Mechanics as Storytelling: Prey’s Gloo Gun

If anyone expected 2017’s Prey reboot to be a conventional first-person-shooter, that expectation goes out the window in the first few minutes of the game. After a disorienting and disturbing intro, you find yourself trapped on a on the Talos I space station full of terrifying alien monsters. As you tentatively step into the first few chambers, you’ll be forced to deal with limited resources, an oppressive atmosphere, and enemies that can hide in plain sight. To further complicate matters, you won’t find any conventional weaponry until later in the game. What you will find, however, is the Gloo Gun.

This device is the second tool you acquire, after the wrench that serves as a melee weapon. It’s not really a gun in the conventional sense as it deals absolutely no damage and uses foam canisters instead of ammo cartridges. If you’d been hoping for something would let you take out the Typhon aliens from afar, this isn’t it. Instead, the Gloo Gun can be used in a variety of other ways that aren’t directly related to combat.

Multitasking

The most immediately obvious application of the Gloo Cannon is to freeze the Typhon in their tracks. A few seconds of concentrated fire on a mimic or a phantom causes the foam to harden around them, immobilizing the enemy and giving you a few seconds to attack freely. The gun can also be used to create new pathways as blobs of gloo stick to walls, floors, and pretty much any other surface. If you’re having trouble reaching a vantage point or spy a medkit atop a high structure, the Gloo Gun is the way to get there. Finally, the foam can be used to deal with hazards in the environment as it soaks up everything from fire to electricity and can even be used to plug breaches in airtight zones.

What’s also interesting to note about Prey is the sequencing of how players acquire new weapons. You’ll first find the wrench followed shortly by the Gloo Cannon itself, but there’s also a hidden area in the first zone with an electric stun gun – great for dealing with robotic enemies. The next section has you picking up a silenced pistol by following the main story track and a shotgun if you’re daring enough to explore the Talos I lobby. This remains your default loadout for a while until you gain access to Typhon powers which grant you a wide variety of new options. The experimental Q-Beam can also be retrieved later on by completing an optional side quest. There are additionally a series of grenade-like tools that can be used for a variety of purposes such as distracting enemies, recycling materials, and negating psionic powers.

Limited Loadout

The important thing to note here is that for many players, the only real weapons they’ll have for a significant chunk of the game are the wrench, the pistol, and the Gloo Gun. The stun gun and the shotgun are technically available early on, but they’re both tucked away in hard-to-reach areas. The prevalence of mimics alongside an omnipresent sense of danger will discourage any adventurous impulses in favor of sticking to the critical path until players feel more confident in their abilities. This means that the Gloo Gun will become most first time players’ default weapon, and for good reason – it’s highly adaptable and useful in nearly any combat encounter.

Gloo and Yu

This adaptability is mirrored in the protagonist of Prey, Morgan Yu. Throughout the game, you’ll be able to customize your own version of the character as you progress, deciding which abilities to unlock and which weapons to invest in with upgrade kits. There are also choices to make as you encounter secrets from your forgotten past. How you deal with these matters just as much as the abilities you choose. Morgan’s character is malleable and changeable, mirroring the versatility of the Gloo Cannon itself. It’s up to you to define what the gun is used for, just as it’s up to you to define who Morgan is.

On top of that, the Gloo Gun contributes to the game’s override themes of knowledge and understanding since at its core, it’s a tool, not a weapon – much like how Morgan is a scientist, not a soldier. While the right neuromods and upgrades can turn you into a shotgun-toting badass who isn’t afraid of a few mimics and phantoms, things change quickly when the Nightmare Typhon starts hunting you or a situation turns sour. The Gloo Gun is still the best choice for handling these difficult encounters, giving you time to regroup and reload – and then blast away at the monsters, if that’s how you’re playing.

The Gloo Gun’s versatility and adaptable design align closely with Morgan’s nature, both in gameplay and in story. Who you are is a choice you have to make. While you can’t change the past or the Typhon outbreak or even the tools provided to you, how you deal with it all is your decision.

Further Reading

Knowledge and Understanding: An Analysis of Prey (2017)

**SPOILER WARNING**

Prey (the 2017 reboot) begins with the player character, Morgan Yu, waking up in your apartment, receiving a message from your brother, and proceeding to the TranStar building where you undergo some tests. At the end of the examination, an alien disguised as a coffee mug kills the examiner and you black out – only to wake up back in your apartment, at the start of the day once more. It soon becomes clear that you’ve been stuck in a simulation and are actually on Talos I, a space station where the terrifying Typhon aliens have broken containment and are killing everyone in sight.

