Phew, what a year! So many games were touted for a Game of the Year in 2017. Almost too many. Team Ready Up have been tying themselves up in knots trying to pick just one and only one game as their personal favourite game of the year for 2017. We are mean to them but it had to be done. In this series, we see which games the team loved last year, and why.
Dean – Prey
Prey explores a world completely ingrained with what French political philosopher Michel Foucault would call Biopower; that is the ability for government (or in this case corporations acting as and beyond governments) to control its human subjects through their very bodies. This typically refers to how institutions like schools and prisons train and discipline the body, but also how legislation dictates how the body can be used.
But in Prey this is taken to an Nth degree and the player is literally in thrall to biohacks that not only augment the body, but rewire memories. The game takes these already unusually smart sci-fi conceits in some fascinating directions, all while sporting gameplay and environment design that not only lovingly homages Looking Glass Studios (the birthplace of the Immersive Sim and the name of Prey’s innovative 3D communication system) and Bioshock, the former apex of the genre. But Prey also surpasses those influences on almost every level.
Prey’s corporate space station, Talos I, with its ostentatious faux art deco trimmings (a sign of corporate hubris since Rockafeller), is every bit the heir to Rapture. In this evocative space the developers simultaneously create a fascinatingly baroque puzzle box for the players to explore (including an impressive range of ways to approach each problem), and also present them with a stultifying realistic corporate HQ, rife with snarky office politics and soulless bureaucracy: as Austin Walker has said, this is evil with an HR department (and is all the more chilling for it).
Cutting through all this corporate control is the incredibly human way the game writes its characters. Although most of them are dead, each of the game’s 300+ NPCs are fully traceable on the corporate network, and most leave traces of their personality in email trails, audio recordings and DnD character sheets that rival most AAA game protagonists for personality. The result is a powerful critique of the dystopian future we are hurtling towards, that never loses sight of human signs of hope or resistance.