Prey 2017 Part 6: Meet the Monsters

By Shamus Posted Wednesday Aug 11, 2021

Filed under: Retrospectives 84 comments

So we’re working our way through Psychotronics. This poorly-lit maze is the oldest part of the station, and it’s also where the classified Typhon research takes place. So while we’re here and reading everyone’s mail, let’s take the time to talk about the various monster types we’ve run into so far…

Mimic

Hey. You're going to want to keep that out of your mouth. It's SUPER bad for you.
Hey. You're going to want to keep that out of your mouth. It's SUPER bad for you.

Mimics are little spider-like critters that can take the shape of any small object nearby.  If you come into an office and see one desk with two trash cans, then one of the trash cans is probably a mimic. It’s going to wait until you’re close and then pounce on you. Sometimes you can spot a mimic if the object twitches slightly, but sometimes you can’t. This is great for making the player paranoid.

The thing is, the designers know this. And so they love to place objects in pairs whenever they can get away with it. Two cardboard boxes. Two coffee cups. Two chairs in a room with one desk. 

What ends up happening is this: The player gets ambushed by a couple of mimics early in the game. This makes them jumpy. So they run around, bashing random objects with the wrench. After twenty minutes of hammering away at harmless furniture and inert debris, they begin to feel silly. They relax and let their guard down again. 

And then another mimic jumps out at them.

Phantom

When playing, I popped out of the grav shaft to find this phantom in my face and began panic-firing. It wasn't until I reviewed this footage that I saw the phantom was facing away from me and maybe crouching?
When playing, I popped out of the grav shaft to find this phantom in my face and began panic-firing. It wasn't until I reviewed this footage that I saw the phantom was facing away from me and maybe crouching?

This is the most conventional of the enemies. A phantom is an upright biped that shoots glowing projectiles at you. The designers worked very hard to avoid the “space ork” problem I mentioned earlier. These things don’t move like humans. They don’t crouch, take cover, or sprint. And most importantly, they don’t carry guns. This isn’t really a creature with skin over muscles over a skeleton. In fact, it looks like a Phantom is actually just a huge pile of tentacles that have contorted themselves into a roughly humanoid shape. 

I guess they’re shaped like humans because they’re made from humans? If a mimic feeds on you, then it makes a handful of mimics. But if a Weaver happens upon your lifeless body, it will turn your physical form into a phantom. Often the game will show names over the heads of the phantoms, indicating who was used to make it. When you kill the phantom, you can loot the items that the original person had. You obtain several keycards and other quest-specific items this way.

Weaver

The Weaver is inside of this containment tank. I know it's hard to see from here, but it's got the white diamond-shaped outline around it.
The Weaver is inside of this containment tank. I know it's hard to see from here, but it's got the white diamond-shaped outline around it.

I think this is supposed to be the most important and powerful form of Typhon. I don’t want to say it’s the “highest” because that would imply a leadership hierarchy and they don’t really have that. Perhaps we can say the Weaver is simply the most sophisticated? The one with the most complex behavior?

The Weavers create the coral. We’ll talk about the coral later in this series. For now let’s just focus on the mechanics of fighting a Weaver.

The Weavers are supposedly tough opponents. If you damage one, it immediately hits Morgan with “fear”, making it hard to move and aim. Which makes shooting the Weaver to death a slow process. You normally have to hit it, wait five seconds for the fear to subside, then hit it again. 

This is exacerbated by the shimmering yellow shield that Weavers have. They’re the only enemy type that has a shield like this, and it makes them very durable. 

They also crap out handfuls of these radioactive homing blobsIf you’re curious, these things are called Cystoids. that detonate on impact. So you’ll shoot a Weaver to take a tiny chip off its health bar, then wait five seconds for the fear to go away, then spend ten seconds frantically killing blobs before they reach you. Then take another pathetic shot at the Weaver and begin the entire process again.

Which makes the Weaver the toughest and most dangerous foe.

EXCEPT!

Do you have a nullwave grenade? You should. There are several dozen in the game and less than a dozen Weavers. Just toss the grenade at the Weaver and it will disable fear, halt its ability to crap out radioactive blobs, and also remove the shield. If a Weaver is near the ground, I prefer to hit it with a nullwave, then run in and bludgeon it to death with my wrench.

Nightmare

Ugh. I realize my screenshots look like pictures of Bigfoot, but trust me. This is all visually clearer when you're playing.
Ugh. I realize my screenshots look like pictures of Bigfoot, but trust me. This is all visually clearer when you're playing.

We don’t actually meet a Nightmare here in psychotronics. This bastard doesn’t pop up until much later when we reach the arboretum. But we’re going to skip the arboretum in this retrospective, so let’s talk about the Nightmare now.

This 3-meter monster is very different from the other foes you’ll face. This is easily the largest foe in the game.The largest one you’re supposed to fight, anyway. I love the Nightmare for the way it breaks up the flow of the game and creates moments of intensity. You spend most of the game sneaking around in the dark or getting into brief fights with monsters. The Nightmare brings with it an abrupt mood switch from slow tension to mad panic.

The Nightmare is also responsible for one of my favorite moments in the game. This ain’t my first rodeo, and if there’s anything I’ve learned in my last 30 years of videogaming it’s that large boss monsters have horrendous pathfinding. Game designers usually hide this by trapping you in an open arena, but if you can drag a fight into narrow corridors or into a space with a low ceiling then you can usually turn the big threat into a big joke. The boss will wobble back and forth, rubbing up against the wall ineffectually as you find juuuust the right spot where you can shoot him in the calf and he can’t shoot back.

So let’s revisit my first fight with the Nightmare…

The Nightmare has a timer. It will only hunt you for a few minutes and then vanish. Perhaps this is to give a fighting chance to players that have been over-investing in exploration skills and under-investing in combat skills. I’m actually one of those players and I’ve run away for the last couple of encounters. But now I figure it’s time for me to suck it up and fight this thing. 

Well, I say “fight”, but really I just mean “kill”. I’m not going to run out in the open for some 1v1 action like I’m the Doom Marine facing the Cyberdemon. Morgan is slow and fragile and there’s no reason to fight the nightmare in the open and shoot it in the head when you can hide in a closet and shoot it in the ankles.

The Nightmare appears and the chase is on. I need to find a hidely-hole where he can’t follow. I’m in the open in Crew Quarters and the high ceilings of the common area give him lots of space to work with. Also, this guy is really fast! I’m used to bosses moving slow and getting caught on level geometry, but every time I look over my shoulder he’s right there. If I stop running for more than a second he can nail me. This guy hits hard, and I estimate I’m never more than 2 firm slaps away from the world of “Reload Previous Save”.

He doesn’t get caught on furniture. He doesn’t have any problem climbing stairs. He doesn’t slow down when you hit him. He can slap you up close and launch homing projectiles at a distance. This guy is an actual handful and not just a really big bounding box with a lot of hitpoints. 

Finally I find a nice side-room. It’s a dead end, but I just need to get somewhere that he can’t follow. I dart through the doorway and find a quiet corner to heal and reload while I ponder my next move. 

But before I can take care of business, I see the Nightmare squish and stretch himself through the doorway and then re-expand back to his normal shape on the other side. I am now trapped in a small room with the Nightmare and I am completely fucked.

It’s a strange feeling to experience both delight and terror at the same time, but that moment really did it for me. 

This archway in the Arboretum is one of the few places in the game that the Nightmare has trouble moving around. I'm not sure why. He's normally able to fit through much smaller gaps.
This archway in the Arboretum is one of the few places in the game that the Nightmare has trouble moving around. I'm not sure why. He's normally able to fit through much smaller gaps.

The other thing that makes the Nightmare unique is that I don’t think it literally exists. It’s too soon to talk about the ending twist, but for now I’ll just say that I think Nightmares are a byproduct of the stuff we learn about in the ending scene and not something that literally appeared on Talos-1.

