Despite all the pre-launch concern of Prey being too derivative or a PC disaster, Arkane Studios not only avoided disaster, it achieved high success. Prey is very good. But the question on players’ minds is whether or not its Game-of-the-Year good. When it comes time to put together those year-end lists, will people remember Prey?
Of course, fans seem to think so, but the same can be said for fans of any game. To Mass Effect fans, the lukewarmly received Andromeda is Game of the Year material. But this isn’t always an automatic reason to denounce a game’s potential, especially a game that could be more on the fringes of Game of the Year. After all, Prey has a lot of great things going for it.
The traditional Sci-Fi feel hasn’t been replicated to great success since Alien: Isolation, and Arkane Studios Austin has shown that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree in terms of freedom of choice in gameplay and vast, intricate level design. Not to mention the variety of enemies that requires you to shift through your entire arsenal moment to moment in order to maximize damage and be effective. It’s got great gameplay, it’s got great imagination in level design, and these are both qualities you look for in the game of the year.
As I went over in my review, though, Prey was at least slightly held back by its lackluster story and, more importantly, minutes-long loading screens on PS4. Now, this wasn’t the technical disaster of something like Dishonored 2’s PC port, but it may be enough to hold it back. Dishonored 2, after all was one bad PC port away from being a shoo-in for Game of the Year, but no one could forget how things went down, even console players who didn’t experience the trouble. While it did receive Game of the Year consideration, it was never at true contender. In a race this tight, sometimes that’s all it takes.
Then we have to look at the elephant in the room: Metascore. While I can already hear the hipster naysayers talking about how Metacritic is an antiquated popularity contest, and how the opinions of game critics are irrelevant and whatnot, but, while that may be true in general, it’s not true when it comes to Game of the Year consideration.
No matter what you look at to determine Game of the Year, whether it be the Game Developers Choice Awards, the annual “Game Awards” ceremony, top 10 lists, etcetera, the games often considered “Game of the Year” are often those with the highest Metascores. Using 2016 as an example, the three games that appeared on the most top 10 lists, Overwatch, Uncharted 4, and Inside were all in the top 5 in terms of Metascore with a 91, a 93 and a 92, respectively. Unsurprisingly, Overwatch won game of the year at The Game Awards and the Game Developers Choice Awards, while Uncharted 4 and Inside were nominated for Game of the Year in both categories.
What does that mean for Prey? Well Prey is sitting comfortably at a respectable 81 on Metacritic. While that’s surely good for any contractual bonuses that may be due to Arkane Studios depending on Metascore, that may not bode well for its Game of the Year potential, as it’s far behind much of the other prominent competition this year. Resident Evil 7 has an 86, Nier: Automata has an 88, as does Nioh. Horizon Zero Dawn has an 89, and Persona 5 closed out on a 93.
And then you get into Nintendo’s lineup, which has already produced two major games above a 90: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Edition at a 92 and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild at an unbelievable 97.
Do these games also have flaws? Certainly. RE7 sort of went off the tracks in its third act, Nier: Automata had piss-poor difficulty scaling, Nioh was little more than a Dark Souls clone, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Edition was little more than a port, and Horizon Zero Dawn had the most unaware, easily exploitable human A.I. in the modern generation, and spent a considerable portion of its run time pitting you up against them. (I’ll get back to you about Persona 5 and Breath of the Wild).
So, if all of these are Game of the Year contenders, shouldn’t Prey also be? I’d say so (especially over Horizon Zero Dawn – that human A.I. is unforgivable). But the question here, unfortunately, is if it should, but if it will. Like awards for any medium, be it Oscars for movies or Grammys for music, Game of the Year is all about momentum – high praise begets more high praise begets even more high praise – and, right now at least, Prey just doesn’t have it.