The surprise release of Prey: Mooncrash flew under radar at E3, buried among hype for the next Elder Scrolls, the bombastic Rage 2, and Starfield among other brilliant announcements. The original title has often been similarly ignored, and considering it was a strong early contender for game of the year in 2017, it’s high time that the rebooted franchise realised its true potential.
Mooncrash is a brilliant and self-contained journey into the world of Prey, taking the basic formula of the base title and twisting it into a unique, breath-taking a multi-layered adventure. While it relies somewhat on minimalism for its story, the basic premise of the expansion is that you play a contractor that must guide a team of scientists off the moon via an endlessly repeating simulation. Every member that you guide off the moon allows you to explore more of the simulated world, revealing secrets and important objects previously hidden.
You begin Mooncrash with a single crew member, ultimately unlocking four others by completing particular tasks or discovering particular objects (a corpse, in one instance). Each member has a particular power set that can be built up over the course of the simulation by discovering sets of neuromods and unlocking the ability to equip new weapons. Dying ultimately means losing your progress in the simulation, however, abilities gained stack up, meaning that your power set grows each time you successfully complete the simulation.
While Mooncrash relies heavily on repetition, loosely following the rougelike genre, it never feels stale thanks to the distinct range of unique crewmembers, and the sheer amount of discoveries to be made. The longer you stay within the simulation, the more the world around you will change. Running on a timer, the ‘corruption’ level of the simulation determines how many Typhons populate the moon, and ultimately, how quickly you’ll die (very, in my case).
Successful runs earn points that can go towards more powerful loadouts on the next playthrough, and crew members can (and should) be armed with a range of powerful weaponry. Typhon Spores, which shoot out Typhon tentacles, are one of the newer weapons which can be included in a loadout or found in the simulation, and are essential for taking down powerful enemies like the underground beast known as the Moon Shark. Having the right equipment is absolutely necessary in surviving the later rounds of Mooncrash, particularly when Level 5 corruption hits. Frustratingly, equipment is able to malfunction on you, and does so, often. Relying on weaponry over stealth or smarts will often land you in hot water, so a balance between the two is recommended.
Lore and deep exploration play a key part in Mooncrash, and discovering new areas, objects and crew members adds to your final point total. The looming threat of corruption often means that the subtle nuances of Mooncrash must be ignored or breezed through in order to advance between stories, but repeated play throughs yield great depth and interest. A room skipped over in an initial playthrough can be revisited after a simulation reset, and in the process, greater abilities may be uncovered. Likewise, rooms once inaccessible due to the Typhon threat may be relieved of their unwanted occupants in a brand new run.
Mooncrash does a brilliant job of inviting the player back for more, never feeling stale in its repetition. While the world itself never changes, the shifting alien presence within makes for exciting and tangible shifts within the power dynamics and structure of the world. Sometimes, this means feeling almost completely overwhelmed, and other times, it means standing behind a conveniently placed pole for a half hour slowly chipping away at a giant Typhon’s health.
Balance and reservation also play key parts in Mooncrash‘s world, particularly when attempting to complete the story by freeing all five crewmembers from the moon. Having one character take a wrench in the first playthrough will mean the next character must do without. Taking every snack or neuromod will deny the next character important power and health upgrades. More than that, every exit off the moon can only be used once, so uncovering new methods and portals out is essential to surviving your playthrough.
The intense and rigorous planning needed to save every member of your simulated crew adds an extra, nuanced feature to Mooncrash, expanding its surprisingly deep and rigorous gameplay. It easily stands on its own as a self-contained and highly accessible adventure, even for those who have yet to experience the main story. With a gorgeous, minimalist soundscape, intensely focused atmosphere and complex replayability, Mooncrash is a near perfect and beautifully thought out expansion.
Highlights: Unique central conceit; great atmosphere and world building; endless replayability
Lowlights: Minimalist story
Developer: Arkane Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Release Date: Out Now
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows PC
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro with a retail code provided by the publisher.