Summary: Nine years after its E3 debut, Prey arrives on the PC. A different dev, an id engine, and that wacky portal technology come together to make a solid shooter. Read on.
Letís begin this review by examining what Prey isnít. In terms of basic gameplay, thereís very little here that hasnít been done before. You move from point A to point B and shoot everything that stands in your way. You have a variety of weapons to use, most of which have some kind of alternative fire. However, itís Preyís unique elements that developers Human Head Studios and publisher 3D Realms have emphasized. Indeed, it could be said that Preyís attempts at different gameplay aspects overwhelm what might considered to be its standard fare.
The storyline isnít much of a reward for anyone interested in a deep plot but itís serviceable. As I mentioned in my preview of the recent Prey demo, you play a Cherokee Native American named Tommy who is disillusioned and wants nothing to do with his people or culture. The game begins in a run-down bar as his grandfather nags him about fulfilling his destiny and his girlfriend Jen telling him she canít leave with him because her home is on the Oklahoma reservation. Then from pretty much out of nowhere a massive alien ship shows up and hovers over the bar. It proceeds to fire an energy beam to teleport the bar and its patrons, including your character, up to the ship. You are pinned in some kind of conveyance inside the bio-organic ship but for some reason some mysterious figure manages to get you free. At first, all your character cares about is saving his girl but as the game progresses the hero learns that much more is at stake than just rescuing Jen. Eventually he finds out that not only is there more to the aliens than meats the eye (with one of them being that their ďshipĒ is a lot bigger than your first impression), there is more to himself than he ever realized.
Originally conceived by 3D Realms in the mid-1990ís, the demos for Prey at two E3ís showcased the gameís warping of time and space through the portal tech of the impressive (at the time) Prey engine. However, 3D Realms abandoned its own Prey project in the late 1990ís. but just a few years later, it hooked up with Madison, Wis. Human Head Studios (Rune, Dead Manís Hand) to complete the game. Thankfully, they have not forgotten that it was the portal effects that made the original Prey so memorable in those E3 demos. The game uses these portals constantly to warp you to different locations instantly, sometimes through simple boxes and other times through energy gates that seemingly pop up out of nowhere. There are a lot of gravity distortions inside the ship as well. You might find yourself walking on walls or a ceiling or firing on a device that causes the room to flip over. This has the effect of keeping the player on his or her toes constantly in the game. Will a portal pop up above you with aliens attacking? Will you have to make the room rotate 90 or 180 degrees to get to where you are going? It can definitely make you dizzy so watch yourself if you are prone to motion sickness. The portals and gravity switching combined can also create some puzzles that you need to solve.
Most of the weapons in Prey are of the bio-mechanical alien variety, from plasma rifles with a sniper scope to a high powered energy weapon that can be recharged at certain stations on the ship; you can even change the ďammoĒ the gun uses to fire a freeze blast on your enemies. Another kind of energy station allows for a lightning attack for your weapon. Other items like organic grenades, a grenade launcher and the good old rocket launcher are also on hand in the game. A personal favorite is Preyís variation of the shotgun which fires not the standard spray of buckshot but acid that eats through your enemies. The ship spews out egg like creations that can and are used like exploding barrels in other first person shooters, which are sometimes the only way to get through a door or entryway that is covered in some kind of alien web (why you canít just blast through the alien web is not explained). At times you get to control a flying vehicle with plasma cannons and a tractor beam (useful for solving puzzles that we wonít reveal here)
The enemies in the game range from pure monsters like a cross between a bird, a pig and a powerful creature that looks an awful lot like H.R.Gigerís Alien design, to more intelligent aliens that like to use the sniper mode on the plasma rifle to strike from long distances. There are also some truly massive enemies like a floating gasbag with a nasty sting, and huge goat-headed creatures with machine guns. The levels are interspersed with biological traps such as orifices that fire bio-gunk that hurt your health, and tendrils that do much the same thing, as well as the more standard mechanical turrets. We wish Prey had a bit more artificial intelligence behind the bad guys, however. Most players should be able to figure out their movements, but sometimes the portals and gravity switching make up for a lack of smarts in the enemies.
Sound is a very important part of Prey, from the weapon effects to screams and yells that will sometimes curl your blood, and even some decent voice acting from the principals (including eccentric radio personality Art Bell who can be heard somehow inside the ship). Preyís soundtrack composed by Jeremy Soule is top-notch with appropriate movie style action beats, but the designers have also put in classic 1970ís and 1980ís rock tunes in the mix as well. As we mentioned in our demo preview, there is also interaction in the game, like playing poker and figuring out how to open alien doors.
The multiplayer portion of Prey is kind of like the single player game; on the surface itís been done before with just deathmatch and team deathmatch available for up to eight players. However with the portals and gravity effects in full force in multiplayer you could fend off attacks by opponents on the walls and on the ceiling which makes the standard deathmatch round more interesting. We would have liked some more modes included however - for example, CTF with portals and gravity effects sounds pretty cool to us.
The gameís biggest drawback is its limited replayablity in single player. The game is a fairly short experience; we clocked in at just under 10 hours and thatís with using the demoís save points to negate the beginning of the game. After you finish, the game opens up the Cherokee level of difficulty. Yes, it is more difficult, but it also suffers from the fact that if you die you just go to get your health replenished in the spirit world. As we mentioned before, the AI of Preyís enemies is sometimes limited and we wish that the game had more kinds of multiplayer support. There are also some fairly long load times in between levels that tend to sap the pace of the game.
On a side note...
We decided to check out the Triton system to download the PC version of Prey. In the negatives column, the interface is clearly still bare bones and doesnít have a lot of flash. Some people also apparently had some difficulty getting the CD key emailed to them but that seems to have been fixed now. On the plus side, however, the Triton system does exactly what it claimed it would do. Once you started pre-loading the game, it took less than 20 minutes to stream enough of it for us to start playing. If Triton can improve its interface and deal with some of its growing pains, it stands a chance to be a solid digital download service.
Unique Gameplay Elements
Brief Single Player Game
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