in BioShock 1, with the exception of the starting area. I don’t think you ever really need to, except for completion’s sake with a few achievements or pick-ups.

    Also, I know it’s not an Immersive Sim, but what about Dead Space as a SSG? Pretty much everyone is dead, you are in an isolated place (an actual spaceship in the first game) filled with monsters, you get backstory from audio logs and environmental clues, much of the UI is actually diegetic, etc.

    1. Dreadjaws says:

      Yes, I don’t believe there’s anything that stops you from doing it, but the game’s progression is still strictly linear. Unless you’re deliberately backtracking for the hell of it, if you find yourself in an area you already visited you were directed to it by the story. There’s no special item unlock that will now open extra areas in past zones that will allow you to explore further, like in an open game.

      1. Matt says:

        It’s been ages since I played the game, but I recall some instances where access to later plasmids allows you to access new parts of earlier spaces. As I wrote, this is never necessary and your only reward is usually some loot plus an audio log. I think you can also backtrack to kill Sander Cohen, too, if you spare him in your initial encounter. I could be wrong, though, and you’re correct that 98% of the game is linear.

        1. eldomtom2 says:

          You don’t backtrack to kill Sander Cohen; you get a second chance to kill him in Olympus Heights.

  16. Ashen says:

    You’re missing the very first LGS games that started the whole thing, Ultima Underworld and UW2 (as well as the first Arkane title, Arx Fatalis). Or would those be classified as RPGs? They do pass most of the checkboxes. Then again, nobody will agree on a true definition of a RPG either.

    Personally, while “feels like a LGS game” isn’t a great dictionary term, it’s the only one that always worked for me.

    1. Chad+Miller says:

      As it turns out, there is a sly reference to Arx Fatalis in this game. (“Fatal Fortress” is “Arx Fatalis” translated from Latin to English)

      1. WaveofKittens says:

        Yes, the character sheets looked oddly familiar ;)

  17. Dreadjaws says:

    I recently tried to start a playthrough of Prey in anticipation for this series but I’m still trying to figure out why it runs so poorly on my PC when it ran perfectly fine when I tried to play it a few years ago, before my old PC went kaput. I have more RAM, a better graphics card and faster CPU than back then, yet this particular game runs notoriously worse. It’s a problem, because if it runs bad now It’ll likely be worse once there are more characters on screen later.

    In any case yes, this is a difficult genre to pin down. My favorite ones are still Deus Ex and Deus Ex: HR. I never actually played the System Shock games, and I resist to try them these days. I tried the original Thief a few years ago and it was though to engage with its outdated mechanics. Sure, the original Deus Ex has those too, but at least I have nostalgia on my side to help me through them. Can’t say the same for that game, since I had never played it before, and I’m sure the experience with the SS games will be similar. I guess I’ll see how that remake goes.

    1. DeadlyDark says:

      Ok, I’m not going to defend Thief games (I played them back in 2006, so I do have nostalgia googles), but I tried SS1 right after Prey 2017, and I loved it way more than Prey, actually. And SS2, after SS1, was also fine.

      As for Thief games, I’ll just share my overall impression. While some parts are outdated (it would be nice for AI to notice missing lights/items, not unlike Deadly Shadows and Splinter Cell Chaos Theory), but not that outdated. As a whole, if I take gameplay balance*, level-design and overall atmosphere, there is no other stealth game that balance all these aspects as well as Thief trilogy. May be Hitman games (either Blood Money or new trilogy), but they are quite different so I can’t directly compare them.

      *I mean, most stealth games either make you walk on a tight-rope with slowest walking speeds to be quiet, or make guards deaf and blind. In Thief games you can walk with a normal speed, but you still must be careful. It’s a good balance they found there.

    2. WaveofKittens says:

      (In response to Dreadjaws)

      I liked Thief Gold more than either SS2 or Deus Ex. Probably since it’s more focused, but I also just liked the atmosphere and locations much more. Didn’t bother with Thief 2 for long. What won me over with the first one were maps like the Bonehoard and Mansion. That aspect seemed to be gone with Thief 2.