Reasons why I don’t think the Nightmare is real:

  1. No humans in the story discuss this creature. It’s never been studied or observed, and you never find any in-world notes or references to it. Nobody on Talos-1 seems to be aware of it besides Morgan and January. 
  2. It’s the only monster that exists on a timer. If you can avoid the Nightmare for two minutes, it stops existing
  3. It doesn’t really fit thematically with the other monsters. The rest of the Typhon all have a biological reason to exist. They all have jobs in the Typhon “hive”, as it were. They create coral, manipulate the environment, and make more Typhon. The Nightmare is just a big ball of violence with no other utility.
  4. It’s called a “nightmare”, which is by definition a terrifying thing that does not exist.

We’ll talk more about this when we get to the ending. But for now let’s just move on. There are several more monsters, but we’ll meet them later in our adventure. 

Here in psychotronics is where the writer introduces one of the big ideas they’re going to be playing around with. So let’s talk about…

Mirror Neurons

Have you ever watched a horror movie where someone got their hand chopped off, and you found yourself reflexively grabbing your own wrist? Or did you ever learn to operate a machine by watching someone else use it and then copying their actions? Both of these are examples of mirror neurons in action.

Mirror neurons are a real thing. What happens is that you’ll see someone else experience something, and the mirror neurons in your brain will fire, simulating how you would react to that experience. It’s how we can recognize the suffering of others. It’s also critical for learning. 

Mirror neurons are an incredibly powerful tool. But according to Wikipedia, only primates and birds have this gift. The rest of the animal kingdom has to do stuff the hard way.

If I figure out a better way to build a nest, other birds can observe me and copy my behavior thanks to their mirror neurons. They can watch me build the nest, and in doing so they are able to visualize themselves building a nest the same way. Without mirror neurons, all of this is left to chance. I just need to have a bunch of kids and hope that some of them randomly have the same nest-building preferences that I do. And then those preferences need to propagate through the population over many, many generations. With mirror neurons, a better nest is available to everyone else, right away. 

So mirror neurons are key to empathy, which allows us to cooperate. And they’re also key to imitation, which allows us to pass along knowledge and techniques not hard-coded into our DNA, which makes a creature more generally adaptable. These things are real game-changers for a species. 

Mirror neurons are great, but I find it even more amusing when they fail.

The first example of Mirror Neuron failure is when children observe adults. A kid will watch an adult perform a dance, do martial arts, or masterfully play a musical instrument. The kid will observe the rapid movements and some of the broad gestures involved in the activity, and innocently assume they have fully absorbed the knowledge. They will then attempt to copy the adult behavior and wind up failing horribly. It’s adorable how the little runt thought that playing a guitar was as easy as picking one up and randomly tickling the strings while caterwauling at the top of their lungs. At least, it’s adorable once you get the guitar away from them and the crying stops. 

But for me the really great tragicomedy of mirror neurons manifests itself in the form of…

Dick Pics

Clark, van Dyke, Cavett, and Dale.
Clark, van Dyke, Cavett, and Dale.

You can see the disastrous reasoning at work. “Hm. I’m a horny twenty-something male. I would really appreciate it if my interlocutor would send me some pictures of her naughty bits. So it stands to reason that she would be equally appreciative of similar pictures of my naughty bits. Therefore… (unzips and gets out phone)

The mirror neurons in this case are leading our young man astray. They allow you to project yourself into the other person’s shoes. This is immensely useful when coming up with words of comfort, or in guiding you to be thoughtful. But in the case of unsolicited boner broadcasts, the young man is counting on a symmetry that doesn’t typically exist in this particular context. This results in the continued proliferation of schlong sharings, despite the obvious and well-documented failure of the things to achieve their intended goal. 

It’s not that these guys are dumb.I would say their problem is a lack of wisdom rather than intelligence. It’s just that we’re so used to trusting our mirror neurons to guide us through our daily interactions with other people. Who are you going to believe: Millions of women on social media, or your own mirror neurons? 

Space Bugs Don’t Have Politics

The problem with the Typhon is that they do not have mirror neurons. They are literally incapable of remorse and pity. Their species evidently has some system that allows them to cooperate with each other without needing constructs like language, family, government, or other social hierarchies. Like a hive of wasps, they’re able to coordinate extremely complex activities without experiencing constant infighting or power struggles. 

Even if we found some way to communicate with them, it wouldn’t do any good because they have no interest in our point of view. They are fundamentally incurious and unapproachable when it comes to other species.

This makes them a lot more difficult to deal with than (say) the Sith, the Borg, or the Reapers. Those classic sci-fi villains are capable of communication. If you bring enough guns to the table, you can get them to back off due to their general desire for self-preservation. But the Typhon? They just do what they do. You can’t talk with them, which means you can’t plead, stall, bluff, threaten, or reason with them. You can’t weaken their resolve, undermine their morale, or threaten them with mutually assured destruction. They don’t care. They just keep doing what they do, because – as Alex says – they’re incapable of doing otherwise. 

While we’re talking about fighting these critters, let’s talk about…

Gameplay

I have a terrible habit of STAYING in the crouching position during fights. I don't know why. Once a fight has started, there's no tactical advantage to being slow and shooting from a low angle.
I have a terrible habit of STAYING in the crouching position during fights. I don't know why. Once a fight has started, there's no tactical advantage to being slow and shooting from a low angle.

In terms of gameplay, what Prey is trying to do is incredibly hard. It needs to present a system where combat is difficult and expensive, in an industry where gleeful self-indulgent empowerment is the norm and the expectation. Games have gotten very good at making combat feel rewarding, and if you try to take that reward away then some people are going to complain that the gameplay “feels bad”. 

And so the various reviews faulted the game: It feels stiff. It’s awkward. It feels dated. It’s clumsy. Unpolished. One reviewer even complained that the combat was “Not as fun as Dishonored”. Which… duh. It would be a pretty horrendous screwup to make Morgan feel as powerful and capable as Corvo. It would make no sense, and it would completely undercut the tense atmosphere if Morgan ran around drop-kicking Typhon, flinging them over railings, and shanking them with impunity from the shadows. This is a game about a scientist trying to survive encounters with a powerful alien species, not a game about an assassin plowing her way through an army of hapless mooks. The player should not feel excitement when they encounter an alien. Oh boy! I get to ambush another toothless space-monster!

Given that the combat needed to be “not empowering”, I think the designers did an amazing job. Combat isn’t “fun”. Instead it’s tense, panicky, unwieldy, and abrupt. But most importantly, it’s not a chore.

The brute-force way of disempowering the player is to make foes bullet sponges, which makes combat slow, repetitive, and unpleasant. Prey (mostly) avoids this. Instead of making the foes unreasonably durable, it makes Morgan relatively fragile. Ammunition and healing supplies are scarce. This means fights are tense and expensive. You’re not supposed to rip and tear through these guys like the Doom marine. You’re supposed to plan ahead, use the environment to help, and maybe avoid some fights when possible.

Moving On…

We like to save electricity by making our research labs spooky and under-lit.
We like to save electricity by making our research labs spooky and under-lit.

So that’s it for Psychotronics. I will say that if it was my job to study these freaks all day, I’d have way more lights around my office. This is the darkest area of the station, and I don’t think that’s doing the personnel any good, mental health-wise.

Next time we’ll return to Morgan’s task of trying to blow this place up.

 

Footnotes:

[1] If you’re curious, these things are called Cystoids.

[2] The largest one you’re supposed to fight, anyway.

[3] I would say their problem is a lack of wisdom rather than intelligence.



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84 thoughts on “Prey 2017 Part 6: Meet the Monsters

  1. Content Consumer says:

    I have a terrible habit of STAYING in the crouching position during fights.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HeFPIDTkWyA

    1. Chad+Miller says:

      Playing this game on a console, my favorite muscle memory blunder is forgetting that the left trigger activates your current Psi power instead of aiming. Also, I sometimes forget to change Psi powers after using something for navigation but before combat. This leads to things like creeping up behind a Phantom, having it turn around and spot me, only to respond by transforming into a trash can.

