Like I said in the last entry, Alex locked Morgan in Deep Storage for her own good. But as I’ve made clear in the past couple of entries, Alex’s help is often a huge liability. The situation here in Deep Storage is classic Alex: He’s trying to keep us safe, but he’s accidentally locked us in a relatively limited space with the dreaded…
This guy is a bastard. The technopath can control machines, manipulate computers, and disable weapons. He’s not the highest on the alien org chart, and I don’t think the designers intended him to be the biggest threat, but this guy killed me more than the rest of the creeps combined.
Note also how this is yet another point in the story where our silent protagonist works against the story being told. Alex supposedly locked us in here to “keep us safe”, but he’s locked us in a small-ish space with a high-level threat. Morgan ought to be able to call Alex and tell him that he’s being a butthead.I’m really curious what Alex would do if Morgan was able to explain the situation. Would he unlock the door and let you loose again, or would he just send you a bunch of supplies and tell you to take care of the problem yourself?
This game has turrets. You can find them, repair them, and reinforce them. They even carry their own (unlimited) ammunition. At the same time, they’re fragile and get broken or knocked over easily. They actually remind me a lot of the Combine turrets in Half-Life 2.
In a game with such a strong focus on resource management, infinite-ammo turrets are a fantastic tool. A default turret is only mildly helpful, but if you’ve spent your skill points right you can make a turret pretty durable. That, along with clever placementFoes tend to aim at the center of the turret, while the bullets come out of the top. So if you can get your turret behind a chest-high wall it will be almost unstoppable. can kill tons of enemies for no additional cost and with very little personal risk.
If anything, I kind of feel like turrets are a bit OP. My go-to strategy when facing a big foe is to round up a handful of turrets and let them do the work for me.
But not the technopath. The technopath will instantly possess the turret. The turret will levitate over to the technopath and orbit around him, making him even tougher to kill. That’s fine. It’s nice that some foes have a way to counter turrets. My problem is that the technopath is already a huge threat.
He summons balls of hovering lightning. These balls do massive damage and they disable your currently held weapon. The technopath can summon these things through walls. It doesn’t even need line-of-sight! He can create this shock attack every N seconds, and the shock will disable your weapon for N+1 seconds. So if you try to fight him in the open he can make it so you can never fire your weapon.
Once he’s aware of you, just being in his general vicinity is extremely dangerous. Just to make things as dicey as possible, he might also have a turret or two guarding him. On top of all this, he has a ton of hitpoints.
Oh yeah: He can also fly and he prefers to hover well above the ground, which means it’s hard to use grenades on him.
The Nightmare is supposed to be the Big Bad of the game, but I’ll take a Nightmare encounter over a Technopath any day. The Nightmare is less dangerous, costs fewer resources to kill, and drops more loot.
A Rare But Potent Enemy
We don’t fight very many of these things during the course of the game, but when we do encounter a Technopath, it’s usually camping in front of something really important.
The first available Technopath is in the Neuromod Division, which is where you appear at the start of the game. You really have to go out of your way to reach this one, but if you’re really determined and a bit suicidal then it is possible to face a Technopath right at the start, long before you’re equipped to deal with it.
Neuromods – like all other technology in the game – can be fabricated at these 3D printers you find. Like I mentioned earlier in this series, this allows you to break down scrap items and turn them into neuromods. In a practical sense, you’re printing “skill points”. If you’re really thorough and you don’t mind a lot of extra running around, then you can eventually gather up a lot of extra resources, which will allow you to make a ton of extra neuromods. However, that’s a bit game-break-y, so the designer didn’t want that to be too easy for you.
Here is what the designer intended: Perhaps an hour or so into the game, you’ll find the blueprint for neuromods so you can make them yourself as opposed to just scrounging for them in the world. Then maybe you’ll spend another hour printing out neuromods here and there as you progress through the game. After you print out N neuromods, you discover that your “license” has run out. Once you run into the license block, you’ll have to backtrack to the Neuromod Division so you can access the licensing computer and grant yourself unlimited licenses. And it turns out there’s a Technopath guarding this office. This makes sense. By this point in the game you’ve probably got the resources to deal with a Technopath, and it makes sense to have the player deal with a top-tier threat in order to gain access to printing unlimited neuromods.
That’s the intended path, anyway. But if you’re a little crazy, then you can pick a fight with this guy almost as soon as you exit the tutorial. You need to climb up to a balcony, hack a door, and end up playing tag in the dark with a poltergeist, but if you’re just the right blend of tenacious and crazy, then you can eventually reach the Technopath and have him one-shot you over and over again as you save-scum your way through the encounter.