      Regarding your performance issue: Just a quick thought, but do you by any chance have two GPUs? I did occasionally run into trouble since games sometimes were trying to use my (weaker) integrated GPU instead of the dedicated one. You could check that with Nvidia Control Panel or something like that.

  18. RamblePak64 says:

    I played the demo for Prey on PS4 back when it launched, and from a narrative and atmospheric perspective it made a big impact. I found the game intriguing. The problem I had was it felt really awkward with a controller. I fee like there are just some developers that can’t fine-tune a first-person shooter to a controller well, and these devs always tend to be for games of this nature. I recently decided I’d try Disco Elysium with a keyboard and mouse instead since it would be “more optimal”, but I took one glance at the key bindings and reached for the controller instead. Maybe at this point it’s because I’m in my mid-thirties and am so accustomed to controllers that I just don’t want to bother learning keybindings. I got my QWERTY muscle-memory down, I don’t want to screw it up with having to memorize whatever a key does in whatever game I’m now playing.

    Still, you got me thinking I should give it a try. I think I installed it on my Xbox One X via Game Pass, so perhaps I’ll start there and try to keep up with your series.

    I will admit that I still lament the loss of the crazy looking Prey 2 that was in development, but in hindsight, that game was in development for Xbox 360 and PS3. It was never going to live up to that original vision. Cyberpunk looks like it had a lot of those same elements in mind, but look at how that shaped up. I’d love a game like what Prey 2 promised, but the greater question is whether anyone could actually execute on it or not.

    As much as I love this genre, I’m an even bigger fan of the sub-genre that lives inside it. It doesn’t have a name, but for the purposes of this article we can call them “Space Station Games”. That’s an immersive sim game set in a sealed, self-contained location where almost everyone else is dead.

    BioShock doesn’t make the list because it’s too simplified for my taste. The level progression is much more linear; you can’t loop back and revisit the early areas of the game. The lack of an inventory system means an entire dimension of the game is missing for me. The game also makes combat a little too fun and empowering for my taste. And finally, the ultimate adversary of BioShock seemed a little pedestrian. The flawed people of Rapture were never as compelling to me as the malevolent AI of System Shock or the eldritch creatures of Prey.

    The first paragraph had me chuckle and think to myself “So you’d love the first Resident Evil!” The second has me seriously thinking, once again, that you might actually like Resident Evil VII. Note the use of the word like and not love. I’ll tell you right now the game’s final hours are the weakest part, and the story and combat mechanics are unlikely to impress. In fact, I wouldn’t say the game would impress. But I think it might entertain. Maybe. I dunno.

    It’s honestly hard to say, but if there were any Resident Evil games I would recommend to you, even knowing your history with the series, it would be either Resident Evil VII or the Resident Evil 2 Remake (though that one is by far the goriest and nearly crosses the line regarding how much I’m willing to take).

    That said, I don’t see you loving either one, either. Just… I find it kind of amusing that my mind goes to those games (and Metroid: Other M, but, uh… yeah that’s a whole other can o’ worms).

    1. Chad+Miller says:

      Late thirties, not particularly good at FPSes, and I played the entire thing on my Xbox and some of Mooncrash without issue (I actually bought Mooncrash because I had such a good time with the main game). (by way of comparison, I tried DOOM 2016 on Game Pass and couldn’t get anywhere at all)

      It turns out, you can make any encounter easy-to-trivial with enough preparation, abuse of the environment, crafting and skillups, etc. In fact Joseph Anderson argued in his critique that the reliance on these things is exactly why the game didn’t land with certain people; someone used to getting through and FPS on reflexes alone will often find themselves getting wrecked, not thinking to use the psychoscope to look for weaknesses or setup an ambush or even just use stealth or take an alternate route.

