Mechanics as Storytelling: Prey's Gloo Gun

A Video Game Analysis by Daniel Alexander

            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 deal with 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.

            The most immediately obvious application of the Gloo Cannon is to freeze the Typhon in place. 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.

            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 overly adventurous impulses in favor of sticking to the critical path until players are more confident in their abilities. This means that the Gloo Gun will become most first time gamers’ weapon of choice, and for good reason as its adaptability to nearly every situation is unmatched.

            This adaptability also matches the protagonist of Prey, Morgan Yu. From a gameplay perspective, 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 deicision.

©2019 by Daniel Alexander