  2. Grimwear says:

    Well I managed to play and beat Prey and I really enjoyed it. I’m now working on Mooncrash so I’ll see how that goes. In regards to the Nightmare I hated it and thought it was tedious beyond belief. I don’t know if I just got unlucky but he only ever spawned right as I entered an area and would beeline straight to me. So I never had the opportunity to try to sneak, or have a run and gun around the room, or even hide. The arboretum archway is where I fought him the most like in your screenshot but I found myself not needing his drops (minerals were what I was always short on) so it just got to a point that when I entered a room and heard his yell and the timer started, I’d just turn around, go back through the door I just came through, then would go on my phone while it finished counting down. Personally I think it’s a terribly designed enemy. It’s too beefy so not worth wanting to spend precious bullets on it, it isn’t fun to fight, and the rewards for killing it suck. I had a couple times where I tried running past him into the open arboretum for a fun fight but he just 1 shot me as I tried to go past. Blegh.

    1. Gethsemani says:

      The Nightmare is weird. My first playthrough I had your reaction, in my third playthrough that ended this weekend I eventually used the signal to lure it in to complete research on it just for lulz. The problem stems, I think, from how powerful the combat upgrades are, both for weapons and from neuromods. With Combat Focus 2, Security Weapon Expert and an upgraded shotgun you can do the Nightmare in in like 7 shells without being at significant risk.

      Other ways to mess with it includes using the Nullwave to remove its really hurting powers (those tentacles still mess you up if you get close though) and the Typhon Lure which is an instant peel of hilarious proportions. As with so many other things in Prey, it will seem unfairly powerful on your first playthrough because you often forget to use all the tools or use them in a sub-optimal fashion. But with your second or third playthrough the Nightmare will go from “NOT AGAIN!” to “Omae wa mou shindeiru” as you proceed to gather the exotic materials needed for more neuromods.

    2. Chad+Miller says:

      I don’t know if I just got unlucky but he only ever spawned right as I entered an area and would beeline straight to me.

      This is almost always how it happens, especially if you don’t use a bunch of Typhon Neuromods. I thought the Nightmare was kinda cool but also never really saw a point in fighting it as I was never short on exotic material either (the one time “I” killed one was late in the game when I used hacking to turn a small fleet of Military Operators over to my side)

      1. DGM says:

        If machines you hack can see the Nightmares, that kind of puts a hole in Shamus’s theory that they’re not real.

        1. Steve C says:

          Maybe. Maybe you only *believe* the machines see the Nightmares. I don’t think it says anything either way.
          If you hammer an imaginary nail into an imaginary piece of wood… does it matter if the hammer exists or not?

    3. Zekiel says:

      I had much the same opinion. The Nightmare is a fantastic idea in concept, and i did actually have a fun fight with it once, but far too often it was trivial to avoid it by going through a loading screen or up a grav shaft, and then waiting out a timer, which preserves resources but is boring.

      And gameplay systems that incentivise players to play in a boring way are bad gameplay systems.

      That said, I did think the squeezing through doorways things was amazing when I first saw it :-)

  3. Gethsemani says:

    I’m not sure your example got Mirror Neurons right. Your dick pic analogy is more an example of failing empathy and imagination than a clear cut example of mirror neuron use. Proponents of mirror neuron theory (which it still is) claim that they are what allows us to discern when an action is goal driven as opposed to random. For example, mirror neurons is what makes me differentiate between you idly scratching your beard when you think (random action) as opposed to scratching it because it itches (goal driven). Proponents also suggest that they are at the basis of empathy because they allow us to see others reactions and react appropriately but they are of no use when you can’t see the other person, ie. when you send a dick pic.

    So when you can’t see the person you’re acting towards you’ll draw upon imagination, personal experience and understanding of the other person to form an idea of how they’ll react (this is also considered empathy which is one of the contentions with mirror neurons, that the scientific theories are based on muddied philosophical underpinnings) instead of the instant activation of mirror neurons. Hence a better mirror neuron example would be the guy assuming that the girl will be cool with him whipping out the trouser snake in front of her only to instantly realize his mistake when his mirror neurons register the horrified and embarrassed look on her face.

    In regards to Prey, I think it is pretty clear that the game doesn’t really care for the real science behind mirror neurons. The postulation for both the twist ending and as found in one of the audio logs (I believe) in Psychotronics is that the Typhon doesn’t seem to regard humans as sentient or feeling. Basically they don’t see human actions as pre-meditated and intentional much like how we don’t attribute intent to the elements, plants or natural disasters. To the Typhon there doesn’t seem to be a difference between the auto opening doors on Talos I and the human crew, they are just obstacles or sustenance the Typhon need to overcome.

    1. Daimbert says:

      From what I understood when studying this stuff in philosophy courses, the mirror neuron stuff is somewhere in-between. The dick pic example isn’t a failure of mirror neurons, but is instead a failure of SIMULATION, which is believed to be how most people do empathy. Simulation involves imitation and putting yourself into the other person’s place, but it also critically — and often unconsciously — involves translating their conditions to yours. So that translation is what fails in that case, not the mirror neurons. However, it is indeed believed that mirror neurons play a key role in simulation and so if someone has issues with mirror neurons — and it is believed that people on the autistic spectrum have issues with mirror neurons — then simulation won’t be as available to them, even if they could do the translation properly (as can be seen if they try to reason out what someone would feel in that situation, which is the other way to do empathy).

      1. Philadelphus says:

        As someone probably on the autism spectrum (I haven’t gotten a formal diagnosis, though I’d like to pursue one soon), I like to use the analogy that empathy is like computer graphics: most people have a nice hardware “empathy GPU” in their brain to handle it for them, while I have to do all my empathy simulations on my CPU. Which is why interactions with more than a few people (especially people I don’t know well) rapidly become so draining, because I’m having to try to simulate everyone else’s mental state (on top of remembering all the little social niceties like “making the proper amount of eye contact*” and “not monopolizing the conversation with my esoteric interests”) in order to keep up with the conversation and blend in as a normal, well-adjusted person. And you can imagine how draining simultaneously simulating multiple people (on what will only ever be at best incomplete, likely flawed, information) in your head gets.

        *Which is super uncomfortable, too; I speculate that it’s because the eyes convey an absolute flood of information about a person’s mental state but—again—I don’t have the “graphics card” necessary to decode all of it in real-time like neurotypical people do, so me looking someone in the eye is the mental equivalent of drinking from a fire hose: a constant, overwhelming barrage of information that I know is flooding past me but which I can barely begin to fathom even after a lifetime of careful, concerted observation of everyone around me.

    2. Shamus says:

      Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if our understanding of mirror neurons has changed quite a bit since the last time I heard about them. What I wrote is what I half-remember from a PBS documentary back in the 90s, I think?

      1. Rho says:

        The game’s importance placed on them is wildly simplified and overdone if its were Real Life. Mirror Neurons may exist but they’re not responsible for empathy, or its grown-up cousin, sympathy. Not sure what neuroscientists think the evolutionary advantage is, but my guess is that they assist birds in learning to fly, and humans in tool use. Now I’m wanting to go explore the idea more.

        But, well, it’s fiction with a bunch of simplifications presenting an alternate universe with wildly different technology. Presenting ideas as different to reality is part of the fun, so it doesn’t really matter if things don’t conform to reality. As far as weird sci-fi twists it’s a pretty well-done one. It is seemingly-plausible, and might interest people in understanding about about neuroscience, psychology, or technology.

        1. BobtheRegisterredFool says:

          No, it is totally for sure only the real world implications of mirror neuron theories that are ever important in any mention of them.

          They are only ever trotted out by patsies for Autism Speaks, and the behavior is solely that of eugenicist would be mass murderers.

          It can’t possibly be that measuring humans is really hard, Psychology can be a deeply sketchy discipline, and that there are many people who lack the evidence to disprove this or that theory within psychology.