      Someone posted in an earlier comment on this blog about how the first thing they did was figure out how to beat a Phantom head-on with just a wrench. I did literally the opposite of that; the game’s very first sidequest objective points you to a room with a Phantom and a Thermic Phantom, when you don’t even have a gun yet. I’m pretty sure this is a fight you straight up can’t win at that point of the game, but I did notice that you could carry turrets…

      Also, as a side note, the feeling I had near the beginning of the game, with the attitude of “I can kill all these monsters but I’m not sure I can afford the ammo”, also reminded me a lot of the pre-4 Resident Evil games (the ones that still had tank controls)

    2. Syal says:

      Disco Elysium with a keyboard and mouse instead since it would be “more optimal”

      You don’t need the keyboard either, Disco Elysium can be played with just the mouse.

  19. Mousazz says:

    I’ve been playing Clandestine, a Splinter Cell-esque co-op stealth game, with my buddy recently, and I was pleasantly surprised when the 3rd keypad in the first prologue mission, instead of being randomized like every other keypad, had 0451 as the code.

  20. Volvagia says:

    I’m going to counter something Harvey Smith said. He blamed the lower sales on multiplayer games and fast paced shooters. I think that’s kind of crap. Immersive Sim Audience: Liberals or Leftists. Immersive Sims: Dour, miserable, self serious, nihilistic. Release dates of Dishonored 2, Deus Ex Mankind Divided and this Prey: Election Year and Year After Election of…that. This isn’t that, hard, Harvey. A No One Lives Forever remake (and, yes, those were I-Sims) would have CLEANED UP in the 2016-2020 period.

    1. Infinitron says:


    2. Also Tom says:

      Are you saying that the reason these I-sims didn’t do so well was because their intended audience was already depressed enough by the real world that they didn’t want to be depressed by their games?

  21. Rho says:

    Prey: the game I wanted love but mostly disliked. I am in the awkward position of agreeing with everything Shamus says and yet having no intention of ever touching this game again. It is a technical masterpiece, but I found it rather uninteresting to actually play, mostly for plot and gatekeeping reasons.

  22. sheer_falacy says:

    Will you also be covering Mooncrash? It’s a very different game from baseline Prey despite sharing the same engine and mechanics and it was also a lot of fun.

  23. evilmrhenry says:

    It can be helpful to look at the genre from outside as well, by looking at games that are close to the genre, but not generally considered part of it.

    Is Borderlands a 451 game? No. Even though it has RPG elements, there’s no support for multiple ways to get past barriers, just different ways to kill enemies.

    Is Dark Messiah Of Might and Magic one? I’m going to say no, even though this is close. The difference, I think, is that there’s no resource management.

    I feel resource management is a core part of the genre, seen clearly in Deus Ex. You might be carrying 4 lockpicks, 5 hacking things, 9 rounds of ammo, and a medkit. You are facing a guard that you need to get past. You can shoot the guard, using up ammo. You can unlock a grate to bypass the guard, using up 2 lockpicks. You can attack the guard with a melee weapon, using up health. You can hack a nearby terminal, giving you access some other way. Each of these methods uses up scarce resources, and your goal is to figure out the “cheapest” way to get through, balancing the worth of multiple resources against each other, depending on the specific situation at hand. Maybe in one circumstance shooting the guard would just use one round of ammo, because you can get close enough to get a perfect headshot. In another circumstance, there’s three guards, and unlocking a grate would be better. Or maybe you throw a bottle at the guards, and lead them back to a turret you hacked earlier.

    No matter your solution, you’ll be using up resources that are not simple to acquire (you can’t just pick up 99 lockpicks for a trivial cost at the store the way you can refill your ammo in Borderlands) and are non-renewable. The use of creativity to reduce resource usage is both supported and recommended, which is why it combines so well with stealth gameplay. Deus Ex, for example, encourages the use of stealth because stealth takedowns don’t use resources, or use reduced resources.

