Prey is a first-person shooter video game developed by Human Head Studios and produced by 3D Realms. An X-Box port is also available. This review will cover both the single and multiplayer aspects of the game and also the differences between the two modes.
What can be said about this game? It certainly has had one of the longest development cycles. The original demo came out many years ago and helped popularize some of the concepts that are now commonplace in many of today's video games. These included destructible environments and also portals. The technology was not really up to the challenge at the time, add to it defections from the development team and the game disappeared until its recent resurrection. Portals are now standard fare, but alas the destructible environments still are not.
The basic concept is that the game occurs in a bio-mech sphere. Many of the areas are organic in nature as are the weapons. Some ammo comes in the form of pods, picking it up makes a crunching sound. There are quite a few features that make Prey unique. Gravity is a relative thing. It may be on the floor, the walls and the ceiling. It may curve to the shape of an embedded sphere. There are gravity based “wall-walks”, which will usually start on the floor, go to the walls and then the ceiling. The gravity will always follow the walkway while walking. Jumping will allow the normal gravity to assert itself and the player will fall towards the 'floor', whatever that happens to be at the time. In some places gravity can also be changed via gravity 'switches'. When shot everything will fall towards the direction of the gravity switch.
There are also portals. These will act as a window to another section of the map. Players can view the action in the other section, fire through the portal or walk into the other section. Portals may appear as a wall panel that can be walked through or a ball of energy that will appear and open up to the other section when a player is near. These portals will make sounds when opening. All of the gravity effects and portals add multiple dimensions to multiplayer game play. Enemies may be found coming through portals, on the walls or ceilings. Prey requires much greater awareness of the environment.
Overall I am very impressed with the single player game. A lot of effort was spent in developing puzzles for the player to solve. The puzzles may take a little bit of time to figure out, but are not overly complex and can be solved at the same or nearby locations. Monsters are very balanced. AI also can be set to where it will adjust to the player’s skill level. This game has made saving games obsolete. Dying (after the beginning and introduction) will lead to the spirit world. The player can use arrows to slay blue or red wraiths. These will give corresponding spirit or health upon the resurrection. Overall it is a very good compromise to remain in the game without having to remember to save. The game has two modes - Normal - and Cherokee once normal has been completed. Most of the monsters on normal are fairly easy. Dying usually comes from falling or doing silly things. Still it is so easy to continue that that is ok, it does not disrupt the game.
The gameplay is very smooth. The graphics engine is from Doom3. Since the engine has been out for a couple of years it has become very solid, stable and plays well and reliably on any recent machine. The graphics are no longer leading edge, but overall they look very good. A lot of areas are dark. There is no need to choose between a flashlight or a weapon, the player can hold a gun and a surprisingly bright lighter that will stay lit until it gets hot. It is a very good balance between light and dark, and it really highlights the excellent lighting, transparency and reflections. There are a few in-jokes regarding the darkness of Doom3. There are some 45 levels. They are fairly small, short and sweet. It works better than lots of endless repetition with lots of the same monsters. There is an ongoing radio skit by Art Bell on the topic of UFO abductions. This provides a lot of color to the story and plot details, well worth listening to. Physics are minimal, only a few things can be bounced around, but that is fine for now. The technology has a ways to go, and the way it is currently being used seems like a waste. Overall the game is very solid and playable.
The player: The hud is minimalist. There are weapon slots above and a couple of player symbols, one to indicate the spirit level and another to indicate the health level. The player runs over health pods to restore health, to restore spirit energy will require picking up killed spirits. There are only two powerups, a medicine pipe which doubles the players health, and a medicine bag which fills the players spirit. The medicine pipe only appears once in single player mode. The medicine bag does not appear at all. The player has a raven (Talon) as his spirit guide. No great help there, but it will point out the obvious and it also acts as a translator for the various displays. It does attack enemies, so in some situations it can be a helpful distraction.
Weapons: Prey only supports a few basic weapons, with primary and alternate firing modes. For most weapons two good power attacks will kill an enemy, or one good headshot. Obviously it will take much more for the automatic rifle and machine gun. Rockets and grenades are very balanced and not overpowered.
Plumber’s wrench: This is the basic melee weapon. Fire is to attack and alt-fire is a slower power attack. This weapon is tremendously useful, up until the first real weapon is found or alternately as a humiliation weapon in deathmatch.
Crawlers: These are frog like creatures with three legs. Tearing off the legs and throwing it will cause a grenade like explosion. Tearing off one leg and thowing it will cause it to bounce around in pain until someone comes nearby – and then it acts as a proximity mine. Alt-fire chooses between the modes. If the creature is upside down, it is in grenade mode. The proximity mines will remain a looooong time. They are very useful for planting at doors or portals - that is, unless the player runs into it. The deathmatch levels have a tendency to wrap around. I suspect that the crawlers are packaged in different types of pods and used for ammo in the different weapons.
