Prey: Nearing the End (I think)

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Jun 12, 2007

Filed under: Game Reviews 30 comments

I’m still working my way through Prey. Not much to add except for a bunch of minor observations:

The thing with the kids was thankfully a very small part of the game. There still hasn’t been any explanation as to why the main character acquiring “spirit powers” led to the preteen poltergeists, and now I’m far enough past it that I don’t think any real answers will be forthcoming. It’s just this weird thing that happened.

I have all of the weapons now, and I’m pretty disappointed. Combat in this game just isn’t very rewarding. Usually the weapons increase in power as you progress, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. Once you move beyond the most basic weapons (the wrench and the weak “infinite ammo” gun) the rest feel about the same in terms of power. Oh, one might HIT harder than another, but the various tradeoffs like refire rate, accuracy, and projectile speed all come into play so that no matter what weapon you use, it takes roughly the same amount of time to put somebody down. In other games I tend to save the heavy-hitting ammo for special moments, but there doesn’t seem to be any point to that here. (Okay, the elemental gun hits pretty hard, but has very limited ammo capacity, so you can’t really stockpile it.) I end up just using whatever weapon is full. I never have any moments where I think, “Wow. This gun really gets the job done.” So combat is getting to be pretty yawn-inducing.

On the other hand, the puzzles continue to tickle my brain. Not just puzzles, but simple moments of disorientation and amusement with the surroundings. At one point I found myself running around on the surface of a spherical asteroid about the size of a ten-story building. Due to the alien technology, it had its own local gravity which caused it to function like a planet. There were two such spheres, with sets of pipes connecting them. If you walked on the pipes in the right way you could leave the gravity of one sphere and enter the other. I don’t know why, but I got a real kick out of doing this. I made a couple of trips between them just for fun.

Moments like this populate the game, where earlier concepts and puzzles combine to provide something new for the player to do.

Inhabiting the alien spaceship are a group of rebels. They are people abducted from Earth centuries ago, and who have managed to form a small society living in the disused areas of the ship. They are called “The Hidden”. There is a running joke in that these guys speak only in movie quotes. Or nearly so. In the few instances they’ve said some non-movie dialog, it could be that they were quoting a movie I haven’t seen. If I go through the game again I’ll pay more attention to their dialog and see if this is the case. I can’t recall all of their quotes now. (I should add, the quotes all work in-context. They aren’t just spouting quotes at random. If you’d never seen any of the movies, their dialog would still make perfect sense. Or at least as much sense as anything else in the game.)

The main goal of the player (or at least my goal) is to find whoever is running the ship and kill them, preferably after freeing the surviving humans first. The goal of the main character is to rescue his girlfriend. He’s really focused on this. So I was pretty surprised when I rescued her (for the second time) it turned out she’d been horribly and irrevocably deformed, and had to die. I really didn’t expect that. While a sad moment, it didn’t have the emotional impact the writers clearly intended. I’m not sure why it didn’t work for me.

I like that the game has swearing. I never understood why games would be willing to depict blood-splattering violence but then have the characters saying “The HECK with YOU!” to the bad guy. I’m thinking back to Max Payne*, where the game had murder, hookers, torture, bloody gore, death of innocents, corrupt cops, a satanic cultist, and incredibly hard drugs, and yet the mafioso guys in the game were always saying things like, “Freakin’ kill that stinkin’ guy!” Prey breaks this absurd tradition, and when the main character gets upset he talks exactly like you would expect him to.

* I said before that I couldn’t recall another game where kids got killed, but now I remember that in Max Payne his wife and baby die in the opening moments of the game. THAT was a brutal moment. It made me physically ill. Still, I wasn’t offended by it the way that I was in Prey. I’ll need to think about this some more and see if I can figure out why one worked for me and the other didn’t.


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30 thoughts on “Prey: Nearing the End (I think)

  1. ZackTheSTGuy says:

    I agree with your opinions about “real language” in video games. If a game rated ‘M’ is roughly the equivalent of an ‘R’-rated movie, why shouldn’t the LANGUAGE be ‘R’-rated too?

    It’s unfortunate that the combat system for these game seems to be lacking creativity and functionality. I’ve been following your thoughts on this game for awhile now and was vaguely considering giving it a shot. After everything I’ve heard so far, though, I’m not sure it’ll be worth it. Still, thanks for the preview!

  2. InThane says:

    I think the difference between Max Payne and Prey is that in Max Payne, the murder of his wife and child is not only supposed to be a character defining moment for Max, but also is held up in a tragic light – while the child attack in Prey appears to be pretty gratuitous, put in there solely as a shock moment.

  3. Doug Brown says:

    I just figured I was playing Max Payne on USA or TBS or something: “Flipping kill that lousy buffoon!”

  4. InThane says:

    And thinking about the combat system – many games these days try to balance themselves for deathmatch, and then bring those same weapon systems back into the single player without any change to the stats. Since the day of the BFG9000, it’s been somewhat verboten to put an Ultimate Weapon in the multiplayer game – perhaps that is what happened?

  5. Shamus says:

    Whoops! I messed up my spoiler tag there. Fixed now. Sorry about that. I hope I didn’t screw things up for anyone.

