Starting to write about Prey is almost like writing about Duke Nukem Forever. I'm sure someday I will write about old Duke again, even if it's just an evil commentary about its failure as a game or to criticize 3D Realms for its humongous development time. Either way the culprit for the success of Prey and the most elusive game in the history of this industry, DKF is 3D Realms.
In this case, the choice of not handling the productions of Prey is without a doubt the single most intelligent move they've made in years. The only credit they could assume for this game is the artwork and concept which were used in the development by Human Head and maybe some ideas along the way, but I'm afraid we are way past trusting 3DRealms.
I don't want to insult the ones that actually came up with the idea of Prey but I'm glad I've managed to play this game before my sixtieth birthday and man, what a game it is.Story
I've heard some unusual reactions related to the story. In fact I had two people saying it resembles too much with War of the Worlds, by Orson Wells. I'm not sure we can make this assumption, considering we had a lot of alien ship threatening our planet before and we have always won.
In the original plot devised over ten years ago, there was only one main character, the American native Indian Cherokee (that's a lot of words for political correctness), called Tommy or Tomassi, like his grandfather called him. After the Human Head Studios delivered the finished product they had subtly introduced a second character, the Sphere. The game is no longer about the inner travel of Tomassi for the rediscovery of his beliefs and of course to save the Earth from losing their place on the food chain. Due to the excellent properties of the Doom 3 engine to mimic the appearance of life on practically any surface and the bio-mechanical nature of the whole Sphere, the entire game gives the feeling of a clash between an angry Indian looking for his girlfriend and a hungry entity looking for a snack.
All kidding aside, the story begins in a small bar on an Indian reservation in Oklahoma, where Tommy is trying to convince Jen to leave with him so they can have a life outside of what he considers to be a small prison. His grandfather, Enisi, is constantly trying to convince him otherwise but he is very reluctant to embrace his spiritual heritage, mostly because he has seen what the world looks like from the perspective of a soldier. Anyway, the argument doesn't lasts too long because they are lifted by force to an alien ship, along with the entire bar.
They wake up a bit later just in time to see that they are on the orbit of Earth and place on a conveyor that goes inside the Sphere. After a short trip someone sabotages the installation and Tommy gets free, but Jen and Enisi are taken further in. Tomassi is forced to watch helplessly how his grandfather is processed and killed and he loses sight of Jen. From this point his only goal and the only thing that keeps him from blowing his head off is his love and his effort to find her.
This quest is later interrupted by his death that reunites him with his grandfather, now a spirit that is still trying to show him the true path. Tommy is still reluctant to believe that the teachings of his culture are real but he slowly sways. He is thought that if he would to die he will always return to the land of the spirits, from where he shall rise again and again until all his enemies are dead. He is also entrusted with a neat Indian trick: out-of-body experience. This means his spirit can leave the body and go through some place where his physical corpse cannot. With this new capability he returns to the tax payer's world and begins the search for his loved one.Concept
Another preposterous allegation I've heard about Prey is that it is no more than an old school shooter. I can safely say that this is no old school and in fact it could teach some lessons to older shooters (if such thing could be done. I know I'm not going with the general flow here but I think this is one of the most revolutionary games in the past years. It's like the first introduction of bullet-time in Max Payne, after which every self respecting game had to have had it.
The innovations in terms of game physics, even if it's not like Hal-Life 2 of some technological demos that use Ageia chips, it's just mind boggling. Sure everyone is now saying that it not that hard to put in a game and anyone could have done it, but they didn't. And if the physics and its applications are not enough to satisfy your lust for novelty than the portal technology will certainly will. No one can say this isn't revolutionary because you have to keep in mind, this concept has been announced a decade ago and in the trillions of game developed by now, none has used it, mainly because they just didn't think of it. So don't yell that this is an old style shooter because you couldn't be more wrong. This is the next-gen we were waiting to happen.Gameplay
In the paragraph above I was trying to make a point about this game being a revolutionary FPS. I know that revolutionary is strong word for a genre that is rarely moved from its path by some innovations and gamers that are playing this kind of games are usually rigid and don't enjoy change all that much. Human Head made Prey a rigid FPS with corridors and monsters popping out the way we are use to, but in the same time have introduced some old features with a brand new look. In the old days, character generation was a common practice and later on became extremely criticized as player got hungry for realism. Therefore, enemies popping in levels in mid air weren't feasible anymore and it soon became a signature for lack of professionalism. With portals popping out anywhere in the level this is no longer a problem.
