2006 Reviews

Prey

  • Review Date: 2011-03
  • Release Date: 2006-07
  • Developer: Human Head Studios & 3D Realms
  • Rating: 8.0

Prey began it's long development life in 1995, a decade before it's final release. Just as they did with Duke Nukem Forever, 3D Realms stumbled around changing development teams and the game but, ultimately, weren't able to build a game engine to support the portal technology.

The idea was to have portals (ie teleporters) that can be opened and closed throughout the game. 3D Realms spent a number of years on the engine before it was finally put on hold, indefinitely, in 1999. Which was a great shame as the videos, screenshots and E3 presentations released in 1997/98 had many fans excited, including me.

Prey was one of those games that I long awaited, just like Duke Nukem Forever. Unfortunately they both became vaporware. It wasn't until 2002 that the project was resumed, although not announced officially. However this time round 3D Realms retired the idea of using their own engine and started again using idTech 4, with the game actually being created by Human Head Studios, authors of the classic third-person Rune. And in 2006 Prey was finally released.

Ironic that eventually outsourcing Duke Nukem Forever to Gearbox Software was the only way 3D Realms' other, more famous vaporware game would ever get released as well.

Back to Prey, somehow through this mess of a development timeline, Prey turned out to be a great game. It didn't feature design that was new as both Doom 3 and Quake 4, the only two other games to have used idTech4 up to 2006, featured very similar sci-fi themes. Doom 3 was slightly darker, Quake 4 was slightly more military themed. Prey took the theme in more of an alien, surreal direction, but ultimately sci-fi is sci-fi. However it looks just as good as Doom 3 and Quake 4 ever did, so it's another great looking entry into the shooter market. The entire game takes place within a huge living sphere floating in space. But most of the level design is based around human-sized rooms and corridors.

There are some much bigger open areas which you can fly around in using your little spacesuit. Unfortunately, just like every other shooter that forces the obligatory on-rails/vehicle levels, these flying levels are far too common. After the first couple of levels featuring flying I was hoping that would be the end of it. I was sadly wrong. They're not frustrating, in fact the flying mechanics were fairly solid. But I hated Descent, so I was always going to sigh when Prey takes me off my feet.

Prey also features portals, as per the original idea of the game from the 1990's. However portals are nothing new come 2006. Sure they can open and close and it's a good way to insert more enemies into the action, but they're not a big selling point.

What is a lot more unique is the change of gravity. Using special pathways you can literally walk vertically around the four walls of a room. You can reverse the gravity of a room just by shooting a trigger. On top of this you have spirit walk, where you can leave your body as a spirit and still interact with the environment. These are some intriguing, fresh features that form the basis for many puzzles throughout Prey. Do I like puzzles? No, not at all. So the constant gravity changes and puzzle solving didn't really have me jumping with excitement. In fact the brightly lit gravity pathways did get a little ugly and repetitive as the game wore on.

The actual action in the game was all solid. The weapons are slightly different to your standard shooter stock, so it made for some interesting gameplay. The game should have been quite a difficult game, however a unique approach was made regarding dying. Instead of relying on quicksaves or checkpoints, you instead enter a short shooting game which after 20 seconds returns you to where you died with your health returned. This means you can't really die in Prey. Quicksaving is completely unnecessary and sometimes there's little point to avoid losing health. You might as well just die and get your health replenished. The boss battles in particular become a complete joke when you keep respawning and the boss still has the same health. I can understand the idea behind it; they wanted to remove replaying large sections and constant quicksaves/quickloads, but they made it far too easy to not try at all in the game. There's no incentive to not dying, other than your own ego.

However with it being an easy game, it's also replayable as you can jump into any part of the game and have a blast (providing it's not a flying level!). There's no lengthy storytelling or slow parts to the gameplay.

Prey is certainly not a perfect game; the flying and puzzles get old, the regenerating (no dying) system was a mistake, but the action is solid and design great throughout. Possibly the best shooter of 2006.

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