If/Then: VELOCITY WEAPON and PREY

Welcome to If/Then, a potential new series where I play around with the age-old recommendation scheme “If you liked X, then you should try Y.” For my first outing, I’m discussing the book VELOCITY WEAPON by Megan E. O’Keefe and the video game PREY by Arkane Studios. I’m going to avoid spoilers as much as possible, and just talk about the vibe, mechanics, and general plot elements that make these two things so darn compatible.

Synopsis: PREY

Prey

You are Morgan Yu, lead research scientist on space station Talos I. Except in this case, you’ve woken up to discover most of the staff is dead, there’s strange creatures running about, and you have a touch of amnesia about the last several weeks. As you begin exploring the station, the one entity that can help you untangle this mess is January, an AI you programmed to help you through a disaster such as this. The deeper into the station you explore, the more secrets you uncover, leaving you to question who you can really trust.

Synopsis: VELOCITY WEAPON by Megan E. O’Keefe

Velocity Weapon

In this first entry of the space opera series THE PROTECTORATE, Major Sanda Greeve wakes up after a space battle to discover several unfortunate things: she’s lost a leg, she’s alone on an enemy ship, and two hundred years have passed while she was in medical cryo. Oh, and apparently both sides of the war she was in managed to destroy each other completely. Her only companion is the ship’s AI, Bero. Between the two of them, they’ll have to find a way to make this old space ship limp back to civilization.

Plotting and Mystery

Just on the synopsis, alone, you can see that PREY and VELOCITY WEAPON have a lot in common. (Note: I left out details about the other POV characters in VELOCITY WEAPON as they aren’t relevant to today’s discussion.) Two characters alone in space, with only an AI to help see them through, both driven by a need to figure out what happened in the past to cause everything to go wrong.

In many ways, PREY scratches the same itch readers get where they want to know everything they can about the world and the characters in it. Part of exploring in PREY is about listening to audio logs or going to computer terminals and reading employee emails. Players can skip a lot of this content if they want, but I love every bit of it. Sure, sometimes I’m just looking for the code to get into the nearby safe, but sometimes I just want to know what was going on in the staff’s D&D game. There’s a heartbreaking storyline tucked away in emails and audio logs in the crew quarters that you can completely miss if you don’t go snooping about. And only by reading emails will you discover that the engineers were running a secret robot fighting league. In much the same way that Megan E. O’Keefe created a whole galaxy for this space opera trilogy, the developers of PREY created tons of internal lives for all the crew members, making this space station feel like a real place people lived in.

And then there’s the mystery in both books. In VELOCITY WEAPON, Sanda is trying to figure out how both sides destroyed each other so long ago, and in the past, another character is trying to figure out what happened to Sanda after the battle. Likewise in PREY, you’re attempting to piece together what disaster struck the station, and why you were so prepared for it in the first place. I’m actually only 2/3 of the way through PREY by my estimate, but this need to keep digging and to find out what happened has driven me every step of the way.

We’re Going to Science the Sh*t Out of This

Another favorite element both PREY and VELOCITY WEAPON feature is that trope of trying to scrap together a solution out of nothing more than scrap metal and duct tape. And in some cases, I mean that literally. In VELOCITY WEAPON, Sanda not only has to get the ship she’s on functional enough to travel across space (systems are working just enough to provide life support), she has to engineer a prosthetic leg to help get around the vessel. It’s very much in the vein of THE MARTIAN or APOLLO 13, where characters have to cobble together a solution using limited resources.

Limited resources are a big part of PREY as well. Early on, you’ll discover machines that can fabricate everything from medpacks to shotguns, but you’ll need the materials to do so. That means that you’ll soon be shouting ecstatically every time you find a hoard of burnt circuit boards, or a trashcan containing banana peels and crumbled paper. PREY drives you to collect every piece of scrap you can find in order to survive. It also encourages out-of-the-box thinking to solve problems, often with multiple viable solutions. If you find a locked door, you could try hacking it if your skills lie that way, but there might also be a hidden route through the air vents, or you might be able to shoot a button with a dart gun from a conveniently placed window. Will you try and battle your way through a room full of monsters, or will you plant a lure to bring them to one side of the room, leaving a path to the next door wide open? PREY encourages you to be scrappy and resourceful and to not just try to brute force your way through everything.

Action

Action isn’t the main driver of VELOCITY WEAPON, but it is certainly there (even more so in later installments in the trilogy). Likewise, if you want it to be, PREY has bursts of action that leave you swearing as you frantically reload those shotgun shells. You can certainly go for a pacifist playthrough and try to avoid killing things, but I’ve often found it’s helpful to clear out aliens so I can explore an area without worrying about something trying to kill me while I’m reading an email. And because of the aforementioned scarcity, every shot matters – if you’re far from a fabricator station and run out of bullets, you’re going to be relying on a handy wrench to be getting you back to safety.

That Space Opera Vibe

Last, but not least, both PREY and VELOCITY WEAPON have that big old space opera vibe. VELOCITY WEAPON is a little more sprawling, with its war and multiple POVs across time and on different planets. PREY, meanwhile, only takes place on the one space station, but it’s a BIG space station. Combine that with the near future elements, the vistas of planet Earth, the ability to go outside and space walk from airlock to airlock, and it easily feels like you’re in a more grounded sci-fi tale like THE EXPANSE.

And that, in a nut shell, is why you should check out PREY if you liked VELOCITY WEAPON, or vice versa. They’re both great pieces of science fiction that have a lot of common elements. And if you haven’t checked out either, I hope this encourages you to give them a whirl!

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