    1. Addie says:

      To an extent, yes, but I feel another important aspect is that the resources that you’re given aren’t single-use, or are not the best tool for the job. In Thief (Dark Project / Metal Age, anyway), you’re given a lot of broadhead arrows, which are fundamentally useless for their ‘obvious’ purpose – on highest difficulty, you can’t kill anyone. What they’re useful for is hitting buttons from afar, and shooting at metal things to make a noise to distract the guards so you can sneak by to your objective. The (limited) tools that you’re given interact with the game world; they’re not ‘magic bullets’.

      So yeah; are the game physics and AI such that the world is initialised and set in motion, and then you have to achieve your objectives on top of that, given the world interactions you have available? Immersive sim. I’d add Nethack to the list of 451s before I added any incarnation of Doom, anyway.

      1. evilmrhenry says:

        Hadn’t even considered Nethack, but you have a point. I don’t think it’s in the genre, but I’d have to think about why that would be.

    2. Gahrer says:

      This is how I think about the genre as well: Balancing the use of several non-renewable resources and finding out new ways to increase usage efficiency.

    3. Zekiel says:

      I think having active in-game systems that you can manipulate is an important part of the genre too. By which I mean things like patrolling guards you can avoid or frustrate with barriers, or different enemy factions you can manipulate into fighting each other (eg Big Daddies and Splicers).

  24. Could we make room for the original Half Life on our madcap Venn Diagram/spreadsheet? The sequels go off on (entirely enjoyable) tangents into the realm of character interactions, travel over diverse locations, etc., but it seems to me that the original itself would hit a number of the bullet points on Shamus’ list of 451/SSG traits.

    1. Ashen says:

      HL1 wouldn’t hit *any* of them except for the “silent protagonist” and “exclusive first person”. At which point you might as well put Doom and 90% of first person shooters on the table.

    2. CloverMan-88 says:

      don’t know the camera gives you tons of free bonuses

      I honestly think that the camera system was a mistake. Its cluncky as hell to use, but if you don’t you are seriously underpowered at the end of the game, and of you keep up with photographing new enemies you get too powerful too fast. The game would be so much better without it.

  25. Gautsu says:

    If nothing else it will be interesting to hear Shamus’s perspective about a game he loves

    1. Zekiel says:

      I really like hearing Shamus gush about games he likes! The Half Life 2 coverage on this site is some of my favourite.

  26. ElevatorEleven says:

    Almost every term gaming culture has adopted for purposes of classification is meaningless to me. “Immersive Sim” is almost as bad a name as “character action game.” Games are so long and so complex compared to most other forms of media that I feel like they need a multi layered genre categorization system. Every game will need more than a few words to categorize it, and I think we just have to live with that. Names like Souls-like and GTA-clone and Roguelite aren’t good enough for me.

    When I say games are complex, I don’t mean complex like deep narrative, I mean there’s an entire dimension (gameplay) that other media forms lack. We can borrow narrative tags from other story based media, so we can have horror games and comedy games and mystery games and adventure ga- wait no, damnit.. Anyway, so, games need at least one narrative tag but then also gameplay tags on addition. FPS, RTS, RPG, MMO, Point And Click, these are all important distinct categories that have nothing to do with the narrative or tone. But the thing is, gameplay mechanics are extremely varied and can come in hundreds of different combinations. Shooting, flying, building, leveling up, first person, top down, puzzle solving, item managing, survival crafting, weapon modding, multiplayer, co op, dialog choices, branching paths, multiple endings, casual, level based, open world, etc

    I hate Souls-like the most I think because Dark Souls is different things to different people and when a buddy describes Code Vein as Souls-like this tells me nothing. I hated Dark Souls’s gameplay, sticky combat controls, and high punishment, but I loved its oppressive atmosphere, aesthetic, open world, and subtle world building based narrative. So which of those things does this other game have that make it a Souls-like? (I’m not even really a fan of Dark Souls; it’s just a useful example because it’s such a complicated experience and also people made a genre out of it)

    The problem is that any given game may have a dozen different majorly important elements that define that game, and the classification therefore needs to include them all. Dark Souls is a third person, high punishment, checkpoint based, open world, atmospheric, exploration, character progression, melee combat focused, survival game. Yes that is a mouthful but to reduce it any further takes away the meaning. Remnant: From the Ashes is called a Souls-like, and it’s checkpoint based and features exploration and character progression, but it lacks oppressive atmosphere and high punishment, so I don’t think it feels very like Dark Souls at all. And Code Vein, I don’t know what the hell Code Vein is.

