Prey 2017 Part 21: Alex All Along

By Shamus Posted Thursday Dec 2, 2021

Filed under: Retrospectives 119 comments

I hope this doesn’t feel like I’m beating a dead horse. Elsewhere in this series I skipped over literal hours of gameplay in a sentence or two, so maybe it feels sort of weird to spend 7,500 words on these last three and a half minutes of the game.

But this is a pretty big switch-up that lands after gameplay is concluded and the credits have rolled. This is a very unusual move, and so I have a lot to say about it.

Let’s Argue About The Ending

Alex, how did you go through the apocalypse and STILL not lose weight?
Alex, how did you go through the apocalypse and STILL not lose weight?

I think this ending scenario would go down easier if the story didn’t suggest that Alex Yu was the only flesh-and-blood human left alive in the world. Of all the people to survive this apocalypse, I can think of very few who are less deserving. Maybe Subject 37, I guess? But Subject 37 was just a creepy serial killer. He was small-time. He wasn’t personally responsible for the extinction of the entire species, plus all the other species on Earth.

Yeah. Alex and his team are responsible for the death of all turtles, doggos, kitties, and buns. Getting all the people killed is one thing, but the buns? That’s going too far.

Alex took so many shortcuts. He was so reckless. He wanted to “shake things up”. And if he was just some starry-eyed tech entrepreneur, that would be fine. He could stake his personal fortune on an idea, and if it didn’t work out then he could go back to sweeping the floor at Monolith Burger. But he wasn’t gambling with his own money. He was gambling with the lives of every human being alive, and every human being to come. Those lives weren’t his to risk.

It was one thing when we were just trying to save the space station and the 250+ lives it contained. That was bad enough. But now we see he managed to get our species wiped out, and he’s still talking about wanting to “shake things up, just like old times”. Alex is a monster.

I think you’ve shaken things up enough, Mr. Yu. Thanks, but no thanks.

Man, I wish I had an option to accept life as a human, but ALSO kill Alex. I realize that doesn't work with what the writer is going for here, but that's how I felt at this point in the story.
Man, I wish I had an option to accept life as a human, but ALSO kill Alex. I realize that doesn't work with what the writer is going for here, but that's how I felt at this point in the story.

In the previous entry, several people defended the ending by saying it “made sense”. Which… fine, I guess? I don’t think that making sense is a problem here. This ending isn’t riddled with plot holes.

Here I suppose I need to stop and acknowledge that not all plot holes are the same. When people complain about “plot holes”, they’re usually concerned with one of two things:

  1. A contradiction. (Cerberus is a fringe terrorist group / Cerberus is a galactic superpower.)
  2. Something left unexplained. (What was in the suitcase in Pulp Fiction?)

The first thing really does grind my gears. But the second? That sort of depends on the work in question. Sometimes things are left mysterious because the answer isn’t important and we don’t want to burn screen time explaining it. Sometimes questions go unanswered because the author doesn’t know the answer and didn’t realize the audience would expect it. Sometimes things are left ambiguous on purpose, because the author specifically wants you to ponder the question for yourself.

Unanswered questions aren’t automatically a sin. But when you have a lot of questions appear at once, and none of them have answers, and you’re at the end of the story, then it can feel like the author abandoned you. My gripe isn’t that the writer is saying something dumb or wrong. My main gripe is that they aren’t saying nearly enough. I’m willing to go along with this premise, but I’d really like to know more.

Apologia: 

It’s not fair to say that “it was just a dream”. The game sort of tacitly acknowledges that your journey through Talos-1 was real, or a recreation of a real thing. Maybe my version of the story isn’t exactly the same as what happened to the real Morgan, but it was similar.

Counter:

The problem is that we don’t know where to draw the line between dream and reality. This new premise gets very little in the way of explanation, and what little we do get comes from Alex the liar and manipulator. I guess to go along with this we have to accept that Morgan was a real person, that Talos-1 was a real place, and that the events of the game are in some way derived from her memories, but beyond that we can’t know anything.

Was Mikhaila ever our girlfriend, or was that part of the test? Was Igwe ever trapped in a cargo container? Was Dahl a real person? Was subject 37 a real person that Morgan had to contend with, or was the fake cook scenario created by Alex & Co. to test Mophan’s behavior? Did William Yu actually send a corporate assassin to wipe out his employees and children? Was the nullwave device real? Was it ever deployed? Did it do anything? Did anyone make it back to Earth?

Suddenly, the story feels arbitrary and inconsequential.

If you accept Alex, then your tentacles shape themselves into a human hand for a handshake. If you reject him, then you get this.
If you accept Alex, then your tentacles shape themselves into a human hand for a handshake. If you reject him, then you get this.

Apologia: 

Maybe the player didn’t play through history as it happened, but by taking part in this experiment they helped determine what would happen to the survivors in the future. Which means that the choices the player made still matter, even after the reveal.

Counter:

It’s pretty hard for those choices to matter if they’re immediately negated. The fact that it was a dream doesn’t invalidate your choices, but the fact that you can decide if it worked at the end does. Alex reveals that everyone is dead and that you’ve failed at everything you set out to accomplish since the start of the game. After that, he reaches out to take your hand. Then you’re free to accept the Morgan identity as your own and shake hands with your “brother”, or you can lash out and kill everyone with your gooey black tentacles. You can pick either option regardless of how you behaved in the game, which means nothing you did during the course of the game has any bearing on how this scenario plays out. The game might as well have started here.

Apologia: 

It’s a twist ending and those are interesting and this was properly telegraphed and set up.

There are numerous points in the game where all of this was established. There are emails where people propose putting mirror neurons into Typhon. If you solve a puzzle, you can get into Calvino’s room and see he was working on the next-gen Looking Glass stuff, which is like a VR headset for reliving old memories. There are little five-second cutscenes sprinkled throughout the game, hinting that all is not as it seems.

This isn’t a last-minute ass-pull. It’s a payoff.

Counter: 

This is only revealed after the credits. The Sixth Sense and Se7en didn’t put their mind-bending reveals after the credits. This “twist” is completely gutless.

Also, this isn’t really a “twist” so much as a whole new conflict being introduced once the story is supposedly over. One of the gripes with the ending of Mass Effect 3 is that it abruptly sweeps aside the Reapers vs. Civilization conflict and asks us to care about the freshly-introduced Organics vs. Synthetics conflict. Prey is doing a similar thing.Although here the execution is far better. After all our work to save Talos-1 / Earth, we learn that both have long since fallen and we’re really just here to see if the mirror neuron transplant worked.

Apologia: 

This new ending actually raises the stakes! You thought you were saving a handful of people, but in reality you’re saving everyone.

Counter:

Everyone is dead anyway. Alex is the only survivor we see and the game doesn’t even hint that maybe there are other survivors. It’s pretty hard to care about the world when the only person alive is the person who got everyone else killed.

Apologia:

This ending is actually really reactive to player choice. Each robot comments on some aspect of your behavior, which provides feedback on what happened and how you did.

Counter:

The robots don’t really have very much interesting to say, and what they do say is somewhat muddled. As stated last week, Igwe-bot can’t tell the difference between a psychopath that lets everyone die for giggles, and an anti-Typhon purist that prioritizes Earth above the lives of people on the station.

Lingering Questions

On top of those other problems, this ending drops a lot of other plot threads that only existed within the simulation.

What happened when Morgan got back to Earth? I spent a lot of time wondering what would happen when the disaster was over. When the dust settles, what will happen to Morgan? Will she confess her part in this horrendous mess? Will she make public all the nasty stuff that went on? Will she tell the world about the Typhon, the experiments, the prisoners, and the disaster? Or will she stay in space? Or will she successfully cover everything up?

Most importantly: I really wanted to be there when idiot Walther Dahl landed on Earth and proudly presented his boss with a spaceship full of survivors that he’d been ordered to kill.

How did the real Morgan die? By the end of the game, she was probably the most outrageously overpowered human alive. Like I said earlier, I don’t think the Nightmare ever existed. I sort of assumed it was an artifact of the simulation, that her Typhon self was trying to disrupt the simulation and break her out of this virtual world. It was supposedly the big scary threat of the game, and she kicked its ass several times. If real-Morgan was really that powerful, then how did the Typhon kill her? Did she survive the events on Talos-1 and then perish when the Earth fell? Or did she actually die before the nullwave device went off?

Yes, they used the nullwave. The simulation shows that Alex ALWAYS stayed behind and went down with the ship if you used the self-destruct. If the simulation is based on anything concrete, then this one fact must be respected for all the ways it endures through the permutations of the events on Talos-1. Alex would have died if Morgan had destroyed the station. Alex is alive in this post-conquest world, therefore Morgan didn’t blow up Talos-1.

Either that or the entire scenario is one giant self-aggrandizing wank on the part of Alex, in which case this entire scenario is another layer of lies. Like the Mass Effect Indoctrination Theory, we can always just give up on the text and make up whatever bullshit makes us feel better about how we spent the last 20 hours. I don’t think that’s a particularly rewarding way to engage with a work, but the option is always there if you’re not willing to accept the apparent givens of this new premise.

It would really help if honesty / integrity were part of his personality. His status as a weasel throws everything into chaos.

Given that Morgan used the nullwave, how did ANY of these people die? Dayo Igwe? Danielle Sho? Mikhaila Ilyushin? Sarah Elazar? If they survived long enough to see the nullwave go off, then what got them?

Then again, the ending credits reveal that this entire scene is happening at a “hidden location”. If Talos-1 was still safe, then Alex and his posse would still be there. So we probably have to assume that ultimately Talos-1 fell to the Typhon. Actually, I guess we can assume that in reality, the nullwave didn’t really work. If it had, then they could have used it to defend Earth.

But the really burning question for me is this one…

How did Alex survive? 

Aside from Dayo Igwe and MAYBE Morgan, nobody liked this guy. In fact, lots of people hated him. And that was BEFORE he accidentally destroyed his homeworld and got his entire species killed. His father ordered his assassination without the slightest hesitation. His voice didn’t even waver. When Papa Yu ordered the death of his son, he sounded like he was ordering a pizza.

Given his lack of popularity and the fact that he’s not the picture of physical fitness, how did he survive this ridiculous adventure when so many other, fitter, more charismatic people died?

Alex and His “Contingencies”

Alex has a plan (a recording) for how to gain Morgan's trust if Morgan escapes the simulation. But he DOESN'T have a plan for what to do if the Typhon break containment.
Alex has a plan (a recording) for how to gain Morgan's trust if Morgan escapes the simulation. But he DOESN'T have a plan for what to do if the Typhon break containment.

The game talks Alex up quite a bit. More than once you’ll hear people claim that “Alex always has contingencies!” This is one of those claims that is demonstrably true and untrue at the same time.

On one hand, he never wound up with a knife in his back. Given how many enemies he had among the crew and the incredible damage he inflicted on the world, he must have been playing some next-level 5-dimensional chess to outwit the endless onslaught of backstabs that were headed his way on a daily basis.

On the other hand… what fucking contingencies? The Typhon broke containment. Then they broke out of Psychotronics. Then they ran rampant across the station. Then they spread to Earth. And as far as we can tell, Alex never even slowed them down. He never had a plan for any of these situations, even though this is the FIRST THING he should have planned for, and he should have had multiple layers of backup plans.

That part where you had to fly around the station getting in slap-fights with Technopaths so you could scan the coral? Why was that a thing? If Alex’s special ability is “having contingencies”, then that shit should have been worked out weeks ago. The nullwave should have been humming away in his office, on his desk, hooked up to a great big glowing red button, ready to be pressed the moment someone in Psychotronics complained about strange noises in the ductwork.

Alex should have been able to single-handedly set off the nullwave long before the first mimic gave its captors the slip and found its way into the vents, which should have had mimic detectors in them. Because like… did Alex ever actually study the Typhon while he was supposedly studying the Typhon? Watch a mimic for twenty minutes and you’ll know what you need to do. “Okay, we need motion detectors and automated psychoscopes in all the vents. Like duh. Maybe some Typhon lures to draw them through the ducts and back into a different containment system?”

And then after ten seconds of thinking about it Alex might add, “And by the way, Psychotronics ought to have its own self-contained HVAC system so a breach will just have the critters running laps in our vents and not escaping to the rest of the station.”

