Prey: Mooncrash Review — A Unique Idea in a Tiresome Environment
Arkane Studios has successfully adapted Prey into a rogue-lite with Mooncrash, though the longer you play the more bored you'll get with its world.
Prey: Mooncrash is one of the more interesting pieces of DLC that I’ve come across in quite some time. Taking the core of the Prey formula, Arkane Studios has turned Mooncrash into a rogue-lite that sees you repeatedly trying to escape from the Pytheas Moon Base in a variety of different ways. It’s a strange shift to make, but overall it’s one that works surprisingly well because of how it keeps the core systems of Prey at the root of the experience.
While I think that the rogue-lite experiment with Prey: Mooncrash is largely a success though, it’s absolutely not without its issues. Unlike many other games in the rogue-like/rogue-lite genre, Prey: Mooncrash suffers greatly from an environment that feels too confined along with the randomly generated elements of the world hardly making any effect on each of your runs.
Prey: Mooncrash puts you in the shoes of a hacker who is running through a computer simulation of what transpired on the Pytheas Moon Base. Upon entering this simulation, you will take control of five different characters, each of who have drastically different abilities and characteristics.
Vijay Bhatia is a security expert who comes equipped with a shotgun and reinforced health; Riley Yu, the cousin of both Alex and Morgan, has a Psychoscope at her disposal which allows you to research Typhon enemies and gain new abilities; Joan Winslow is an engineer who comes equipped with a wrench and a turret to drop when in sticky situations. As you can see, each character has their own unique items and powers at their disposal which makes each run with every character feel a bit different.
Your overall goal within Prey: Mooncrash is to escape from the Moon Base in one of five different methods with your overall goal being to escape with each character in a single run. If you die with any of these five characters when trying to finish your complete run, then you’ll snap your streak and will have to reset the simulation to start fresh.
Each run, however, will net you points that you can then spend on new weapons and items before diving back into the simulation. So while you might die in the middle of a certain run, you’ll at least likely gain some points that will let you become better equipped for next time.
Additionally, each character within Mooncrash has their own story objectives that you can accomplish to learn more about their narrative within the Moon Base. Unfortunately, these stories are never all that more compelling and don’t offer anything that much more interesting in the experience. One story quest specifically with Vijay Bhatia also gates the unlocking of one of the other five characters, which I found to be greatly annoying. An element of rogue-likes that I’ve always appreciated is that if you’re skilled enough, you can complete an entire run from the outset of the game if you are skilled enough. Prey: Mooncrash often induces gating methods like this though to force you to continually re-run through the simulation, which can be a bit annoying.
Along with these story objectives for each character, there’s also a larger narrative at play involving your hacker character that is running this simulation, but the story beats were too disjointed from the main experience for me to care. I’m sure hardcore Prey fans will find things to glean from this story, but I found it to be pretty underwhelming overall.
As for how Mooncrash plays, well, it’s about identical to the base game of Prey. For the most part, you’ll utilize the same weapons and abilities that were found in the original game. That’s not a bad thing by any means though, as I found these mechanics and systems to be the standout feature of Prey when I played it last year.
By far what my biggest issue is with Prey: Mooncrash involves that of the environment itself. Upon first getting into the Moon Base, I found it to be a large environment with tons of different avenues to explore. Twenty runs later and it started to dawn on me just how small it actually was.
In addition to the opening moon crater area that serves as a hub of sorts for the rest of the base, there are only three different areas to be found in Mooncrash: MoonWorks, Pytheas Labs, and Crew Annex. Once you’ve played Mooncrash for about five to six hours, you’ll have essentially seen everything that these environments have to offer and will quickly tire of them.
Typically to mix this up, rogue-likes will have randomly generated elements of levels that allow the world to still feel unique every time you re-enter it. This feature of random generation is also present in Mooncrash, but it has little-to-no effect. At most, enemies will appear in places they weren’t present in before or certain environmental hazards will be present in one run and not the other. Prey: Mooncrash promises to make every run feel unique because of this random generation, but they each instead feel more similar than different.
After a few hours of experiencing these few changes in the environment and continuing to see the same locations over and over, I just started to get bored with Prey: Mooncrash. Unlike other rogue-likes where you can progress to new locations the stronger you get — say the Hell area in Spelunky — everything you see in Mooncrash within the first hour or two will continue to be what you see until you complete a full escape run with all five characters.
I also can’t go without briefly mentioning just how egregious the load times were in my experience with Prey: Mooncrash. Every time that I traversed to a new area it would take roughly take a minute on average to load in. I remember this being an issue that I had with the base version of Prey last year as well, but the load times were never as long as they were for me in Mooncrash. What’s even crazier is that I was playing the game on an Xbox One X, so I can only imagine just how rough these load times might be on the standard versions of each platform.
Unlike most other rogue-likes though, the longer you play Prey: Mooncrash the more you’ll likely become bored or uninterested simply due to the recycled environments. I think that Prey: Mooncrash is going to be hit-or-miss experience depending on what it is you like out of your rogue-likes.
If you’re looking to enjoy more of what Prey already was, then I think there’s a lot to like with Mooncrash. The core systems and mechanics of Prey are still readily found in Mooncrash and as such make for a lot of fun, challenging objectives to overcome. For me, it was an experience that lost steam the longer I played, but I can’t deny how much I enjoyed its initial opening hour.