Impressions: Prey’s Survival Mode isn’t much more difficult than the base game
Survival Mode is a new optional game mode Arkane released as part of their free content drop at this year’s E3, and although it’s a lot of fun it only adds a slight layer of increased difficulty for the average player, and maybe a bit more on much higher difficulty playthroughs.
That doesn’t mean it isn’t fun, but it’s undoubtedly meant to just be a free optional mechanic that would have felt right at home when the game launched. If you’re looking for an excuse to do another playthrough of Prey, this is as good as any, but if you were hoping for some kind of game-changing tweak to difficulty that’s going to massively change the way you have to play, you’ll be disappointed.
Survival mode is a great name for a DLC, and Bethesda has had a lot of success with integrating it into their titles post-launch in the past, but Arkane’s definition of survival is a lot different than Bethesda’s, and it shows.
You would think a survival mode would add in one of two things, either a horde mode rush of enemies, or a series of mechanics that force the player to eat, drink, and sleep if they want to survive. These were my hopes for Prey’s survival mode when it was first announced, because there are a lot of food and drink items spread all over Talos I, and the idea of Morgan scavenging for food to survive while fighting to balance his humanity with the many Typhon upgrades coursing through his veins was intriguing to say the least. Especially considering the game’s ambiguous ending.
Arkane’s Survival mode is neither of these, and is instead a set of three tweaks, one that adds weapon durability, another that adds new status conditions like breaks, burns, and contusions, and a third that makes it so that if your suit durability determines your ability to retain oxygen.
All three tweaks are interesting ideas but didn’t seem near punishing enough in my two to three-hour playthrough to do more than occasionally inconvenience me. Instead, they felt like the kind of mechanics that would have slotted right into my original playthrough, because they probably wouldn’t have changed how I did things, except that I may have horded a few more backup guns and used my mountain of suit repair kits more liberally.
Maybe it was because I decided to make this a non-Typhon power run, but I found myself rolling in suit repair kits and spare parts right off the bat, which meant that in the three hours or so that I played in the new mode I really didn’t find myself worried about the status of my suit or the quality of my weapons because I had more than enough supplies to keep them in tip top shape.
I had to actively try to break my shotgun by using it more liberally than I ever did in my first playthrough to actively get it down to zero durability, and even then, the gun wasn’t permanently destroyed or damaged. A broken weapon just suffers a severe tendency to jam with every shot, which with my shotgun just meant that I had to pause and focus on dodging attacks until Morgan could clear the jam and I could fire again.
If weapon durability had any actual risks involved it would be a bit more dramatic, but considering I had plenty of spare parts available, fixing my gun was as easy as breathing, and didn’t create any extra stress or layer of difficulty. You only need to spend a single neuromod in the Engineer tree to unlock the ability to repair your weapons, so I had the ability and the resources to fix my weapons by the time I left the first area of the game.
I could see it potentially becoming an issue in a Typhon-powers only or no needles run, but I doubt it, because it feels like Prey has no problem throwing plenty of spare weapons your direction anyways, and you’re more likely to use your powers over your shotgun or pistol in a non-human run anyway. Even then, there are so many Typhon powers and human weapons that stun or confuse enemies that a slow firing shotgun is entirely manageable if you plan around it.
The new traumas also didn’t really seem to affect me. Even though I was playing on hard the control scheme in Prey is intuitive enough that things came back to me quickly despite a six-month hiatus. As a result I didn’t experience any noticeable new status conditions that made me question if I was going to be permanently crippled or even inconvenienced by their effects, maybe I just wasn’t triggering the new effects or needed to progress farther in the story to kick things off by fighting Nightmares or encountering other, more dangerous Typhon, but at least from the start of the game to my arrival at the Arboretum I just sped through the experience the way I normally would. Although even faster because I was less concerned about looting every single nook and cranny like I did on my first run through the game.
I even tried jumping off a ledge early on the game to see if it would break my leg, but although I lost half my health and heard a nasty crunch I didn’t move slower or see any other status icons pop up in the meantime.
I also wasn’t heavily inconvenienced by the new suit and oxygen mechanic, because like I said I had plenty of suit repair kits on hand anyways. That said, my experience encountering most enemies outside of the space station or in the guts usually involves either a show of overwhelming force that wipes it out instantly, or the same treatment from an enemy that I don’t notice until it’s too late and I’ve fallen into a deadly trap. In which case I’m usually either already dead, or spamming health and suit repair kits anyways, so it didn’t feel like an enormous difference compared to a vanilla run, and never really felt like I was going to die from a leak in my suit instead of the raging Typhon in front of me.
Maybe in the long-term things would get a little tight if I wasn’t watching my resources and scavenging accordingly, but in the first three hours of the game it just felt like I had a few more things I had to pay attention to while duking it out with the big bad Typhon in my way.
Worth Enabling, but Not Worrying
That said, the little tweaks that survival mode add do have potential and could create a more difficult game later on in the experience. So, they’re worth turning on if you’re just looking for a bit of extra spice and resource management to your next playthrough, just don’t expect them to actively make the game especially more difficult.
Really, it feels like a lot of the new mechanics were added with a soft touch in mind, which is why they don’t feel impactful. It’s like Arkane was worried that they might make the game too difficult or impossible to progress through, so as a result they made a survival mode that really doesn’t feel like a fight for survival.
If I was forced to keep my suit at 100 percent any time I was out in zero gravity zones, I would burn through suit repair kits even faster and wear through my supplies in no time. If weapon durability affected damage and accuracy or caused jams on a sliding scale of frequency before breaking the weapon entirely at zero durability, then the mechanics would force me to stand up and pay attention. If the new status effects were applied even more aggressively with longer timers or even permanent side effects, they might really start to feel impactful. Except none of these things occur, so the player is only ever mildly inconvenienced.
Any of these tweaks would help build tension, increase player anxiety, and in general force them to adapt in order to overcome each new barrier. Instead, survival mode is a fun little extra tidbit that feels like it should have been included at launch, because it makes you play almost the same way with it as without.