And then while some lackeys are rolling out the HVAC blueprints on a table and trying to figure out what needs to be changed, maybe Alex could start a brainstorming session, “Hey. What if we missed something and they get free anyway? They could tear through the ship pretty fast. Have you seen the tests Morgan has been running with the volunteers? Shit. One mimic in a crowded room can become fifty mimics in an empty room in under a minute. But hey, we have these robot printers all over the station. Could we print out swarms of gunbots in an emergency to slow the spread? Someone roll the dry-erase board over to me. I need to write this down.”

The only contingencies Alex was ever prepared for was making sure he didn’t miss lunch. Screw that guy.

Anyway…

That’s the ending of Prey. I don’t think it was horrible, but I do think it was frustratingly vague and underdeveloped. I’m glad the designers attempted to do something more interesting than an action-movie ending, but this final twist was marred in execution. Also, its status as an after-credits scene means the whole thing lacks conviction.

I really do love this game, so it really stings that the designers stumbled a bit here at the very end.

Next time I’ll end this series by talking about what I’d like to see the team do with the franchise in the future.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Although here the execution is far better.



From The Archives:
 

119 thoughts on “Prey 2017 Part 21: Alex All Along

  1. MerryWeathers says:

    Next time I’ll end this series by talking about what I’d like to see the team do with the franchise in the future.

    Obviously the next step is a live-service looter shooter with microtransactions and maybe even in-game ads.

    1. Asdasd says:

      No, it’s a roguelite with deckbuilding elements!

      1. Mattias42 says:

        …Wasn’t that pretty much Mooncrash, though? Just with the ‘cards’ being the random hazards?

        Great freakin’ DLC, though! Really hope Samus at least gives it a small nod during the wrap-up.

      2. Syal says:

        Three words.

        Stealth.
        Rhythm.
        RPG.

        1. doran says:

          You just keep acquiring and performing cheesy dance styles in various costumes until people ignore you out of second hand embarrassment.

        2. Tohron says:

          You are Florenzo Giulietti, Master of Thievery, Illusion and General Deception! Distract unsuspecting guards with cunningly dancing illusionary projections as you rob their masters blind! Gain experience to level up your illusions and unlock new options for fooling rubes and wowing bystanders! Make the name of Florenzo a legend, in-game and IRL!

          1. Cubic says:

            Then after the credits …

        3. pdk1359 says:

          A crypt-of-the-necrodancer-alike; while in stealth mode, the beat isn’t slowed down but you take three to four beats to cross a tile. the character(s? possible plural) would all be wet tissue paper and need to attack from hiding to deal real damage, but for the most part any fighting is not worth it and you just cross the map, pick up the loot and get out quickly.

          I’m thinking a combo between crypt of the necrodancer/cadence of hyrule with aspects of thief and dishonored series’. all of your RPG mechanics would be metrodvania accesibility powerups and gimicks to let you avoid/lose attention.

          The story (and map progression) would be more like sly cooper and the thievius raccoonus. You (and the other playable characters, if any) would be after the treasure of a master thief and would have to first gather tricks and gadgets to get around the world, finding the ingredients to setup the perfect heist. Also note I’d really try to work in a capstone trick like sly’s own addition to the family, of figuring out to balance on laser beams as a key trick to win the game, i love that part.

        4. Hal says:

          Match-3 Typhon Dating Sim.

    2. John says:

      Customize your Typhon with new Neon options from the tie-in with Cyberpunk 2077

    3. Freddo says:

      I was hoping for releasing a game that isn’t full of bugs and corrupts its save games? Silly me. I would never get anywhere as a games developer.

  2. Killjoy says:

    I know it’s a pretty fair assumption to interpret all the bots to be dead people, but given Yu had three bots made with her personality while she was still alive (actually I don’t know if September counts) this wasn’t even a thing I considered until I read these. I just assumed, at first, nobody but Alex was willing to come in contact with the Typhon ready to kill everyone for being tricked into playing a video-game

    I think the most interesting thing to come out of the ending regarding the past events is actually the Nightmare. It opens up a hole dam of questions regarding the way it behaves and the way the simulation acts around it, but unfortunately I guess every single conclusion we can come to is a conjecture

  3. Doran says:

    To steal one of your own lines, Alex has a very specific level of idiocy.

    He’s smart and socially savvy to deal with everyone hating his guts constantly, but doesn’t actually have plans he can at least show to other people if they find out THE TRUTH?

    Even with the flaw of constant coverups he can still create AI copies of himself and get peoples advice and remove their memories afterwards. Just take a recording of it, so he can show it later to them when revealing the truth.

    Maybe a fight between the siblings would have worked, breaking a lot of the contigencies and then the Typhon get out almost immediately after before he can adapt.

    1. Asdasd says:

      Being just smart enough to put yourself in a position to make very stupid, far-reaching decisions? Why, that sounds just like [BZZT POLITICS DETECTED]

      1. pseudonym says:

        You mean The Illusive [BZZT]?

  4. Gethsemani says:

    As Paul Spooner pointed out in the comments to the last entry, a central premise of Prey (2017) is the uncertainty of perception and consciousness. The game starts with Morgan living a lie, quickly hints that there’s more to this than just Morgan waltzing about Talos I and then keeps playing with perspective and illusion, both in the story (the Typhon are essentially one long deliberation on how we perceive consciousness) and in the texture of the game (especially with the Looking Glass tech). A twist ending to show that it was all just a dream when you thought everything had been explained? I mean, I do feel that it all comes together even if it is jarring if you haven’t picked up on the theme (as I hadn’t my first time through).

    1. Coming Second says:

      I think this is why the ending doesn’t feel like an asspull in the same way for instance ME3’s does. It has a theme and it sustains it carefully throughout. The introduction isn’t just a random wow moment, it’s setting expectations for you about the story and telling you to think carefully about everything you see and are told. The fact that you don’t know how much of what you experienced in the simulation actually happened is, in my view, not a flaw of the narrative but a feature of it. Most of Shamus’s complaints come across as missing the point entirely, although I certainly agree the stinger shouldn’t have been placed after the credits.

      1. Ninety-Three says:

        From a thematic perspective, the issue with the twist is that you spend the entire game deeply invested in the fate of Talos 1 and its inhabitants, then the ending goes “Psych! All those people are dead and nothing you did ever had any chance of saving them! By the way, here’s a new problem, you have sixty seconds to care.” That’s not how emotional investment works, “The player’s a human, they’ll care about saving abstract humanity right?” is not sufficient even if it looked like there were any humanity left to save.

        1. Sleeping Dragon says:

          We are deep into the field of interpretation here so I want to make it clear in advance that your interpretation is as valid as mine and I don’t mean it as a personal attack.

          I feel like this is an approach that’s very focused on player empowerment, essentially interpreting it as a game doing a “ha, you didn’t actually win!” which is inherently tied to the idea of “beating” the game, and to be fair the playthrough itself is definitely framed in that way. But I don’t think the post-credits scene is really meant as a “twist to the plot” as much as it is an invitation to analysis and discussion. In fact I’d go so far as to say that is probably the reason for putting it post-credits, while it is technically happening in the setting I feel it is actually meant to reframe the story of the game as a thought experiment. Yes, doing it semi-diegetically is a bit clumsy, but I honestly prefer it to the credits rolling past and a screen popping up with text “now ponder your choices and what they tell you about the human condition”.

          Again, because it’s done diegetically it can be seen as invalidating player actions throughout the game, and I suppose a literal discussion isn’t exactly happening because both sides aren’t actually communicating and are minimally reactive (though that is even more true of books, movies and other mediums less interactive than video games) but I feel like in giving you “the judgement” and then allowing you to react to it it does its best, especially if we interpret is as an invitation to the discussion rather than the argument and response in its entirety. At the risk of giving too much credit Shamus’ reaction to “The quality of ‘humanity’ is determined by the ability to empathise” being “Perhaps, but your scenario tests for actions whereas the proof of empathy would lie in motivations” is something the developers would welcome and the main reason why we find that conclusion so trivial is because on this blog we are so used to actually analysing games, their stories, their settings, the motivations of the chacacters etc.

          1. Duoae says:

            While acknowledging both of your interpretations, I feel like this game acknowledges “the win” while redefining what “the win” actually is.

            You, the player may feel it is your actions, your end result of the simulation of Talos 1 but the twist is that you win (or lose) based on a secondary criteria. Technically, *I* won, despite not keeping everyone alive -I think I only had two “judges” at the end of the game aside from Alex. I was happy with that. My story was what it was – that in itself is a win-state for me and the type of psychology that drives myself.

            I agree with someone above where they say that expectations are key – ME3’s ending really didn’t gel with me. I hated it. Aside from coming out of left-field, it was ham fisted and crude compared to the relative complexity of the main storylines of the games. Prey (2017)’s ending was engaging on a philosophical level in the same way that the main premise of the game throughout was. Yes, it wasn’t perfect and no, it wasn’t entirely logical from what we experience… but, like Mooncrash, why are we assuming that the simulation is an *exact* replica of real world events?

            In my own headcanon: Presumably, the events of Talos 1 that *we* experience did not occur in most shapes or forms. We only experienced what Alex wanted us to. If you want to take that at face value, then you can say that he likes to present himself as a saviour, for one. Secondly, he likes to manipulate the field – he wants to control everything. In that sense… why are people assuming that Earth has been destroyed? The Looking Glass technology is pretty impressive but a freaking 50″ LED TV could pull off the same stunt – show the world as converted… in order to assess the test subject’s response.

            I don’t believe that the world is lost. I don’t believe that there was an intergalactic genocide on the human race because all evidence in the game points towards disbelief.

            In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Morgan was still alive. To have the brain scans of Igwe et al., they must have all survived – that tech is not shown to be that prevalent in the world within the simulation… but for certain, the individuals need to be scanned at some point and there’s no reason persons like Danielle Sho would be. No, this (for me) is the classic mirror of the start of the story.

            In the beginning of the story, we are shown that everything is false, our memories are null and void and we cannot believe our senses. At the end of the story, we experience the same thing – I do not believe the Typhon took over Earth, I do not believe that any of the personalities that are judging us have died. What I think is happening (and I think it’s a fair comprehension of events) is that we are a test subject, exactly as Alex Wu states – to implant humanity into Typhon, to give them mirror neurons and see how they react/evolve. Nothing more. We are in a room on Talos 1 and everything is going on as normal… if we fail “the test” we are destroyed.

      2. MarsLineman says:

        Fully agree. This is a work of art, an abstraction of reality intended to provoke a thoughtful response. With a clear theme and a consistent execution. Definitely feels like Shamus missed the point with these “but why!” nitpicks, as if this story were intended to be taken literally as facts.

        As far as the vagueness of the ending, to my mind it seems like the perfect hook for a sequel. We know the Earth is Typhoned, but we don’t know how, why, the fate of Talos, Morgan, etc. Which leaves plenty of space for the authors to create a whole new narrative in this interesting world they’ve developed.

        1. Richard says:

          I think the biggest problem is that it’s a post-credits scene.

          If it had been a few seconds after The End, it would have been far better – and hit harder.

          If nothing else, I’m reasonably sure that most gamers don’t watch the credits so wouldn’t even have seen this at all without the help of YouTube completionists.

        2. Zekiel says:

          I kind of agree. I think the real ending is pretty lame when you analyse it in depth. However i feel it does mostly work as a susrprise ‘real’ ending (in that it is basically consonant with the general themes of the game, and also specifically foreshadowed in various ways). I mean, it worked for me, I can understand why it might not work for others.

          It also means that you don’t have the game end with the underwhelming pre-credits ending, either of which are just rather meh. (although still better than System Shock 2’s, from what I understand).

    2. Der Junger Ludendorff says:

      One issue with relying on that theme is that you spend most of your time on unrelated things.
      You’re not spending 30 hours wondering where the line between perception and reality is. You spend it wondering if that chair was a mimic, and how you can get into that sealed off room to get someone their medicine, and how to best shoot the big monster down the hallway. And most of your interactions with other people are about very practical issues, not philosophical discussions.
      So for the game to suddenly throw everything into this secondary background theme is incredibly jarring. And the sudden new setting throws up a ton of questions on top of that.

      It could have been done well, but I think they botched the execution.

      1. Paul Spooner says:

        You’re not spending 30 hours wondering where the line between perception and reality is. You spend it wondering if that chair was a mimic…

        Poor choice of a first example, but your point may be well taken. I wouldn’t know, as I’ve never played the game myself.