          /sarcasm

          As for evolutionary advantage? Same as the flip side of the old “Institute for the Study of Neurotypical Disorder” joke. Social behavior is really useful for groups of human beings. When it works, it works really well, if nobody is thinking too much about the mechanisms of it working. Okay, if you don’t have people outside of the consensus, watching carefully and thinking, the group is vulnerable to clever manipulative mimics. But beyond that, the one person civilization or one person society is really difficult to realize in practice, so ignoring the monkey games to perform better at individual tasks is less useful.

          With tribal or sub-tribal societies and endemic warfare, war bands with what we call normal social function break even more than a ‘war band’ of autistics would, so have advantage in Hobbesian struggles.

      2. Paul Spooner says:

        Maaaaan, PBS has really gone downhill since then. They don’t post ANY dick pics these days.

      3. DGM says:

        Even assuming mirror neurons work the way you describe, I think it’s fair to say that primates and birds aren’t the only ones to have them. Ever see videos of dogs trying to imitate their human masters?

  4. Turtlebear says:

    The most memorable Phantom encounter for me was probably the Looking Glass recalibration part where you enter an office and the screen is blank apart from a green circle. The audio log that plays is a recording of a call between the owner of the office and Dr Calvino who explains that you have to touch the dot as it moves around the screen. So you do it and after the fifth one, the screen turns on to show a Phantom right in front of your face, it’s very unnerving. It made me (and presumably everyone else who didn’t guess the, in retrospect, obvious thing that was going to happen) smash the screen with the wrench.

    It’s one of the few proper jumpscares in the game, and making you press the green dot multiple times adds to the suspense each time. It shows how well built up the tension and atmosphere is early on, where one of the most fun Phantom encounter doesn’t even need to have an actual Phantom in it, although one is scripted to follow you down the stairs behind you into the office at that point.

    As for the Nightmare, I found it very exciting and compelling that first time in Crew Quarters and later whenever it appeared in new or unfamiliar locations. However, it kind of wore off whenever it popped up in the same places I knew well and I started to think, “uh oh, the Nightmare’s here, time to hide in the vent for three minutes until it goes away again”. I never considered it’s role in the story until now though, it is interesting to think of it as a new type of Typhon dedicated to hunt down Morgan specifically considering the impersonal, inhuman nature of the Typhon.

    1. Ander says:

      One of those things in this game that I never saw, that Looking Glass encounter. Cool.

    2. Grimwear says:

      My most memorable was also kind of annoying. Getting in the elevator, having the lights go out, and when they’re back on having a phantom in there with me. I wouldn’t mind it except for the fact that it never happened again but also while in the elevator you cannot naturally take out any weapons which is the game telling you “this is a safe spot”. But it’s not. Luckily I was still on my shotgun and just panic fired the thing but if I’d been low health and died? I would have been pissed. This isn’t an “I got lazy checking for mimics moment” but rather “the game refuses to let me be proactive about my safety until the game ambushes you”.

    3. Richard says:

      You mean that Phantom was a Looking Glass image?

      I saw it, then got immediately jumped by a real Phantom and panic-beat it to death with my wrench.

      I always thought it teleported in when I started the Looking Glass, because I’d already explored everywhere in the office and conference room before starting to push buttons.

      1. Grimwear says:

        Yep I’ve played the section through twice and both times a real phantom showed up.

      2. Cannongerbil says:

        It does teleport in. In my game I erroneously thought that the first contact footage was viewed from the looking glass room so when the jump scare got me I immediately ran back up to the computer to check things, and then the phantom literally appeared out of thin air at the top of the stairs and started walking down it.

        Prey actually does this alot, the ambush in the medbay also has the security operators pop into existence in the hallway after you’ve triggered the trap.

  5. Coming Second says:

    It doesn’t really fit thematically with the other monsters. The rest of the Typhon all have a biological reason to exist. They all have jobs in the Typhon “hive”, as it were. They create coral, manipulate the environment, and make more Typhon. The Nightmare is just a big ball of violence with no other utility.

    I think the Nightmare does have a raison d’etre. I can’t remember if this is brought up by January in-game, but it’s essentially an immunosystem response. Through the coral the typhon are building something akin to a unified living being inside the station, and they’re aware that something is moving through it and persistently disrupting them. Morgan is a bacteria and the Nightmare is a T-cell generated to go take care of it.

    1. Chad+Miller says:

      I don’t think it comes up in dialogue but the research notes say something like that if you scan enough of them.

      1. Henson says:

        I believe January talks about them briefly when you first see one in the Arboretum.

      2. RFS-81 says:

        Yes, there are notes that say the Nightmare is created specifically for Morgan, because she’s “like the Typhon, but not”, which explains why no one documented it before. I think that line refers to Typhon abilities; supposedly, the Nightmare spawns earlier and more frequently when you have 3 or more Typhon abilities. Though it also spawns with human-only builds.

        It could also be a reference to the post-credit scene, but that would imply that they can simulate how Typhons would react to a kind of creature that they never encountered before. (I also prefer to treat the post-credit scene as a gag :P)

  6. Pavel says:

    For me personally, Typhons are one of the weakest points of this game. They are too abstract to be scary and too dangerous to be interesting. It was really creepy to hear the muttering of zombies or the screeching of monkeys in the adjacent corridor in SS2, but I didn’t run headlong to find and kill them at any cost. But when I came across the Phantom in “Prey”, I tried to kill him as quickly as possible, since he’s too strong to leave him wandering around. A critical hit from stealth followed by slow-mo shotgun usually solved this problem flawlessly (even oh Hard). And boring.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      I haven’t played the game, but I think the typhon would be bad for me just because they look so visually similar and indistinct. Like, the phantoms are roughly human-shaped, but every other one I looked up on the wiki or screenshots just looks like a blob of tentacles. That’s probably better for a horror-ish game than the visually distinct, easily-recognizable monsters of System Shock 2, since you’d always have more difficulty discerning harmless shadows from deadly monsters. For me, I think it’d just make me annoyed with the game. :|

      1. Syal says:

        That’s probably better for a horror-ish game

        Nah, confusion is never better for a mood. If the audience is trying to figure out what mood they’re supposed to be feeling, they’re not going to be feeling it.

        1. Echo Tango says:

          Specifically for horror and feelings of being chased or hunted, an unknowable enemy is still good. Like, if I’m being chased by a bio-zombie, that can be scary, but I could just as easily feel that this is a knowable enemy, and I just have to shoot him in the head. An indistinct entity that is still very much hostile and dangerous is harder to fit into a mental model, so it could be anything at all. So the upper bound on how dangerous it is, and how much fear you should be feeling is much higher.

          1. Syal says:

            All enemies are knowable if you keep running into them. The trick is to make them intimidating even after you have full knowledge. Visually scary, or existential terrors like headcrabs. Give them a mean attack and a big easy weakness, and then set up some fights so you can’t use the weakness.

            What you don’t want is a bio-zombie with a shuffle walk and a grandma-level melee attack, and another bio-zombie that looks the same but with a shield and explosives, both showing up at the same point in the game. Now the player’s confused; they’ve got to treat every zombie like the explodey shield one, and instead of being frightened they’re going to be frustrated at wasting their good ammo on overkilling chumps.

            1. Chad+Miller says:

              What you don’t want is a bio-zombie with a shuffle walk and a grandma-level melee attack, and another bio-zombie that looks the same but with a shield and explosives, both showing up at the same point in the game. Now the player’s confused; they’ve got to treat every zombie like the explodey shield one, and instead of being frightened they’re going to be frustrated at wasting their good ammo on overkilling chumps.

              FWIW that doesn’t really happen in this game; it’s easier to tell the difference when you see them in motion. If two monsters are shaped literally the same they tend to have different color schemes (e.g. Voltaic Phantoms are surrounded by electrical arcs, Thermal Phantoms are covered in flames). Similarly the Weavers stand out from other giant floaty monsters because of their flashy protective shield. The closest thing to an exception I can think of are Technopaths and Telepaths, both of which are giant floating orbs with a single “eye” in the front. In practice I never confused them because of their sound effects and preferred choice of minions (both are rarely encountered alone; Telepaths tend to be surrounded by mind-controlled humans while Technopaths favor corrupted operators and hijacked turrets), but it seems likely someone thought they were too similar as the Mooncrash DLC makes Telepaths purple.

