Prey, an inventive sci-fi first person shooter from 2K Games, Venom Games, and Human Head Studios, is a fun and deeply imaginative, if somewhat flawed, game. The humorous problem with Prey is that it went through years and years of development with multiple development teams and when the game finally gets released we find out that it actually could’ve used a little more work to become a great game instead of just a good one. Being thought of as a good game isn’t a bad thing at all, obviously, but considering how much potential is untapped for a game like this, there is a bit of a let down factor to deal with.
In Prey, you take on the role of Tommy, a Native American who struggles with his heritage, and wants to leave his Cherokee reservation to live a “normal” life with his girlfriend Jen. The game starts you out looking in the mirror at yourself in the rundown bathroom of Jen’s bar. Right away you will notice amazing lighting and shadow effects within the room. As you run about, getting used to the game controls, you will bump into your grandfather, Enisi, who tries to tell you how special you are, but of course young Tommy has no time to listen to the apparent ramblings of his aging grandfather. After that short chat you will be granted entrance to the bar. Some cool things about Jen’s bar are the little mini-games you can play like poker and a modified version of Pac-Man to earn some easy gamerscore points. The games are fun enough, for a bit. Oddly enough though, they show up every once and a while throughout the rest of the game also. They are horribly misplaced in that respect and serve no function to appear in the middle of a room during a gun fight. Back to the bar, another nice little touch is the jukebox which is loaded with great licensed music, but you only really get to listen to the songs for very short amounts of time (you get about two or three opportunities). This then begs the question, why even use licensed music at all if the developers aren’t actually going to use it? Eventually, after some more dialogue and a short fight (to basically get your feet wet) the aliens show up and abduct you, Jen, and your grandfather.
After you’re transported to the aliens’ ship you’ll be witness to lots of freaky extra terrestrial technology (everything is based off of organic metals apparently). Humans are killed to be fed to “mother”, walls spew blood and body parts at you at every turn, and all of the weapons you’ll acquire on the ship are alive (although most look somewhat silly except the kick ass leech gun). The best part of the alien world isn’t the weaponry, though, it’s the portals, spirit powers, and gravity walkways. Portals are used throughout the game to transport you from one place to another. The portals can be disorienting at times which makes them all the cooler. It’s also pretty trippy to look through a portal at your own self from a different perspective. Many times there are multiple portals in a room for enemies to come at you from every direction which adds much needed excitement (for a while, at least).
Enisi provides you with spirit powers and a spirit bird named Talon. Your spirit powers are a nice touch and tie in well with what many believe Native Americans are all about. The main spirit power is being able to run around in “spirit” form (of course) to walk through barriers and throw switches. While I like being able to walk through places I normally couldn’t, I would’ve liked it more if the developers had made the gameplay more like a two player co-op kind of game. It would have been great if they could’ve thought up some kind of mechanic, perhaps even something as easy as "bullet-time", that would allow you to play as two different entities seemingly at the same time in order to kill bosses or solve tougher puzzles.
The gravity walkways are exactly what they sound like they are, and they are also definitely the most impressive part of the game. To be able to have shootouts on walls and ceilings offers refreshing gameplay to say the least. It’s totally awesome to shoot an enemy and watch them fall up (it never gets old). All is not peaches and cream, though. While the portals and walkways are groovy in their own right, they are both underutilized. I would’ve loved to have seen more imagination in the way of the portals and walkways used as puzzles. There are great moments; like the developers making you step through a portal which places you in a huge box puzzle that you have to keep flipping around in order to solve. Screwing up the gravity of the box is one of the coolest moments in recent gaming history in my opinion (it’s something you really have to experience in order to get the full appreciation). Another interesting part of Prey has you using the walkways in a room that rearranges itself every few seconds or so. But sadly, awesome moments such as these are seldom, which is a true shame. We get a taste of what Prey could be, we see the potential, and it just makes me (and many others I suspect) wonder what would have happened if the developers had just a little more time with this project.
Other problems with Prey include the freakishly long load times. In this day and age of gaming, load times such as the ones found here (many times they feel like they go way beyond a minute and a half) are borderline unforgivable. The main gameplay is pretty much run-of-the-mill; all you do for a huge chunk of the game is run into a room, shoot some bad guys, flip a switch or two and run into the next room full of bad guys. Even the cool enemies like the demon children are easily dispatched with the run-and-gun method. Most of the boss fights are simple and uninspiring (putting it mildly). The end boss is a complete joke and a total waste of time. But perhaps the biggest flaw of Prey is the fact that you can’t die. If you get killed in the game you are whisked away to a spirit realm where you have to shoot blue and red wraiths in order to fill up health and energy before you are transported back to where you previously met your demise, ready to go as if nothing happened. This “unlimited continues” mechanic seriously takes the edge off of any difficulty Prey has. There’s nothing to fear if you know there’s basically no consequences. Also, multiplayer feels like an afterthought. There’s no split screen and deathmatch and team deathmatch get old, although the portals and walkways do add some fun.
The visuals in Prey are pretty good (although for some reason the Jen character looks like an adult sized elf- very unattractive). The developers made good use of the Doom 3 engine- although it does show it’s age against other high profile games. Everything looks dingy, dirty, and cluttered. Most environments look authentic, although some do feel a tad bland. Blood splatters on weapons like Tommy’s wrench; which is an excellent touch. As I said before, seeing the room that forms and changes around you is terrific. There are other visually pleasing moments, like watching a jumbo jet fly by you while on fire, or seeing a pitch black room illuminate with spectacular lighting effects.
Overall Prey is a very solid game that sci-fi fans definitely should not miss. It has a great imagination, even if it hasn’t been executed to perfection. Prey shows much promise, and is a great idea for a weekend of gaming. Hopefully the sequel will really take the potential of the world of Prey and truly build upon it and show all gamers just how phenomenal the series can be.