        I will say, though, that one point in my comment on the previous article is that this “sudden” twist is just as likely to be an illusion as the rest of the game. Who’s to say the twist ending is the reality, just because it gets the last word?

      2. Gethsemani says:

        The main story constantly refers to themes of perception though. Alex himself is a good example in that his role is never quite clear and while his motives are obvious, he keeps switching between caring older brother and ruthless corporate leader. So which is he? Does he want what’s best for Morgan or TranStar?
        The whole first part of the side mission with Mitchell/Volunteer 37 is the same. The game is interface screwing the player by playing along, but even a below average player will quickly realize that things are not adding up.
        So it goes throughout the game, the theme about perception is constantly there. Perhaps not in all the moment to moment (though the whole mimic thing certainly is and I’d argue that a lot of the hidden stuff or seemingly blocked areas are also perception based in that they are about finding avenues of approach) but always in the text and texture of the story and side missions.

  5. Lino says:

    I just had an epiphany! Say we leave the story as is. Even then, Alex should be the LAST person to appear at the end of the game! If anything, HE should be the first one compromised by the Typhon. That way, you could have him be Mr. Contingency, but instead of humanity’s last incompetent hope, that way we’ll have an actual reason for why he doomed us all – he was under the heavy influence of the Typhon. Maybe he was being controlled by an earlier version of the Technopath.

    Of course, that still leaves the problem of the post-credits sequence coming out of left field, but given the way it’s presented, that was going to be a problem regardless.

    1. Jabrwock says:

      Or that Alex is just that shortsighted. Seems like Morgan was the planner (invented the scope, hatched contingency plans for subverting Alex, etc).

      So it wouldn’t surprise me that as soon as Morgan goes into “wiped memory” mode, things slip until the Typhon start escaping and overrun the station.

      In spite of everything Morgan accomplishes, Alex still screws up and dooms humanity, but is too prideful to admit it.

  6. Joshua says:

    And this is why the older I get, the less appreciation I have for Twist Endings. It takes quite a bit of skill to really be telling two different stories at once for the “real” story to truly work, and many stories don’t effectively pull that off.

    we can always just give up on the text and make up whatever bullshit makes us feel better about how we spent the last 20 hours

    For example, I like to pretend the last minute of the film Fallen never happened. Without it, you have a heroic story with a tragic, bittersweet ending. With it, you find out that the last two hours never mattered and there was pretty much nothing that the good guys could ever do, because evil was always going to win. All for a shocking “twist”.

    1. Asdasd says:

      I think this is also why I don’t like stories told out of time. Cowboy Bebop for example – if what you really want us to care about is a story you’re only going to hint at in the flashbacks, maybe just tell us that story instead (not that I found Spike’s past remotely interesting, but the show sure seemed to think so).

      I did quite like the kinda-twist in Watchmen (the comics) though. (‘Kinda’ because it builds steadily towards it, rather than doing a rug-pull, iirc.)

      1. Kylroy says:

        I think this just demonstrates that twist endings are good if done *right*.  It’s just incredibly hard to thread the needle between too obvious (reaction to reveal: “Duh!”) and too obscure (“What?!?”) to land at logical-but-overlooked (“…oh.”)

        Compounding this is that different people will have different thresholds for these reactions, so any major release *will* get all three from various people.  Narratively speaking, you’re trying to hit a small, moving target, and that is *hard*.

        My gold standard for properly nailed twist ending is The Prestige.  It lost some people (for reasons I can totally see), but I thought it was brilliant.

        1. Chad+Miller says:

          What I’ve come around to is “twist endings are bad if their only value is in being a surprise”

          If your twist ending is ruined for people who saw it coming, then what you have is a bad story hoping to get by solely on surprise. I firmly believe that if someone outright had the twist spoiled beforehand and nothing else, they should still be able to enjoy your story (I’m also far less sensitive about plot spoilers than most people, probably for this reason; if you could entirely ruin something by telling me the ending, then chances are nothing of value was lost. In fact I did have PREY’s stinger spoiled for me before playing the game but I was still able to enjoy it in the moment by pretending I didn’t know about it.)

          The absolute worst kind of twist is the one that makes it so that the story doesn’t work before or after the twist, as the writers were so obsessed with making sure the audience was surprised that they failed to produce anything else of value (rant about Fallout 4 excised)

          At the other extreme, the best stories are the ones that work before and after you know the twist. Fight Club is a fantastic story about a white-collar worker’s malaise leading him to fall in with a rough crowd, until you learn it’s really about the same man suffering from such extreme delusions that he single-handedly created that rough crowd while imagining it as someone else.

          To use your own example, I think you could totally spoiler both big reveals in The Prestige and still have a compelling story about the extremes to which two men went to ruin each other out of arrogance. Meanwhile Fallen’s ending is “lol none of that mattered”.

          1. MelfinatheBlue says:

            I think my favorite twist is still the Others. I saw it coming (read two? stories/books with similar plots), but it’s still a fascinating story to me.

            Honestly, twists for the sake of twists almost never work for me because I’m good at seeing them coming. I do like character twists (it’s a twist to the character but not to the watcher/reader) like Free Guy, because hey, nifty character-building while (if done well) loads of good jokes (imho).

          2. Thomas says:

            I agree with this bar. The Sixth Sense is a good film even if you knew the twist from the start. The best twists aren’t about surprise, as much as they’re about the ability to recontextualise one story in an interesting way. If anything the themes of the story should work _better_ if you know the twist.

            Applying that to Prey, the real question should be whether knowing the twist adds to the stories behind told through the game.

            This is true of KOTOR. For example Jolee’s character and the actions of the council are more interesting when you know the full story.

    2. Dreadjaws says:

      I haven’t watched that film, but this is the problem I have with many horror movies, where the hero finally defeat the killer but then at the last minute it’s revealed that oops, he was still alive and now locked with the hero. It’s not really a twist ending, but it does make the whole movie feel pointless. There are three reasons to watch a horror movie through the end: see the hero triumph, the villain be defeated and a bunch of people be saved. You can remove two of those with no problem, but removing all three just makes it all feel like a waste of time.

      No, we didn’t save the students, and the hero is now all alone and unhappy, but at least the villain was def… psych!

      1. Chad+Miller says:

        So, for the full explanation of the movie in question:

        Fallen is basically a cop thriller but where the villain is a demon that can possess other people. It gets its kicks by hijacking a person’s body, committing crimes with it for awhile and then possessing someone else, leaving its previous vessel holding the bag.

        Eventually the hero manages to convince it to meet him in a cabin in the woods. They have a smoke together and it transpires that the hero had poisoned the cigarettes, killing both of them and stranding the demon via murder-suicide.

        Then it turns out that, oh no, the demon can possess animals and wanders away as some forest animal. Roll credits.

        (I distinctly remember being aware of this possibility before it was even revealed; I don’t know if it was foreshadowed or if I misinterpreted something that accidentally turned out to be correct as this movie wasn’t worth watching twice, or even once really. But I did actually think “oh this would be a good idea except I imagine there has to be something living nearby in the woods, so this won’t work” and being 100% right)

        1. BlueHorus says:

          Ugh. Cheap, cheap twist. But it’s very common, especially in horror ‘franchises’ where the bad guy is a money maker…

          Reminds me of a trope in a load of crime movies and marvel shows from when I bothered to watch them:
          You’d get 30 seconds of someone entering their house, or their car, doing something mundane – then, oh shit! The camera reveals that someone else has broken in earlier, and they’ve been calmly sitting there waiting for the owner to notice them this whole time!
          What an awesome, powerful guy that intruder is!

          On the one hand, it does portray a character as clever. But on the other, is so easy to do from a filmaking perspective that it’s a profoundly lazy way to make a character look good.

          Worst example I can think of was in Agents of Shield where Clark Gregg’s character broke into the back seat of someone’s car to ask them a few questions.
          It was crying out for a comedy scene of him, alone in the back of that car, shivering and looking at his watch impatiently. That, or having the guy just start driving away, with Gregg shouting “No, no, let me out first!”

          1. Mattias42 says:

            No joke? This crap is what made me mostly stop watching horror movies.

            The entire genera went from the one genera where the Protagonist MIGHT die, the Antagonist MIGHT win, to…

            Well, the sequel factory where there’s ALWAYS a dang five second twist that means the antagonist pulls victory out of his/her/its rectum. While twisting the knife in some cruel fashion, typically.

            It’s just as boring and rote as the action movie that’s always got a pristine, happy ending. Why even bother watching if I already know the dang ending?

            1. Daimbert says:

              I watch a LOT of horror movies because I comment on them on my blog, but I agree that lately they have really gone in for the “antagonist actually wins at the end” endings, which work in isolation but make for boring and unsatisfying horror movies if they are the majority. They worked as nice subversions of the norm, but too many creators are trying for that subversion so it’s not unique anymore, and it only worked when it was different and a surprise. It’s not a surprise anymore.

              For general horror movies, it seems to me that the feeling you really want at the end, or at least at the end of most of them, is the feeling that the protagonist did manage to survive and overcome the antagonist — because for the movie to work at all we had to at some point like and at least sympathize with them — but that there is still a threat out there, not so much to them, but more importantly to US. So what the ending should do most of the time is give what looks like a clear victory, but leave something around for us to think that maybe the villain is still out there or could do something. But you don’t want to take away the feeling of victory from the protagonist, so you never want to actually CONFIRM that. So in the case of “Fallen”, mentioned above, what you’d want to do is the typical ending where the two of them die and then we see an animal nearby acting strange and MAYBE a flash of colour in the eyes, to get the audience THINKING that maybe the demon could possess animals but never confirming that that was the demon. Maybe it was just an animal.

              Of course, these days we’d all assume that yes, the demon could possess animals and possessed that one to escape and continue its evil, making this another casualty of the overuse of that trope.

              1. Syal says:

                Not sure how long ago you mean by “lately”, but that was the standard in the 90s and 00s when I was watching them. Also the Omen, from the 70s.

                But you don’t want to take away the feeling of victory from the protagonist

                Depends what you’re aiming for. My understanding is these are popular date movies, in which case you want the ending to unsettle people and make them seek comfort from their partners.

                …I don’t know if Fallen is a very good date movie, but, y’know, in general.

                1. Daimbert says:

                  I don’t recall it being the standard in the 80s and 90s, and the Omen doing it was at the time a subversion of what normally happened. It’s a LOT more common in the movies from the past decade, as far as I can tell.

                  Depends what you’re aiming for. My understanding is these are popular date movies, in which case you want the ending to unsettle people and make them seek comfort from their partners.

                  That’s why I said you wanted to leave the feeling that there’s still some kind of threat out there without making it so that the villain has won and the protagonist has lost and usually died. For example, the protagonist escapes from some sort of hell dimension but the hell dimension isn’t sealed off and so others could fall into it. The ideal is that at the end the audience starts looking around themselves for threats like that, afraid that they might become victims and that they might not be able to survive.

                  Then again, the general stereotypical reason given for horror movies being great date movies was because of the scares DURING the movie, with the stereotype being that the girl would then cling to the guy out of fear. It wasn’t usually that that would keep happening after the movie was done.

                  1. Chad+Miller says:

                    I think another complication here is that it’s debatable whether the movie we’re talking about is even a horror movie. To me it felt more like a detective/crimehunter movie that happened to have a supernatural antagonist. It’s one thing if Jason Voorhees kills all the sympathetic characters and walks away; it wouldn’t feel right if Clarice Starling died without accomplishing anything even if Hannibal Lecter gets to win sometimes.

        2. Joshua says:

          Yeah, to add to what Chad+Miller said:

          The demon is a Fallen Angel, hence “Fallen”.

          The main character finds help halfway through the movie in the form of a woman who has dedicated her life to studying these kinds of demons (her father ran afoul of one). She informs the main character (played by Denzel Washington) that he is one of the few chosen ones of God who are given immunity to the demon’s normal possession power by touch. However, is still susceptible to being possessed if he kills the demon, because it will be ejected out of its host if the host dies, and its desperation makes it that much stronger. I can’t remember the distance it can travel in its dying breath, but it’s something like a few hundred meters.

          So, the story has established that
          A. Denzel is one of the chosen few to fight this kind of demon whose “power” is actually pretty weak in that it only protects him from being possessed by touch.
          B. Stopping the demon means that you will have to kill the innocent person the demon is currently possessing, and it will try to possess someone within a few hundred meters, and no one can resist that.