It sounds like I’m complaining, but I love that the game is open like this and allows you to go places you shouldn’t. You can stray off the “intended path” if you want. The path is there for people who want a nice curated set of encounters that provide the “intended experience”, and then a bunch of side paths that offer increased dangers and rewards for people willing to put the work in and be creative.
To talk about the next Technopath, we need to talk about…
The Marvel of Talos-1
When the game starts, the main elevator is disabled due to some unexplained “problem” at the top floor where the car is. Later you’ll reach the top by other means and discover that the problem is (surprise!) a technopath.
Now, technically you don’t need the main elevator. It’s entirely possible to move around the station using the service tunnelsCalled the G.U.T.S.-Gravity Utility Tunnel System. or by going on a spacewalkYou need to unlock airlocks from the inside, so you need to reach a location conventionally before you can reach it via spacewalk. if you don’t mind taking the long way around. But you can save yourself a lot of hiking and a lot of loading screens if you’re willing to fix the main elevator.
One of the really cool things about Prey is that the world features complete spatial continuity. If you could remove all the loading screens and shove the gameworld into one massive contiguous level, they would all fit together. There aren’t any cheats or gaps where loading screens are used to connect corridors that would otherwise be far apart or at different angles. This doesn’t sound like a big deal because we’re used to gameworlds like Half-Life 2 where there’s a single path through the space and the level designer just needs to make sure that the end of level 10 matches the start of level 11. But this becomes a bigger problem when you’ve got levels that connect back to each other in different ways. The outer hull of Talos-1 needs to be large enough to contain the volume of the maps inside of it, those maps need to fit together, and those maps need to provide airlock doors that match up with the positioning of the external airlocks.
Unfortunately, modern engines usually require that the designer cut the world up into chunks, with loading screens between them. And sometimes those loading screens end up in nasty places.
The low-effort way to design the main elevator would be to have the elevator itself be a loading screen. You’d walk up to the controls, push a button, and when the loading was over you’d be standing in the new location, having just “exited” the elevator you supposedly rode. But the Prey designer wanted the player to actually ride a real moving elevator. They made the walls of glass so that you could feel the sense of distance and scale as the elevator carried you up and down Talos-1. That’s a really admirable design goal and I’m glad they went to the trouble. It just wouldn’t be the same if this trip was hidden behind a loading screen.
But this design also means that the entire elevator shaft needs to be part of the same map, and that comes with its own set of problems. As you approach the elevator at the top, you must pass through a loading screen. On the other side, there’s a single waiting room. And a Technopath. You must kill this Technopath if you want to reclaim the elevator.
This is probably the worst Technopath in the game, since you’re basically locked in a single room with him. You can’t retreat and fight him through a doorway, because the door is a loading screen. There isn’t really anywhere to provide cover. You just have to YOLO into the fight, tank the hits, and bring him down as quickly as you can. Not a big deal if you’ve specced for combat. But if you’ve specced for engineering and hacking, then I hope you’ve got some grenades and medkits in your pockets. You’re going to need them.
Anyway, let’s get back to Deep Storage and the Technopath that lives there…
Like I said, I think the Technopath is the most dangerous foe in the game. It’s certainly the most formidable for the engineer / scientist build I prefer.
Way back in 2017, this encounter actually ended my first play-through of Prey.Prey-through? I fired every bullet I owned at him, and he still wasn’t dead.
Normally I’d backtrack in a situation like this. Go back, find a fabricator, and turn some of my unused resources into more bullets. But since Alex had locked the door behind me, that wasn’t an option. I didn’t know it at the time, but there was a second floor to Deep Storage. I’m not sure how feasible it would be to reach the second floor with a Technopath chasing me, but if I’d made it I would have found a fabricator. MAYBE I could have printed enough bullets to get through this?
I didn’t have any useful grenades left. I’d been a little too free with them up until this point, spending them on low-tier foes that I could have defeated with less expensive means. (Not that grenades are terribly useful against this hovering foe. It’s tough to land a hit where he’s anywhere near the center of the blast zone. But with some luck and a little save-scumming you can probably soften him up with grenades.)
I couldn’t finish it off with my wrench, since Technopaths can kite you. Every wrench-blow will cost you a zap from their lightning ball attack, and that trade will kill you very quickly.
I couldn’t use turret spam, since Technopaths just capture turrets.
My last manual save was from many hours earlier and the last auto-save was just after getting locked in, so I couldn’t jump back to just before entering Deep Storage and try a different approach.
That was it. Game over.
Choices and Consequences
Now, you can argue that this is a designer’s foul: The player shouldn’t be able to get themselves into a no-win scenario like this.