In Prey, the main and the center on the entire gameplay fun is the Portal concept. It's so simple and in the same time it has tons of applications for it. How does it work? The developers have found a way to create passageways between rooms and areas. In a more rudimentary form it goes like this: it's like passing from the bedroom to the kitchen without using the hallway. These portals can be generated anywhere but unfortunately is not in the power of the player to decide where. Tommy can only use the portals that are already opened or the ones he can activate, but nonetheless the possibilities and the smooth passage through these holes in space without any loading times is a breakthrough in itself.
The second contraption used is the artificial gravity and the ways it affects the gameplay. In some regions of the Sphere Newton would get befuddled because the laws of conventional physics are not applicable anymore. In this manner, the producers figured a way to introduce some puzzles by placing in certain points some switches that can totally reverse the gravity making the ups become downs and vice versa. This interesting approach applies to some walkways that run on walls and ceiling providing a major plus in gameplay options in single and multiplayer.
The third and the last unique feature is the possibility to leave the body for different tasks like killing with a spiritual bow and walking on fine threads that can only by seen by the spirit. In this state he can also walk through shields and deadly plasma bursts. Again the diversity of gameplay options provided by this feature is extraordinary.
Now is the time to talk about a more down to earth chapter: the Weapons. I was pleasantly surprised they haven't fallen in the pattern of pistol, machine gun, grenade launcher etc. Or have they? The first weapon resembles too much with a machine gun and it acts like one. It will be your friendly companion throughout the game, especially because it's the only one with a sniper and zoom. Then there are the grenades represented here by some small animals that are very pissed off by the fact you are tearing up one leg before throwing them so they tend to explode or stick to the characters with the remaining two limbs.
Then there is a grenade launcher and
a shotgun with acid dripping all over. The only original weapon is one that can use four different ammunitions but not at once: one consists of some kind of red energy plasma thingies; the second one is a freeze cloud (which is the most ineffective); the third is an energy bolt that will take out most of the enemies in two or three shots, and the last is a burst of energy that destroy anything in its way. I almost forgot the second machine gun or auto-cannon with also has a very effective grenade launcher attached. The last weapon is a trusty Earth designed, destroyer of worlds, wrench. It's not much but is the only one reminding us of home.
The AI is not much to look at but it does its job pretty well. The guards know how to duck and to use the sniper function when necessary and can even operate the gravity walkways so you can land on your head. The other ones are just shoot-and-dodge so it's not really worth mentioning them.
The game also presents the opportunity of flight in some small capsules but I didn't really enjoy it because they are way too strong and they can be recharged very easily. There true strength can be found in multiplayer where you'll find them to be a powerful ally.
In the game you'll feel like being in a movie, mainly because Tommy never really dies and the actions is continuous, without any major interruptions. The level design permits a lot of puzzles and that represents a well deserved break from all the sightseeing and bloodbath Tommy has left behind, but don't worry because they aren't that difficult and they serve only to show how good Human Head are as a developer.Graphics
I'm not going to say too much about the graphics engine because I don't want to ruin the first impression, but I'm going to say only this: the Doom 3 legacy is with us all the way mostly because of the excessive bump mapping we find on every damn surface. In this case this technologic feature goes great with the Sphere's organic structure and I think it goes without saying it's in the top five of the best looking engines at this time, not to mention that it actually has less requirements than his counterparts, Doom3 and Quake 4, making it playable for more gamers all over the world.Audio
I have contradictory opinions about the sound department and not just because I have multiple personalities. At first I was a little disappointed because I was under the impression the Tommy, in fact the actor that played him, had a really bad day and he was just waiting to get home. The lines didn't have the punch I was expecting. Later on I realized that in fact maybe this is what the voice of someone in his situation would sound and I actually began to appreciate it. I'm not sure others will find the patience to discover this. Either way, the music and sounds are great and I have nothing to hold against Human Head for using some of the initial samples that we've heard in 1997. Multiplayer
All this technological innovations are making their impact on the multiplayer also. Even if there are only 10 maps available and only two modes, Deathmatch and Team Deadmatch, the number of combinations between passageways on the walls, gravity changes and the possibility to actually hunt down the other players with a bow in the spirit form, offers a lot of options that won't get us bored too soon.Conclusion
Prey is simply put one of the best shooters I have played in years. So what it take only 7-8 hour to complete? If any publisher will give us this kind of quality in games I'll be contended with a shorter gameplay, but I'll be gaining some beautiful memories and not to mention loads of pure fun. This is a title that will always leave us with a smile on our faces and the satisfaction of a great adventure!