It has been a long time coming, quite a long time if my memory serves me correctly (10 or so years). It's shifted focus several times and after many delays, Prey is finally amongst us. Prey joins the line of FPS and adds a couple of interesting innovations and gimmicks that sets it above the usual run-of-the-mill crowd.
The Xbox 360 version of Prey landed on my table so I was interested to see how it performed.
You play the part of Tommy, a young Cherokee that is bored of his life on the Reservation, he's a mechanic and very much in the mould of a certain guy armed with a crowbar has no Special Operations training or leanings towards the army. Tommy is trying to convince his girl to leave the Reservation with him, ignore his grandfather's strange spiritual mumblings and advice when all hell breaks loose and the whole bar is abducted by aliens.
But these aren't the ET-style aliens, these are mean and ruthless extraterrestrials that would be at home in a David Cronenberg movie. You very quickly realise that things are going from bad to worse when you wake up on the ship and are strapped to a big metal mobile gurney.
Without spoiling the game's story for anyone it plays like a regular FPS. The transition to the Xbox 360 is fairly smooth and there are the usual options that you can toggle on and off, much like the PC version of the game. After that it's a straight run and gun shooter with some innovations and quirky gameplay techniques that add to the fun.
Movement is on the left stick, crouching can be toggled, aim with the right stick.
The game unfolds with Tommy trying desperately to understand what's going on around him, the alien ship is a nightmare of insane design and there are hordes of enemies at every turn. Tommy is armed with his trusty wrench and later on gets his hands on some weird alien-tech weapons that are bio-engineered.
The weapons aren't all that interesting and for such an advanced technology only a couple of them actually appear advanced. The bio-acid spray gun being a firm favourite as well as a freeze gun that brought back memories of Duke.
The biggest innovation in Prey are the portals that pop up through which Tommy can access new and secret areas, or the enemies can arrive. Some of these will lead you further on in the sprawling alien mothership and some are there to showcase what portal-tech can do.
I particularly liked one portal that lead from a room onto a small planetoid in a glass cabinet, Tommy had been shrunk by the journey and there was a very 'Land of the Giants' moment as he looked up and saw the giant alien monster, before it used a portal of its own and joined me on the rock.
There's also the whole 'walking on walls' shtick that Prey introduces, this is a really weird experience the first time it happens and via the use of special walkways, the aliens can get around their ship to other areas. You have to stop and wonder why the hell they'd build a ship like this in the first place, but they are aliens so that kind of answers that.
Tommy has always spurned his spiritual heritage and taken a more materialistic view of things, but now his girl is in trouble he begins to want payback any way possible. A spirit guide senses this, and draws him into another world where he learns other new powers and abilities, gaining his new weapon and knowledge. This isn't thrown in either, its woven quite nicely into the overall story and introduces a new gameplay mechanic.
Spirit walking: Tommy can project his astral self outside of his body at will and once he does this, his physical form is left there vulnerable (at the first hit he's drawn back in) and can be harmed by the enemy. Tommy's spirit self is armed with a bow and the bad guys can't detect you until you fire, it drains blue spirit energy and the only way to get it back is to kill the aliens and steal their life force.
Tommy can also pass through certain barriers and walk along invisible astral walkways to get to areas that he normally can't access. There are also several puzzles in the game that require the use of the spirit walk to get past.
And talking of puzzles, the game is made up of a fairly bizarre series of gravity related puzzles at one point, where you're switching gravity by rotating a room around using shoot-able pads on the walls, these techniques aren't new to FPS but they are certainly headache inducing after a while.
There is also a hover-bubble kind of vehicle that has a gravity gun and a blaster, this can be used to trap enemies and pick up large pieces of debris from the various levels and the blaster makes short work of various foes from the safety of your cockpit.
If you take away the wall walking, spirit walking and portals Prey is a run of the mill simple shooter, these additions to the gameplay make for some interesting puzzles and a madcap romp through a mind-bendingly devious alien spaceship where an interesting story pulls you along at every twist and turn.
There are no cut-scenes in a 3rd person, they are all part of the game's engine and they are delivered as part of the action.
Prey runs quite smoothly using the Doom 3 engine with additional tweaks and pokes here and there, like the portals for instance. The graphics have that look that marks the engine and are pretty solid, they are not mindblowing and they are certainly starting to show their age against the other shooters that have popped up recently.
Prey takes advantage of various light and shadow effects, particles and glows/blooms quite nicely to provide the right level of tension to the often insane level design. They run nicely on the Xbox 360 and the console suffers no appreciable frame rate loss when things get too hectic.