On the other hand, I made an underpowered build where all of my skills focused on looting and not on combat. I’d used too many bullets on mimics instead of being more conservative and fighting them with the wrench. I’d wasted too many grenades on low-stakes fights. I had lots of fabricator resourcesMoney, if you will. but I hadn’t spent those resources on bullets, so those resources were just sitting in my inventory instead of contributing to my overall combat effectiveness.
The point is: I made a lot of mistakes, and this no-win fight was simply the consequence of those earlier choices. If you made it so that an underpowered, unprepared, underequipped player can beat this fight, then you’re making it so the foes in the game are toothless. If my lousy build could win, then it would be a pushover for a properly equipped player.
I think my problem with this fight isn’t that it was too hard, it’s that I didn’t get the impression that this particular difficulty spike was deliberate. It certainly wasn’t telegraphed. It’s not like this Technopath was built up in the story as some sort of terrifying nemesis. Deep Storage wasn’t designed to be one of the scary “We Don’t go to Ravenholm” style areas, like Psychotronics. This wasn’t some big “moment of truth” for Morgan as far as her character goes. It feels like the game designer just locked you in a box with a Technopath and expected it to be just another fight.
The game could have telegraphed or foreshadowed that Morgan was heading into a big confrontation, thus giving the player an incentive to stock up. The designer could have contrived some reason for January to warn you that getting in might be easier than getting out, thus encouraging the player to make a backup save before going in. The game could have given the player a bit more room to work with, so they didn’t begin the level already backed into a corner. The game could have provided a Recycler / Fabricator station at the entry to Deep Storage, so the player could try different strategies on the Technopath instead of just using whatever they happened to have in their pockets when Alex locked them in.
But instead the game locks you into a small space with the toughest foe in the game. It does this without giving you a way to resupply, and without warning you ahead of time. And in the end, the designer doesn’t seem to notice that they’ve created a serious obstacle. This will very likely be the toughest fight the player has to face, and nothing in the story acknowledges it. This isn’t a hidden side-quest for an overpowered gun or the door to the secret mega-happy ending. As far as the game designer is concerned, this is supposed to be just another monster fight.
Yes, my build was underpowered. But this still could have been handled better.
One of the things I love about these Space Station Games is how you grow in power. You start the game feeling weak and vulnerable. The game is very close to survival horror in terms of tone and pacing. Every bullet you fire counts, and every band-aid you find is treasure. The game is tense, scrappy, and unforgiving.
In most games, the enemies grow in power faster than the player so that the end of the game is more challenging than the start. But this curve is reversed in a SSG. You gather bigger weapons and more super powers as you go, while your foes stay more or less the same. This means the game starts out as survival horror, and gradually becomes action adventure.
I realize this design runs counter to the entire idea of a game as an escalating test of skill, but for whatever reason this progression really appeals to me. If the game started with the player as an overpowered munchkin then it would feel too self-indulgent. And an entire game of unrelenting resource starvation and death screens can be exhausting and tedious. But I like the sensation of slowly transitioning from underpowered to overpowered. When I get to the late game and I’m mowing down hapless mooks with impunity, it doesn’t feel too self-indulgent. I kinda feel like I earned this power by surviving those painful early hours of the game and being frugal with my resources.
Morgan escapes Deep Storage by launching herself into space and then flying over to the cargo bay to get back in. But that’s not the end of her problems. We’ll find out later that Alex didn’t just lock us in Deep Storage, he locked down the entire station. This is something the other survivors probably don’t appreciate.
 I’m really curious what Alex would do if Morgan was able to explain the situation. Would he unlock the door and let you loose again, or would he just send you a bunch of supplies and tell you to take care of the problem yourself?
 Foes tend to aim at the center of the turret, while the bullets come out of the top. So if you can get your turret behind a chest-high wall it will be almost unstoppable.
 Called the G.U.T.S.-Gravity Utility Tunnel System.
 You need to unlock airlocks from the inside, so you need to reach a location conventionally before you can reach it via spacewalk.
 I didn’t know it at the time, but there was a second floor to Deep Storage. I’m not sure how feasible it would be to reach the second floor with a Technopath chasing me, but if I’d made it I would have found a fabricator. MAYBE I could have printed enough bullets to get through this?
 Money, if you will.
The Best of 2011
My picks for what was important, awesome, or worth talking about in 2011.
Final Fantasy X
A game about the ghost of an underwater football player who travels through time to save the world from a tick that controls kaiju satan. Really.
Steam Summer Blues
This mess of dross, confusion, and terrible UI design is the storefront the big publishers couldn't beat? Amazing.
Batman v. Superman Wasn't All Bad
It's not a good movie, but it was made with good intentions and if you look closely you can find a few interesting ideas.
A video discussing Megatexture technology. Why we needed it, what it was supposed to do, and why it maybe didn't totally work.