I love games.
I love talking about games.
I love the colour orange.
And A Panda In Glasses is a personal project which brings them all together! APIG is (and will be) a video series created, edited, and presented by myself where I’ll be focusing on games and the teams/design decisions behind them.
I enjoy Youtube channels and other kinds of media from a variety of websites, but they seem to mostly focus on the industry. I’d like to instead focus on more behind-the-scenes things and discuss design principles and more, as well as forcing people to look at some very orange videos. We all win.
Click above to read more. ^
Click above to read more. ^
A dark and mysterious title. And just like its enemies, Prey itself came out of nowhere. I’d seen it at E3 and looked forward to it, but I had no idea it was launching until a Steam pop-up alerting me of my last chance to pre-order it. Which seemed very odd. Prey seemed content to somewhat silently creep into stores and launch.
And the saddest part of it is, it didn’t need to.
Prey is an FPS made by Arkane Studios, the team behind the Dishonoured series and Bioshock 2. Prey falls into the same beats as both those titles; it’s an FPS with a limited selection of guns and powers, featuring a wide variety of upgrades and a sprawling story and world you can dive into.
You begin the game choosing whether or not your character, Morgan Yu, is to be a Male or Female. This doesn’t change much apart from the voice of your partner AI, January. The game starts with you waking up in bed. You get dressed, go to the roof of your apartment building and into a helicopter, where you’re flown to a facility and begin with a few basic tests done before some Scientists who, though nice, seem slightly on edge. Then something starts to happen, and you wake up lying in your bed just like when the game started.
You get out of bed again, just as you did before, and read an e-mail. And it warns you to get OUT.
Fast-forward and you’ll find a familiar weapon in a Wrench. Any Bioshock fan will be used to this one, but you won’t be using it on an enemy, not yet. The door to your balcony is closed but it looks like a beautiful day.
And then with one swing of your wrench, the glass falls to reveal a dark, empty facility, full of these strange aliens called the Typhon, all with different world-altering abilities and Prey has begun.
It’s a very powerful start, and Prey has a consistently interesting story through-out. You’re always left guessing, but not enough to feel confused. I always knew what was happening, but I wasn’t ever 100% on everything. On people’s motives and the reasons behind it all. It leaves a lot for you to piece together, and it works well.
The game progresses very simply. You have Main story missions with Objectives you must complete, though the way in which you complete them is left to you, and you’ll pick up a rather large number of side-quests as you explore the space station. The UI is quite cluttered and navigating to the correct side-missions can be a bit of a pain, and the screen can become overly cluttered with quest markers if you don’t manage them.
Gameplay-wise, if you’ve played Bioshock then you’ll find the entire system of Prey very familiar. It’s a solid FPS with RPG elements, with powers that you can utilize to alleviate some of your bullet usage. But it seems like Bioshock mixed with Arkane’s own Dishonoured series.
You have a variety of different sub-sets of ability to experiment with; Scientist, Engineer and Security. Scientist focuses on hacking and technology, Engineering on mechanics and robotics, and Security is your run-of-the-mill health and armour upgrades. Like Dishonoured, there’s always different routes you can take depending on how you’ve invested your abilities. With high hacking you could simply get through a door you might have needed to find the keycode for, or with high engineering fix an elevator and reach an area otherwise you might not have.
Eventually, you’ll also get access to your powers. You gain more of these by scanning enemies; different enemies will unlock different abilities. Ones with fire powers will unlock fire abilities, etc.
On the surface, it seems quite generic almost. But just peel the surface away and you’ll find with all the different types of abilities under your helm, you can customize your play experience quite well. One example is the Mimic ability, which lets you take control of any inanimate object. Initially I assumed it was so you could hide from enemies and yes, that’s exactly right.
But later on, I wanted to get into a security room I didn’t quite have the hacking levels for, and I could not find the keycode. From the table behind me, I placed a mug just beside one of those small windows you pass paperwork through. I possessed the mug, rolled myself under that small gap, burst out of the mug and I was inside!
Further into the game, I was struggling to defeat a large Typhon alien who had a swarm of possessed human beings to fight for him. After trying and failing multiple times, I went back through the level and found a turret which was firing at me. I destroyed it, hacked it, and then repaired it; after that I carried it all the way back to the room with the Typhon, deployed it, and then fought with the turret by my side and managed to win.
It’s that level of freedom you realize you have when tackling the game which is where Prey truly shines. It’s much more than just a Bioshock-like FPS, and has plenty of opportunities to play exactly how you want to.