            2. Volvagia says:

              Yeah. The Phantoms just…aren’t intimidating to look at. To make a comparison? They’re the Topher Grace Venom to The Molded’s Tom Hardy Venom.

      2. Sleeping Dragon says:

        I think it really is, as Shamus suggested in the screenshot description, something between static pictures and playing the game. My eyesight is crap, particularly far as low contrast visuals are concerned, but I don’t remember having problems tracking Typhon most of the time. Admittely mimics are a bit of scurrying bastards but they’re meant to be while even the basic phantoms are a mixture of light and dark elements making them fairly distinct in all environments.

      3. Fizban says:

        I’ve never thought the Phantoms or Mimics looked like a blob of tentacles. Not in motion, in the game. A significant part of the reason they look bad in screenshots is because their bodies don’t have a static texture- their substance is a roiling mass of darkness and muted light, but the actual form of that mass is clearly bounded and distinct: spider-like or humanoid blobs with tentacles, not made of them.

        But when you freeze frame it you get a bunch of black wibbly bits that look completely different from when they’re in motion, combined with the way they gyrate, extend, and flail their tentacles in combat, and apparently lose all visual direction.

  7. Lino says:

    This is so weird. My memory of the game may be a bit hazy, but I clearly remember having no trouble dispatching the Typhon. Yes, ammo was scarce in the beginning, but pretty soon I was leaving crates full of ammo, because I had no room for it. Even though I was mowing down everything in sight. And I definitely wasn’t playing on Easy (I might even have been on Hard, don’t remember anymore). Maybe it was because the sneak build was really strong?

    The only tension I ever felt was the threat of Mimics. But as I said in one of the previous entries, that threat was completely nullified after I got a chipset very early on that let me see which objects in the environment were actually Mimics. It definitely took the punch out of Psychotronics, to the point where it took me quite a while to realize that the people who had once worked there had become terrified of Mimics.

    It still baffles me why they even put that ability in the game. The only good it ever did was that it completely killed the atmosphere for me, and it just drew more attention to the lackluster combat…

    1. BlueHorus says:

      You can also *make* ammunition, health kits, neuromods and weapon upgrade kits after a bit, by visiting fabricatiors.

      Finding the patterns can be tricky, but once you’ve got them, combat turns into more of a battle of attrition than wits.

      1. Rho says:

        This tripped me up and rendered the game Not Fun. These types of games are very fun when you have limited resources and must spend them carefully. I, however, keep running into the Saver’s Paradox: saving resources with no knowledge of when to use them. I kept banking everything until it was “needed” with the result that was making things way, WAY more tedious that it needed to be. Not difficult, but boring.

    2. Rho says:

      First time I ran into any Typhon, it was pretty scary and I hid away from it. The second time, I began to thoroughly dominate the fights. They’re not very effective and can be easily manipulated, plus have no staying power. The only trick is taking little damage. Even Nightmare is a pushover. Really, the mimics are best because they’re both sneaky and you can never be entirely sure you cleared them all, so that they often surprise the player.

      1. Chad+Miller says:

        I’m near the end of a Nightmare Difficulty Survival playthrough myself (which is also my 100% playthrough where I rooted around for basically all the sidequests and crew members) and the Poltergeists still get me pretty bad. I’ve been straight up 100-0’d by them a few times.

        I’ve also, in like 3 playthroughs, never seen the chip that lets you detect Greater Mimics so they still get the drop on me if I let them.

        I agree that the invisible/camouflaged enemies are the best for the intended atmosphere.

        1. Rho says:

          What did you think of the robots / operators? Those tended to mess me up, and I loathed them more than the Typhon.

          1. Trevor says:

            Yes. The part where the military comes in with a bunch of combat operators is the worst.

            You’re back-tracking through areas you’ve already been, so the thrill of discovery is gone, and you’re also fighting a bunch of flying death machines with the slimmest silhouette to shoot at. And some of the faulty ones will hit you with the burn status effect that’s a huge pain to get rid of. Give me Typhon over Operators any day.

            1. Coming Second says:

              Yes, that’s easily the worst part of the game for me. They could easily have cut Dahl and his toys out and lost nothing of value.

            2. Chad+Miller says:

              By the time that event happened, I’d already pretty much “figured out” operators; I had level 4 hacking and had figured out that you can hack any robotic enemy and it will make them on your side no matter what (this includes turrets if you’re playing a high-Typhon neuromod playthrough). So my approach to those sections was to disable + hack a few operators and then sneak around the resulting crossfire. My most recent playthrough I went into the endgame with 36 EMPs (didn’t fabricate any; I just found that many lying around) and spent about half of them.

              That said, I do agree this is an un-fun section, made worse by the timing. You enter Alex’s office, presumably hoping to start the endgame given your current objective, and he says “sure, I’ll come talk to you, but only after you do this thing.” Then you go do the thing, which is just extensive enough to not be trivial but not substantial enough to feel like you’ve accomplished much, when the game says “Sorry, Morgan, but your Alex is in another castle!” and ambushes you with killbots. Now you’re in a spot where you do have to start a rather substantial digression just to get back to Alex’s office again, and you’re heavily dissuaded from doing any sidequests not only because every zone now just got more dangerous but also because this is a big enough deal story-wise that you don’t want to let the situation be and some of the objectives even have a literal time limit.

              I understand why they did it, as going straight to the ending may have felt rushed, but it’s my least favorite stretch of the game, both in the moment and in hindsight.

            3. DrBones says:

              In a lot of these Looking Glass lineage games, there’s a very definite point near the end where encounter design completely goes to pot and most, if not all, of the enemies from that point are dangerous pains in the ass. Worse, encounters are so frequent and hazardous that you rarely if ever get a chance to set up a trap or even scavenge for resources. From that point in the game, it really feels like the devs ran out of time and threw out the careful balance they put together over the rest of the game.

              You had the Rickenbacker and Body of the Many in System Shock 2, infested with Security Bots and Rumblers. You had the Little Sister Training Facility in Point Prometheus in Bioshock. You especially had all those Pagan and Undead-filled levels late in Thief. And then for Prey we have the Blackbox Operator swarms right before the finale, and it SUCKS.

  8. Trevor says:

    Psychotronics is the oldest part of the station and still has a bunch of Soviet-inspired architecture and Russian warning labels on stuff. This contrasts with the other stuff in Talos-1 which is more an art-deco inspired retro-futurism in the lobby and public areas and utilitarian in its cargo bays and labs.

    The art direction didn’t really grab me though. The switch-up in styles between Soviet and Western was nice so that you got variety as you went from the neuromod division to psychotronics and not another identical suite of labs and offices. But other than providing visual distinction in some areas, I don’t feel like there was a strong voice in communicating the feel of the setting. Which was a rare miss for this game. I feel like the level design and the Typhon design were top notch.

  9. Ninety-Three says:

    Regarding the Nightmare, it spawns earlier and more often if you have at least three Typhon neuromods installed, which seems to tie in less with “the Nightmare isn’t real” and more with the flavour text the game gives it, that it’s the Typhon ecosystem noticing and reacting to Morgan specifically. It’s a big ball of violence and nothing else because scrawny little Morgan has been more effective at murdering Typhon than the rest of the station combined, they need to adapt. Additionally, Mooncrash features a captured Nightmare in a big containment unit which really doesn’t make sense if they never existed (unless I guess you want to call Mooncrash non-canon, being set years after the events of Prey does weird things to the timeline).

