Players: 1+ Player Game | Release Date: 07/11/06 | Genre: FPS
Most likely by now you’ve heard that Prey has been in development for 10 years. What you may not know is that development has halted a couple of times during that period, with developers switching in the process. The original core game (repelling an alien hoard) isn’t drastically different from the original vision, as are some of the game mechanics, but it should be noted that Prey as released in 2006 is not the same game that was in development when first announced.
That said, for a game that spent 10 years in development (in one form or another), it doesn’t seem as groundbreaking as it could or should be. Had this game been released 5 years ago, even 3 years ago, everybody in the industry would be sitting up and taking notice of what this game has to offer. Instead, Prey just feels like a great game that fell victim to its own machinations.
Prey features a new type of pathway, called portals, to get from one place to another. These are great and a wonderful device, but are ultimately underused to the point of not being relevant. The first few times they pop up it seems very cool and revolutionary, but after a while when they don’t open up any alternate paths one realizes that these are merely the same type of doors that have been used in videogames for years – just prettier.
Another type of gameplay mechanic is the use of gravity, specifically through walkways that allow the player to walk on walls or ceilings as well as “gravity triggers” that will switch which end of the room is down. These are quite well done, but again, they become just another form of walkway. There are a few puzzles, mostly in the beginning of the game where players have to battle some motion sickness to get from one place to another because the gravity keeps switching around. Unfortunately these become less and less frequent as the game progresses as players use a type of shuttle to get around. The shuttle isn’t really noteworthy enough to go into.
Ultimately, what kills Prey from being revolutionary is the lack of real implementation of these new devices. What should have resulted in a massive exploration instead winds up being just another extremely linear game. And I do mean extremely.
It isn’t all bad though, as knowing that it only allows one path for progression allows players to focus on the story, and that is where Prey really does shine. Readers of Joseph Campbell will see some parallels. The developers have wanted to bring in a very rich mythology to the universe that Prey inhabits, and succeeded. Tommy is not only the reluctant hero, he turns out to be resisting his heritage and in turn his destiny. The protagonist’s story and his progression is really what this game is about. There is some heady stuff disguised as a videogame is you want to scratch the surface enough.
Prey’s script was not only well written, but very well executed as well. The voice acting was top notch with plenty of variations in what was said. All too often in videogames the main character will say about 7 or 8 different things over and over again when defeating enemies. Tommy isn’t always saying things throughout the game, which is nice, and when he does say something, it’s part of the script.
Another highlight is the addition of Art Bell. I remember listening to Art many years ago and having him in Prey is not only a natural fit, but really helps to add a dimension of depth to the story as well as help to “ground” it in some sort of reality.
Visually, Prey does an outstanding job. The Xbox 360 version was converted by Venom, and there wasn’t any hiccups or stutters as I played. The environments were very alien, well detailed and varied. Well, as varied as they could be.
The weapons were pretty cool, but nothing that really gave me any thought that they were terribly different. Sure, they were alien, and living (they were actual living aliens of some sort) but ultimately not different enough to warrant more than this paragraph. Actually, I may have gone on too long about them as it is.
I’ll mention the multiplayer, but that’s very much not where the focus of this title is. Actually, it may have been better had the developers not included multiplayer for this game. Prey is very much a single player story, and the multiplayer feels out of place.
Prey falls short of revolutionary by becoming a victim not only of time, but its own success. By not following through on the promise of a couple of very new and interesting gameplay mechanisms, the developers have delivered only part of the game that was possible. We are teased with the notion that there will be a sequel. I hope it happens. I hope that it will finish the story of Tommy (Prey does not need to become a franchise), that it delivers on the promise of this first game, and that we don’t have to wait another 10 years to see it come to fruition.