Prey has a lot of things going for it; it makes great use of the Doom 3 engine, it’s got a unique character with some never before seen game play elements, the level design breaks some new ground, and it’s story and voice acting are above average. However, despite the great use of the engine, it’s really just another cyber- demon corridor crawl reminiscent of Doom 3 and Quake 4. My favorite parts of Prey are the locations that don’t remind me of these older, gloomy games.
You can’t really die, which doesn’t really help the game’s sense of tension. What’s more, the game adjusts the difficulty to your level of play automatically, thereby robbing the title of any sense of anxiety or accomplishment from your kills. For example, I fought a large tank like creature and died a half dozen times chipping away at his health gradually while being reincarnated instantly each time I fell. Although this sure beats reloading the game and doing the same thing again and again ad nauseam, the player won’t feel that he did well or rose to the challenge. It’s as though the game was designed to limit frustration, while simultaneously limiting the challenge and subsequent feeling of accomplishment. There is a higher difficulty option though, so that’s helps somewhat.
The Native American aspect, while fresh in some ways, is just an excuse to give the hero some abilities, and little more. There really doesn’t seem to be any social commentary here, which was a surprise to me. I guess I thought the game would deal with racism on some profound level, but no… it’s all just window dressing ultimately. Spirit Walking makes for some interesting puzzles though, and I like being accompanied by Talon, your hawk spirit guide, who follows you around to translate alien symbols and distract the occasional enemy. You don’t control him… he’s just with you all the time and helps out on his own.
The wall walking and warp gates are really what differentiate this title. There are some moments where the player is taken aback at how cool they are, other times where they are simply the doors to the next area, so they are really hit or miss. The wall walking allowed the level designers to try some never before seen ideas that are novel and fun, albeit disorienting. Really, the levels themselves are the stars of the show, and FPS gamers should at least give the demo a shot just to see why they are unique. There are occasional vehicle segments, but since they don’t incorporate the aforementioned level design innovations, I just felt like getting them over with so I could proceed with the more satisfying on foot portions.
Prey’s wall-walking creates interesting game play situations, but can also be terribly disorienting.
I enjoyed Prey’s story more than most FPS games… although the story takes the back burner to the novel level design. The abduction at the beginning was a great way to start the game, and going off into the ancestral spirit realm is a welcome change from the inky blackness of the alien vessel. This game is at its best when it’s not aping Doom 3. It’s got enough to help differentiate it at times, but on occasion you won’t be able to tell the difference.
So Prey’s single player is fun. The multi player, however, feels like they took a game from 10 years ago (when the game was originally conceived) and added some new graphics and a few level design gimmicks. There really isn’t anything to recommend here, but the free downloadable maps are a nice bonus for those bored enough to try the multiplayer portion in earnest. I think that the multiplayer really reveals Prey for what it is… a creative twist on level design from yesteryear. Really, Prey is old school at it’s heart. It seems that 10 years ago this concept would have been an instant classic, but now the industry has progressed to the point where if you are in a giant system of dark scary hallways 90 percent of the time, it’s going to seem dated no matter how many little game play novelties they throw at you. Nevertheless, the novelties have real promise, and I’d like to see them fleshed out, possibly in a sequel. Hopefully Tommy will be abducted by aliens with better illuminated, more spacious space crafts next time.