Prey

Posted – 4.13.2008

When Prey had first made waves with its announcement in 1995 and as the press followed its progress, a lot of excitement was made over the portal technology that had been demonstrated nearly twelve years prior to that shown off by Valve’s Orange Box addition, Portal, in 2007. Although it made use of stationary portals as opposed to those that were created by the player in Portal, it had players salivating over what they had normally seen in Looney Tunes as portable holes, allowing them to shoot foes and ricochet shots through holes in space. However, it would also take nearly more than eleven years to reach shelves because of its rocky development history but when it appeared on shelves and on Steam, it gave players an exciting sci-fi story filled with plenty of action, aliens, and Al Bell.

As Native American Domasi Tawodi, or Tommy, you’ll find that life on the reservation hasn’t treated him too well and Tommy is looking for a way off to find his fortune in the world outside of the people that he has turned his back on. Not one for traditions or for heeding the advice of his grandfather who comes to warn him of an approaching darkness, he’s at his girlfriend’s bar during last call when the change he’s looking for in life comes knocking in the form of a close encounter of the third kind. Abducted by an invasion of aliens and inexplicably freed by unexpected allies within the massive vessel he and many other collected humans have been brought to, Tommy must find a way to rescue his girlfriend and grandfather as well as try to the survive the gauntlet ahead.

Prey - Guns in space!!!
Prey’s story is a great mix of sci-fi storytelling, explosive, Bruckheimer styled action sequences, and a little Native American flavor worked in to lend Tommy’s character more than a Native American name. Radio talk show host, Al Bell, also makes a cameo as transmissions from Earth are occasionally picked up by the alien equipment aboard the Sphere ship that Tommy is trapped on, allowing the player to hear the calls and Bell’s reactions to the alien invasion of Earth. Each character stands out thanks to the solid voice acting behind each one, whether it’s Tommy’s reactions to what he’s seeing around him, his grandfather’s patient voice in trying to teach him the lessons of his people to help him survive, or the alien nemesis that will taunt him every step of the way through the bowels of the Sphere. There are one or two brutal twists waiting for the player in the game, including one that will force them into being more than a bystander, providing plenty of incentive to keep heading forward. As for the ending, it’s just as good a reward for making it there, leading right into the promise of a sequel.

It’s a good thing that the story is solid stuff because the gameplay is pretty much everything that you’ve seen in every other FPS out there with only a few twists to keep it exciting. Aside from the regular pray ‘n spray action, the game makes great use of the same engine used to power Id’s Doom III, creating detailed set pieces and vast alien caverns filled with living flesh and strange technology including the ability to walk on walls and ceilings. As exciting as that sounds, you can only walk along specified paths and floors as opposed to anything that you can try and set your feet on. Some locations will also allow you to shift gravity itself, spinning the room and making Tommy wish for the porcelain god as his bowels spin along with everything else.

Prey - Tunnel Vision
The music also plays a huge part in the game with plenty of licensed tracks from old school acts such as Judas Priest and the Blue Oyster Cult whose track, “Don’t Fear the Reaper”, plays at just the right moment. Jeremy and Julian Soule provide even more tracks to feed your ears with as you go stomping through the tunnels and vacuum sealed chambers of the alien space scape. From creepy, horror inducing synth to tunes that match the blistering action as you fight for your life against one of the alien bosses in your way, Prey can sometimes feel more like an action film than a game.

The vaunted portal technology that was shown off more than a decade ago has created a lot of great special effects in the game, allowing the player to explore a model planet to shooting enemies from a hole in the air. The “room within a room” effect that each portal brings to the table is great stuff to play around with, especially as some puzzles use it to make the player think of how to move them around in order to get to where they need to go. It’s interesting stuff that helps to bring out the sci-fi weirdness that Prey revels in.

Prey - Spirit Walking
One other twist is the use of Native American-styled twists, such as in using the spirit realm to get the jump on foes or to scout out areas ahead. At one point in the game, Tommy will learn how to send his spirit ahead in order to fight enemies, trip switches, or explore places where his meat body can’t get to. He’ll also find that death isn’t the end as the player fights in the spirit realm to gain as much health and spiritual power before they arrive back in the land of the living. It’s a unique solution to having to reload a saved game all the time and does a decent job in keeping you in the game, but it can also make much of the experience feel like a cakewalk since death isn’t as much of a threat as it had used to be. Even if you return with only a little bit of life and spiritual power, dying and doing better in the death minigame trivializes much of the danger that might otherwise exist.

As fun as it is to gun your way through the alien scenery, Prey runs into the repetition of its own challenge by throwing many of the same enemies at you which can get boring. Occasionally it will throw in a surprise, such as demonic children possessed by alien powers, that can work to creep you out, but this doesn’t happen very often. Most of the time, much of the action will pit you against many of the same soldiers over and over again until the very end. Boss fights aren’t as exciting as they could have been thanks to the death minigame that puts you back in the action, and the last battle in the game wasn’t as incredible as I had hoped it would be. Still, the story told in the game was strong enough to make up for the shortcomings of what quickly became a repeat performance every few steps.

The single player experience isn’t very long and dedicated shootists will be able to shred their way through it in less than seven to ten hours of action. Multiplayer is available for players hoping to shoot each other up online and surprisingly, there were quite a few servers out there and a few players still playing the game well after its release. Other than that, there aren’t a whole of extras to get excited about unless you really want to play through the single player again.

Prey - Earth is in trouble...again
Prey oozes with plenty of otherworldly atmosphere, but aside from the wall walking and the portal tricks that made things a little more interesting than your typical shooting gallery, the gameplay wasn’t as exciting as the scenery. It also would have been nice if more emphasis was made over the Native American aspects of the title than to simply introduce a few nifty game mechanics, although what was there worked well enough to be entertaining. If you’re looking for a decent shooter with plenty of action, a great story, and loads of eye candy, you really can’t go wrong in being an alien invasion’s idea of Prey.

- World 1-1

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