Prey was supposed to be a monster of an FPS that was going to rock our socks off. It was going to be a huge FPS. It was going to do for gravity what Half-Life 2 did for physics. Prey was an early contender for a dozen magazines and websites game of the year. Now, the game has been released and there are a bunch of reviews out there for it. It didn’t get the gleaming reviews that it was supposed to, but every review score is still too high. It’s almost like the reviewers were overly sympathetic to this game. Like they wanted to love it because they hyped it up so much that they blinded themselves to how bad it really is.
Fortunately for you, I can see clearly.
Prey stars a Native American named Tommy that’s abducted by aliens one night while trying to convince his girlfriend to leave reservation life and give up their ancestry. They’re taken aboard the alien ship, but naturally Tommy manages to escape the evil clutches of his captors and begins a quest to save his girlfriend from an untimely death, and, ultimately, escape from the ship alive. Along the way, he’s going to have to embrace his heritage if he hopes to survive. The story is incredibly unconvincing and generally just stupid, and it’s a real good thing the developers didn’t give us much more than that.
The inane storyline provides setup for what proves to be a generally lackluster adventure into the heart of an alien spaceship. Tommy will have to claw his way through a couple of lame enemies if he hopes to survive his ordeal. Though his enemies will fall, Tommy can’t ever die. When Tommy takes too much damage in battle or falls into a pit, Tommy’s soul is pulled to a spirit realm, where, armed with a bow and arrow, the stereotypical Native American weapon of choice, Tommy shoots evil spirits and his reward is a second chance at life in the mortal realm.
The spirit realm thing might not seem like it’s any different than saving at every step when you’re in a particularly challenging spot in any other first-person shooter, but it really does weaken the experience. I never cared about dying. There never seemed to be a penalty for it, so most of the time I threw strategy out the window and went into every situation guns-a-blazing. If I died, so what, I’d be back in the thick of the action in fifteen or so seconds, no harm done. It’s like playing with an infinite health code on, and it makes the game horribly boring. Granted, I could have changed my play style, took it more slowly and made a concerted effort to use tactics, but there didn’t really seem like there was a reason to.
But, the main draw to Prey was supposed to be gravity manipulation. People expecting intense battles in zero-gravity where they can freely flip and rotate in any direction are again going to be disappointed by Prey. Most of the time, the only reason you’ll manipulate gravity is to move through an incredibly straight-forward puzzle. