I have to admit, Prey and I have had an awful relationship. We met at E3 2005 where she showed off her crazy, world twisting, portal-generating technicals. A year later, we went on a demo date and we made the rounds at least a dozen or two times and I was blown away. When it came to commit at retail though, I just couldn’t pull the trigger. Well, I found her number recently, the price was right ($19.99 on Xbox Games on Demand), and my lifestyle met with hers for a time. Did five years ruin the chemistry?
Before an eternally delayed game was known as being ‘Duke Nukem Forever‘ed, it was ‘Prey‘ed. 3D Realms (same guys as Duke) started work on this game in 1995 with some crazy ideas: it was a first person shooter in which you played a native American named Talon Brave, it featured bleeding-edge colored lighting and ‘portals’, in which the entrance to a whole new area could be placed on any surface (think Portal, minus the gun). Even when the game released in 2006, finished by new developer Humanhead, the idea was still really fresh and pretty well executed, but did those ideas stand the test of time?
You play an absolute jerk named Tommy, an absolutely unlikable guy (still a Native American!) who’s tired of the reservation, his life, and his life on the reservation; he wants to get out. Suddenly, your girlfriend’s bar is shredded into green light as the two of you and your grandpa are abducted to the Sphere, a bio-mechanical ship hovering above the Earth causing all kinds of havoc. The game is powered by id Tech 4 – Doom 3, in other words – and it shows: the game is dark, there are a lot of washed out textures, and even the enemies look like Doom 3 rejects. This game is straight up old school – you run around carrying a vault’s worth of slightly imaginative alien guns, vehicle sections are awkward (although strangely reminiscent of Descent3) and the enemy combatants are dumb as bricks.
Prey isn’t a long game by any means, but even its metal-on-shiny-undulating-flesh motif gets repetitive after a while. Your grandfather (who dies early on in a meat blender) gives you the power of spirit walking, which allows you to have an out-of-body experience that facilitates a number of ‘park your body here and walk over to this other switch and toggle it’ puzzles. The aforementioned portals do a good job sending you to weird, new areas, but the game never mixes up the level design enough. On top of that, the game also messes with gravity, forcing you to navigate a variety of surfaces while enemies are popping up all around you, leading to some interesting situations. Unfortunately, some of the levels are puzzling enough without much effort. Your dead bird Talon joins you at a point, perching on various objects and flying around trying to point you in the right direction, but maybe it’s because of this modern era of Halo and Call of Duty where the level design is ingenious enough to get you through without leaving you to feel like a dumbass, but he’s only partially helpful. I had to jump on GameFAQs for the first time in years to try and find next steps because the game did absolutely jack toward guiding me along.
There was a lot of potential here and while Prey is far from a terrible game, it just shows that a B-grade shooter from half a decade ago just doesn’t hold up well.