  6. StereotypeA says:

    Speaking of killing children, the upcoming Bioshock uses this concept in a bit of an interesting way. The “currency” of the game is something called Adam, which you can use to upgrade and such. One of the ways to obtain Adam is to extract it from the Gatherers which look like little children. Extract Adam from the Gatherers kill them, but you can’t beat them to death with a wrench or anything. The creator said he designed them as children as a way of introducing a moral conflict about killing kids to harvest money.

    I just thought that was a neat little contrast.

  7. Sasquatchua says:

    The “only speak in movie quotes” reminds me of the Next Gen episode where Picard gets teleported down to a planet with another captain to survive for a couple nights, and the captain’s race’s language is comprised solely on historical references from their own mythos. The episode that we usually call “the Tanagra episode.” Hmmm… apparently it has its own wikipedia entry:

    Considering how TV + movie quote happy me and my college friends used to be, I always wondered if you could conduct a conversation that way.

  8. Tso says:

    I’d repeat what was said above about the different dramatic framing of the child deaths between the two games… but also, in Prey, you’re the actor (re)killing them. Hearing about it and having to do it are definitely two different things.

  9. Phlux says:

    StereotypeA: The interesting thing about Bioshock is that killing those “little sister” characters is entirely your choice. There may be a plot point in the game that requires you to do so at least once, but I’ve not heard mention of this in any preview write-ups. Not that anyone has had that much hands-on with it yet.

    I imagine that in Bioshock that there are other ways to acquire Adam, but these “children” simply represent the quick and easy path. It looks like it’s going to be awesome, though. I can’t wait until it comes out.

  10. Locri says:

    I definitely have to agree with the weapons balance thing. Although I can understand a vague notion of weapon balance for multiplayer games, in real life some weapons are just better than others. If I have a pistol and you have an AK, I’m very likely to come out the loser in the fight.

    I saw Prey at a store that is having a going out of business sale and it was fairly low in price… if it gets low enough I might consider picking it up, but so far it looks like my money would be better spent on a new Wii game.

  11. Malkara says:

    Max Payne probably didn’t bother you as much for the simple fact that you didn’t actually see the kid get killed.

  12. TheLurker says:

    Have you played Max Payne 2? They fixed the realism level in that quite a bit, so that the same guy you mentioned up there actually swears about as bad as Joe Pesci ever has. (In anything but the Home Alone movies, obviously. =P)

  13. gyokuran says:

    The situations in Max Payne and Prey are quite different: in Max Payne we are witnesses of a heinous murder carried out by ruthless criminals, we’ve been conditioned by hundreds of mafia movies to expect this behaviour from criminals. It’s a tragic loss in a cruel world.. as always. In Prey there is a little girl, which we associate with peace and innocence and suddenly she’s transformed into a wicked murderer – a murderer of a helpless child, no less. Even worse than that, now that she’s commited her act of violence, *we* are supposed to do the same – kill *her*, a child with a rotten mind but still a child, perhaps not beyond redemption. It’s disturbing on many levels.

  14. Ferrous Buller says:

    Kingpin was the first major FPS I can recall which had copious amounts of swearing in it. Excessive amounts, really: once the novelty shock factor of hearing videogame characters cursing left & right wore off, what you were left with was a fairly mediocre FPS.

  15. Jeff says:

    “If I have a pistol and you have an AK, I'm very likely to come out the loser in the fight.”

    Actually, that’s not necessarily true. Although of course pistols are generally what you use while you try to get yourself to a real weapon, in close quarters a submachine gun is preferred over the long stereotypical AK-47. The AKS-74U would void my post entirely.

  16. Jeff says:

    Err, in essence what I’m saying is even with just two variables, ‘rate of fire’ and ‘damage’, in different circumstances one would be superior. Large amounts of weak enemies, or small amounts of strong enemies, for example. While blasting away with a high rate of fire and low damage weapon would work on strong enemies, it’s more efficient to use a slower strong weapon and make each hit count.

  17. AR says:

    The point about guns is especially pronounced when real weapons are used. Games just don’t tend to accurately capture the difference in power and accuracy between rifles and handguns. In Half-Life 2, the most powerful firearm on a per-shot basis is a revolver, and it’s extremely accurate! The assault “rifle” type weapons, such as those used by the game’s military forces, fire faster but have weaker rounds. Now, there are some powerful, accurate revolvers in the world, but rifles are still the most powerful per-shot weapons around, they’re more accurate, AND they fire a lot faster. In a game with marginally realistic weapons, there would never be any reason to use anything but an assault rifle, except for saving your rifle rounds for bigger targets, or if you don’t have the assault rifle yet.

    The only game I can think of that realistically portrayed this is System Shock 2. The assault rifle was, by far, THE weapon to use when you absolutely had to kill every last massive alien monster in the room quickly.

    If you don’t believe me about the relative power of rifles and handguns, look at the penetration tests over at The Box o’ Truth.

  18. StereotypeA says:

    The thing that saddens me about the moral connundrum of Bioshock is that I sincerely doubt a lot of players are going to have that conflict.