Rifle: This is the primary weapon. This is no weak weapon. By default it has a decent fire rate, but it is also goes into sniper mode with alt-fire. In sniper mode the gun will allow for zooming in and out and targets will be highlighted in orange. Sniper mode does more damage and uses more ammunition. A red laser beam means that someone is searching for a target, so overall it is a very balanced way to deal with snipers in multiplayer. Two shots will take out most enemies. If the rifle is below the minimum ammunition level it will slowly recharge, so that it will never really run out of ammunition.
Leech Gun: This gun does not use ammo but instead uses alt-fire to suck energy from a recharging station. There are four different types of energy sources. The default is red plasma, which makes the weapon into a standard plasma rifle. There also is ice - which will make enemies into icecubes, however it is only effective for closeup. Bottled lightning will make this behave as the standard overpowered lightning gun. Very good to use for those that are precise. The most powerful is bottled sun. This will spray a huge column of white fire at any enemies. It is very potent and also lethal and long lasting. Overall this gun tends to run out fairly quickly, so it probably cannot be the primary weapon.
Machine gun / grenade launcher. The machine gun is fairly standard, with instant startup, however it will overheat after a time. It does not appear to be a very effective weapon overall. Alt-fire gets the grenade launcher which will shoot an arcing projectile. Depending on the localized gravity effects it may not go where expected. It is very potent with decent splash damage.
Acid gun: This is the Prey version of the shotgun. It will kill most enemies with one hit up close but is less effective at a distance. Alt-fire will shoot a vial of acid instead. That has a slow reload time, but will kill most enemies if hit directly. Acid can be found everywhere, so they are easy to get and also to keep charged.
Rocket launcher: This is one of the more interesting weapons. Primary fire is a rocket, which will shoot in a straight line. Alt-fire has some more interesting uses which will need to be explored further. It will actually vaporize and eject the ammo. This will temporarily place a vapor barrier in front of the player. The barrier will block all incoming weapon fire including the sun gun. This can have many interesting uses when used with Spirit walk mode.
Vehicles: Ok, Prey technically does have a vehicle. It will also appear in a couple of multiplayer shuttle levels. It is a basic space shuttle. When a player walks onto certain pads a space shuttle will become available. Select it and the player will be flying. Primary fire is rockets and alt-fire is a tractor beam. Any number of players can launch in a Shuttle. Repairing it requires docking and then launching again. The rockets are very fair; it will take more than one to kill a player. Overall it is a tremendously powerful weapon and should make for some interesting combat. A lightning gun however will take it out. It also restricts visibility quite a bit. That is rather annoying. So for the multiplayer games a player can choose how he wants to play. It should add some very interesting possibilities.
Spirit walk: Much ado is made about the Spirit walk mode. This is a very interesting concept and generally works well for both single player mode and also multiplayer. The player will activate Spirit walk and then walk away from his body in a white Spirit mode. Spirit walk has different uses in single player mode as compare to multiplayer mode.
Spirit walk single-player: The player uses spirit walk to go through force fields, activate switches and pick up ammunition. It is used to solve puzzles and also to clear many sections in advance. The spirit can attack enemies with a bow while it has spirit energy to do so. Two shots will kill most enemies. When a player kills an enemy the soul will remain. The player will automatically suck up any souls while in Spirit walk mode. Attacking an enemy will distract most enemies from the body that remains behind. Spirit walk cannot be used to open doors or portals or for wall-walks. A sun symbol will indicate that the player should use spirit walk mode. There will often be ‘webs’ or phantom walkways that the Spirit can walk on but the player cannot. The being in Spirit walk mode does not use or require any spirit energy. Enemies cannot harm the spirit in Spirit walk mode, however damage to the player will recall the spirit.
Spirit walk multiplayer: Spirit walk works somewhat differently here. Walking around will deplete spirit energy, as will using a bow. The player again is invulnerable, however the spirit can lose energy by attacks, and when it runs out the spirit will return. In order to recharge the spirit the player will need to run over spirit energy or alternately can look for medicine bags. When a player comes upon another player in spirit walk mode - floating, arms outstretched, it is a good thing to apply a plumber’s wrench forcefully to the head. When there is a lot of combat going on in one area it is a good idea to go hunting in Spirit walk mode, picking up souls and dispatching the other weakened players.
For multiplayer only two modes are available, deathmatch and team deathmatch. Punkbuster can be enabled. Multiplayer action is generally smooth. Overall I am impressed with the smoothness of the game and the different variety of gameplay available. There are 8 levels available by default, including two with shuttles.
Single player will probably take about 15 to 20 hours. The game is not tediously repetitive so it can be repeated in Cherokee mode for a different experience. The multiplayer adds an additional layer of fun. There is currently a demo available that allows one to sample most aspects of the game – except for shuttles. It is highly recommended.