Prey has been a long time coming—it was originally announced in 1997, then cancelled, and then recently revived. Though it brings some innovative gameplay to the table, by the time you get to the end (the game’s only four to six hours long), Prey’s run out of tricks and it plays just like any other shooter.
We should state right from the start that this game, like many other shooters, begins brilliantly. You are a Cherokee Indian enjoying an evening in your girlfriend’s bar, when all of a sudden an alien ship sucks you, your girlfriend, and your grandfather into its underbelly.
This totally kills your buzz, and for the next few hours it’s up to you to lay down some Native American smack on the alien interlopers. You don’t have any clue what’s going on for the first few hours of the game, which we found frustrating. We don’t need a story spoon-fed to us, but we would have appreciated just a little more exposition. As it is, it’s not until the game’s finale that everything comes together and makes sense.
In most respects, Prey is a fairly standard first-person shooter, but the game does innovate on several fronts. The first “new” thing is the game’s use of portals, which allow you to move from one area to another unconnected area by stepping through a wormhole. Though they’re used in a few simple puzzles, the portals are essentially nothing more than fancy doors. It’s a shame they don’t add any interesting or unique dimensions to the gameplay.
The second way in which the game innovates—and is truly a pioneer—is in upside-down gameplay. Through the use of vertical walkways and switches that invert the environment, you find yourself walking on the ceiling and shooting at bad guys above you, below you, or on the walls next to you. Some rooms have switches that you shoot to invert the entire room, causing you to flip upside down. It’s utterly sickening at first, and your character brilliantly says “I’m going to be sick!” if you flip-flop the gravity too much. Then he pukes his guts out, just like you feel doing. The first time the world turns, it’s an exceptional gaming moment, and after a few spins the upside-down action becomes more tolerable.
We also like the game’s “spirit walk” feature, where you leave your body and walk around like a ghost. You use the feature to solve rudimentary puzzles, and we enjoyed slaughtering enemies and swallowing their souls in spirit-walk mode.
Where the game comes up short is in the FPS bread-and-butter: combat, weapons, and puzzles. The weapons are interesting in that they are all organic (living, breathing creatures, in other words), but for the most part, they’re just the standard FPS fare—reskinned. The only truly original weapon is a creature whose legs double as grenades. You tear one off and chuck it at your foes, then watch them go boom. The sniper rifle/machine gun, rocket launcher, and shotgun all look very cool but deliver no new thrills. The combat is utterly forgettable, with dumb AI, and nary a memorable incident or foe to be found. The puzzles are frustrating, unintuitive, and repetitive.
“MultiPreyer” could be entertaining, as the game’s gravity-switching, wall-walking, and portal gimmicks play a prominent role. But the included maps are all too massive—more suited to a 32-player fragfest than an intimate eight-man encounter. And they’re much too large for the one-on-one stalking that the weapons would be perfect for.
Month Reviewed: October 2006
+ WALL-WALKING: Looks great, wall-walking is cool, and portals are fun.
- UPCHUCKING: Bland comabat and enemies, so-so MultiPreyer, and too short.