Prey was a damn fine game. Arkane Studios wasn’t just aiming high in its storytelling and its depth of interactive systems; they delivered on a lot of it, too. But it also hit an odd blend of both going too long and requiring too much to reveal its obfuscated delights.
Mooncrash, however, fixes that while remixing the foundation. It takes all the highlights (or at least most of them) and throws them at you quickly and relentlessly just as often as it asks you to work around them or rethink on how to use them. It is the Prey experience refined.
The main crux is that within a simulation of a moon base on awry, you’ll take control of five different characters to escape the flood of mimics that have taken over. And that, at its core, is a fairly simple act: you jump into an escape pod and you’re golden. The twist is that with your five playable characters, there are five methods of escape of vary levels of involvement, and the real goal is to use each character to escape via each route within a single run.
The simulation, you see, is built to be a sort of roguelite. You’re intended to die, like, a lot, each death hitting a soft reset of the world and yourself. But with each death, you learn more about the base and about your characters’ strengths and weaknesses. And that education is built into the tension of the game.
Enemies become tougher the longer you progress through each run, which means that if you dawdle with your first character, your second character’s base level of difficulty is that much higher, and that trickles down all the way to the end. As a consequence, some runs are going to have to be purely explorational. You’ll have to poke around and find out how you can exploit your particular character’s skills to best take advantage of the situation or the best route to get access to certain areas first.
In this way, it feels less like a member of the modern roguelite party and more like fresh interpretation of the Majora’s Mask blueprint. Enemies and items will mostly reset, but your upgrades and fabrication plans and the like will be persistent, which gives the loop a more progression-oriented feel than either modern or traditional roguelites. (Components of this persistence, however, do cost points that you earn through accomplishing tasks, so you will have to play with some reservation of death.)
But more than that, it’s your accumulation of knowledge that progresses you. It’s something that vanilla Prey also did well in making sure your experience with situations rewards you with awareness and context in future circumstances, and it’s what most closely skews to Majora’s Mask‘s ability to make you feel like a time-hopping Hyrulian detective. You ability to pay attention to how systems and components interact with one another is your greatest asset.
Randomization also comes in with how the base…inconveniences you, I guess, with each run. Sometimes there won’t be power, which means machinery won’t work, which means one character’s entire essence is void. Or there’s opposition that turrets won’t be able to blast away for you, which is another character’s strength nulled. But this also means you have an opportunity to think around the problem, figuring out how use your limitations in other ways and explore avenues that seem less obvious.
It’s an interesting wrinkle that you didn’t get with Morgan Yu where they were a repository of all these different abilities. Rather than approaching a locked door with a varietal of lock picks, you’re walking up to it with a coffee cup and wondering just how the hell are you going to MacGyver your way out of this one. And more often than not, you figure it out, and goddamn is it rewarding.
Coming into Mooncrash, I felt like I knew what I was going to get: a repetitive little challenge room with Prey mechanics. But I could not have been more wrong. Viewing the same space from different perspectives with constantly shifting goals (both discrete in story missions and self-appointed in exploration) makes each run feel fresh and exciting if also terrifying and nerve-racking.
This is a perfect distillation of the main game, so much so that if Prey put you off in the first three or four or even ten hours, this might be enough to convince you to give it another shot. It may never get to the same depth as a 25-hour experience can get to, but this romp tickles much of the same mechanical and conceptual joy of seeing dynamic systems collide with one another. Nothing beats seeing those dominoes topple.