    “Huh, if I kill that little girl with pigtails I’ll get more money? Sweet, c’mere sweetie.”

    Then again, my opinion of my fellow gamers is really rather low…

    In any case, it does look awesome, now I just have to go buy a 360.

  19. Another Look says:

    I think that one reason swear words might be considered worse than mega violence/gore is when kids are playing video games (even with M ratings? *gasp*) The don’t go out and hurt people but they often pick up the language…

  20. Dave says:

    One of my favorite movie lines… from a Vietnam movie.. Full Metal Jacket?? (I’m sure that’ll be corrected by some “helpful” poster)

    “How do you do it?.. shoot women and children.”

    “Easy.. you just don’t lead ’em as much.”

    That sums up the two positions..

    the questioner sees this as an apalling thing. Something outside the arena of acceptable morality.

    To the guy answering the question it is simply a skill that he had to aquire to do his job. A job that the better he does the longer he lives.

    In playing the game you doing just that.. playing.. thus such an act is unacceptable… Yet, I suppose, if you were the grunt doin’ the job.. well.. just don’t lead ’em so much.

  21. Taneli Taira says:

    Just a quick note on Max Payne (since Max Payne is one of the very few successful Finnish games and I’m Finnish too, the matter hits close):

    Its been quite a while, since I played the game, but as I recall, the original version (released at least in Finland, but I really don’t know, where else) had much cursing and realistic language in it. The language was toned down for most other markets, since otherwise it would have been rated ‘R’ and suffered a hit in sales.

    I wonder at the world, where cursing can push a game, where hundreds are killed (including a defenceless child and woman) and other nefarious activities are pursued, from ‘M’ to ‘R’.

  22. InThane says: “Since the day of the BFG9000, it's been somewhat verboten to put an Ultimate Weapon in the multiplayer game – perhaps that is what happened?”

    Which is too bad, because the BFG9000 was a wonderfully designed weapon. It was far more complex than just “big gun go boom”. When you understood how the BFG9000 worked, it created incredibly rich gameplay dynamics.

    DOOM 2 remains one of the best weapon designs for FPS games ever created. One of the most disappointing things about DOOM 3 was that it failed to recapture that wonderful array of perfectly balanced weapons.

  23. Dev Null says:

    Ok, I’ve been playing along at home on this one (FYI I picked up a copy after you mentioned the cool portals puzzles and before you mentioned the ghosts of kids thing…) and I just finished it. I wont mention anything important past what you’ve said, but for the sake of any others, lets hope the spoiler tag works in comments:

    I actually _was_ fairly hard hit by having to kill Jen; moreso than killing evil kid ghosts. I mean, to the point that I ran around for a minute or so trying to avoid shooting her, til I worked out they werent going to give me any other option. And then, right when they had me, they lost me. The beast she became was the first time I really truly got my butt kicked by the game, and it finally sank in that it didnt matter. Killed the beast the second half slowly with the wrench, rezzing automatically every time I died, and not even bothering to shoot the spirit mantas, or whatever those things are. The combination of replacing a motive I actually cared about – rescuing the girl – with one I didn’t – revenge – while at the same time proving to me that I was a spectator not a participant really broke the game for me. I played it out, but only because I’m neurotic that way. Mind you, the fact that the puzzles got a little lame didn’t help; don’t even talk to me about the “C’mon baby light my fire” puzzle…
  24. Dev Null says:

    Dammit! I knew I should have tested that first.

    Shamus, if you can’t – or can’t be bothered to – make the spoiler tag work in comments, could you delete that last comment please? I’d hate to spoil things for anyone. Apologies if anyone read that who didnt want to…

  25. Shamus says:

    Fixed. Yes, there doesn’t seem to be a way for people to be able to obscure tags – wordpress strips out DIVs and SPANs from normal comments. Pity.

  26. Cheesemaster says:

    “Considering how TV + movie quote happy me and my college friends used to be, I always wondered if you could conduct a conversation that way.”

    A guy I work with is obsessed with movies, he once did an entire 5-hour shift using only movie quotes (including when he talked to customers).

  27. Dev Null says:

    Thanks Shamus. I thought it was interesting how the same game hit us in different ways, but not so much so that I wanted to ruin it for anyone.

  28. Matthew Allen says:

    Where as I thought it was a perfect situation. You fight yourway through for the girl… To have all hope stripped away from you of being with her and being able to have those moments that are worth fighting for. I was pissed and more than happy to bring it to the queen at the end.

    It was a wonderful game to me. Then again I didn’t have a problem with the idea of the ghost kids. I thought it was yet another indication of how bad things were. Take the idea of Zombies. If a zombies bites a kid, he’s gonna be a zombie. But if you say “Zombie Kids” people freak out, even if it’s an honest and real look at something.

    Well, as real as you can be with Zombies. *grin*

  29. tomas says:

    Shamus, try Postal – it has children killing “just for fun”

  30. xXDarkWolfXx says:

    A theory i came up with regarding the kids is maybe they were attracted to you due to your spirit powers. Maybe if youd just been a normal person instead of the next person in a long line of spirit-walkers they may have just left you alone or not been visible to your non-magical eyes.

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