This post is primarily going to be me whinging about Prey (2017)'s ending, so if you don't want it spoiled, please feel free to go back to whatever it is you do on a daily basis to fend off the night terrors.
As you might remember, my last post was me singing the unbridled praises of Prey (2017) and talking about how not even a really crap ending could dampen my spirits about the game being incredible. And whilst that statement is still true, it came very close to becoming false.
To cut straight to it, Prey has two endings - one at the end of the game, and one at the end of the credits. And they are both terrible, but for slightly different reasons. I will go into detail on why both are absolutely garbage, starting with the first one.
Prey is a game with a mind-bogglingly large number of decisions, choices, consequences and outcomes. It's one of the reasons why I love it so much - it truly feels like it gives you maximum agency whist still keeping the narrative intact and without breaking immersion. So it's understandable that trying to wrap up all of the potential variables into a cohesive conclusion wasn't going to be easy. As a result, there's a multitude of different endings depending on the choices the player made. These range from the usual super good and super evil endings, to an ending where you sod off in an escape pod two hours in, with all your support characters calling you a bell-end. This is cool. The fact that the game will take into account all of your choices, actions and intentions, is cool. What isn't cool, is how that ending is presented.
For context, I played a relatively "good" campaign, saved loads of people, and kept my exposure to alien modification to a minimum. My character would be able to escape the station, blow it up to stop the alien invasion, and save the vast majority of the survivors. This was incredible considering how the game starts off with zero hope whatsoever. But how is all of this shown to the player? How is this communicated in a satisfying and entertaining way?
One pre-rendered shot of the space station blowing up, as your shuttle heads to Earth, and your character saying "I had a dream..."
That's it. Fin. You're done. Go home. Play something else. Don't call this number again.
I was in shock. This massive epic of a game that I had poured dozens of hours into, and whose world I had fully immersed myself in, was concluded with a single sentence of dialogue and a shot that lasts less than five seconds. Then the credits roll, showing characters going about their days immediately preceding the games events. Again, this was cool in concept, and could have left the game on a somewhat bittersweet note, but the execution was so balls that it just looked cheap.
Then the credits end, and you're shown the "real" ending. You sit restrained in a chair, as characters from the game talk about you amongst themselves; going over your actions, your decisions, and ultimately trying to figure out where on the moral barometer you sit. At the end of the scene, you have to make a decision which ends in either an optimistic agreement, or everyone dying horribly.
It's in-game, it's the characters we know talking about the impact you've had, and it ends with one last bit of interactivity.
In theory this all sounds good, right? WRONG.
The execution is way better compared to the first ending, but the concept behind it renders the campaign almost completely pointless in my mind. And that's because the campaign is essentially a dream. A "recording" of the actions of the character you thought you were playing as. In reality, everything went to shit, and you're an alien that the survivors are trying to turn good to help fix everything.
Now there have been plenty of games that have toyed with fake realities, dream sequences and conflicting perceptions within a games story. Sometimes they're used to present a plot twist, or an important character moment, or to represent an underlying theme of a game.
But Prey's twist comes out of nowhere, is barely telegraphed during the story, and doesn't really change much to the actual end result of the game. Personally I felt it cheapened the experience. As the game put such an emphasis on choices, decisions and outcomes, that for it to then say "Oh well actually the whole thing was a dream and the planet was battered no matter what", feels so deflating. What is the point of berating the player for every choice they make, and making it clear to them that they need to think long and hard about their every action, if at the end of it you essentially go "Made it up lol everybody dead".
The shit first ending I can understand as potentially having been a result of limited time and resource to flesh out what seems to be something like a dozen different variants. But the second ending I just disagree with completely at a thematic level.
First ending - Good concept, balls execution
Second ending - Balls concept, good execution
Perhaps this was all intended to support some hypothetical "Prey 2: This Time Its Personal" sequel, and the plans were for it to always take place on a scorched Earth. If that's the case then fair enough. I'll be buying any sequel that Arkane develops on day one. I just wish that there had been some kind of definitive "good" ending to make me feel better about putting up with the seven thousand jump scares.
At the end of this particularly whingey day, Prey is still one of my all time favourite games, and I would implore literally everyone on the planet to play it. And two crap endings in a row won't change that.
Or I would just recommend playing the game up until the final mission and then making up your own ending via a dice roll and some paper cut outs.