It's not everyday you hear of a game that has a ten year development span. With Prey however, this is the case. Until recently, a suitable game engine capable of supporting such radical design ideas was never built, and work on Prey got shoved to the back of a long priority list while the team worked on other games. However, the recently developed Doom 3 engine appears to be the answer to 3D Realms and Humanhead Studios' decade of design concepts to finally build the next gen FPS, Prey.
Thanks to some innovative design features which clearly set it apart from other shooters, Prey when it was unveiled at E3 in May this year instantly emerged as the most eagerly anticipated FPS game of the summer. But does it live up to the hype?
From a design aspect it's difficult to see how it could have been better. Prey has many features which differentiate it from other FPS games. Most prominent among these are Portals. These portals may be just a way to get from one place to another, a form of instant long distance travel. However, in many cases the game often takes this to a whole new level as enemies can open a portal from an unknown location to attack you, meaning you never feel completely safe. There is always a sense of unpredictability about the game, even in a small room with only one way out.
Portals aren't the only original idea in the game. Gravity changes and wall-walking make for some interesting and sometimes dizzying moments, as you could be shooting at enemies from the wall or ceiling without realising who is actually stood on the real floor. The game constantly gives you entertaining and challenging puzzles which involve changes in gravity. Throughout the game, there are big green buttons on the walls, floors or ceilings, which can be shot at to change the way the gravity works in that entire room. This often makes for some entertaining and mind bending moments all by itself.
The third and final main aspect which give Prey its distinctive feel is Spirit-Walking. Spirit-Walking is a name given to the game's function allowing you to leave your body and do things which you couldn't ordinarily achieve while within your body. A good example would be passing through a force field. In many cases Spirit-Walking is used to create interesting puzzles, such as when a lift switch is hidden behind a force field you could place your body on the lift then Spirit Walk to the switch behind the force field to activate the lift. Prey often has plenty of these intellectual puzzles which help break up the constant shooting, which can cause some FPS's to become repetitive to some players very promptly. Something very unusual about Prey is that instead of dying, you are transported to the 'Spirit Realms' where you just need to shoot red and blue wraiths to regain your health and spirit power back. This lasts around 20 seconds before you are transported back to just metres away from where you lost all your health. Because the game doesn't throw you back to a checkpoint this means no matter which of the two difficultly levels you are playing, it is always possible to progress further in the game, even if it is only little by little.
Prey has a deeply gripping and motivating storyline that will inspire you to play through its 8- 10 hour single player campaign. In prey you play as a character called Tommy, a Cherokee who has always rejected the ways of his ancestors. One day when he tries to convince his girlfriend Jen to leave the Cherokee reservation where they both live, mysterious lights are sighted in the sky, and Tommy, along with Jen and a few others get abducted by a race of inhospitable aliens. From then on, the story revolves around Tommy desperately trying to save Jen and make it back to earth alive. As you would expect the plot thickens and the fate of more than just him and his girlfriend's life are in your hands.
No FPS would be complete without a vast range of exciting weaponry to blast your way through the levels. Prey is armed with 7 creative alien weapons that all fulfil their own purpose very effectively, and make a change from the usual Shotgun and machine guns you expect to find in a typical FPS. The only criticism that could be made is that perhaps 7 isn't a huge number, and a few more weapons wouldn't be a bad thing. Having said that, one of the weapons featured in Prey has several uses depending on which form of energy it's fuelled from, making that weapon alone equipped to take on almost any nemesis you will encounter all by itself.
Online Prey plays very similarly to Doom 3 or Quake 4, but stands out because of the superb way the gravity and portal aspects of the game feature in its multiplayer levels. Sadly the very standard Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch game types may get a little repetitive in the absence of Capture the flag or anything else a little more original. Apart from this, Prey provides a satisfying and entertaining online experience, with online leaderboards to keep players coming back for more.
An important point of every game powered by id software's Doom 3 engine has always been the quality of their graphics. Unsurprisingly, since Prey is also powered by this same engine, it retains a similar quality. Despite using a brighter and more uplifting palette, the lighting stands out for particular praise in this title, and although some of the character textures don't look the most detailed, the look of the environments and weapon effects more than make up for this. The frame rate occasionally fluctuates from time to time, but nothing compared to the appalling slowdown experienced in Quake 4.
The sound effects in Prey do a great job of conveying a sense personality and organisation to the aliens. With the odd shout and squeak you feel as though you a playing against a prepared group that react appropriately to your actions. The soundtrack in Prey is one of the games definite strengths. Much of the music is courtesy of Jeremy Soule, who recently worked on Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. Soule's music in Prey provides an ambient and orchestral finish to the game that helps elevate the sincerity of the storyline. There is also a variety of licensed rock songs in Prey, such as Judus Priest's "You've Got Another Thing Comin" or "Barracuda" from Heart, along with a whole host of others. Sadly these songs only occasionally make an appearance and sometimes feel a little wasted because of it.
Prey is a game that's easy to recommend. It features fantastic level design that make a fresh change from the usual FPS fodder. Coupled with a captivating and well told storyline, Prey comes together to be the game of choice if you are looking for an FPS that, if not perfect, actually does something new for the genre.