Prey: Ending

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Jul 10, 2007

Filed under: Game Reviews 26 comments

(This post has been languishing for a couple of weeks now while I allowed myself to be distracted by other games. Here are some of my thoughts on the game overalll, and of the ending.) Previous posts: First Impressions, Followup, Nearing the End.

Spoilers ahead.

At the onset the game gave you one central goal: Rescue The Girl. You spend the first half of the game fighting your way to her, and about two minutes after rescuing her she gets re-captured. You spend the next one-fourth of the game trying to reach her again, only to find out she’s been horribly mutilated and has to die. Once again the player sees their efforts dashed.

I said before that her death didn’t have a lot of impact on me, and I think the reason is because I never really cared about her character. The romance between Tommy and Jen never really worked for me. At the opening of the game we learn that Tommy hated the reservation deeply and wanted to leave. He resented every day he spent there. Jen loved the reservation so much she wasn’t even willing to leave it for a few days to spend time with Tommy. I saw their relationship as fundamentally flawed and doomed before the game even got rolling. They didn’t have much hope for a happy future together. No matter where they ended up, one of them was going to me miserable.

In those first few moments of the game we saw what drove them apart, but we never learned what drew them together. What did he see in this bar owner who wouldn’t even spend time with him on his own terms once in a while? What did she see in this bitter and restless guy who hated the place she loved? I think if I’d seen a bit more about their characters or their relationship it would have worked for me, but as it was I saw rescuing her as a secondary goal. I was all about stopping the aliens.

In the comments Dev_Null pointed out that the romance DID work for him. He was in tune with the main character, and so when Jen died he lost a lot of his motivation for playing. I had the opposite reaction: Once she was dead I was glad to move on and focus on the larger problem. It seems like the game messed up here by alienating players who came at the game “in character”. Brutally dashing the hopes of the player twice by continually snatching accomplishments away is something that should be done in careful moderation. Here, the writers gave you a futile goal and let you struggle hopelessly for the first three-quarters of the game. It all would have been better if the relationship had more depth, and if her death had come much sooner in the game. (Or been foreshadowed more.) As it stands, I can hardly blame players for crying foul.

I really, really liked the revelation at the end that the Sphere itself had been helping you. The final conversation with her was pretty interesting. When I finally reached her inner sanctum I suddenly really, really wished I was playing an RPG at that point, because more than anything I wanted a dialog tree. I wanted to talk to this woman. It’s obvious that she would have been willing to chat if the main character hadn’t been so eager to start shooting.

The revelation that Earth was more or less “planted” by the aliens as a food source was kind of an interesting twist. It doesn’t hold up to too much scrutiny, but it’s a nice change from “we are here to conquer you because we’re interplanetary jerks”, which is how this sort of thing usually goes.

Pedantic over-analysis of the alien plans:

The main question I wanted to pose to the aliens is that, given the huge bio-diversity of Earth, why did they choose to start with homo sapiens as their food source? It was obvious that their abduction procedures were less-than-perfect, and that a lot of potential food got loose and caused problems. So why mess with people? People have opposable thumbs, analytical minds, proficiency with tools, the ability to organize and communicate complex ideas via language, not to mention an extreme dislike for being captured and eaten. Humans are just a pain in the ass as a food source. Plus, they just don’t have that much meat on them. If the aliens had done just a little homework they would have noticed other, slower-moving treats like cows, sheep, pigs, goats, giraffes, kangaroos, and about a hundred other species that are less troublesome and more filling. The only thing they should want from humans is couple million gallons of barbecue sauce.

Their entire plan seems to be a bit impractical:

  1. Seed a planet with life
  2. Wait a few million years for something delicious to evolve.
  3. Come back and strip the planet clean of life.

They had a lot of advanced technology, so it’s hard to believe it never occurred to them to get into raising cattle. It’s not as glamorous as planetary invasion, but it’s way less labor intensive and it won’t lead to regular military losses. Just fill a planet with some beefy, docile animal, exterminate possible predators, and come back at regular intervals to stock up the fridge. The way they are doing it now, it would be like a human planting a tree that takes 100 years to mature, and then cutting it down as soon as it bears fruit. It took us a hundred years to grow the apples for this pie so, savor it, guys.