Everything has that grim/grimy blood-washed alien death mothership look that the Doom 3 engine is famous for, except that Prey isn't as dark and tense as Doom 3 was. The texture design however is nice and it fits very well with the atmosphere of the ship, the mix of mechanical and biological parts that are integrated into the vessel are well designed and textured to near perfection.
Prey features some of the most insane level design seen in a game at the moment, the mix of wall mounted walkways that wind around some of the environments are mind-bending at best. The link from one level to the next is quite tenuous in some places, you get the feeling that the developers though: hey this is cool, and then promptly forgot there's supposed to be a story that links these things together.
Tommy goes into a box, Tommy ends up on a rock, Tommy follows that rock around and passes into another portal - Tommy finds himself elsewhere on the ship. This kind of level design could only work in Prey at the moment and the game gets away with it because it is indeed pretty cool and fun.
The Prey levels are mix of run and gun action and various environmental puzzles, only one of these puzzles really has anything to do with the physics in the game as well, so unlike other games that use physics to do puzzles Prey doesn't rely on that technology and makes use of gravity reversing, portals and general quirkiness to propel the action.
There are some truly nice set pieces that showcase certain environments perfectly, I won't spoil them but they are enough to make your jaw drop when you first see them.
There is one big caveat about Prey I want to make, you can't die. If you die you are taken to a spirit world where you must shoot spirits with your bow, red for health and blue for spirit - there's no sense of danger in that respect and it is very hard to actually fail to get health and spirit energy back. After your body falls through the hole in the centre you are transported back to where you died ready to kick alien ass again.
Prey doesn't tout the next greatest physics engine and to some it might seem it's taken a step backwards, there's ragdoll effects and a sense of gravity, objects move when hit and round objects roll. We've seen all of these physics systems in a myriad of games and it brings nothing new to the table in that respect.
As one might expect from the Doom 3 engine the models are consistent and of good quality. There's no excellent modelling in the game and nothing truly stands out above anything else. The alien creatures are great looking and the bigger boss monsters reminded us of Doom in a certain way, especially a demon-like creature with curved horns.
I never had that 'wow' 'oh my god' moment that I got from Doom 3 or Quake 4 however, perhaps because the monsters seemed all too familiar in that way. Even a creature that I'd been expecting failed to elicit any kind of 'wow' response; it was just another monster to be blasted into oblivion.
Good solid animations are the order of the day in Prey, just like the models the engine provides a decent quality to the movements and doesn't go above and beyond the call of duty on character animations. The game does however go one step extra with the environmental animations and set pieces, these really do leave you with a feeling of awe at times and they mix well with the lighting and shadow effects the game engine is good at.
It's functional. It takes cover and it uses grenades, it tries to give some support and backup to its colleagues and doesn't get stuck with stupid pathing errors. The bigger boss monsters take advantage of brute-style AI and are definitely not as clever as their smaller, lithe counterparts.
Prey has a solid sound engine and it delivers well on this front, the gruesome audio for the various living-ship parts works well and the various disturbing alien sounds add to the atmosphere.
Prey has a nice orchestral score and it's not intrusive at all. It has a definite Native American feel to the music at times (not surprising) and transitions well throughout the game.
Good solid performances from all the cast bring Prey alive and immerse you in the world. It doesn't pull punches when it comes to profanity however so if you have an aversion to that kind of thing, expect a wild ride unless you turn it off. Tommy transforms from a angry young Native American to hero as he takes his journey in Prey and this is reflected in the very subtle changes of his voice's mood - although he never truly loses that angry streak.
Prey's MP is standard fare, deathmatch, every man for himself and the team deathmatch modes are the meal on offer. These are a wasted potential for a game like this and there could have been a lot more modes on offer, especially since the various modes allow for spirit walking and so on, there could have been a nice variant of Assault for instance with infiltration and objectives.
The wall walking and spirit walking, gravity effects, add a little to the MP but the game itself is really a SP experience with MP tacked on.
In MP Prey is a fairly nice blast online, but forget any kind of LanPrey with your 360 or local play, that's not an option for this shooter.
The final bite
I only have one problem with Prey: It might take you about 10 hours to complete if you're addicted to the story and SP game. It also suffers from a definite sequel-it-is that most games are heading towards these days but that's not a bad thing if the second game is as gripping as the first story wise and provides solid gameplay and shooter action like this one does.
Prey is definitely a nice solid FPS and deserves play just to experience the mind-altering space ship, the story and the engine pulling off some very excellent set pieces using portals, light and shadow.