  10. BlueHorus says:

    I’ve gotta say, the Nightmare is one of the reasons I’ve only ever beaten Prey once. It’s scary the first few times, but quickly gets irritating. It did not work for me, and there’s a couple reasons:

    One, you can’t hide from it. It spawns in, knows exactly where you are, and steadily walks towards you. Were you in a vent? Were you hiding from another Typhon? Well fuck you, buddy, it’s’ time to either find one of the few spots the AI can’t hurt you*, die, or kill the damned thing.
    Oh, you can TRY running, but the station isn’t that big, the Nightmare still always knows exactly where you are, and if you’re late in the game you’re probably running headfirst into other Typhon and making the situation worse.

    Two, the design is not scary, at least to me. Mimics look a lot like spiders and can ambush you. Phantoms come in weird varieties, each with different abilities that throw you off and keep you on your toes. Telepaths are accompanied by helpless victims who attack you against their will. And so on.
    The Nightmare…looks like a giant three-headed computer game monster. And it’s got a distinctive screech that sounds more like malfuntioning electrical equipment than anything scary.

    Which all contributes to a nasty loop: you’re playing the game, uncovering story, doing sidequests…and then suddenly it all grinds to a halt for three minutes while you play hide-and-seek with a monster that’s just plain cheating. To quote Zero Punctuation, it’s a mean-spirited roadblock, stopping you doing what you WANT to be doing.

    So! One obvious solution is to abuse the fabricators in the game: you can make neuromods, ammunition, medikits; let’s invest in combat ability so you CAN kill this sucker. It’s really unsatisfying to fight, since it’s a massive damage sponge that doesn’t react to your attacks and just sits there, but it’s gotta be better than being chased around for three minutes…right?
    That’s when you learn that buying abilities that hurt the Nightmare (specifically Typhon abilities) make it MORE likely to turn up.

    Eventually I just got sick of it. I WANTED to do the sidequests, I WANTED to interact with the NPCs you meet later in the game, but getting around the station was such a dull chore that it stopped being worth it.

    The Alien in Alien: Isolation worked far, far better as an ovewhelming threat, to me – primarily because a) it WILL kill you if you fight it, no ifs or buts, and b) you can actually hide from the damn thing.

    *I once spent three real-time minutes sat under a wooden lectern in an conference room, in the same room as the Nightmare. It stood still, firing energy bolts into the wood and screeching at me, but wasn’t hitting me.
    If I tried to move, it could hit me. I couldn’t fight back. It wouldn’t go away.
    So we both just stayed there for three minutes.

  11. Mye says:

    If anything I find the Prey combat system is too good (or rather Morgan is too strong) and wished they made Morgan weaker, I think it would have been neat if the effect you get from fear was always present until you grabbed a couple combat neuromod to simulate the fact that Morgan is not a solider and has no idea how to use a gun. If we take the nightmare for example, my reaction was never “Oh crap the nightmare is here!” it was always “Weeeee loot bag!” even on hardest difficulty with all survival option on (they drop enough for 2 neuromod if you recycle the corpse). And I always focus on exploration neuromod before I even touch combat one, so most of the time the first encounter with the nightmare I’m as weak as possible, the nullwave + shotgun is just far too strong of a combo on all enemy.

    I think a good comprimise would be to make everything have less health, so you’d kill stuff faster but would die faster too (and severly limit how to get health back, medic operator are too strong and numerous).

    1. Chad+Miller says:

      The fear effect was kinda funny; I basically never noticed it. I started recycling all alcoholic beverages when I realized that the one time I was “suffering” from the fear effect, it had worn off by the time it occurred to me to do anything about it.

      I agree that Operators are a problem, for the same reason that craftable ammo is a problem, but I don’t think it’s one with an easy solution. The issue is that anytime you have depletable resources and long-term lack of supplies as a threat, you always risk the situation where a player gets in over their head and realizes that they’ve fallen too far behind with no way to catch back up. Some people would be willing to make that trade, but for others, realizing the game is unwinnable 15 hours in is a complete dealbreaker (and more crucially, learning that might happen is enough to put people off from ever starting)

    2. Lino says:

      I think Morgan’s overpowered-ness could have been solved if they just removed the bullet time ability from the game. I remember it being extremely useful in fighting enemies, and very often it was the one thing that made me feel like I had a fighting chance against them. Pretty soon, that attitude turned into me feeling no threat whatsoever from the Typhon.

      1. Chad+Miller says:

        Yeah, Combat Time was probably a mistake. Not just for general power level, but because its existence undermines the way Typhon Neuromods are treated in-universe. They’re dangled in front of you like the forbidden fruit, with Alex playing up how you’ll need them to survive, while January warns against them, saying you risk losing yourself and that it’s not worth it. And then there’s the Nightmare and Turrets as disincentives against taking them. And then they’re almost all Psi powers that are nowhere near as much of a gamechanger as the one Human Psi power in the game.

        1. Trevor says:

          It’s – correct me if I’m wrong here – the only human power that uses psi, right? Definitely either a mistake or it should have been put on the Typhon tree. You want to be able to react to the superhumanly quick aliens? You got to install some alien neuromods. Otherwise you have to deal with them as humans do.

          1. Chad+Miller says:

            Indeed, it is. Apart from Combat Time itself, the only Psi-related human powers increase total Psi or effectiveness of Psi Hypos. I can see wanting a single Psi power on the human side, if nothing else, to explain the omnipresence of Psi Hypos and Science Operators when many of the station’s staff don’t even know the Typhon exist. But I would prefer if the power level were such that I’d actually be tempted by the Typhon combat powers (as it stands, outside of a Typhon-only challenge run I’ve only ever taken Mimic Matter and mostly to slip through narrow passages)

            1. Trevor says:

              In my first run, when I was unspoiled for anything in the game, I believed January the whole time, used no Typhon neuromods, and did my Boy Scout-y best to save every human left on the station. With heavy investment into Combat Time and Gunsmithing, I could more than hold my own in combat and never felt tempted to try out the Typhon powers. Well, like you said, with the exception of Mimic Matter for slipping through cracks. But that’s entirely exploration based. The shield/backlash Typhon power was never a temptation because I could just tank the damage and then scavenge stuff/food to repair my suit/me. And there’s no way to try out the Typhon combat powers to see if you like it without disregarding January’s warnings and so between “power you don’t entirely know how it works which may make your own turrets shoot you” or “power you understand and is ‘safe'”, it’s a pretty easy decision to make.

              Some of that is unsolvable, but I think putting Combat Time on the Typhon tree would fix a lot and make the forbidden fruit seem a lot sweeter. For my part I just chalked up the huge number of psi hypos to “it’s a video game,” and assume that science operators do other things than just fill up your psi bar in normal times. I did appreciate how much food there is lying around the station and how medkits are relatively uncommon. That felt like a fun twist on how normally in video games there’s no food where lots of people live but there’s a ton of military-grade medkits lying around everywhere.

      2. Mye says:

        I almost never use the bullet time ability, once you rock a couple of typhoon mod you can just chain them and almost everything die before CD become an issue and I always grab typhoon mod before combat focus cause its just cooler. The only time I use it is when its max level and give you a damage buff.

        1. Ninety-Three says:

          The big advantage Combat Focus has is how cheap it is. For a mere 20 psi you get a combat boost that lasts long enough to trivialize most encounters, which is insane compared to the cost of individually kinetic blasting each enemy in the fight. A Combat Focus character will be recycling psy hypos to make more neuromods, I think I used about three of them on my run and if you luck into either of the psi regen chipsets you can get by without any at all.

          1. Mye says:

            You can make water regen psi pretty early in the game (its right after GUTS) so I never found psi to be an issue, I always recycled hypno. I do think that’s another point they should have changed, its really hard to see the point of the talent that regen your psi when you get hit by attack when you can easily get all your psi back with a quick trip to a washroom.

  12. Mr. Wolf says:

    1. No humans in the story discuss this creature.

    Not entirely true. If the nightmare appears when you’re in the presence of allies, they’ll all realise what’s going on and tell you to run. How they know what the hunter is and what you should do is a complete mystery.