On the whole I enjoyed the game. The combat was shrug-inducing, the plot didn’t work for me, but the puzzles kept me amused and entertained. I’d still love to see someone take this same engine and make something more puzzle-focused. They have the ingredients here to make something along the lines of Portal, plus the wallwalking / changing gravity / spirit walking tricks. You could mix those concepts together to make all sorts of fiendish puzzles. I know this is a pipe dream: Puzzle fans shy away from the FPS interface, and FPS fans tend to prefer action. By combining the two you’d limit sales by making something for people who fall into both groups – and I doubt there is all that much overlap. Still, I’d play it.


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26 thoughts on “Prey: Ending

  1. Basilios says:

    You say that using Earth life as a food source was a nice change, but to be honest I’d swear I saw similar plots quite a few times. And would it not make more sense to have a militaristic, expansionist alien race that sees humanity as a threat instead? Someone that thinks, “These human guys could give us serious trouble in the future” and, in a way, actually acknowledge some kind of parity.

    But cattle? Just like you say, it makes no sense.

  2. Ring of Gyges says:

    Reminds me of the “Moootrix”, like the Matrix, only they use the heat of cows instead to run their thermodynamics ignoring machine civilization. Stuck in an endless field of grass the cows tend not to revolt…

  3. Stephan says:

    Hey Shamus, try out The Darkness. I’ve played on my friend’s 360, and is just simply great. There’s a relationship in the game, and if you wait sometimes, it has a great depth.

    One of the best games I’ve played.

  4. Dan says:

    Earth as seed is intriguing, but I totally agree, it springs a lot of leaks pretty quickly. Certainly not as bad as the intergalactic jerk motivation you mentioned, though.

    I’m a big fan of the Ender’s Game idea: that the space monsters must be fought, but have reasonable, if incompatible motives. Clash of civilizations and all that.

    That would be fertile territory for either an RPG or a FPS – the temptation to “switch sides” and all the benefits and consequences that might entail would provide depth.

  5. Tim Keating says:

    “Brutally dashing the hopes of the player twice by continually snatching accomplishments away is something that should be done in careful moderation.”

    Yup. This is *exactly* the problem I had with F.E.A.R. What started off as a great story (albeit one that was, ahem, strongly influenced by “The Ring”) was marred by the fact that EVERY FRIGGING LEVEL the goal was basically “Catch Paxton Fettel,” and every level ended with “oops, he got away and despite our amazingly advanced satellite tracking technology we have no idea how he did it.” Then when you finally DO find him, you put one bullet in his head and it’s over.

    Rather like a 30 minute tv show plot stretched to fit a 2-hour feature.

  6. Deoxy says:

    “You say that using Earth life as a food source was a nice change, but to be honest I'd swear I saw similar plots quite a few times.”

    Of course, using humans as a food source has been cliche since at least the V tv series back in the 70s. I think he was referring to the aliens having actually put life on Earth themselves for the express purpose of using it as a food source – that is, Earth as an intentional agricultural project, and humans as the crop.

    Shamus – at least you’re aware of how unlikely your dream game is. Sorry…

    And I didn’t play the game, but is it possible that they’ve been using Earth as a food source for a long time, and humans are just now getting to the point of being problematic? Otherwise, yeah, silly… but hey, it’s an FPS – you’re not supposed to engage your higher brain functions.

    (To be fair, game designers in general, with a few exceptions primarily sprinkled in certain genres, seem to expect people not to engage their higher brain functions – it’s not remotely limited to FPSs.)

  7. Sasquatchua says:

    My main complaint with F.E.A.R. was the character of Alma as the secondary villain. She wasn’t particularly well defined – dead-ish, and able to kill people anywhere yet things somehow are worse once she “escapes.” She’s an unstoppable ghost that can kill anyone at will. It’s like the inverse problem of storytelling with Superman as your protagonist; how do you write suspense when your foe can’t be affected in any way? I had the same problem with the movie Final Destination. At no time were the doomed given a way to win, so sitting through it was merely an exercise in waiting and enjoying some Rube Goldberg shenanigans.

  8. Unglued says:

    “Puzzle fans shy away from the FPS interface, and FPS fans tend to prefer action.”