          So, already we have a huge underdog story where it’s very hard to pull off the circumstances where you could defeat the demon, and doing so will likely result in innocent people dying. The film pulls the plot twist when Denzel mortally wounds the person who the demon is possessing, and the reveals to the demon that he is also smoking a poisoned cigarette (backstory to this detail I won’t get into). The host dies, the demon therefore forcibly possesses the main character, but then experiences death in a very short span of time later as the poison kicks in, and the demon is unable to travel far enough. Until it’s revealed that it can possess animals too.

          Which makes the whole film pointless. Realistically, based upon this last minute of information, the hero could never have succeeded, short of launching the demon into space and killing it there. The woman who spent her whole life studying this particular demon somehow missed the part about possessing animals. The villain was always going to win, the end.

          1. Jabrwock says:

            What would have been better would have been if they telegraphed it somehow, and you only notice on a second watching. Something like showing in the research scrolls the demon transferring to an animal. Then it’s an “oh crap” ending, but it’s not completely unfair, we get so involved in the hero’s plan we forget that it wouldn’t work.

            The best twist endings are something that you see coming, but forgot about despite being explicitly shown but dismissed as irrelevant. Take Signs. If the scene with them running around on the roof or scabbling at the door had stopped, coupled with a cloud-burst. At the time, it’s a tension breaker (thunder, lightning, noise of rain instead of aliens, etc). At the end, you realise that they stopped attacking because it started raining. Even better if the characters drew the wrong conclusion (they stopped because of the lightning or something, so they develop electrical defenses).

            1. Joshua says:

              Foreshadowing or not, the problem is that there ceases to really be a meaningful story in this situation. It’s not like a tragic “If only the protagonist had done *this* instead, or *not done that*”, it’s a story where the protagonist was going to lose no matter what. The best thing that he could have done was shoot himself as soon as he found out what was going on in hopes that the demon would therefore move on and maybe leave his loved ones alone.

              As much as people here complain about how Mass Effect 3 ended, imagine if instead the Reapers simply showed up and easily wiped the entire galaxy out within 5 minutes. Not just overpowered the galaxy, but curb-stomped it so badly there was no point for Shepard to have bothered with anything in the previous games, as he had zero hope at all.

              1. Jabrwock says:

                it’s a story where the protagonist was going to lose no matter what.

                Greek Tragedy is all about that. You know the ending, the suspense is in the journey to get there, and how the protagonist deals with it along the way.

                We know Rogue One will end triumphant for the Rebellion but badly for the participants.

                1. Chad+Miller says:

                  Generally one of the components of a Greek Tragedy is a personal failing of the protagonist; “failing to have any outs against an unkillable demon” doesn’t really fit that bill. Honestly I wish more horror movies edged toward that sort of formula; the idea that, say, the Pet Sematary has no shortage of victims because the ability to bring people back to life is too tempting even to people who know the cost appeals to me more than any number of slasher rampages and invincible monsters.

                  Meanwhile, in Rogue One, you made the point yourself; the mission succeeds, even if the heroes lose. Joshua is annoyed at the plot twist precisely because it sets up a resolution where the hero can only “win” at great cost to himself, before letting him die and then saying “nevermind, you don’t even get that.”

                  1. Daimbert says:

                    Generally one of the components of a Greek Tragedy is a personal failing of the protagonist; “failing to have any outs against an unkillable demon” doesn’t really fit that bill. Honestly I wish more horror movies edged toward that sort of formula; the idea that, say, the Pet Sematary has no shortage of victims because the ability to bring people back to life is too tempting even to people who know the cost appeals to me more than any number of slasher rampages and invincible monsters.

                    I call that “Virtue Horror” on my blog — there may be an official name for it — and agree with you that it should happen more often in horror, at least non-slasher horror. The reason is that it would avoid one common issue in horror movies, where the villain is set up to be so incredibly powerful that no one can stand against it and yet, at the end, the protagonist has to manage to at least SEEM to defeat it, somehow. With Virtue Horror, you can explain it that most people can’t resist the temptations, but the protagonist manages to, through sheer force of will, and that leaves the villain powerless against them. And in such cases you can even leave sequels open easier by noting that temptation is always present, and the only way to avoid that is to keep that evil power away from people.

                    The Doctor Who episode with the hotel (I forget the name of the episode) is a good example of this, as the rooms play on the personal fears and desires of the people, but it can’t find anything to use against Rory, and so keeps trying to find a way to get him to just plain leave. That force is a real, powerful and irresistible threat to most people, but we can easily see how it can be defeated, even if that would require a huge effort from most people.

                  2. Joshua says:

                    Exactly!

                    The equivalent in Rogue One would be (assuming you detached it from A New Hope) is the heroes getting to the records repository at the end of the film and discovering that the Empire had discovered the weakness Gavin Urso created in the Death Start architecture and fixed it. Right after they make this discovery Storm Troopers enter the room and blast them down. Roll credits.

            2. Syal says:

              What would have been better would have been if they telegraphed it somehow

              I’m not finding it in Youtube clips, but the ending indicates they did just that, with a narrative frame story. (“But wait: I was telling you about the time I almost died.”)

  7. Gargamel Le Noir says:

    I didn’t get the impression that humanity was effectively extinct, otherwise Alex wouldn’t go through that much trouble. I assumed he was trying to save pockets of survivors here and there. The robots might even living people talking from a remote location.

    The rest of your remarks are very true. The fact that the game’s choices are negated by the final choice is pretty disappointing. I think it could be fixed by having different stingers, for example :

    – If you went full sociopath, Alex and the others are behind glass lamenting at what a miserable failure that was and decide to euthanize you. Maybe you spot a crack in a wall or something and can smash it and escape that way (or wait to be gassed). If you escape the game ends in black with Alex saying “oh my god, where is it??”
    – If it’s muddled, Alex and the others are behind glass and aren’t sure what to do about you. They decide to alter your neuromods and try again. You can choose to escape through the crack in the wall (implying you’ll kill them all) or stay in the chair for another go.
    – If you went paragon it’s like this cinematic, Alex risks saluting you in the flesh and offering his hand. If you decide to kill him someone screams “it was playing us all along!”

    1. Asdasd says:

      Have to say, I quite like this.

      1. Fred Starks says:

        Agreed, this makes the ending still have the twist of “but you, the player, have been a typhon all along inside a simulation!” but more properly acknowledges your choices instead of just kinda kicking them to the corner with the “hey you did this thing”.

        If you’ve been going straight sociopath, they’ve already set themselves up away from you, behind the glass. More visually showing they don’t trust you at all. In the opposite case, they’re in the room with you, rather already convinced or at least hopeful in your behavior.

        Having the option to escape/kill them or accept it also now provides a bit more duality to the situation than it has this way. I particularly like the framing of “it played us all along”.

    2. BlueHorus says:

      Maybe you spot a crack in a wall or something and can smash it and escape that way (or wait to be gassed). If you escape the game ends in black with Alex saying “oh my god, where is it??

      Ooh! I raise you one better: don’t have this be the ending cutscene, have it be a new gameplay section. You get out of containment as Morphon, and you pursue the ending from there.
      Do you let Alex kill you? Do you kill Alex? Do you let other typhon into the bunker to kill him? Do you go out to rejoin the other Typhon?

      Either way, that’s the premise for a sequel: you are now a typhon-human hybrid, navigating with a post-apocalyptic Earth. There’s loads of potential there…

      1. Fred Starks says:

        For me, this is a fantastic way to set up a sequel. Leaves enough room to make the details of the future uncertain, but not without direction. It also provides an out to not have the game assume a canon ending for it’s previous entry, if needed.

        As an aside, the concept of importing save files from previous games seems to be a rare feature these days. Really annoying when my character of the previous game doesn’t mesh well with the start of a new one.

    3. Steve C says:

      I like all your options.

      Another possible tweak (avoiding rewrites here) is to have Alex be a Typhon too. Where he went through all this himself and decided to be a human. Where Alex put you through this because he wants more entities like himself. Killing him reveals he’s a Typhon where as working with him is about forgiveness and rebuilding the society that was lost. Hopefully with human survivors but maybe not.

      1. Syal says:

        Would be interesting, but would need to move the first reveal way upstream so the new one has space to breathe. One twist is a head-scratcher, two twists at once is Killer 7-level nonsense.

        Alex as Typhon would answer the “why Morgan the Man-Feeder” question with “no, it’s everybody they can get their hands on”, but raises the new question of why the robots are robots and not Typhon. Are they waiting their turn? Was Morgan a robot before? Was Alex?

    4. Cannongerbil says:

      Option one is actually a thing, if you go full psychopath mode and kill everyone, Alex just goes “this isn’t the one” and its implied that he remotely ethunises you.

    5. MadHiro says:

      The problem with extracting moral gradations from your actions in the game was addressed by Shamus. Because the game can’t know why you’re taking an action, it leaves it murky. Many games that have morality meters are more traditional RPGs, with text boxes and interaction that let’s you make your intentions known to the game.

  8. danny says:

    Double Twist where it turns out Alex is on the lamb and getting chased by Space Cops, Talos 1 went down and he’s the most wanted criminal in the world, Typhon-Morgan is his Hail Mary, “look at what I’ve accomplished, surely they’ll forgive me now.” It’s an “hidden location” so he doesn’t get super arrested, real-world-Morgan really did set off the Nullwave device and bug out with the survivors, and then Alex was sitting alone on an empty station thinking “what next, what happens when cops show up to investigate” and then he went and like. Hid in a bunker on the far side of the Moon or something.

    “Uh yeah all the other humans are dead, totally” was him attempting to heighten the stakes of getting Typhon-Morgan to cooperate, it’s not actually true. Minor detail that it’s not really supported by the text either LOL.

  9. Ninety-Three says:

    We’ve been ignoring Prey: Mooncrash so far, but it’s worth noting that the game is set more than a year after the events of the main game, and there’s no indication that Earth has been destroyed by Typhon (I mean, the game’s not set on Earth so it technically could have been, but you think it would come up). This is… difficult to reconcile with what we’re shown in Prey, and taking it seriously leads to some weird conclusions about what happened on Talos 1.

    My favorite theory is that the Typhon swallowed the station whole, but they still couldn’t survive reentry so there’s just a giant mimic thrashing its tentacles angrily in high orbit.

    1. Chad+Miller says:

      it’s worth noting that the game is set more than a year after the events of the main game

      Now that we’re at the end of this game, I think I can discuss this without spoiler tags: one of the primary reasons I couldn’t get into Mooncrash on story terms was that I couldn’t make sense of the timeline.

      I mean, on the one hand there are several hints that a significant amount of time has taken place. Most of the indications of time passing come from Riley Yu’s perspective, which makes sense as she would be the most informed. There’s that email from Morgan talking about January and December, which would imply that Morgan’s already experienced the events of the main game and had time to explain the technology that she had forgotten about due to the amnesia loop. There’s also the presence of Military Operators, which have not only had time for further developments but also for someone to decide the name was bad PR and change them to “Security” Operators instead.

      But then the thing that really bugs me is the wording of Alex’s warning to Riley about the attack. He says that the situation on Talos “is becoming untenable” and that he suspects “the same thing that’s happening here is happening down there”. He also wants Riley to not mention this to the board until things are back under control. Which implies the Typhon attack is still going on. Which means that everything I just said is wrong.

      Unless…I just realized that there is a way to reconcile the two. All it would require is that Morgan and Alex won the original confrontation with the Typhon, only for the TranStar board to leave them in charge afterward and let them rehabilitate Talos until such time that the Typhon break containment again and that’s the one that dooms humanity.

      I think I just talked myself into liking Mooncrash even less.

      1. Ninety-Three says:

        I was going to say something about “maybe you can fix it by ignoring the hints and saying Mooncrash takes place simultaneously with Prey”, but no, that doesn’t fit the framing device where you’re reviewing the events of Mooncrash after the fact and Earth is still implied to not be destroyed.

        I can’t even figure out what canon the writer intended.

        1. Chad+Miller says:

          that doesn’t fit the framing device where you’re reviewing the events of Mooncrash after the fact and Earth is still implied to not be destroyed.

