Prey: Followup

By Shamus
on Jun 1, 2007
Filed under:
Game Reviews

As a follow up to various questions and comments on my initial Prey post:

The game really does use the Doom lighting system.  This is a good thing.  It’s like playing Doom<sup>3</sup>, except I can see stuff.
The game really does use the Doom lighting system. This is a good thing. It’s like playing Doom3, except I can see stuff.
Phlux pointed out in the comments that Prey 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. It turns out the game had an interesting history. I’m glad it was delayed – their initial design sounded horrible. (The main character was supposed to be named “Talon Brave”. Cringe.) The final game was really worth the wait.

Flexstyle asks, “How gory is it?” I’d have to say: Pretty freakin’ gory. What’s interesting is that for the most part the gore isn’t perpetrated by the player. Sure, you gun down bad guys and they do bleed, but it’s the scenery itself that’s most disturbing. The aliens in the game are harvesting people for food, and so in some parts of the game you’re pretty much exploring an alien meat-packing plant, where humans are meat. Not for the squeamish.

Several people pointed out that death in the game is fairly painless. I agree that this is one of the major things that keeps this game fun. No reloading. No reflexive auto-saving. No replaying the last five minutes because you took a bad step. When you die, you go to the spirit world for a minute and sort of fight your way back, which is a lot more fun than staring at a loading screen. Yes, it means you’re more or less immortal, but the same is true of any player armed with a save / load screen. The player is already unstoppable, it’s just that this way the game is less of a time sink. Note to game developers: More ideas like this, please.

I’m enjoying the puzzles more than anything else. I’m probably in the minority here, but I think it would be a blast to do the puzzles without the fighting. Not that the fighting is bad, but now I’m finding myself being drawn forward by the desire to get to the next puzzle. Fights are starting to feel like interruptions, instead of the heart of the game. I can’t say that’s ever happened to me in a FPS game before. If you removed all of the combat and made this a game where the player simply explores an alien ship Myst-style, I would really get into it.

It’s gross! It’s strange! It’s a squirming example of nightmarish alien technology!  Actually: It’s a machine gun. It even sounds like a machine gun.
It’s gross! It’s strange! It’s a squirming example of nightmarish alien technology! Actually: It’s a machine gun. It even sounds like a machine gun.
Phlux mentions that the weapons feel bland. I have to agree here. What’s interesting is that the weapons look like freakish alien organs or strange artifacts. For example, one gun looks like it has an egg-like pod of clear membrane with a writhing creature inside. They really do feel strange and alien, which makes it all the more disappointing when you realize that they are nothing more than the familiar weapon archetypes we’ve been seeing for over a decade: Machine gun, shotgun, rocket launcher, grenades, and improved machine gun. An opportunity was missed here. They could have created something really new and different.

I don’t feel like I really know what the bad guys look like up close. So much detail goes into crafting these strange monsters, but as a player I only ever see them at a distance or through the haze of combat. Once it’s dead, it vanishes after a few seconds. For the primary foe in the game (the “hunters”) I can’t tell if the oblong shape is their heads, or if they are wearing helmets. Some artist probably spent days crafting that thing in exquisite detail, and I’d love to be able to appreciate their work. Doom fixed this by giving each creature a little 5-second cutscene the first time you meet it, as a way of seeing it up close. This was a great decision and I wish Prey had adopted this idea.

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1515 comments. (Fifteen is the smallest natural number with seven letters in its name.)

From the Archives:

  1. Matt Norwood says:

    Re: the alien weapons, it’s interesting to me that all of these games in the “biomechanical alien FPS” genre (Doom, Quake, Half-Life, even System Shock to some extent) fall back on the same conventions over and over. Some of these conventions are ancient, of course, appearing as far back at least as Beowulf: e.g., the plot arc of “normal life, monster attacks, monster beaten, monster investigated, lair of monsters found, descent into the underworld, king/queen monster defeated”. But the convention of gradually adopting the enemy’s weapons seems to bear a strange relationship to two starkly different themes that run through the history (and mythology) of colonialism: on the one hand, the human protagonist can be seen as a colonial subject (especially in, say, Half-Life 2) who “uses the Master’s tools to dismantle the Master’s house”; on the other hand, the human protagonist can be seen as a colonial oppressor (this is perhaps strongest in games where he is explicitly a “colonial marine” or other military figure fighting a more organic, “primitive” foe on its own turf) who “goes native” and adopts the native cunning and animalistic powers of the “savages” he is fighting.

    Interesting also to note how closely all of these franchises hew to the sequence established in Doom: the first weapons acquired are civilian human tools associated with the “normal world” (wrenches, crowbars); the next are weapons used by law enforcement (pistols, shotguns); then military firearms (rifles, automatic weapons); then military artillery (grenades, rocket launchers); then “futuristic” or experimental human weapons (laser guns); then weapons of alien or otherworldly origin (Soul Cube, various Half-Life organic weapons). In Quake 4, of course, the character actually gets converted into one the enemy alien Others by being put through their cyborgization process (this mirrors the cyborg-ization of the protagonist of System Shock, who goes on to fight the enemy Machine).

    I think this stuff is all pretty interesting as it relates to the 1980s cyberpunk fascination with the interface between bodies and machines and the way that fascination took hold in the popular imagination with the HR Giger stuff from the Alien movies. What’s less interesting is the fact that now, 25 years later, game designers haven’t really gone anywhere with it. It’s just the same old junk, as you point out, wrapped in a nearly-identical package.