    I also wish we could reclaim the word “adventure.” They’re not adventure games, they’re point and click inventory and dialogue based puzzle games.

    And don’t even get me started on “MOBA”

    1. Philadelphus says:

      There are some incredibly detailed classification schemes out there for things like musical instruments and folklore/fairy tales, so I wonder if we’ll ever get something similar for classifying games. Or perhaps games are just too varied on too many axes to ever make an effective classification system for them.

  27. Warclam says:

    Nitpicking, but for good stuff? So… perhaps hitpicking?

  28. Jack says:

    I am really looking forward to this series, because I had the exact opposite experience with Prey 2017: I completely hated this game.

    I played all the way to the end on PC and found the whole thing to be a frustrating slog with a confusing, badly-paced story. The powers weren’t fun or creative, combat was “meh” at the best of times, managing inventory and character abilities was a constant chore, and I never once felt emotionally invested in the characters or the world. There were a *handful* of good moments, but overall the whole thing was a huge letdown.

    So yeah, looking forward to the different interpretation.

    1. Chad+Miller says:

      So, I’m actually curious here: Did you start out liking it and then felt it got worse, but never quite bad enough to quit? Did you dislike it at first thinking it would get better but it never did? Or something else entirely?

      1. DeadlyDark says:

        While I liked the game, there’s one area that is sorely lacking, compared to previous games in the category. Audio design. It’s just not very good or memorable. And audio design is what LGS did best

        Plus, one of my friends played Prey recently and he encountered an opening container sound bug (not his post, but same problem there )

        1. WaveofKittens says:

          @Deadly Dark (ad sound design):

          What was most annoying was, that the sound cues for enemies were often rather heavy-handed and at times threatening music would play, apparently without reason. Done subtly in a horror game that might very well work, but this isn’t even a horror game and it isn’t done subtly.

      2. Jack says:

        A combination of all three. I played until the end hoping there would be some big payoff to the story (spoiler alert: no). The gameplay was also never quite bad enough to quit. Prey 2017 has no “flow”. The controls are awkward and every 30 seconds there is some kind of tedious annoyance to pull you out of things (random jump-scare monsters, doing inventory management just to heal or refuel your powers, getting stuck on level geometry, getting killed by those stupid instant-death electrical panels, etc.)

    2. WaveofKittens says:

      (In answer to Jack)

      I played through System Shock 2 a few years back and liked it. I wasn’t blown away by it or anything, but I had an easier time with it than with Deus Ex, which I found overly clunky and rarely satisfying. One thing I had heard about SS2 a lot is how much people liked the atmosphere, but I found it overrated in that respect. Not bad, just not nearly as good as in Thief Gold for instance. And I had a similar problem with Prey. Talos 1 is a well realized place that is quite impressive in scale and detail, but similar to SS2 I found it just a little too bland. Yatzhee has expressed a similar sentiment. I’m mostly referring to the setting. But the writing seemed better than in Dishonored and the story and its themes more interesting.

      I wouldn’t say that it was a slog for me or overly difficult. At least once I had some upgrades and started to understand that open combat wasn’t always advisable. But the game was too long. At some point I was just revisiting different areas and killing a random selection of enemies I had already encountered. At that point I knew how to deal with them and didn’t have much difficulty with them anymore.

      “The powers weren’t fun and creative.”:

      I haven’t tried the Typhon powers, but at least the Gloo Cannon allowed for some fun interactions and EMP grenades can turn off grav shafts. Never really used the latter and turning off the energy supply of doors didn’t seem to serve any purpose. I had Leverage III that supposedly allows to open unpowered doors, but the game only rarely allowed me to use that. Recycle charges can dissolve obstacles. Environmental dangers can be used against enemies etc. There’s probably a few others I’m forgetting.