          I actually had the opposite reasoning; the most natural assumption for me was that both happened simultaneously because the Earth isn’t under attack yet (or more specifically, that the real Morgan coexisted with the events of Mooncrash but then the simulation/stinger of Prey happened well after both games). The idea being that the Typhon outbreak happened simultaneously on Talos and Pytheas, and KASMA’s focusing on sifting through the smuggled Riley operator not knowing that they’re also about to be victims. This would also better fit Mooncrash’s implication that Peter and/or Andrius brought a Mimic Earthside.

          But the part about “I don’t even know what the writers intended” is definitely where I landed. It doesn’t even feel like a left hand/right hand thing either, as Riley’s quest in particular can’t seem to decide where in the timeline it’s taking place (as it makes no sense that Alex is frantically calling her while “the same thing” is happening on Talos and also that Morgan had time to finish her adventure and then send an email to Riley about her super cool brain upload technology, before the disaster even happened)

          1. Ninety-Three says:

            It doesn’t even feel like a left hand/right hand thing either

            Mooncrash is weird even within its own lore, the contradictory nature of runs (did Vijay bust Claire or did she get away clean?) makes my instinct “the whole thing is some artsy experiment in throwing out our normal ideas about canon because something something roguelite, don’t think too hard about it because none of it’s gonna make sense.”

  10. RamblePak64 says:

    Reading some of the comments above, I think there’s something to be said about the game adhering to its looking glass simulation themes, but even if it adheres to those themes, the conclusion/twist still flips the table over and wipes everything away with a smile on its face. Take this comedic sketch that became a meme in Japan. Imagine the business card is the player’s goals and choices throughout the game, and the smug man is Arcane completely shattering it all for the sake of this twist. Even if the themes are maintained, that little card of things the player cared about for 20(?) hours of play time are utterly destroyed in this scene, and the devs and writers just look so smug to be doing it.

    Again, this is just my impression from reading these, so I could be projecting.

    But I wonder if it could have been salvaged if, instead of Alex, it was actually Morgan themselves. Granted, if humanity is truly all dead, then one begs the question of why bother with survival at all, unless that is a commentary on the stubborn human will to keep going forward, but rather than the optimistic “against all odds”, it’s “even in the face of your own self-destruction”. The inability to learn, perhaps. So perhaps drop a line that suggests Morgan isn’t the only survivor, but perhaps isn’t the leader. In fact, perhaps Morgan is now outcast due to her and Alex’s decisions leading to this mess, but Morgan just can’t sit still.

    So this experiment and simulation is Morgan’s attempt to not only create another self to help out (feeding into the narrative’s implication of the Yu family ego being quite bloated), but to also determine if they could create a better version of themselves. Perhaps they were both January and December in the simulation, offering you multiple perspectives to chew on. This way, we can understand that the evaluation is from an unreliable bias, but one we can relate to. “I need a version of me, but a better version of me”.

    The question, then, is what determines “better”? For example, since we’re looking to save humanity, what if the player let all crew die that could have died? Or the majority of them? Does Morgan determine the experiment a failure and thus terminate the Morphan? Would this still be faulty of what Shamus explains regarding the lost “why” in a player’s motivations? Or would a desperate Morgan performing such an experiment understandably not care about the why because what is most important is the salvation of humanity?

    Either way, it seems to me like you could have maintained the themes and allowed the player’s choices to matter better if it were Morgan creating this Morphan hybrid, rather than Alex. It would also further push that “Who is the real Morgan?” by presenting them there, in the flesh, before you while noting you never were Morgan, and perhaps open up new avenues of exploring such concepts in a potential sequel.

    I think that’d work better, though like all things, hindsight is 20/20 and the alternate universe where my imagined twist ending exists could be met with as much or more irate discussion or criticism on the net.

    1. Kylroy says:

      I *like* the ending…and I like yours better.  Morgan is *infinitely* better positioned to evaluate Morphan’s actions than her socially inept brother.  And they’ve already made a look and a voice for both genders of Morgan, so it’s note like this altered final scene breaks some narrative convention.

    2. Syal says:

      Granted, if humanity is truly all dead, then one begs the question of why bother with survival at all,

      Cause we’re going to shout it looouud,
      Even if the words seem meaningless
      .

      1. RamblePak64 says:

        Major points, but I raise you more with a metal version.

  11. ContribuTor says:

    This is only revealed after the credits. The Sixth Sense and Se7en didn’t put their mind-bending reveals after the credits.

    I don’t think the problem with Prey is that the ending is post-credits.

    In both movies, the big twist is revealed very close to the end. There are relatively few actions available. To take one of yourself examples, in Se7en, Brad Pitt has the binary choice to shoot John Doe, thus fulfilling John’s plan, or let his wife’s brutal murderer live. He makes his choice, and we see very little of the “what comes after.” Does he go to jail? Is John Doe’s example truly “followed” by others? Why happens with Morgan Freeman?

    Honestly, the choice in Prey is similarly pretty binary, and right up at the end where we suddenly learn what we thought we were in control of is out of our control. I don’t think this would have been materially improved by being pre-credits – fade to white as the station blows up/null wave fires, then lights up on Alex’s Undisclosed Location. Then, as in Se7en, in theory we come down to a simple binary choice – kill this person or don’t.

    What makes it not work is not being post credits. The problem is that it doesn’t resolve the story.

    What makes Se7en’s ending work is tension and pacing. The movie was centered around a central mystery – who is committing these murders and why? The entire movie builds to a confrontation with the killer where he reveals his reasons. The twist is revealed at the climax of the story. And while what we learn is not what we expect, the actions are a reasonable reaction and feel like the resolution to the story.

    Here, it falls completely flat. The obvious issue is that the story built to a climax, and it happened. If that’s not the end of the story, you need to to establish something even more pivotal. There need to be greater stakes. And we need to ratchet the tension up, not down, to the “real” ending.

    Prey sort of tries to do this. Your mission changed from “save the station” to “save humanity!” Except that it’s too late to save humanity. They’re already dead. And it’s not clear how your choice to side with/kill Alex resolves that tension. What does siding with Alex accomplish? The stakes of the final decision aren’t established, so we can’t imagine the outcome we’re choosing. The only story that gets a resolution is Alex’s, and only because he’s either alive or dead.

    The other other issue is pacing. We need to build from the twist. Every action, gesture, line of dialogue has to build to the Big Climax. But Prey slams the brakes on any tension building by having the bots give your performance evaluation one at a time. Exposition and poorly involved judgement grinds us to a halt. Imagine if, in Se7en, after opening the box, Brad Pitt had a sidebar countertenor with some advisors to give him the results of his personality profile, and one drones on about why when he hit John Doe at the library, that shows he’s a violent man, and someone else talks about how the amount he tipped the waitress at a coffee shops is revealing about him, and after that, he goes out to make the final decision of the movie.

    Some suggestions to fix with this ending without a major rewrite.

    First, establish some clearer stakes. Maybe humanity isn’t wiped out, but on its last ropes, and we need to stop the invasion. I don’t think this is explicitly stated (though common headcanon). But we have to be clear what we’re trying to save.

    Second, establish what we’re choosing. Alex loves to monologue. He’s great for this. “This is our last great chance to save humanity. We need the Typhon to understand!” Or maybe more mercenary. “If they let us live and work together, we can give the typhon something they never imagined – consciousness of their own! Your proof of that. Convince them to work together with us.” In either case, Alex wants you to be humanity’s ambassador. Half human, half typhon. You can agree, or kill him.

    Third, hold the evaluations. We don’t have time as we build to the climax. As the lights come up in the lab, you here a muted argument. The only clear line is Alex saying “I don’t care. This is the one. It has to be. It’s the best chance we have, and we’re running out of time. All our hopes go ride on it. On YOU (Alex switches to second person as he realizes you’re awake). Quick monologue on saving humanity and your mission. Then you choose to accept it or choose to kill Alex. Only Alex – if you kill him the boys kill you. Fade out.

    The evaluations play DURING the credits, as a dialogue between Alex and bots, or just bots if he’s dead. “What did you think of its empathy?” “I was impressed with how it handled the situation with my father, and it’s efforts to rescue survivors. I’d rate it 78%”. At the end, if alive, Alex says “So, bottom line it. What are the chances it works?” Based on combined evaluations, the bots quote a percentage (65% chance of success or 13% chance of success.). Beat. “It’ll have to do.” Fade out.

    If Alex is dead, similar conversation, but more “it would have never worked…”. Quote percentages, including final percentage. “His death changes nothing. We must carry on. We have to. Perhaps the next subject will be more promising…”

    1. Lino says:

      I really like this idea. And I totally agree on doing a twist at the end of a story.

    2. Joshua says:

      Good thoughts. Maybe just skip to having the Alex say something like “Based upon your actions in the simulation”, and the actions that led to that conclusion are under the hood (make the players wonder “What did I do/not do?!?”), or revealed after the credits rather than diving into the details mid-conversation.

  12. Dreadjaws says:

    It’s pretty hard for those choices to matter if they’re immediately negated.

    Despite the fact that I liked the ending, I will admit that the very last choice didn’t sit well with me. I thought what happened should have been automatic and depending on your choices throughout the game. Unless this last choice was supposed to portray something like “Yeah, I will help mankind, but screw this Alex guy”, in which case the game should have made that clear.

    The problem is that we don’t know where to draw the line between dream and reality. This new premise gets very little in the way of explanation, and what little we do get comes from Alex the liar and manipulator. I guess to go along with this we have to accept that Morgan was a real person, that Talos-1 was a real place, and that the events of the game are in some way derived from her memories, but beyond that we can’t know anything.

    Was Mikhaila ever our girlfriend, or was that part of the test? Was Igwe ever trapped in a cargo container? Was Dahl a real person? Was subject 37 a real person that Morgan had to contend with, or was the fake cook scenario created by Alex & Co. to test Mophan’s behavior? Did William Yu actually send a corporate assassin to wipe out his employees and children? Was the nullwave device real? Was it ever deployed? Did it do anything? Did anyone make it back to Earth?

    Suddenly, the story feels arbitrary and inconsequential.

    I really don’t think this is so big of a deal. The way I understood it, the basics of the story are real and the details have been manipulated to better serve the simulation as a test of character. All of your choices are working towards that goal, even if we’re not aware at the time. If you were actually playing as Morgan and the end revealed that everything that happened was false then sure, not knowing what’s dream and what’s reality would feel wrong, but since you’re not and your actual goals are different then I think it fits just fine.

    I mean, there’s a similar scene in V for Vendetta, where the main character Evey is captured by the government, tortured and forced to sign a confession against other main character V, lying about being abused by him, and told if she refuses she’ll be shot dead. She refuses. Once she does this, they leave the door open for her and tell her she’s free to go. It’s then revealed that the torturers weren’t real, and it was all theatrics from V himself, who wanted to free Evey from her own prison. Now someone could argue that this ruins the torture scenes because the government agents aren’t real and Evey was never in any real danger, but in reality the reveal doesn’t remove the meaning of the previous scene, it changes it to a new one. And this what I feel Prey does. Sure, if you hold the previous scenes to the expectations generated by your original understanding of the story, the revelation seems to ruin it, but you shouldn’t do that. You should hold them by the new expectations generated by the reveal.

    Yes, they used the nullwave. The simulation shows that Alex ALWAYS stayed behind and went down with the ship if you used the self-destruct. If the simulation is based on anything concrete, then this one fact must be respected for all the ways it endures through the permutations of the events on Talos-1. Alex would have died if Morgan had destroyed the station. Alex is alive in this post-conquest world, therefore Morgan didn’t blow up Talos-1.

    I didn’t think this was up for discussion. To me the implication the game makes is that Morgan didn’t do the correct choice and blow up the station in real life and that’s why the Typhon invaded.

    Also, this isn’t really a “twist” so much as a whole new conflict being introduced once the story is supposedly over. One of the gripes with the ending of Mass Effect 3 is that it abruptly sweeps aside the Reapers vs. Civilization conflict and asks us to care about the freshly-introduced Organics vs. Synthetics conflict. Prey is doing a similar thing.

    I wonder if ME3’s ending would have been better received if it was something of this nature, where it’s revealed that Shepard failed, the reaping has destroyed most of the galaxy’s civilization and a few survivors are gathered in some hidden bunker, trying to get one of the reapers to empathize with the lower races. It would have been an interesting approach if handled correctly, and unlike the ending we got it wouldn’t have come out of nowhere, since reapers going all “My goals are beyond your understanding” attitude was already firmly established in the first game.