    I would really, really like to see more action games that are not:

    1. Military dudes running around biomechanical alien tunnels acquiring weapons as described above and fighting their way to the queen bee alien to blow her up, or

    2. Elves and wizards running around a Tolkeinesque world finding increasingly powerful magic swords with which to acquire more loot with which to buy increasingly powerful magic swords, or

    3. World War II grunts running around shooting Nazis.

    Really, if someone had never heard of video games and you described the industry to him, he would be baffled that 80% of the action games being published fall into one of these incredibly constrained categories. I understand that studios are often punished for trying new things (see e.g. Psychonauts), but really, this is even worse than the monotonous recycling of movie Westerns in the 1960s or TV sitcoms in the 1990s.

  2. Phlux says:

    I’ve got better hope for the weapons in Bioshock. That game looks like it will have some really interesting weapons. The more I think about the bioshock weapons the more disappointed I am in the prey weapons, actually. They were really sub-par.

    Especially the “alien shotgun”. The game makes a big deal about finding it. It’s in a special weapons lab, with warnings all over about how dangerous it is.

    In Doom 3 and Quake 4 when you found the room that had the trappings of “secret weapons lab” they had the decency to give you a BFG or whatever that big black hole gun in Quake 4 was.

    They even cheat a little bit in Prey, because if I recall the first few enemies you run into after you get the shotgun are low-level foes that die with one hit, so you are momentarily lulled into thinking you’ve got a great weapon.

  3. Scott says:

    The Tron 2.0 game had some really interesting weapons. And the standard machine guns and sniper rifles which eventually appeared were not as useful or as much fun as the unique weapons, so it really encouraged you to use them. Unfortunately they went the bio-alien route too, which is really wierd for a game taking place inside a computer. They called it a “virus”. Overall, I can’t outright recommend it, but if you pick it up used it’s probably worth it.

  4. Inane Fedaykin says:

    I seem to have been convinced to buy this game. Shamus, or anyone that has the game, what would YOU say the system requirements for an enjoyable experience out of this game would be?

  5. supermank17 says:

    Is it just me, or does Prey seem thematically an awful lot like Quake 4? I mean, I know they use the same engine and all, but Prey, in its weapon design, enemy design, and most of all its setting seems very similar. More specifically, the humans on the assembly line reminded me very strongly of Quake. Maybe it was just me playing Prey right after I’d finished Quake 4 :-).

  6. trousercuit says:

    From what I read on various sites, if you want to look at the monsters up close, start prey with

    prey.exe +set com_allowconsole 1

    Pull the console down by pressing tilde (“~”), type “notarget” and hit ENTER. They’re supposed to not shoot at you anymore. (I’d say it’s likely that this works, as the console command “notarget” is a cheat that comes with id’s engines – at least starting with Quake3, probably sooner.)

    You may have to do something extra to enable cheats, but I haven’t found any mention of that.

  7. wildweasel says:

    For those that don’t want to hack their shortcuts out of laziness or whatever, the Doom 3 engine games allow you to pull down the console with control-alt-tilde even without the com_allowconsole command.

    Also, the “notarget” command officially dates back to Quake 1, but it actually showed up in the unofficial Doom 95 port with the cheat code “FHSHH”.

  8. KC says:

    Re: When you die, you go to the spirit world for a minute and sort of fight your way back, which is a lot more fun than staring at a loading screen.

    Sounds like the setup in the Legacy of Kain/Soul Reaver series. When Raziel dies, he has to fight his way back to the physical world. It’s so nice to see games moving away from the old mentality of character dies, go back to start.

  9. Rich says:

    “…I think it would be a blast to do the puzzles without the fighting. Not that the fighting is bad, but now I’m finding myself being drawn forward by the desire to get to the next puzzle.”

    Then you will probably love Portal. It will be released with Half Life 2: Episode 2.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portal_(computer_game)

  10. Rich says:

    The _(computer_game) above is part of the URL, cut and paste.

  11. wrg says:

    Thanks, Shamus. It’s interesting and potentially valuable to read these good explanations of opinions about games. I’d rather hear what you think in your own time, after spending a while with a game, than receive some scores and supporting prose from someone working to a review deadline.

    I hadn’t heard much about Prey since the early press coverage, years ago when they were talking tech but not a lot else. I was surprised to see it in stores recently, since for a while I assumed it had wandered into the same limbo Duke Nukem Forever occupies. Since I’ve acquired some new hardware (and Oblivion and Jade Empire) recently, it’s good to hear that Prey may be somewhat interesting rather than just a source of graphics.

    Rich, Shamus mentioned Portal at http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=518 with a link to a video clip. He did indeed seem interested, but displeased by the prospect of having Steam dictate whether one gets to play a purchased game. It’s for that very reason that I don’t plan to play Half Life 2.

  12. Lo'oris says:

    so. When you die, you become spirit and have to find your way back. It’s action, but more puzzles than action.

    Smells like Soul Reaver. I like it.

  13. Lo'oris says:

    PS: never played Doom3, but I really like the idea of a little cutscene first time you see each enemy.

  14. RIM 271 says:

    First: the game is freaking creepy in every way imaginable.
    Second: what are the weapon’s names?

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