      1. Chad+Miller says:

        I haven’t tried the Typhon powers

        So, I did the Typhon-only challenge run and found it miserable, but individual Typhon powers are worth trying. Mimic Matter in particular is a lot of fun to toy with.

        1. Sleeping Dragon says:

          I ended up on a pure human run sort of by accident, by the time typhon powers became available I was so committed to a build that I didn’t feel like investing into something completely different. I actually consider not introducing typhon powers earlier, or making them way more enticing, one of the game’s few failures in my playthrough.

          1. Chad+Miller says:

            I generally agree; Mimic Matter was the only power I took on my first playthrough, because for some reason turning myself into a soda can so I can throw myself through a window was too funny not to do. Even on the Typhon-only playthrough my favorite part was finding out that there are some routes that can only be taken that way (e.g., in the Hardware Labs you can climb on top of the recycler and slip through a broken vent, bypassing the need to repair the entrance to the Q-Beam labs)

        2. WaveofKittens says:


          My second playthrough will hopefully allow me to play around with that side of things, but I’ll definitely get a few things from the other skill trees.

          I can easily see how Typhon-only might be difficult. Even just being able to upgrade the pistol was very helpful.

          1. Chad+Miller says:

            I think the one that ultimately irked me the most was limited inventory space. Grenades and different weapons, even upgraded, could come in handy at times but you really can’t carry them.

      2. BlueHorus says:

        I had an easier time with it than with Deus Ex, which I found overly clunky and rarely satisfying

        Me: Ah, I’ll sneak up on this person and shoot them with a tranquilizer dart to take them down silently.
        *Fires dart*
        *Target instantaneously knows where I am, starts running around shouting “OOF!” and opens fire on me with their gun. All their friends know where I am and come to shoot me as well.*
        Me: Dafuq kind of tranquilizers are these!?

        Yeah, while there’s a lot to appreciate in Deus Ex, some of the systems are not the greatest.

        1. WaveofKittens says:


          :D Very good point. One of the things I disliked about it most was how characters would often start running around in panic when stealth was broken. It always felt overly ridiculous. Tranquilizers were particularly good in causing these kinds of situations.

    3. Zekiel says:

      Fascinating! I loved this game, but I can’t really disagree with those criticisms. I loved it because it had a better sense of place than any other game I’ve ever played. And by the end of the game I felt like I’d mastered the station and that was a great feeling.

    4. Addie says:

      I thought it was a very good game, rather than a phenomenal one. The early gameplay, where you have to make do with the tools that you have, is very much the best bit – if you choose a build where you can go toe-to-toe with a Nightmare, it does kind of fall apart a bit. The times where you have to defeat your enemies with a hilariously underpowered weapon, a nerf gun, a glue stick and as much creativity as you can muster, though? Awesome.

      Having Morgan Yu be a complete business / scientist bastard (either gender), generally untethered by ethics, sounds a good idea, but it’s rarely relevant in the gameplay, and having an unsympathetic protagonist risks the lack of investment that you felt. Having your character be a Thief / System Shock style outsider, where you can decide your own motivation for your actions, strikes me as better.

      Considering what the ending, and having played through repeatedly to get both ‘single source of powers’ achievements, I didn’t notice a great deal of lampshading throughout – for something like that to not be a completely sophomoric deus ex machina (ho ho) then it should really be an obvious-all-along twist where you’ve been misled the whole time. But again, no, and spoils investment in the plot. No doubt Shamus will have something to say about that, too.

      So yeah; 8/10 could-have-been-better, which is disappointing when it’s already so very good.

  29. SidheKnight says:

    Freely switching between combat, stealth, and hacking as a means of progression? (System Shock, BioShock, Prey)

    How does Deus Ex not meet this criteria?

    Audiologs as a means of exposition? (System Shock, BioShock, Prey)

    This one could also apply to Deus Ex, if you count messages on emails/terminals/tablets/etc as “logs”.

