No major spoilers, but I recommend playing at least halfway through Prey before reading.
One point of criticism often levelled at Prey is its story, setting, and characters — what you might call its fiction. On the surface, it’s true that the story has pacing issues, that the setting is derivative, that the characters aren’t immediately appealing. But scratch the surface, and there’s more depth and subtlety there than most players may want to give it credit for. There’s quite a few things that warrant a closer look, but I’d like to focus on a specific theme that is developed and supported throughout the whole game: the treachery of appearances, and what these appearances may conceal.
Like any good theme, it is introduced in the very first moments of the game. At first, Morgan’s life is exposed as a literal stage. The player will try to open the door to the balcony, and, after finding it locked, smashes the window with a wrench. The window, it turns out, isn’t a window at all; behind it lies no cityscape, but the inside of some facility. Within, Morgan discovers the true extent of the stage, complete with sliding walls, fake elevators, and a helicopter pad. After she escapes her personal rat maze and enters the lobby, she’s confronted with a second revelation: her stage is just a tiny part of a colossal space station.
The theme of treacherous appearances is never again as overt as in these examples, but they foreshadow more subtle deceptions and set expectations: What we see on Talos I is not to be trusted, or at least not to be taken at face value. The mimics and the looking glass technology are the most vocal reminders of this lesson. The player quickly learns that mimics can imitate any nearby object, and after that, even the most innocuous spaces turn into a paranoid nightmare. Any suspicious lamp, office chair, or trash can will make you wary. The looking glasses are a very different, less insidious kind of deception, but they too make you think twice about what you’re really seeing, and in more than one occasion, they conceal hidden spaces and paths that can only be accessed by smashing the glass.