    You nailed both of my problems with one shot, there. I’m a huge fps fan and I love puzzles, so Prey sounded like a great game. It’s hard to explain the problem – it was like being shown into a lovely bathroom, and just when I’m getting comfortable, they serve a delicious meal. Inappropriate. In Prey, the two genres just get in each other’s way, and I enjoyed neither.

  9. ravells says:

    This is off topic, but I just wanted to thank you for introducing me to Home on the Strange (mentioned in some previous post). That’s one day of work wasted for a good cause. I can’t recall laughing so much since reading the DM of the Rings episode about relinquishing the walking sticks at Rohan.

    If I ever lose my job for too much Internet usage on work time, I shall come to your door with my cap in my hand.

    Thank you again!


  10. Poet says:

    An interesting RPG done in FPS form, if you’re interested in World of Darkness, is Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines. It’s based on the old World of Darkness, and deals a lot with the end of the world, but it’s fantastically done.

  11. Dave says:

    “That would be fertile territory for either an RPG or a FPS – the temptation to “switch sides” and all the benefits and consequences that might entail would provide depth.”

    I remember playing through the campaign in Heroes of Might and Magic II, at one point you were contacted by the other side and offered the opportunity to defect. An interesting twist.

    I think the reason I remember it so well is because of the scenario that followed it. I was playing Good, and the battle after I turned down the Evil guy was pretty tough – facing 3 enemy forces already well established on a fairly small map. Afterwords, just to see what happens, I loaded up a save, and took the Evil guy’s offer. Turns out you fight _the exact same battle_, except you’re in charge of the 3 forces well established on a small map. :)

    Shortest. Fight. Ever.

  12. why did they choose to start with homo sapiens as their food source?

    Because humans taste particularly good. They’re luxury food, not a staple. We’re talking extraterrestrial caviar, baby.

  13. Will says:

    There’s a somewhat similar twist inserted in Command & Conquer 3.

    *spoilers beyond*

    The mysterious Tiberium that’s consuming the planet was actually seeded by an alien race. It self-replicates from any material it comes in contact with. So all you do is shoot it at a distant planet, then wait until the whole mess hits critical mass. It’s the (almost) perfect energy source. The twist from the alien perspective was finding the indiginous species had advanced enough to use the Tiberium (Ichor as the aliens call it) and seriously hamper their own harvesting operations.

  14. phlux says:

    If I recall from my time with Prey…the Humans as Food idea was just one aspect to the “seeding”. They also wanted to take people and turn them into slave drones and soliders and worker-bees to tend to the mothership, protect it from harm and continue the non-stop harvest.

    That goes a little ways in explaining why you’d create a sentient race for “food”…but there’s no reason they couldn’t just pick the up cows like you say, eat them and then use the humans for slave labor. Even a razor-thin justification like “the mothership needs a constant supply of new white-matter brains to feed on” would be helpful.

  15. phlux says:

    Gray matter, I suppose, actually. White matter they could get from the cows.

  16. Deacon Blues says:

    The bit about the brains reminds me of what caused the fall of the Thrint civilization about a billion years ago. They let their tnuctip slaves create a massive animal, with a very tasty brain. Since it was an animal, the thrint (who weren’t all that bright – they didn’t need to be) failed to notice that it was immune to their telepathic control. They let the tnuctip make the brains bigger, so there’d be more to eat. It never occurred to the thrint, until the tnuctip revolted, that what had been engineered was basically a bronto-sized, intelligent, organic tank…

  17. Lochiel says:

    Deacon Blue mentioned a Larry Niven story… but I’d like to recommend “What Can You Say About Chocolate Covered Manhole Covers” in which Niven offers that humans were seeded in order to evolve into a brighter “Pet”.

    Being Niven, the scary part is that we currently aren’t smart enough to be pets.

  18. Brad says:

    Not certain why they didn’t seed a docile cattle critter in the first place, but I was thinking that they may have been using humans for food because of the rather large population humans have.

  19. Katy says:

    It took us a hundred years to grow the apples for this pie so, savor it, guys.

    *gigglesnort* That made me laugh. Good point, too.

  20. RHJunior says:

    Since V? oy, the younglings….
    Phrase to look up:

    Humans as food for aliens has been a staple (pun intended) of Sci Fi since— well, since lovecraft, if not longer. And it has always been equally stupid. Even if humans weren’t intelligent, cunning, vicious and violent, they’d make lousy food. It takes 25 years to get a human to full size, about 200 lbs. Whereas a cow gets to a quarter-ton… and eats nothing but grass.