    This is only revealed after the credits. The Sixth Sense and Se7en didn’t put their mind-bending reveals after the credits. This “twist” is completely gutless.

    I have no argument against this, as I agree 100% with it. I don’t know what possessed the developers to put such important information after the credits. Hell, this surely means a large part of the playerbase are never even going to see it.

    How could have this been handled otherwise? Here’s some short fanfiction where they make it clear from the start that you were in a simulation: The gist would be that Alex would put you in these morality tests because he wasn’t convinced about how you were acting, and only set you free if you behaved like he expected you to (like the hearthless, evil corporate Morgan he knows and loves). Meanwhile January could pretend to be some disgruntled employee who was hacking into the simulation because they wanted justice, saw you were showing some remorse and tried to convince you they could set you free as well if you showed better morals. The implication would be that the whole story was based in a “worst case scenario” you were trying to avoid and Alex would reward you if you made choices that helped the company, while January would do it if you made choices that helped people. All the while you would be told by January that all the awful things that were happening in the simulation was something that could be avoided while Alex would tell you that the point of the simulation wasn’t to avoid or correct the problems, but to salvage it all in favor of the company. Alex’s rewards should, of course, be better than those given by January to make sure that if you picked her side was because you felt it was the right choice and not because you wanted more pew-pew stuff. Then at the end (and before the credits) you get the reveal that yeah, the simulation was a real thing, but you have never been Morgan.

    Also, spend more time clarifying the simulation. Perhaps Alex would say he was resentful towards his father and he doesn’t believe he’d sent his own sons to his death in real life but he characterized it as more ruthless out of spite and put it that way in the simulation to make the moral choices simpler. Also, have some “if you die in the simulation you die in real life” thing, to give this a sense of urgency.

    I don’t know, maybe this is dumber, but perhaps it would make the twist less divisive. Who knows.

    1. Jabrwock says:

      I didn’t think this was up for discussion. To me the implication the game makes is that Morgan didn’t do the correct choice and blow up the station in real life and that’s why the Typhon invaded.

      Yeah we never do find out what choice the “real” Morgan made. There’s a few hints at the choices they didn’t make (didn’t use the escape pods early, didn’t murderbot all the survivors, and didn’t blow themselves up because otherwise Alex wouldn’t have had the recording to do the simulation).

  13. Geebs says:

    Re: is Alex the only human? – I don’t think it’s too much of an asspull to suggest that Alex is the only one in there to minimise casualties if the experiment doesn’t work. Maybe they think a recognisable face will make it easier for Morphon to adjust.

    Re: the stakes – I just assumed that the number of humans still alive was “some”; after all the station was pretty thoroughly covered in coral by the end and a sixth of the crew was still breathing.

    Re: unanswered questions – I think, fundamentally, I don’t have a problem with a work primarily about the nature of consciousness and the meaning of being human ending with more questions than answers, and I absolutely do not want a direct sequel to wrap things up. Leave things open and you get Philip K Dick; answer all the questions and you get Matrix Revolutions.

    1. Joshua says:

      Is it possible that Alex could by lying about the state of the world to the Morphon? Maybe that helps sell his pitch to the creature.

      Granted, it’s not likely because that means lying to the *players* at the same time during the final scene as well.

      1. Duoae says:

        This is my thought and I think it’s the most likely situation out of all possible states – the Earth and its population is all well and good, the player has been lied to throughout the game. Why not at the ending as well? It would at least be consistent…

        If what people are saying about Mooncrash is also true (I don’t remember temporal inconsistencies but I’m not perfect) then this also allows that to be reconciled as well.

  14. Brisbe says:

    With the robots, there is actually a ‘third’ ending, though it doesn’t clear up all of what you noted. At least one variant has Igwe saying “Activation of the mirror neurons was…not promising. Empathy Quotient appears to be almost non-existent.” After a bit more, Alex Yu notes “We failed. This isn’t the one. Start over.” And then cuts to black, without the final choice. This happens when you actively work to be mustache-twirlingly evil, making decisions to kill the remaining survivors.

    This does mean that your decisions do, at least, determine if you’re capable of at least the barest bit of empathy, the goal that Alex was going for, and implies that there could have been other attempts at teaching the typhon this lesson that didn’t succeed (beyond your own personal playthrough(s).)

    Of course, their remarks of ‘It probably thinks that it was dreaming; that nothing mattered.’…yup, that’s basically about it. It does take away from the impact of any and all choices you made in the story. You were not playing a video game where you were deciding the success of a fictional Talos I. You were playing a video game about someone playing a video game deciding the success of a doubly-fictional Talos I.

    1. The Rocketeer says:

      Laughing my ass off at Dayo Igwe’s “empathy quotient” line. Yeah, that mathematically quantifiable thing that computers can discretely score, Empathy Quotient! You know, that thing they admit they can’t actually infer from your actions regardless of what you seem to have chosen. Igwe needs to be holding a little PDA with a cartoon heart, only very slightly filled, with “CRITICAL SHORTAGE” blinking beside it.

  15. Vladius says:

    Thank you for distinguishing between things that are technically possible within the story and things that make for a satisfying story.

    Not to beat a dead horse but this is a problem I have with people with certain opinions about Star Wars or other series where they keep adding stories where the original characters end up as completely different people or regressing back to how they were before character development.

    Yes, you can technically make Luke Skywalker a bitter nihilistic old man who is the antithesis of everything he once was, abandons his friends and is worse than useless. That is technically possible within the “rules” of the world and doesn’t break physics or anything like that, and you can even make up some justification for it that will satisfy some people or claim that it’s “realistic” because old people often turn out bitter and different. That does not make it satisfying or a good decision, and if anything it just shows the pettiness, laziness, ignorance, or mean spirited motivations of the writer.

    You can technically have Darth Vader gunned down in the middle of Empire Strikes Back by a common rebel footsoldier. That’s technically possible. That’s how blasters work, they’re guns that can shoot people and if they’re not blocked by something then the person that gets hit gets wounded or dies. You could create a scenario where it happens in an ambush and give some justification for it. Would that make a good story? No. In fact the only reason you would do that is not motivated by “realism” at all, it would be out of contempt for the audience, or a cheap gag, or for some stupid postmodern message.

    In Prey’s case I think they were sincere, they just didn’t really think through what they were doing and a worse story resulted. Like you said, it doesn’t matter that the Typhon taking over the planet and Morgan’s efforts being wasted are technically possible and follow all the rules. It’s just not satisfying.

    1. Stanislao Moulinsky says:

      Unless I’m misremembering the ending, is pretty obvious that Alex isn’t the last man on earth. The point of his experiment is to teach empathy to Morphon so that it can hopefully see humans as actual things rather than just food, and then hopefully be a bridge between the two species. What’s the point if Alex is the last survivor?

      1. Lino says:

        I think it’s heavily implied that there are no survivors left:
        1. We have him surrounded by robots, rather than people or monitors where people tune in via cameras.
        2. He never mentions any survivors or a fight for survival.
        3. When he shows the corralized city on the monitor he says “This… is the world today”. Not “This is London”, or “This is half the Earth”.

        From what we see in the game, when the Typhon build corral, it’s after they’ve eaten everybody, or when they’ve nearly eaten everybody to the point where it’s trivial to eat the rest. As in “it would take very, very little time to eat the rest”.

        And since Alex never mentions anything about survivors – and he’s literally the only other actual human we see, we can only assume that he’s the only one left.

        Of course, there couls be other interpretations as well, but that’s the problem of introducing a whole new conflict in the last three minutes of a story.

        1. Stanislao Moulinsky says:

          (Why was my comment a reply to Vladius instead of a new post? :S)

          “And since Alex never mentions anything about survivors – and he’s literally the only other actual human we see, we can only assume that he’s the only one left.”

          But then what’s the point of what he’s doing?

          -Teach the Tyhpon’s humans aren’t just food
          -I can walk freely the planet as the last man on earth
          -…
          -…
          -…
          -Profit!

          1. DerJungerLudendorrf says:

            That is a very good question, and one the game really should have answered.

    2. Smith says:

      Yes, you can technically make Luke Skywalker a bitter nihilistic old man who is the antithesis of everything he once was, abandons his friends and is worse than useless. That is technically possible within the “rules” of the world and doesn’t break physics or anything like that, and you can even make up some justification for it that will satisfy some people or claim that it’s “realistic” because old people often turn out bitter and different. That does not make it satisfying or a good decision, and if anything it just shows the pettiness, laziness, ignorance, or mean spirited motivations of the writer.

      You’re making an awful lot of assumptions about the reasons for writing you don’t like on not very much evidence.

      Especially since that character development mirrored what Obi-Wan did. Failed to save his pupil who turned to evil and then hid on some remote planet, except Luke knows it was worse, because his stupid mistake was actually the final push over the edge, not failing to pull back someone who had already fallen.

      I’d go on, but I don’t want to start a sequel argument

      1. Jabrwock says:

        “I thought I could train him just as well as Yoda, I was wrong.”

        Yoda chides Luke that he is always focused on where he was going instead of what he was doing right now. So it’s no surprise he repeats Obi-Wan’s mistake.

        1. Chad+Miller says:

          Which is to say that the apparent victory of the original trilogy is illusory given that Luke apparently learned nothing from the mistakes of his forebears and the rebel alliance is already back on the ropes and nearly extinct within a generation as the Dark Side and the Empire rebound. Which brings us back to “just because it’s possible doesn’t mean it’s satisfying”

          (and I say this as someone who likes The Last Jedi the best out of the ST)

  16. BlueHorus says:

    Heh.
    As someone who thinks the ending ‘Makes sense’ And said it last post) I entirely understand where Shamus is coming from.
    Personally I quite liked the idea that the Typhon made it to earth regardless of what happens to Talos 1 – there were even hints of how it happened during the game (the smuggling ring etc). The typhon were just too dangerous, the potential of neuromods just too appealing…

    But I completely understand why it’d be unsatisfying for someone else, and negate the story in a lot of ways. And I’ll second the opinion that Alex running the ’empathy experiment’ IS kind of galling. He does ‘deserve’ to die, and having him mysteriously back on earth and safe is a stretch.
    Perhaps fat counts as Plot Armor in this universe?

    Question: would it have been better if it were Sarah Elazar who’s alive in the bunker at the end? She’s probably the most level-headed member of senior staff, who seems to care about the lives of her fellow humans the most.

  17. James says:

    I am a bit fuzzy on the exact lines of dialogue in the post credit scene, but is it possible that the other operators are just being used as ‘video-conferencing’? Meaning, the humans are alive, and just using the Operators as remote receivers, with only Alex attending the in-person meeting. I am basing this on the fact that Danielle Sho dies in the simulation (she decides to just float off into space and run out of oxygen), and based on her established dislike of the Yu’s, a robot Operator personality would also have that dislike.

    I thought the post-credit twists was fine. Since You the player are playing the simulation, your choices still matter. The dream/simulation is the point of it all.

    Other mediums where they use the ‘it was all a dream’ typically doesn’t work since it brings up the question of ‘What was the point’? St. Elsewhere famously used this, where the viewer is invested in the hospital workers, only to discover in the end none of it happened. There really was no point, since the dream has no impact/meaning to reality. Nothing that happened in the hospital has any bearing on reality.

    In contrast, what happens in the simulation, regardless of whether it is accurate to the actual events on Talos or not, matters. It matters because your choices in the simulation affect whether you live or die (Alex can just discard you if you don’t have empathy), as well as the future of the Typhon-Human conflict (can mirror neurons introduce empathy into Typhons).

    1. Chad+Miller says:

      I am a bit fuzzy on the exact lines of dialogue in the post credit scene, but is it possible that the other operators are just being used as ‘video-conferencing’? Meaning, the humans are alive, and just using the Operators as remote receivers, with only Alex attending the in-person meeting. I am basing this on the fact that Danielle Sho dies in the simulation (she decides to just float off into space and run out of oxygen), and based on her established dislike of the Yu’s, a robot Operator personality would also have that dislike.

      It’s technically not stated, but I took Danielle’s fate to be an argument that these characters are dead; the operators collectively represent one character known to be dead and three with uncertain fates, after all.

  18. kincajou says:

    I see shamus was watching wandavision when chosing the title there!

  19. ebass says:

    Kind of coming in late on this one. I didn’t play Prey on release, which I guess is understandable as I didn’t really play any games 2015 to 2020. However more than that, I still kept up with gaming news and I dunno if it was the marketing or that I always felt the Shock/Bioshock ” everyone is dead” shtick never really pushed my buttons, but I never really felt I wanted to play this.