    Second time I met the nightmare I was in the supposed safety of Morgan’s office. I’d just jammed some alien space-powers into my brain, when I heard the scream. Mikhaila, Igwe and January all told me to run for my life. While I was contemplating my options the hunter burst through the door and killed me. I concluded that I probably should have locked the door to my saferoom if I wanted it to be a safe room. I took 20 minutes for lunch.

    After a very inspirational sandwich, I reloaded and repeated my actions. Except I realised my doom was actually my salvation. Using my alien-brain-goop-powers I simply mind-controlled the hunter and had it kill everything in the lobby for me. To say that the hunter was a massive disappointment after that would be an understatement.

  13. RFS-81 says:

    The creepiest thing about the Phantoms for me is their speech. I think they can actually compete with the Hammerite Haunts from Thief. It’s all distorted lines from various audio logs you find in the game.

    A lot of it makes no sense at all out of context, but just sounds cryptic and somehow sinister. My favorite is “What does it look like? The shape in the glass?”

    “Even if we’re dead it won’t be over” is also a great line, because it’s both true for the human that originally said it — they become a Phantom — but also for the Phantoms themselves, because the Typhon keep coming.

    “I used to wish we were not alone in the universe.”

    1. Chad+Miller says:

      Oddly you can get some of those lines from people who are still alive (Alfred Rose in the Cargo Bay in particular has, like, four of them)

      The Phantoms’ whispering was a cool idea although I didn’t actually hear it for a long time. As in I think I got all the way through the Hardware Labs without even noticing, until I’d turned subtitles on.

      1. Ninety-Three says:

        Man, it’s subtitled? Here I was wondering how anyone could have had good enough hearing to understand the garbled mumbling they do, I don’t know how to feel about the game just telling you like that. Without subtitles, it’s such a cool and jarring experience when after you get used to the mumbling, a single word comes out clear enough that you sit up and go “wait a minute that’s not random gibberish, they’re speaking English!”

        1. Chad+Miller says:

          I actually turned the subtitles back off because it was killing the mood, yeah. It’s even worse with Poltergeists; part of what makes those creepy is the way they sneak up on you, invisibly, doing shit like opening and closing doors before they drop a Lift Field and start attacking. While with subtitles, sometimes your first indication of a Poltergeist is a subtitle reading “Poltergeist: They want to live inside us, like a disease.”

        2. Fizban says:

          I never thought it wasn’t English, so there was no such discovery for me- but the clash between subtitles and gameplay can actually work, I think. You suddenly see a subtitle appear. It’s of a named character saying something creepy. You can just barely hear something that must be the speaker, but the subtitle has proc’d before you can really hear them. You are now fully aware that you’re not alone in there, but not actually of where the foe is, and in the case of Prey’s phantoms you have been preemptively reminded that the thing in there with you used to be a human and very much is not anymore (or is full of human mind bits, if you prefer). The subtitles can sneak up on/jumpscare better than the actual monster.

          Sneaking through say, the medical bay while the creepy dialogue is being held in front of your eyes, rather than being half-heard background you can tune out, is also a different effect.

  14. Smith says:

    This mirror neurons business just explained something for me.

    I’ve seen loads of discussions on certain controversial topics, and many people assume the guy on the other side has the exact same beliefs, just with the nouns changed. Or the other side believes the same basic premises, but came to a different (and wrong) conclusion.

    (Any hypothetical example I could think up – no matter how ridiculous and exaggerated – seemed way too much like it was referencing an actual political issue. And that might cause a debate that would detract from the point.)

    In reality, the opposition often disagrees with the first group’s basic premises. But some people in the first group have little actual familiarity with the opposition – often willingly – so they just assume, or believe someone else’s assumptions.

    Or maybe the people who do this are unable to consider the idea that their core beliefs are wrong, even as a hypothetical. Which still seems like a mirror neuron issue to me.

    tl;dr: I just realized mirror neurons may be responsible for psychological projection, thanks to the Richard pic example.

    1. Rho says:

      Probably not. Everything I can find regarding Mirror Neurons suggest they are responsible for mimicking *motor* activity, not necessarily related to emotional purposes. See https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3898692/ .

      Also, note that they aren’t specifically “special” or distinct from any other neuron. They’re just a specific pattern that fires when attempting to copy motion. One of the big problems with the idea of Mirror Neurons is that they have been used to explain, basically, everything about cognition, which is a big clue to suggest the idea is nonsense. Note that they have only ever been observed to fire based on literal, physical motion.

      And in the game, this is all irrelevant. Prey can use the science in a fun way and it doesn’t hurt anything. Just understand that this is a very dimly-understood part of neuroscience that doesn’t explain anything ever about politics or society or psychology. At least, not yet.

      1. Smith says:

        Aw, nuts. The search continues.

  15. DGM says:

    It’s possible I just suck, but I found that stumbling into a pair of phantoms unprepared early on was a death sentence. I couldn’t beat them in a straight fight and they just WOULD. NOT. STOP. Teleporting after me.

    I think System Shock 2 balanced the early-game encounters better. You never found anything more deadly than a couple of shotgun hybrids anywhere on the medical deck until the very end when you faced the service bot, and you had plenty of warning that you’d have to deal with that thing sooner or later. So you had time to build up a bit before facing the harder enemies.

    1. Chad+Miller says:

      The lobby Trauma Center is a bit of a gotcha. I noticed they’re nice enough to autosave right before you enter, at least.

      My first playthrough I actually dragged the Lobby turrets in there to clear it out. That turns out not to work on Nightmare difficulty, and I ended up having to use a Nullwave grenade I found in the security office.

      Come to think of it, this game is fond of sticking you up against new enemies in tight spaces (or at least, tighter than you’ll usually encounter them). That Thermal Phantom in the Trauma Center. The Techopath in the elevator. The Nightmare in the Crew Quarters. The Weaver in the GUTS. Dahl’s ambush.

  16. Agammamon says:

    What ends up happening is this: The player gets ambushed by a couple of mimics early in the game. This makes them jumpy. So they run around, bashing random objects with the wrench. After twenty minutes of hammering away at harmless furniture and inert debris, they begin to feel silly. They relax and let their guard down again.

    And then another mimic jumps out at them.

    What happened for me – and what killed the game to the point I couldn’t be arsed to finish it – is that I’d walk in to the room and see the very obvious mimic. Which is invulnerable and non-reactive until you get *juuust* in melee range. ANDTHENIT’LLJUMPATYOUFASTERTHANYOUCANHITTHEBLOCKBUTTON. Whereupon you’ll take some health damage, beat it to death, and then move on to the next room to see the very obvious mimic. Which is invulnerable and non-reactive . . .

    1. Richard says:

      In Normal difficulty the pistol will one-shot a mimic if it hasn’t spotted you.

      The problem I’ve found is that I have no idea how to find a shutgun, and I can only just cope with the purple shimmery Phantoms armed only with a wrench, gloo and pistol. There’s so many of them that you basically can’t avoid.

      TBH I should probably drop the difficulty, as these days I mostly play for story rather than shooty.

      1. Chad+Miller says:

        The shotgun does make it a lot more feasible to go toe-to-toe with Phantoms (and really any Typhon that doesn’t fly). If you’d rather try that before turning down difficulty, here’s how to get the earliest one:

        There’s one in the Security Office in the Lobby. There’s a keycard to get in, or if you have Mimic Matter you can slip through the mail slot in the windows, but even without any of that it’s possible to climb on the yellow pipes in the stairwell and drop down through the ceiling without any abilities or items at all.

        1. Addie says:

          You can also use the nerf gun to shoot the button through the mail slot.

  17. Glalev says:

    I believe a large part of the issue with Psychotronics being so dark and gloomy and ugly is that it is, by -far-, the oldest part of the station. The station started as a joint US – Russia collaboration effort and Psychotronics is what was built at the time, as a research base. That’s why the entire look and feel of the place is so strange compared to most of the clean and pretty (before it got ruined) station, most of it is a massive build up of tech debt kludged over by tens of people all trying to fix the current problem at minimal cost. It doesn’t help that it was where all the typhons were, when the station was getting worked on, built, fixed and such so it’s not like it was possible to rip the whole thing up, throw it away and rebuild it better.