These abilities are gained by finding Neuromods, which you will find dotted around in hidden areas, as rewards for side-quests, or crafted in a limited supply; all abilities use this same currency and there’s no respec so choose wisely. This is one weakness of the title. Mis-spending of Neuromods near the start of the game when you weren’t sure how exactly you wanted to play is a punishing thing. With progressing down certain skill trees to yield impressive results, the desire to “start over” can be very strong and it’s disappointing Prey doesn’t cater to this.
You’ll never feel particularly strong, however, no matter how you build. The enemies can be smart, and they hit hard. You’ll always feel a challenge, and there’s even stronger Typhons lurking in the darkness just waiting to come and find you.
The level design is reminiscent of old games like Dark Souls. There’s no fast-travel, and instead the space station the title is set on is designed in a clever way in that everything is connected. You’re never too far away from where you want to be, but enough to make the station feel like a real place when you start back-tracking and exploring.
And the enemies which populate it can be very dangerous and unpredictable. The classic Mimics will suddenly spring out of objects and attack you, causing your screen and vision to judder as they do, and lights will flicker as electricity-charged bipedal Typhons stalk towards you from down a corridor.
To help you, Prey features a rather impressive crafting system which manages to be simple and feature-full. The game has an inventory system like Resident Evil 4’s attache case, and you can fill it with a variety of items. Junk you’ll find everywhere; copper coils, wires, motherboards, etc. These can be piled into something called a Material Recycler, which are dotted around the facility, and different objects yield a variety of 4 different materials; Mineral, Synthetic, Organic, and Exotic.
You then have a crafting machine. If you’ve found the blueprint for something, you can craft it using a combination of these materials! A health kit, for example, takes lots of mineral and organic material, whereas a Neuromod can be crafted using Exotic and Organic materials. This leaves the crafting simple, but it has enough variety to keep you engaged.
And that’s what Prey does well. The game flows well enough to always keep you engaged and always keep you guessing about what will happen next and what abilities will best serve you.
I’d consider this title to be one of Arkane’s best. It takes the two games they’ve done and merges them together to create an FPS/RPG hybrid full of unique gameplay oppurtunities and plenty of space for all types of players to find enjoyment in. It just seems a shame the game released so silently; this game has the calibre to have launched so much louder.
An exciting FPS/RPG which offers players a variety of ways to tackle not only each objective, but the very game itself.
It didn’t take long for those familiar feelings of playing Banjo-Kazooie to return. As soon as I heard the same repeated grunts of dialogue over quirky and funny text, it all came back; getting lost in the hub world, laughing at things Kazooie would say, and being terrified enough the first time I saw Clanker to go back to the hub world and see if I could play a different level first… I remembered it all!
And for that reason, Yooka-Laylee does what it sets out to do very well. It was pitched as ex-Rare developers bringing us a Banjo-Kazooie experience and bring it back they succeeded in doing. It doesn’t try to go above and beyond that mission and is a game with a clear, focused vision which doesn’t take long to click.
The first thing that struck me is just how nice the game looks. It’s colourful and vibrant, with plenty of variety; the graphics are smooth, the animations are fluid and well-done, and overall it was a game I loved to look at. I loved seeing each new world light up with colour palettes wildly different from the last, framing the familiar bright green and purple of the main characters.
You control Yooka and Laylee. Yooka’s the green lizard, and Laylee is the purple bat, and they echo the old duo of Banjo and Kazooie well. Yooka isn’t quite as dopey and simple as Banjo was, showing himself to be a quite thoughtful and smart, whereas Laylee captures what I loved about Kazooie very well. Constant quips at other character’s expenses, and even to the developer itself.
Playtonic have no problems taking the fourth wall and breaking it against their knee. At the start of one “Boss Fight”, which is simply a quiz, Laylee muses at how it’s obvious the developers ran out of budget for an actual Boss Battle. The game is shrewdly aware of the content and the characters it contains, and has no problems cracking a joke or two at its own expense.
The story is a simple one. An evil corporation is stealing all the books, one of which Laylee intends to sell for quite a bit. When the books are being sucked up by what I would describe as a mega-vacuum, the pages of the book fall out all over the world and it’s time for an adventure to collect them all!
The controls are tight enough to not show any immediate problems, and the game drip-feeds you new ways to explore at the same fast rate Banjo-Kazooie did. Every big, sprawling level will feature new ways to traverse and new ways to explore which left every level being an event you had to learn.
The uniqueness to the gameplay is well done for this reason. You’ll never get into a comfort zone of moves like other titles can often treat you to. The game will constantly push you to use your newest ability or power in order to advance and it won’t be long until your controller goes from just a pad you move and jump with to an entire Motherboard of abilities you’ll need to remember.
