Prey: First Impressions

By Shamus
on May 31, 2007
Filed under:
Game Reviews

I played the demo of this game way back in August of last year. Last weekend I saw the extra-special collector’s edition with various knicknacks of dubious value and an art book, all packaged in a felt-lined tin for $20. Oh yeah, there was a game in there too. Really I was just happy to find the game for cheap, so the collection of collector’s collectables hold about the same value to me as a stick of baseball card gum or a Bazooka Joe comic. Eh. That’s nice. Whatever.

I stand by most of my initial comments on the game: The Native American spirit warrior is as good an excuse as any to give the player super powers, and it works well here because those powers translate so well into compelling gameplay.

You can run around on the glowing paths. This might feel a little strange.
You can run around on the glowing paths. This might feel a little strange.
This game really does have a lot of new tricks up its sleeve. Half-Life 2 had the gravity gun, and they more or less built the game around the thing. It was brilliant, but looking back it seems like a one-trick pony. (This isn’t really fair. I did play through the game three times.) But Prey has several of these sorts of tricks, and all of them give me a “why hasn’t anyone ever done this before?” feeling.

The game has catwalks which go up walls, across ceilings, sideways, and back down to “right side up” again. The game never explains how they work. You just stick to them. Gravity retains the familiar orientation, but some alien technology prevents you from falling. (Unless you jump) This can be strange as you fight enemies who are on different catwalks with different orientations, and neither one of you is right-side up. Sometimes when objects fall or get knocked around you get a sense of which way gravity is “really” going, and the effect is dizzying.

Speaking of gravity… if the catwalks aren’t enough to baffle you, the game has shifting gravity. The whole thing takes place on a gigantic sphere-shaped spaceship, and within the ship there are areas with gravity pointing in all sorts of different directions. There are even areas where you can control gravity yourself, which you must do to navigate around various obstacles. It starts out letting you “flip” a room to get over a high wall, but eventually you’ll be able to aim gravity in all six directions in order to tumble through a three-dimensional maze, with the added complexity that you need to keep from going splat by falling too far.

<del datetime="2007-06-01T01:37:38+00:00">Although Prey uses a different engine</del>, it still looks a LOT like Doom 3.  It has a similar bio-industrial style and the metal surfaces give off the same low-polish shine.  The advantage here is that the game is much more brightly lit, so you rarely have that feeling of bumbling about in the dark that was all too common in Doom.
Although Prey uses a different engine, it still looks a LOT like Doom 3. It has a similar bio-industrial style and the metal surfaces give off the same low-polish shine. The advantage here is that the game is much more brightly lit, so you rarely have that feeling of bumbling about in the dark that was all too common in Doom.
Another great trick the game has is allowing the player to “spirit walk”. You can leave your body and navigate around as a spirit, which can pass thought force fields, fire, and other environmental hazards. You can use this trick to reach control panels and gather hints from otherwise unreachable locations. An interesting limitation of this is that physical doors won’t open for your spirit, and your spirit won’t “stick” to the inverting catwalks. This means that getting through areas is often a process of coordinating movements between your spirit and body. This makes for some really interesting puzzles.

And finally there are portals. These two-dimensional doors into other areas add another layer of insanity to the game. Keeping in mind that portals connect two different locations, but they are usually not at the same orientation. So, if you step through one door-like portal, you may find yourself falling out of the ceiling in another room. Some portals simply take you to a different side of the same room, which might not be apparent at first and results in a forehead-slapping “duh” when you realize the confusing maze you’ve been running is just one room from many different angles. You know, not that this happened to me or anything. I’m just saying it could happen.

Things get really interesting when Prey starts to blend these concepts together, and you are navigating a catwalk in a room with shifting gravity in an attempt to reach a portal in the “ceiling”. It really is brain tickling. I like the puzzles a lot more than the combat, but so far this is turning out to be a really amusing title.

UPDATE: My bad. The game does indeed use the Doom 3 engine (modified) which explains why the lighting looks so similar. I remember hearing about the “Prey Engine” years ago while the game was in development, and I just assumed they were still using it. The Prey entry at Wikipedia explains that they jumped engines a couple of times.

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1818 comments. (18 is the only non-zero number that equals twice the sum of its decimal digits.)

From the Archives:

  1. Rollie says:

    I’ll agree that the single player introduced a few interesting concepts, but I felt that were overused to the point of being gimmicks.

  2. LethalSpoon says:

    I like how, instead of a knife as your basic “ammo-free” weapon, you get a wrench. It’s a nice change.