    Having recently spent a long weekend burning through the game…… Wow, I’m so sad it sold poorly, this game is just…… brilliant. It’s not even my favorite “type” of 0451 game (though we have so few of them I’m basically just saying I don’t really dig the System Shock 2 survival horror vibe) but this has become possibly my favorite game of all time. The whole thing is just so slick, well designed and coherent. I actually just bought it with Dishonored 2, but I kinda got cold on Dishonored (I just don’t really care about the story). This on the otherhand is already on it’s second playthrough.

    Regarding the ending, I was a little confused by exactly what were the…… implied stakes. Was I “supposed” to kill myself because the neuromods use typhon material and that stuff was now swimming around in my brain, and we couldn’t even let one atom get back? If so…… why was I saving the crew, many of whom might have neuromods. If not that, why does Morgan say to herself that she needs to go down with the ship?

    The post credits was also…… strange. Sooooo Alex is here surrounded by robots. Is he the last human on earth? If so then like…….. why bother with this? If not then where is everyone else and why programme operators to pretend to be people? Was he really on Talos I and escaped the disaster, or….. is he some scientist from 200 years after the typhon apocalypse who decided to use his likeness for Alex Yu in the simulation? Having read this post I suppose this is maybe only a few years after the diaster and maybe he’s on either Talos 1 or a shuttle or something?

    So yea, I was overall sorta confused by the endings they were offering me.

  20. The Rocketeer says:

    For what it’s worth, seeing a lot in common from these last couple posts on the ending and my own off-the-cuff observations about the game from a few years ago. Which is sort of odd, or telling, or… something, because Shamus loves this game a whole lot, and I don’t.

    What I didn’t really focus on then and what has become increasingly apparent as I’ve read along with this series and the response to it is that PREY is an infected narrative fistula. If you don’t understand what I mean, do a quick Google image search for “infected fistula” and that’s what PREY is. If you still don’t understand, a fistula, to put it very simply, is when two things flow into each other in a way that they probably shouldn’t.

    Mistreat your liver by going back through this series and scanning the comments, pound a brew every time someone trips over their own feet responding to some question about logic, motivation, character, the setting, what Morgan does, what Alex does, logic, what anyone does, the Typhon, the plot, motivation, why anyone does anything, why this particular thing makes no sense, character, the setting, why we care, or whatever… with this old, probably spoilered-out chestnut: “But you’ll have to look at this differently because of the ending!”

    Okay, so now at the finale with the benefit of hindsight we’re surfing on a mudslide of every concatenated question, doubt, and inconsistency, and now with the proper context we can finally— oh. So I guess we can only analyze the context of the entire Talos I scenario by inferring or projecting assumptions from the reality of Alex’s Doom Bunker, which we know nothing about except to the extent that we can infer things or project assumptions onto it based on what we know from the Talos I scenario that we can’t trust except to the extent that we can guess what it might have been made to be by Alex from the real Earth due to motivations that we can sort of speculate about from what the Talos I slop implies it might be due to— oh fuck, my ears are bleeding.

    So now that the audience feels nothing at all, especially any kind of personal connection with the events of the game or anyone in it, especially their erstwhile player-character through whom they’re now asked to make a childishly shallow decision, and now that the clean, healthy flow of more robust, competing interpretations like the game’s obvious overtures to empathy or the Trolley Problem are rendered torpid and stagnant, an infection sets into this compromised narrative fistula: unfalsifiable grey goo theories from beyond the fourth wall! Now, I’m a believer in a very big analytical tent, and welcome all kinds of theories and perspectives about all kinds of art, which is why it sucks so much to see people lead off their pre-packaged postmodern bullet points with pinheaded little snipes like “You don’t seem to understand that blah blah blah” or “The reason your complaints don’t matter is lerdlerlerdlerdle” or, by far worst of all, “Your personal emotional response to this work of art isn’t valid because [mouth diarrhea continues]”. The thing about this entire species of analysis is that you can apply it to any game at all whether or not you make even a token effort to engage with the text, and unfortunately we live in a post-Stanley Parable world in which this once-boutique interpretation is careworn of all its novelty and cleverness. So while I concede that PREY offers more leverage in its text than many other games to project this “actually it’s the developer speaking directly to the player because of genre and medium conventions or something, why yes I have argued with dozens of people about Spec-Ops why do you ask” crap onto it, I still think it only manages to get its foot in the door because all of the (what would have been) much stronger, more central, more obvious themes of the game are all but disintegrated by the game’s muddled, incompetent execution. The bizarrely dismissive and confrontational tone that too often accompanies it really just seals in my mind that this is the analytical equivalent of an opportunistic case of the common cold putting an immunocompromised patient on the short road to hospice.

    On that note, I should proleptically apologize to anyone that’s proffered any of these fourth-wall breaking takes but not been a dickhead about it; it’s a fair cop for a game featuring recursive virtual worlds overseen by interested intelligent designers and all that jazz. Just one I find shallow, overused, dreadfully boring, and definitely not a perspective with any chance to reinvigorate my intellectual curiosity regarding or emotional connection and investment in the game. Which is the part that matters most to me, if that wasn’t clear enough.

    And on that note, I return to the big analytical tent. Of the many ways you can think about games, you can think about a game’s legacy. As before, one way of thinking about PREY’s legacy is that I like it less and less the more I think about it. But in a larger sense, I want to ask: is this how PREY is going to be remembered? Four years after its release, I think the answer is proving to be, “yes.” Assuming people know what the hell you’re talking about in the first place, there are only two things people can rouse from memory when you ask them about PREY: that the game probably didn’t deserve to bomb as badly as it did (‘cuz it bombed real bad), and that the game turns out to be a dream or a simulation or something. Arkane’s decision to tell this story this way seems to have ensured that their post-credits switcheroo, and not any actual idea or question put forth by the game, will endure as this game’s critical legacy.

    Arkane, was it worth it? If I’m right— and sure, I could be completely wrong about this— then from this one narrow limited perspective of PREY, I don’t see how you could regard their decision to pull this stunt with the simulation and the experimental Typhon and everything as anything but a catastrophe. But for this singular decision, our vast, laconic, and merciless collective memory might have chiselled something else— anything else— but a vague, nonplussed recollection of an abrupt framing device on PREY’s tombstone. And while I hardly love the game the way Shamus and some of the rest of you do, I still feel strongly that PREY didn’t deserve this fate, and Arkane did their work fucking dirty.

    1. Gautsu says:

      I love reading the Rocketeer’s replies

    2. Rho says:

      I said my piece awhile back so I’m done, but the sheer quantity of people fanwank/ headcanon/ excuses/ apologia… yeah. If it really was good, you probably shouldn’t need to come up with reasons that’s it’s still good.

      A good story invites some speculation about the gaps in the plot – and *every* plot has gaps. You can never tell a story that covers every single moment in excruciating detail to completely nail down all possible loose ends, nor should you try, because it would be awful. But Prey was perfect at the ending that is had. It didn’t need to expand at that moment, and trying to do so is almost always a big mistake.

      However, a bigger problem I see is the clumsy use of themes. Themes are powerful, but increasingly I see people argue online without understanding this: Themes Do Not Explain the Story. The Story Explains the Theme.

      Or, to put it another way, no element of the story should be explained by it matching “the theme” because the story itself is what develops the theme and presents that to the audience. For example, the Lord of the Rings is something of a thematic exploration of power. That doesn’t describe how anything and everything relates to the plot. The story has the courage to meander, and the guts to stick with the natural resolution good and bad. It does have a final plot development of sorts. The Hobbits return to see the Shire greatly harmed in their absence. And then Frodo, and perhaps even Samwise, (may) go to the Grey Havens and thence to the Undying Lands. In this, we see that all their struggles were in one sense, in vain. No matter how much they struggled and bled, bad men would do bad things because they pleased, and even victorious and un-corrupted, they were not as hale and whole as before. This moment isn’t really about Power in any abstract sense, but it does speak to the fundamental unfairness of life; that we can all lose something even when we do everything right. It does subtly re-contextualize the story, but in a way that does not subvert it for a gimmick.

  21. Octal says:

    So, what I find strange, considering the reveal, is… the tests at the beginning.

    I.e. you’re supposed to have Typhon powers from a neuromod they want to test, but the mod was replaced with a blank so you don’t have those powers, and the scientist is visibly confused as to why you’re not using the powers you “don’t have” and don’t seem to know you’re supposed to have.

    But, when I watched that the first time, knowing the main twist but not everything, my impression was that they were confused because they know you’re a mimic.

    But this is a simulation.

    Why simulate that? Why simulate a scenario where you’re being pushed to use Typhon powers that simulated-you isn’t supposed to have, but which you do actually have and know how to use? It seems like there’s a risk of that whole bit triggering some kind of realization of what you are and ruining the whole thing.

    1. Syal says:

      I guess you could say it’s a test to make sure the humanity is working? If you use the Typhon powers it means you aren’t buying into being Morgan, so they can call the simulation off in the first couple minutes. Maybe.

      1. Octal says:

        Oof, yeah. Especially if this isn’t the first Typhon Alex has tried this with.

    2. Gethsemani says:

      From the Doylist perspective: They needed to establish a lot of ideas about memory, consciousness and perspective really quickly, as well as set up Alex, TranStar and Talos I as ominous things. It is also the equivalent of the Half-Life tram ride, the calm before the storm in which you get to experience the “average day” of your protagonist.

      From the Watsonian perspective: An argument can be made that Alex wants Morphon to get the “full” Morgan experience, which means experiencing everything Morgan experienced during the Talos I containment breach. Syal’s explanation about an early consciousness alert also holds some water.

    3. ContribuTor says:

      Maybe it’s to go the other way.

      Hey, you’ve been subject to a lot of weird experiments. So if you feel like your memories aren’t completely your own, that’s probably why. And if you feel vague suspicions that you actually have typhon powers, that’s also why.

      Sort of inoculation. Give a plausible reason to ignore your own doubts about the simulation.

      1. Octal says:

        Yeah, that’s kind of plausible. I’m also wondering if maybe that whole bit was too integrated into the other uploaded memories to be able to just snip out… or even if he didn’t have the ability to edit the memories that were uploaded to the player character.

    4. Smith says:

      You’re not a mimic. Someone switched out the neuromods with blanks so you wouldn’t lose your memory upon removal.

      1. Octal says:

        Right, in the scenario in the simulation you’re not a mimic–but one level up, outside the simulation, you are.

  22. Ophelia says:

    Y’know speaking of how dumb it is that the Typhon breaking out never seemed to have been planned or accounted for. If my memory serves…the outbreak started because someone walked into Psychotronics without the Psychoscope and thus got mind-controlled by a Telepath. Like, WHAT? The entrance is plastered WALL-TO-WALL with ‘Please remember to wear your Psychoscope’ notices and you have to pass a security checkpoint to get into the sodding place. You’re telling me some guy walked in without vital equipment and nobody stopped him?

    1. Damiac says:

      I thought the implication was that the creation of the first electrical phantom was what set off the containment breach. Although they were obviously experimenting with the telepaths before that, so that leaves a lot of room for “They did stupid stuff because the telepath made them do it with mind control”.

      To me, that makes for a more interesting twist, Alex did all this stupid shit because a typhon telepath was fucking with his mind, feeding him paranoid ideas about backstabbing so he’d keep secrets, Morgan did all that feeding humans to Typhon because a telepath wanted his buddies to eat.

      It’s still a bit of a cop out, but it least it’s not a “Lol none of this shit happened or mattered.”

    2. ContribuTor says:

      Abso-fuckin-lutely.

      Taking a less dire example. In modern US, it’s still federal law to wear masks on commuter trains. I always wear one. Put it on as the last thing in my routine as I get out of the car, after I turn off the engine and get my bag.

      But one day last week, I was listening to something in the radio, so I didn’t switch the car off. I got my bag first, waited for the segment to end, and then turned the car off. Because I was distracted and broke my routine, I forgot the “put on mask” step.

      I walked past at least 3 signs in the station and more on the train reminding everyone to wear a mask. I ignored them just like I always ignore them because I always wear mine.

