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
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.
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:
- A contradiction. (Cerberus is a fringe terrorist group / Cerberus is a galactic superpower.)
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This new ending actually raises the stakes! You thought you were saving a handful of people, but in reality you’re saving everyone.
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.
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.
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.
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”
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.
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.
 Although here the execution is far better.
TitleWhat’s Inside Skinner’s Box?
What is a skinner box, how does it interact with neurotransmitters, and what does it have to do with shooting people in the face for rare loot?
Do It Again, Stupid
One of the highest-rated games of all time has some of the least interesting gameplay.
The Gradient of Plot Holes
Most stories have plot holes. The failure isn't that they exist, it's when you notice them while immersed in the story.
A screencap comic that poked fun at videogames and the industry. The comic has ended, but there's plenty of archives for you to binge on.
Starcraft: Bot Fight
Let's do some scripting to make the Starcraft AI fight itself, and see how smart it is. Or isn't.