  3. wildweasel says:

    Probably my favorite moment in Prey, by far, is near the beginning of the game – you step through one portal and end up shrunk to the size of a pea within a tiny glass case in the same room. And then one of the aliens approaches the case, and he’s freaking HUGE.

    Pretty much none of this game really seemed gimmicky to me, but my main complaints were with the player character (I don’t like playing as a jerk unless I WANT to be a jerk).

  4. Phlux says:

    “Although Prey uses a different engine, it still looks a LOT like Doom 3.”

    Not sure if this is maybe what you meant, but it does in fact use the Doom 3 engine, albeit a heavily modified version of it.

  5. Schmidt says:

    Two funny things to note.

    If you play with the changing gravity room to much, especially at the beginning when you first get to try it, you can make your main character throw up.

    Second, far later in the game, when the lights go out, prepare to be ‘Doomed’.

  6. Phlux says:

    I’ll say the one disappointing thing I found with Prey was the weaponry. It was a little boring, and didn’t really do anything innovative. It was just alien-ish versions of your regular weapons. Machine guns, shotguns, grenade launcher, etc… I was a little disappointed that with all of the other innovative gameplay techniques, they couldn’t find weapons that complemented them more.

    The spirit bow was pretty cool, but the alien guns were just more of the same. Why not have like a “gravity launcher” where you can reverse the gravity under a bad guy and send them flying, or something cool like that.

  7. Flexstyle says:

    I remember reading the reviews on this game when it came out. I’m looking forward to hearing the rest of your thoughts on it as you progress through the game! One question–how “gory” is it?

  8. bloopy says:

    the other thing i thought was pretty cool was how you never really “died”. . . it let me play for long stretches without having to think, “oh, i’d better save now”. . . of course the downside is that it let you crank thru the game pretty quickly. . .

  9. Will says:

    Phlux,

    There was a gun somewhat like you’ve described in Unreal 2. It was basically a Singularity gun. You pull the trigger, take a few steps back (you can very easily kill yourself with this gun) and watch the chaos as any loose objects (enemies included) are sucked up by the projectile slowly spinning its way across the room. I watched it pull a bad guy over the railing on a second floor catwalk.

  10. dagnabit says:

    I really loved Prey, not just because of the excellent blend of unusual gimmick tech but because of the pacing and story of it. They really put a lot of effort into making you feel like the story mattered.
    Also, the initial scene when the bar starts tearing apart and everything is going to hell in a handbasket, and then the jukebox kicks in with just the *right* music….one of the top scenes in any game ever, imnsho.

  11. Miral says:

    Yeah, me too. Sure, some of it was a bit gimmicky, but it remains one of the most fun FPSes that I’ve ever played — mostly because of the Deathwalk thing. No longer must you suffer the wrath of the boss monster that kills you *just* before you kill it, meaning you have to reload and defeat the thing right from the beginning again — instead in Prey you just play a little minigame and jump right back into the action, and the boss hasn’t even had its health restored.

    I’m probably going to have to play it again one of these days…

  12. Craig says:

    I agree with all the sentiments here. Prey was a very solid game. Great story, not just the base story line, but little things like bringing you back to the bar while you are running through the ship, some of the puzzles, avoiding the ‘try-die-reload-try-die-reload’ thing. They even managed to steer clear of the cheesy ending, or pretty close in my estimation.

  13. DaveJ says:

    I got stuck at some point, a friend said I was an hour from the end. All very sad.

  14. Noumenon says:

    Ratchet and Clank 2 or 3 has this in some areas with the “gravity boots.” Walking down the side of buildings, fighting on spirals, etc. The kind of stuff you’re describing sounds really disorienting, though. I still might pick the game up.

  15. Daemian_Lucifer says:

    All of those things were present in the demo.Even the one room maze you mentioned.So,anything new except for that?

    As for the catwalks,I prefer the AvP walking of alien where you can go like that on any wall you find.

  16. M says:

    Ratchet & Clank has actually been using the bizarre-orientation catwalks for awhile now, to good effect; you gain the ability to use them after gaining an item called the “Gravity Boots”. Makes for some very interesting areas.

  17. Martin Daaé says:

    “Second, far later in the game, when the lights go out, prepare to be ‘Doomed’.”

    So you noticed that too huh? I actually laughed when he said that.. Everyone stared at me T_T

  18. RIM 271 says:

    First: The game is freaking creepy in every way imaginable.
    Second: what are the names of the weapons?

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