      In theory, the conductor should be checking for this as he comes to collect tickets (our conductor is not shy about calling folks out for this). But mask checks aren’t his primary job – checking doors in stations and collecting tickets are. For whatever reason (maybe we we’re running late?) he didn’t notice or remind me either. I made it to work before I noticed.

      This is EXACTLY how “could never occur!” accidents occur even with (in theory) multiple layers of checks. Someone forgets to do something and don’t realize it. Signs are ineffective because they’re routine/ignored by the regulars. The theoretical second line of defense isn’t paying attention because this specific thing is so rarely a problem that they’ve effectively stopped looking for it.

      Not that the TSA’s record is remotely good at detecting them, but there’s a reason why agencies routinely run fake weapons through checkpoints. Real ones are so rare that, without
      Somewhat frequent drill, they’ll focus all their attention on laptop batteries and water bottles, because that’s what they’re seeing every day.

  23. Fon says:

    Wasn’t it said that there are three components to a satisfying ending? Which are:
    1. Justice (good guys get their good end, and unrepentant bad guys get their bad end)
    2. Answers (things are explained)
    3. Closure (what do everyone do afterward?)

    (There might be a better word for “Closure”, the third component. I forgot what’s the word Shamus used in the Mass Effect retrospectives.)

    The idea is that not every ending needs to hit all three components, but if an ending hits only one or none of them, they will probably not be a satisfying ending.

    I think the problem here, is that depending on the person, this ending may or may not have sufficient Justice and Answers. I was actually fine with the ending before, but now that Shamus has pointed out that Alex might not be the most deserving person to be still alive, as well as all those unanswered questions… Yes, I do think this ending might just be lacking in Justice and Answers!

    Of course, even when I say that the ending was “fine”, I definitely didn’t feel that it was satisfying. It was merely enough for me to move on without suffering a story collapse.

    I still wouldn’t say it’s a terrible ending, but I definitely think that it could be a lot better.

  24. Christopher Wolf says:

    Not sure the nullwave was actually used. I think some of the simulation might have been an extrapolation of what would have happened if the Typhon could be stopped, and Morgan wanted scenarios to test what the Typhon you would do to stop them.

    If it was deployed, it may have been successful, and Mooncrash is what did in Earth.

  25. andnowforme0 says:

    I mean no disrespect, but Shamus you got some things objectively wrong in the analysis.
    -The Typhon killed all the animals too: I don’t think those critters could eat cats, dogs, rabbits, or most of Earth’s fauna. The game mentions at several points that the aliens eat minds/souls and as far as we can tell, humanity is the only Earth creature to have that. This is supported by the fact that Talos I is feeding the “volunteers” to the Typhon instead of a bunch of monkeys. Even if Transtar is full Bond Villain inc. and even if humans are more nutritious or whatever… animals are SO MUCH cheaper, easier, and more ethical to dispose of than people. The fact that they’re using humans anyway means there’s no choice, ergo the Typhon are no more interested in eating a rabbit than a human is in eating tree bark.
    -The Nightmare isn’t real: It’s an interesting idea, but it doesn’t parse. For one thing, you get loot (a lot of exotic material) from it. If it was just ethereal, you’d get nothing. For another, you get Typhon abilities from scanning it. If it was just in your head, the only thing you’d learn from looking hard at it is how to fill your pants. Third, and most compelling, is that it affects the world around it. On my last playthrough, the big bastard spawned in the cargo bay and slaughtered half the security team before I put it down. It destroys my turrets. Plus January comments on it the first time you see it.
    -Everyone is dead: Given that several members of Talos I managed to survive, I think it’s fair to assume that at least a few humans made it to fallout shelters. I agree things went very badly for the vast majority, but I don’t think Alex is the LAST human. He might not even be the last one in the bunker, just the only one willing to risk shaking Morphan’s hand.
    -Alex should have already scanned the coral and made the nullwave: There being that much coral to scan had only just happened. Yes, weavers in Psychotronics made a bit, but you have to scan a couple nodes in a station-sized web of it. It’s not really fair to expect Alex to have details on something that doesn’t exist yet; and besides the nullwave was Morgan’s baby, Alex was always the Steve Jobs, not the Steve Wozniak.
    As for why they didn’t deploy the nullwave on Earth, I think that’s a fair plot hole. Maybe the Typhon adapted to it after the first use? They should have devoted a line of dialogue to it.

    Actually, they should have devoted a lot more explanation than a five second view of coral-enhanced San Francisco and “This is Earth today.” I think everyone here would feel a lot less negatively about the ending if it was a little more solid. A couple lines about how Alex suspects the Typhon got loose, how many humans are left (even if it is just him), and why he’s bothering to teach a monster to love.

    1. Syal says:

      They were feeding them dolphins until William saw the bill and sent a harshly-worded “turn off the damn aquarium and stop shipping dolphins into space”.

    2. Chad+Miller says:

      Everyone is dead: Given that several members of Talos I managed to survive, I think it’s fair to assume that at least a few humans made it to fallout shelters. I agree things went very badly for the vast majority, but I don’t think Alex is the LAST human. He might not even be the last one in the bunker, just the only one willing to risk shaking Morphan’s hand.

      I’m of two minds on this. On the one hand, yes, you almost have to assume people besides Alex lived for the entire story to make any sense. He’s talking as if this is a last-ditch effort to save humanity, but there has to be a humanity for that to even parse.

      On the other hand…everything about the presentation is screaming otherwise. Alex is the only person you’re talking to who’s not represented by an Operator. The Operators themselves have the personalities of one character who definitely died, and three others whose fate in the simulation is uncertain. People have brought up the possibility that humans are remote-controlling them, but what’s the advantage of that over a good old video call? I mean, Alex has a wall of monitors that can show the Earth but not whoever he’s talking to?

      Speaking of, his introduction of the devastated cityscape: “This is the world today.” That very heavily implies extinction even if later reflection says that no, that can’t possibly be the case.

      I think it’s fair to say this is the problem with how little space is given to this twist. It’s easy for natural assumptions to prove invalid upon reflection, but said reflection takes far longer than the actual ending did. Which in turn probably contributes to how many people didn’t connect with said ending; it’s hard to have such a connection when you need some alone-time afterward to make even basic sense of it.

    3. Damiac says:

      I mean, there’s some in game speculation of what the typhon want, but there’s nothing definite, and I don’t remember much about them not eating animals. Admittedly not much to go on either way. The argument that they wouldn’t do mustache twirlingly evil stuff if they had another choice is contradicted by the events of the game. The Yus are well established as having no ethics whatsoever.

      The part of the game where the nightmare affects its environment is explicitly NOT REAL, just like the events of the rest of the entire game, that’s like, the entire point of this post. The loot, the crew members, all that were the simulation.

      You don’t think Alex is the last human. Shamus does. Nobody is objectively wrong or right here.

      I mean, Shamus admits a lot of this is guesses but you lead off saying he’s Objectively wrong, then your support for that argument is pretty weak.

      1. andnowforme0 says:

        There’s nothing in game that explicitly says they CAN’T use animals, but given the ethical problems a lot of the crew has with it, plus the logistics of making prisoners disappear versus just bringing up a dozen chimps and breeding them… Transtar is a soulless evil megacorp to be sure, but Occam’s Razor says if they could use animals they would.
        As for the Nightmare, your argument is that it’s part of the simulation… well so is everything. If you’re arguing it can’t be real because it was a simulation, are you arguing that none of the crew ever existed? That the whole station didn’t exist? Maybe it’s not as explicit as I thought, but my understanding of the game was that everything you find was consistent with Morgan’s memory, but responsive to different choices even if the real Morgan chose different. Everything you see in game happened or could have happened to Morgan. Since the Nightmare very much existed in the game, I think the reasoning for it NOT existing needs to be more solid. The best I saw was “no one else talks about it” but of course not. It’s specifically hunting Morgan, not the rest of the crew.

  26. Draklaw says:

    The ending is really annoying me, because while playing the game I thought it was interesting to build the game as a big trolley problem; except that unlike the theoretical trolley problem, you cannot be sure of the consequence of your actions. Should you kill everyone, including you, just to be sure ? Or save a few people ? Or everyone ? There is an interesting balance here. This is reinforced by the fact that the game makes several explicit mentions of the trolley problem and throw a few choices that seems to go in that direction. Should you blow-up this shuttle that might contain Typhons before it reach earth ? Your choice doesn’t have any impact on the game, it’s just a moral dilemma dropped here for no reason.

    The actual ending looks like a way to avoid detailing the consequence of the player’s actions. This is understandable, because it would be really hard to make something satisfying. To be honest, I was a little anxious about how the devs would deal with it as I reached the end of the game. Needless to say, I was a bit disappointed by the lame pre-credit cutscene, and very skeptical after the post-credit sequence.

    This lead me to wonder if this ending was planed from the beginning of if it was added late in the development. Imagine the devs had planed some endings telling what is going on after you blow-up/nullwave the station, but decided to change it late in the development cycle. This is not impossible, all they had to do is to insert a few 5s cutscenes here and there and add the post-credit sequence.

    One hypothesis is that someone decided that it was not acceptable to have the “good” ending (save the earth) despite Morgan acting like a psychopath that kills everyone. So they decided to add a sequence to (try to) judge the player’s action on a moral level. But then it seems the game is not really judging you unless you act like a real psychopath, so I don’t know. Maybe I’m just annoyed by the fact that I believed the game would not be trying to judge me on a good/bad scale and ended up doing it anyway post-credit.

    So I disliked the ending. This is not a surprise as I tend to dislike plot-twist unless they are really well done, and I believe it’s a hard thing to do.

  27. Jordan says:

    Unless I missed something, I never got any implication that Alex was the last human alive (discounting however you count the ‘AIs’). Earth has clearly been taken over by the Typhon, but does that really imply that everyone else is definitely dead?

  28. SkySC says:

    I recently read a book with a surprise twist ending that the narrator of the story was actually dead, and the story was being written by the man who killed him. I found this ending unsatisfying, not because it was a surprise unhappy ending (the main character’s death was thematically appropriate), but because I was suddenly being confronted with the artificiality of the experience. I already knew I was reading a fictional story by an author pretending to be someone else. I knew that from before I even bought the book.

    Prey’s ending is very much like that. You already know that what you’re experiencing is a simulation. You don’t need to be told that. You’re sitting in your home playing a video game, after all. The twist that all of Morgan’s efforts were for nothing and Earth is dead could’ve been conveyed in some other way, without bringing the inherent artificiality of the experience to the forefront. But maybe that’s what the authors were going for, some kind of metacomment about the meaning of games; the game did start out with Morgan literally breaking out of a simulation. Maybe the whole point of the ending of Prey is that the game attempts to judge you based on your actions, and you as the player get to tell the developers whether they guessed right or wrong. If that’s the case, then perhaps they should’ve made it even more incongruous. Instead of having Alex Yu and the robots, they could’ve had digital representations of the developers, or something more abstract.

  29. Nate Winchester says:

    Haven’t played the game yet but reading you here makes me think the writers of the story were going for a very Michael Chriton feel. Especially in books like Jurassic Park and Andromeda Strain.

    I think it was SFDebris that summed up Chriton’s reoccurring theme: “Man presuming that he can plan and account for everything is his hubris.” (Or something. I’m probably butchering it.)

    Alex sounds very much like one of his characters. Plenty of contingencies, but the Typhon, being alien and chaotic, found a blindspot Alex had overlooked.

    That may even be part of the point. Alex got so used to dealing with human agents and backstabbing, he really didn’t think and prepare as well as he should for something very alien.

    Again I could be wrong. I haven’t seen the story in detail, so you may have plenty of in-text examples to counter this theory.

  30. Luka Dreyer says:

    I have gone back and forth on this game, particularly its ending, several times since finishing it several months ago and I remain frustratingly ambivalent towards it. The “twist” both works and doesn’t work for me. I think this is an indication that something is indeed amiss in its execution, requiring more room to breathe and develop, while the idea itself is not necessary bad and can be harmonized with the rest of the experience if you’re prepared to devote some time to heavy interpretation and “head canon.” I think Chris summarised it well in an Errant Signal episode when he said that there the game has a fantastic opening, thematically slight middle and thematically top-heavy end.

  31. Mr. Wolf says:

    Alex and his team are responsible for the death of all turtles, doggos, kitties, …

    It is the most horrific future I can think of.

    …and buns. Getting all the people killed is one thing, but the buns? That’s going too far.

    I’m fine with that.

    Besides, it’s been done already.

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