To say that Prey has had an interesting development cycle would be on par with saying that gas prices are kind of high right now. Originally conceived as a showcase for new portal technology the game was originally supposed to be on shelves nearly a decade ago. After a few years in development the game was shelved and nearly forgotten. Last year at E3, 3D Realms and Human Head shocked the industry by announcing that they were pulling the game off the shelf and finishing for release in 2006. The FPS genre has changed a lot since the game’s initial conception especially when you consider that Valve has released two Half Life games and some expansion packs in the time it has taken 3D Realms to release this first installment in the Prey franchise.
The plot of the game is your standard one guy saves the planet from invading alien hordes with a few tweaks based on Cherokee mythos. You play Tommy a Cherokee mechanic who longs to get move away and start a new life away from the reservation. He’s held on the reservation by his girlfriend Jen and his grandfather. Both Jen and his grandfather are proud of their Indian heritage and don’t want to leave the reservation. That all changes though when the aliens descend and abduct Tommy, Jen, Grandfather, and Jen’s entire bar. It’s a pretty good sequence and the best use of Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper” since ABC used it in the opening sequence of “The Stand” mini-series a few years back.
The plot of the game while semi generic does have a few decent twists along the way. Prey does defy some of the standard clichés along the way but there are a few loose plotlines along the way. There is a decent horror subplot developed early on in the game and then abandoned which is a shame as it was something that probably had a little mileage on it. The game is also hurt by the fact that Tommy isn’t an ideal protagonist. To put it bluntly Tommy is something of a whiney bitch. Constantly complaining about the situation and ignoring the sage advice of his grandfather Tommy is really kind of a prick. Tommy also likes to curse a lot and whine during the game and while you may be in agreement with him a few times, Tommy is a bit of a hard character to like (not unlike Harry Potter in Order of the Phoenix).
With that aside Prey does features some of the most innovative level design ever to grace a FPS. Since you are one a space ship the concept of gravity has a little more flexibility than it does when you are on Earth. This freedom allowed the folks at Human Head to have a little fun at your expense. This is done in two unique ways. The first is that there are certain rooms where gravity can be changed by hitting a switch on a wall. This allows for some inventive puzzles where you have to switch gravity in order to traverse a room or use the gravity to move objects from one area to the next. This gives the level designers the ability to come up with some cool level designs that will have you looking in every direction for ways to solve a particular puzzle.
The next fun mechanism is the addition of magnetized walking wall panels which allow you to walk up walls and on the ceiling. This paired with the changing gravity will actually have you going from ceiling to floor to wall in a couple of rooms and adds that extra little bit of disorientation to some of the games. The fact that you usually end up fighting enemies while you are upside down doesn’t help much as they will also spawn on the ceiling with you and on the floor.
Of course I haven’t even touched on the big feature of the original game, the portal system which allows you to see one area of the game from another. Not only can you see from one area of the map to another you can shoot weapons through them and take out bad guys on the other side of the portal. While this has been done in games before, Prey does a good job of leveraging this in a few new ways.
The final last new game play feature is that Tommy can “Spirit walk”. This allows Tommy to leave his body and explore the world in a spirit form. The keen thing about spirits is that they can walk through force fields and can push buttons…and that’s pretty much what you’re going to be doing 90% of the time you are in spirit mode. That said the other 10% has you killing certain monsters that can only be killed by the bow and arrows that the spirit form has and there are certain puzzles that force you to use the mode. Some of these do get a bit repetitive at times but the game does change them up a bit as you go along which helps alleviate the feeling that you’re beating the same horse to death.
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