    1. Laserhawk says:

      Finally! I have been waiting for a new longform analysis! Btw Shamus, have you tried an old school title, aliens vs. predator 2 gold edition? It also has that space station vibe with nervous combat (at least in the first half of the marine playthrough), but it isn’t available on steam and is only available through old game cds.

      1. RamblePak64 says:

        AvP2 is a lot of fun, but it most certainly does not fit the immersive sim style. Also, stuck on a planet, not so much a space station. It’s very much a recreation of the colony of LV-426 with a bit of trees for Predators to hop about on and remixed to have the serial numbers filed off. No real inventory management, not much of a story, etc. It’s a good shooter, but it’s not really fitting what he’s discussing here.

    2. aitrus says:

      Both could also apply to Dishonored, although hacking in Dishonored is generally just flipping a switch.

  30. Paul Spooner says:

    What is this, positivity? Shamus, what drugs are those doctors having you take?

    1. BlueHorus says:


  31. Lino says:

    Yay! New series! Although I dropped the game halfway through, I always enjoy reading your analysis. Maybe I’ll finally understand why some people liked this game so much, when I found it so utterly boring.

    1. WaveofKittens says:

      I started liking it more and more after the overly slow early bits. It is indeed slow and the atmosphere not strong enough to carry it, but the more tools I received and the more I was able to wrap my head around how everything worked, the more fun I had with it. Basically, for me the middle section worked the best.

  32. Christopher says:

    Love to see it! I was waiting for this series. Prey is pretty well liked in the online space I hang around in at lesst, but it’s barely been covered in the grand scheme of things. It’ll be interesting to read about.

  33. unit3000-21 says:

    Hell, it’s about time!
    Very excited for this, after three playthroughs I’m pretty burnt out on playing Prey 2017, but I really think this game is under-discussed.

  34. Luka Dreyer says:

    Consider me very, very excited for this retrospective. The “immersive sim” is quite possibly my favourite video game genre and Looking Glass Studios (may its soul rest in peace) a strong contender for my favourite (and arguably one of the most important) developers ever.

    In narrowing down some sort of definition for games in this genre, I’ve found it helpful to think about them as a combination of the kinaesthetic immediacy of first-person shooters and the character customisation and multi-faceted problem-solving of role-playing games. To my mind, this encompasses the Ultima Underworld series (arguably the progenitor of the genre), System Shock series, Deus Ex series, Dishonoured and Prey, while excluding the Thief and Bioshock series, which respectively seem more explicitly defined as stealth and first-person shooter titles.

    All this makes it a little odd that I still haven’t played Prey. I will take this as a sign from above to rectify the matter.

  35. Richard says:

    My favorite internet-writing guy who I discovered in 2014 now writes about Prey, my favorite game!

  36. Duoae says:

    My second favourite game in this genre over the last five years was The Occupation. It’s not an SSG but the world of alt-80s England was very nicely realised, though i can imagine that the subject matter may be a little too close to current reality for some people to enjoy it.

    Of course, the main stumbling block for many to enjoy it is the timed nature of each level. Being unable to save mid-mission is not ideal, though they typically take around 1 hour.

  37. Arstan says:

    Why no one mentions SOMA?

    Isolated, confined setting? – Oh, yeah
    Non-linear (Metroidvania) level progression? Uh, no, not at all
    Silent protagonist during gameplay? Nope, talks. But it makes it better…
    Exclusive first-person view? Yep
    Dialog choices? I don’t think so
    RPG elements like improving skills? No
    Modding weapons? No weapons at all
    Resource management via inventory Tetris? no
    Freely switching between combat, stealth, and hacking as a means of progression? no
    References to the number 451? no
    Audiologs as a means of exposition? yep
    Difficult or disempowering combat that discourages “guns first” problem-solving? Ahah, with no guns? yeah
    Spooky tone? Yep

    So it’s 5/13. But that “confined, abandoned, remote creepy station” stuff? SOMA does that great

  38. Mike S says:

    Yessss, Ive been waiting for this series since the game came out!

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