    Humans as food animals— or energy sources or biochemical sources or any variation thereof— is one of the Oldest Ones In The Book. And STILL one of the worst.

  21. Zaxares says:

    I haven’t played Prey (and don’t intend to. Just don’t have the time), but yeah. Humans as food is kind of a cop-out. It would be MUCH more interesting if, say, humans were in fact raised to be incubators for the alien race, in a manner similar to the illithids (or mind flayers) of D&D. The illithids NEED a host race that is humanoid, has opposable thumbs and is relatively intelligent, in order for the resulting illithid spawn to be any use to the illithid society. While illithid tadpoles can be implanted into nearly any living creature, only spawn resulting from implantation in sentient humanoid creatures results in a true illithid.

    If the aliens from Prey had a similar need, it would explain why they would go to such great lengths to nurture such a dangerous, intelligent and violent race like humanity.

  22. Captain Kail says:

    Did you happen to find the Barracuda segment as fun as I did? I was glad to see the bar again. (and to run across the ocassional casino games too.)

  23. haxot says:

    I think most people see the Tommy/Jen relationship in an urban/atheistic light.
    It wasn’t about leaving the reservation (reservation being a social community), it was about leaving the reservation(reservation being their religious center)
    That is the focal point for many native americans on reservations – belief.
    The story starts out with pointing out that Tommy doesn’t believe, and ignores his heritage.
    Throughout the story, Jen prays, and shows spiritualism etc.
    Partway through the story, Tommy has a life-changing near death experience, visits his grandfather in the spirit world, and finds out that he really ought to believe in his heritage, of an afterlife, and how it affects the real world.
    He finds his grandpa in the spirit world, and his spirit guide, a dead pet bird.
    And these help him on his quest to save his girlfriend! (couldn’t help that line, sorry.)
    Then when they find she’s been grafted into a monster’s body that she can’t control, he has to beat her, and she asks (contextually speaking) Tommy to finish it, to send her to heaven.
    From an intellectual standpoint, Tommy *knows* she’s passed on to the spirit realm where his grandfather is – but it drives him harder and makes him want revenge.

    For me, the whole love story worked because it wasn’t about a guy chasing a girl – it was about a guy coming to terms with his heritage, his family, and chasing his girl all at the same time.

  24. Varil says:

    I think that the “we-are-food” story would have made more sense if they had thrown in a “and decent soldiers/potential replacement management” clause in there somewhere. It seems reasonable that humans aren’t *just* a food source. It’s a pain in the arse, but they need us to be *smart* too, or they don’t have anything to replenish their soldiers, and replace aging sphere-minds that are tired of being almighty.

    Also : I liked the bit with killing Jen. The main character goes from kind of immature, stubborn and a moderate threat to very, very dangerous from that event to his next emergence from the spirit world. Haxot is right that the story was more about Tommy’s maturation than about Jen or her rescue. As secondary, the relation is still lower down on the scale than learning about the sphere and its nature. The relationship made for a great character motivator, but I don’t think it was meant to matter to the player.

    When Jen died I felt driven to find some aliens and kill them, it was dramatic and a great build-up, ruined only by my numerous pit-stops in the spirit realm. The bosses are freaking nuts in that game. *DRAMATIC MUSIC AND FIGHT* *FACEPWNED BY ROCKET* *Please hold* *QUE DRAMATIC MUSIC*

    …did the aliens ever get annoyed? “BY SPHERE! Stay dead! Pleeeeease!”

  25. By the way, Shamus, I seem to recall that the Mother said that Earth was “barren of life” when they came down – so it’s not like they decided to choose humans over cows (like they do in Stargate, sort of), but rather, the stuff they stuck on Earth was all they had in stock..

    I definitely agree that there should have been a dialog tree at the end. And, was it just me, or was the Mother’s voice rather difficult to understand?


  26. SlothfulCobra says:

    Well, obviously we must be delicious. There are numerous other foods that give us trouble but we still eat them. Poisonus blowfish? Hard to get at crab meat? Sin against nature Foie gras? Yum yum.

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