Enemies won’t often provide much problem for you. They seem to exist more as nuisances than offering any real challenge; challenge comes from finding what to do next and in discovering the secrets in all those nooks and crannies.
Progression is also very fluid. There’s no set standard like in a Zelda game; you need the Fire Arrows to get past this part so go and get them! In Yooka-Laylee, you can use a new currency to acquire any powers you wish at any time. And you can then progress through the level depending on which you chose to acquire. It’s an organic and more free way to do it, and I do enjoy being able to pick and choose a bit more rather than just be told “Go learn that ability or you can’t do anything!”
Yooka-Laylee does levels a bit differently as well. It features the same open “playgrounds” for you to explore and collect Pagies, which is this game’s version of Banjo’s Jigsaw pieces. When you’re done, you can then spend Pagies to either unlock brand new levels, or further unlock more content in the existing level. It’s a novel idea, but staying for too long in one level can have it over-stay its welcome and that did happen on more than one occasion.
The level designs themselves are fun, but nothing particularly ground-breaking. Everything functioned well and connected in interesting ways, but some lacked the character of others. There was a lot of high highs when it came to the level design, moments of “Wow, look at that!”, but then there were moments where it felt a little lacking, especially near the end.
The variety to the enemies and to the design of the levels are very well done on the whole, however. Like Banjo this is not one connected world and so there’s no problem of a coherently-made game. One world can be nothing like the next and it works. You’ll be rolling around a tribal village in one minute stopping a skeleton from becoming soup, and the next you’re sliding down an ice slide towards a little Yeti with a hat.
You’ll also find a variety of arcade-like games you can enjoy playing against friends. These are all very simple and not mini-games which, on their own, will be likely to offer you much satisfaction. But with friends they’re arcade enough to provide some simple, fun competition.
It’s difficult to point out any particular glaring flaws in the experience as it’s the game itself which is the flaw to some people, if you want to argue that. Playtonic promised a return to what made people love Banjo-Kazooie and that’s what they did. But we exist in a progressive industry. And no matter how fun past experiences are, we’re always looking to move forward. And Yooka-Laylee does seem like a time capsule you step backwards to enjoy, rather than you re-discover by going forwards.
Genres fade in and out of popularity. There was a time horror titles were virtually non-existent before Amnesia and Outlast brought them back enough for Resident Evil 7 to burst into the scene with a horror title of its own again. And collect-a-thon platformers seemed to have faded as well. But Amnesia didn’t bring horror back by regressing; it brought it back by progressing, and showing what could be done.
And it’s that which Yooka-Laylee sadly doesn’t do. It doesn’t progress the medium in order to show what you can do, rather it regresses back in a “Hey guys, remember this?” way which doesn’t quite cut it anymore. It does what it set out to do and what was promised. But if you’re looking for more than that, you won’t find it here.
But if that’s what you are looking for, then you’re in for a treat. The waves of nostalgia don’t quite go away; you can get distracted from it by the fun puzzles and challenges that await you, but Yooka-Laylee loves to slap you across the face and remind you of that first time you jumped into Mumbo’s Mountain and met good ol’ Mumbo.
One of the more disappointing areas of the game for me, however, was in the characters. Yooka and Laylee are fine, with Laylee’s personality being vibrant and brash and a real throwback to our pal Kazooie, and your friend Trowzer, a snake wearing a pair of pants (you kind of need to see it to believe it) also features a lot of funny and colourful dialogue. Conversations with him are always fun.
And though many of the characters are well designed, I think they stray a bit too much towards the random. Banjo-Kazooie featured a colourful cast, but a cast who fit. Yooka-Laylee’s cast is just as colourful and crazy, but perhaps a bit too random and crazy; they don’t seem to fit in the worlds they’re in. It’s like when games use free assets from different sources and try to cobble them together. There’s no uniformity, there’s no coherency, and it’s jarring to see characters you can’t justify existing at all in where you find them.
But what everything comes down to: Is it fun? And yes I had fun with it and would recommend it for those who go in with their expectations in check; this is a title which brings back the nostalgia of Banjo-Kazooie for fans who miss it, but it doesn’t try to extend from that simple goal at all. It doesn’t deviate. It’s not looking to bring back collect-a-thons, but rather give us a taste of how they used to be.
I’m a big Banjo fan. And this gave me what I wanted; more of it! It’s not going to change the industry and it’s not going to change how you view games, but it’ll put a smile on your face and sometimes that’s all you need.