• Prey starts badly. It’s hard to ignore an angular wash basin, incredibly misjudged voice acting and an opening section that appears free-roaming but is scripted to the point that it needed more signposting. The most appealing section of the whole game, the roadside bar you find yourself starting in, is not only confined to just a couple of rooms but is also brutally cut short.

    Of course, this is the entire point. It’s Half Life’s monorail ride, it’s Doom 3’s first day at the Space Station, it’s an introduction. The whole reason behind the comfortable familiar setting is to throw you completely off course once the action begins and you find yourself captured by aliens. If it wasn’t for the unfortunate need for a 20 second load screen this would have worked splendidly, but being thrown out of the action whilst Prey grabs the next bit from the disk is jarring – the lead character blacking out for a few seconds every minute or so would give the engine room to breathe without breaking up the story so much.

    Prey

    Technical limitations aside for a moment, this first paragraph of the game still manages to set up the story in a convincing way, despite a complete lack of attachment to your avatar. Tommy not only delivers some of the cheesiest lines since Duke Nukem (a fellow 3D Realms posterboy) but somehow each part of the script is devoid of any humour, knowingly or not. It’s like Raven have tried to make him sound tough, but forgot about the actor’s lisp – at no point during Prey did I real even remotely connected to him, and the constant swearing distanced me further: misplaced and irrelevent, and without the option to silence the language.

    The story, for anyone not familiar with the downloadable demo, is that Tommy, his girlfriend and his grandfather (along with a good percentage of the rest of the Earth) are kidnapped by creatures from outer space – once aboard the vast orbiting Sphere (the space station you’ll spend the rest of the game in) Tommy must try to save his friends whilst putting a stop to whatever’s going on aboard the massive ship. The introduction to the Sphere (once past the loading screen) is terrific, really setting the mood and introducing a couple of NPCs you’ll meet later, but soon Prey decends into more than familiar territory – the ship is a bizarre mix of Doom 3 metal and Inner Space innards, with various body orifices acting as doors where the steel hasn’t quite reached.

    Naturally, the game focuses on the player trying to put a halt to all the kidnapping, with a few story sections dotted sparingly throughout the 22 levels which involve chatting to the aforementioned characters and some trash talk with the bosses. The initial boss encounter is inspired, being as you can’t actually hurt him with any weapons you have, but future main enemies are insipid and over familiar – the final guardian being the easiest foe of all. General enemies come in both humanoid and creature form, and although there’s not that many of them there’s enough variety to keep you interested, especially as most of your weapons derive from fallen bad guys in one form or another.

    Where Prey really tries to distance itself from other first person shooters is threefold. Firstly, you can’t die – lose your energy and you’ll be transported to a spiritual realm you’ll quickly become familiar with, here you can shoot a few wraiths to top up your energy, and back you’ll zoom to the point you were last at – naturally this ultimately makes the game very easy, but is a nice touch and a fine answer to the quick-save nation we’ve become (although you can still save at any point).

    Secondly, given Tommy’s Cherokee heritage, you can (after a key point in the game) tap Y to Spirit Walk. This means that forcefields, machine guns and even gaping chasms are no longer obstacles, and until you fire your spiritual bow and arrow, you’re also invisible to enemies. Sadly, this feature is limited to simple push button tasks, but plays a larger part in Live multiplayer matches.

    Finally, Prey’s most clever trick is the play on gravity and teleportation. Wall walking, gravity switches and even the cool portals (which act like teleporters, but you can see where you’re going before stepping in) are really great touches – the wall walking is a killer effect at first, especially when you kill an enemy who then falls from the wall walk strip landing in a heap ‘above’ you due to you both being upside down. Gravity switches do as you’d expect, and although there are few instances in the game where they are really necessary, the couple of times they do work impressed us. Portals are similar to those in Quake 3, but are visually a million miles away and can offer some pretty challenging little puzzles.

    The rest of the game doesn’t disappoint graphically either – for the most part textures are high resolution and the frame rate holds at 30. Naturally this is the Doom 3 engine, so you’ll find plenty of curved intestines and dark corridors – Prey looks like an angry mix of Quake 4 and Doom 3 although you can carry a torch (your lighter) and shoot at the same time here. The only time Prey deviates from the corridor shooter is during vehicle moments, limited to a flying shuttle with a much underused tractor beam and plenty of rockets – however, these are frustrating, badly signposted subsections of the game that Prey could have well done without.

    Aside from the awful voice acting, the sound effects are pretty good – the guns make nice squelchy alien noises, the walkways have a solid, sticky ‘thud’ to them and the music is great – no complaints there. The most disappointing aspect of Prey is it’s multiplayer – very much Quake 3 but with an apalling frame rate and levels that are just too complex for their own good, with far too much practice required. There’s also only two modes, and both of those are variants on Deathmatch. We’re hoping for downloadable modes (and more open maps) but until then, the lag alone prevents us from recommending Prey for Live play.

    But don’t let that put you off too much, the story mode might be flawed but there’s enough here for a good 6-7 hours enjoyment, more so if you take your time and explore every last corner, and the achievements are easy for those into whoring their Gamerscore up a quick 1000 points. Prey has had a publicly troubled development over the last 10 years, and the lack of focus and a solid difficult curve shows through the veil of impressive graphics and neat special effects. It’s not the killer app many were hyping it up to be, but it’s far short of a failure too. Best experienced for yourself, then.

    Score: 6/10

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