    There’s probably a lot of things, in the guts, that make no sense to anyone and are just black boxes that people build around to adapt to things it’s not really meant to do because the people who DID understand it left (or died) decades ago.

  18. Smosh says:

    A friend of mine didn’t like Prey and dropped it because he didn’t like the combat. He referred to it exactly as mentioned. Clunky and not fun. This is actually a “problem” of sorts, but it’s one with the industry, not with Prey. Everything is so much about empowerment fantasies that all other concepts have a difficult standing. You can even see this seep into other genres of games, such as table top RPGs. D&D first edition was basically a Rogue-like with a human narrator (and Gygax was very firm in his opinion that his design is final). Fifth edition literally got a Hogwarts expansion (Strixhaven) now where you can play pretend high school wizard, and the focus is solely on making the players feel empowered and awesome.

    Sam put this really well in a rather lengthy article: https://theludite.com/2021/05/12/truth-and-lies-in-game-design/

    Honestly it reminds me of movies: You’re not supposed to feel any emotion that’s negative when you watch blockbusters. You’re supposed to feel nostalgia and/or cheer. Fear? Discomfort? That’s for indie art-house movies. The same development happened with gaming.

    ————

    If I have one big problem with Prey, it’s actually the monsters, or rather, their variety, or rather, the lack thereof. Apart from corrupted Operators (three color variations of a really boring looking design), there are only half a dozen different enemy types, and all of them look the same: Black tentacle mass. The game should really have copied System Shock 2 more closely here, and added a bunch of corrupted or broken security robot types that posed a threat, or chosen a look for Typhon that lent itself better to variety.

    Also there seems to be a bit of a balance problem: Ki Blast at higher levels utterly devastates all but the Nightmare. I found that about 1/3 into the game combat wasn’t quite a chore, but it also lost most of its challenge, because I just did way too much damage without effort. Mooncrash makes this very noticeable by distributing your skills over multiple characters, and putting a very tight time limit on everything so you can’t just slowly sneak forward and ambush-nuke every enemy.

  19. tomato says:

    The Nightmare is an interesting idea but badly executed because it can’t follow you through loading zones. Just leave the area and wait until the timer runs out. If it appeared only in certain spots where you are far away from a loading zone …

    1. Dreadjaws says:

      That’s a disappointment. Nemesis could already do that in the original Resident Evil 3. Why couldn’t the Nightmare do it as well?

  20. John says:

    I’m a big fan of the whole “make the player paranoid with fake-item enemies” school of game design. Poke balls that are actually Voltorbs are fun. The best I’ve seen is in Dark Souls 3. The Souls series has classic DND treasure chest mimics, but in DS3 the very first chest you encounter is actually a mimic, forcing caution and paranoia with every other chest for the rest of the game

  21. While the segue into dick picks and mirror neurons was interesting, as someone who has received unsolicited dick picks, it can be a very upsetting and traumatizing experience — especially when you are a young woman.

    And ultimately, I think that’s the point. While mirror neurons and a lack of empathy may play a role in the behavior, I think ultimately dick picks (when sent by a heterosexual man to a woman) are about expressing dominance, power, and control over another human being.

  22. Dreadjaws says:

    I have mixed feelings about the enemies. The first few times you encounter every kind of Phantom, a Poltergeist or a Nightmare they can be horrifying and very difficult, but once you figure out their patterns or get abilities like Mindjack and Psychoshock they become trivial. At first you’re desperate to save resources and try to find ways to avoid fights, but then you start deliberately looking for encounters just so you’re able to get more loot.

    As usual for this kind of game, the more you spend exploring, scavenging and researching the more powerful you become, and if you ignore the main mission to go sidequesting for a while when you return to the story you’ll be overpowered for what the game throws at you. I’ve reached a point where the times I die is almost exclusively because I made a dumb mistake, and I’ve yet to acquire quite a few abilities.

    This is fine and all in concept. I love games that reward exploration. But I think that the likes of Deus Ex and even Bioshock made a better job of keeping the game challenging even as you acquired more and more abilities. Granted, things might be different in higher difficulty levels here, I’ll have to see on a second playthrough. I did like the fact that acquiring enemy powers put the turrets against you. We needed more of that “new powers = new threats” stuff to serve as balance.

    I’m not sure I buy the idea that the Nightmare isn’t real, though. The game makes it pretty clear that it’s some sort of antibody response to Morgan getting more and more neuromods, and there’s no documentation about it because no one has used so many neuromods before (at least not in the station, where the Typhon are, and Morgan is pretty much forced to do it for survival), therefore the Nightmare never had a reason to show up. Also, synthetic enemies will see the Nightmare as well.

    I don’t know how the ending twist might affect things because I haven’t reached that yet. I think I have some idea of what it might be due to the dialogue heard in the Escape Pod ending. But still not sure how that’ll play out.

    1. Chad+Miller says:

      Granted, things might be different in higher difficulty levels here, I’ll have to see on a second playthrough.

      Sorry to say it really doesn’t; it means enemies deal and take more damage, which can make parts of the early game harder but you have the same problem where once you’ve hit a critical mass of resources you’ll have enough for the rest of the fights.

      My last playthrough was Nightmare difficulty with all survival mods on and I stopped noticing the difference at about the Arboretum.

  23. Dreadjaws says:

    OK, so I finally finished the game and I have a couple more thoughts to add about the Nightmare.

    1) The enemy seems to suffer a bit from enemy stalker syndrome. This plagued the Resident Evil 2 remake so bad that it influenced how the Resident Evil 3 remake was treated (I know you don’t care about this series but tough luck, because I’m gonna talk about it). The gist is: in RE2R there’s an enemy called Mr. X, which is a giant, powerful brute who’s very hard to evade in the claustrophobic halls of the police station. From the moment he appears he’ll be constantly on your toes. You can hide from him and he’ll go away, but he’ll periodically reappear every once in a while and even when you can’t see him you can often hear the sound of his massive steps when he’s nearby. This is very effective as a scare tactic at first. You’ll be exploring the place cautiously, trying to avoid enemy encounters and find items and he’ll suddenly show up out of nowhere and catch you off-guard, forcing you to make a safe retreat. He can follow through doors, so you don’t have many options other than save rooms, where enemies don’t enter. He is invincible, so defeat is not an option. Your attacks can, at best, give him a moment to recover so you can make your escape.

    The problem is that while this trick is a very effective way to give tension the first few times, it happens so often that it soon stops being scary and starts becoming annoying. You’re just trying to solve a puzzle or find a particular item so you can advance in the game and he’ll show up, forcing you to move to the other side of the station, wasting time. This was such a bad problem that in the next game they had to modify the way Nemesis (the enemy that actually started this particular enemy behavior in the original series) worked so most of his encounters were scripted (which ended up being another issue, but that’s a whole other discussion). Funnily enough, the Nemesis of the original RE3 had this behavior perfectly done. He’d show up unexpectedly, but not so often that it’d become annoying, but it’d be irregular enough that you’d never know when to expect him.

    So, of course, the Nightmare has this problem. It’s scary at first, but after a few encounters you just get annoyed. This is less of a problem here because once you get enough powers its battles become trivial, so it’s basically just a small waste of time. Still, it would have been interesting to see it somehow evolve the more powers you got so it offered a larger challenge every time.

    2) I’m not sure of the canon status of the ending credits cutscene (not the one after the credits, the one that plays during them and depicts the moment the station was overtaken by the Typhon), but you can clearly see a nightmare forming there, in a place where Morgan isn’t even present. That kind of puts a hole in the theory that the thing doesn’t exist. (I don’t think that actually qualifies as a spoiler, since it’s just a bit of flavor and doesn’t show anything that you don’t already know happened, but just in case I enclosed it).

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