Neuromods, Typhon, and Yu

As you progress through the station, the most valuable items you’ll find are neuromods, which function as the game’s skill points. These are physical objects that take up space in your inventory and can even be fabricated if you know the recipe. In the story, neuromods are items derived from Typhon that imbue one with knowledge they wouldn’t otherwise possess. They can confer anything from combat instinct to musical talent. Learning more about the Typhon even lets you use them to gain supernatural abilities like telekinesis and shapeshifting.

The Typhon from which the neuromods are created are equally as central to the game, as they make up most of the enemies you’ll face. As you progress, you’ll learn more about these tentacle-y monsters – in particular, you’ll discover that they lack mirror neurons, which are responsible for developing empathy (the real world science behind this is dubious, but it’s central to Prey’s story). This means that they are literally incapable of seeing other beings as worthy of consideration, which makes it that much easier for them to kill any humans they come across.

The final key element in the story is the player character themselves, Morgan Yu. Morgan is an executive in TranStar Industries, but more importantly, they volunteered as a test subject before the game’s start. This sees them repeatedly having their memories wiped by removing neuromods (which resets your mind to when the mods were installed) and going through a basic testing process to examine the effects of the new Typhon abilities. This repeated memory reset leads to the existence of several different versions of Morgan Yu who can be encountered throughout Talos I. There’s January, an operator robot with Morgan’s personality who guides you through the station; December, another operator with Morgan’s personality who encourages you to simply abandon everything; and the various recordings and notes throughout the world that paint different pictures of Morgan Yu. Ultimately, your true identity is in flux and poses an open question for most of the game.

The Price of Knowledge

These three elements – the neuromods, the Typhon, and Morgan’s memory – contribute to the game’s main themes of knowledge and understanding. It is through them that the game examines the effect that knowledge has on the human mind, especially when pair with empathy or a lack thereof. The way the story unfolds and the choices players make each contribute to this greater dynamic.

The neuromods are quite literally pure knowledge. They allow Morgan to download new information and abilities directly into their brain and most playthroughs will see dozens of mods being spent. This poses a difficult ethical dilemma, however, as you eventually learn that neuromods are made from Typhon, which can only reproduce by killing humans. Morgan Yu is complicit in this crime from their executive role and their use of neuromods, especially if the player continues to use them after discovering this truth. This one piece of information re-contextualizes the whole story and makes you question your engagement with the game’s mechanics – are you still the hero when using a technology built on corpses?

Knowledge Without Empathy

If the neuromods embody the price of knowledge, then the Typhon are the consequences of knowledge without understanding. They are the origin of the neuromods and are also completely without empathy as they attack and kill with ease. We later learn that they feed on consciousness, which is perhaps the best example of intelligence without understanding in the game. They consume other minds to grow, something that they’re capable of because they don’t see these minds as minds. They don’t understand that human consciousness is anything other than knowledge for them to absorb as they can’t see personality or emotion – just the parts that are of use to them.

Morgan Yu’s backstory also explores the effects of knowledge without empathy. It is gradually revealed that your character used to be a cold-hearted executive with little regard for the human cost of their experiments prior to the start of the game. This is seen most clearly in the side quest where you seek out information about Mikayla Ilyushin’s father, who was executed on Talos I by a past version of Morgan Yu. Given that you’re supposed to be the protagonist of this story, it’s difficult to learn that in truth, you’re something of a villain. How you react to this knowledge – as well as other knowledge gained throughout the game – will define your character.

Forbidden Knowledge

All of this taken together – the bitter truth about neuromods, the psychopathy of the Typhon, and the challenges of Morgan’s past – tell us that some knowledge is not meant to be known. The human drive to innovate and discover led the residents of Talos I to the Typhon; the Typhon drive to consume and absorb knowledge led them to break containment. The pursuit of knowledge in this game leads only to ruin. In fact, the presence of the Apex Typhon at the end of the story raises the question of if some knowledge can ever truly be understood as this final monster is basically a Lovecraftian horror.

What’s very interesting is the way that the game’s true ending handles these themes of knowledge and understanding. The final scene reveals that everything you experienced was a simulation being given to a human-Typhon hybrid to test your empathy. It turns out that the Typhon have invaded Earth and Alex Yu – Morgan’s brother from the game – is banking on combining human empathy with Typhon powers to save the world. While this might seem to contradict the entire theme of the game as Alex is pursuing some dangerous knowledge in his hybrid experiments, it actually fits rather well. At this point, it’s clear Alex has learned from his mistakes on Talis I. He’s tempering his quest for knowledge with empathy and understanding. His questions for the hybrid aren’t centered on learning more about it from a scientific standpoint, but whether or not it shares the compassion and empathy that he possesses. Knowledge is still a risk, of course, but Alex has put in the work to understand it. It isn’t easy, and it takes a lot of time and work, but in the end, it is worth the effort.

Further Reading

Prey interview: Arkane talks about its ‘open space station game’ | Fenix Bazaar

Have You Played… Prey (2017)? | Rock Paper Shotgun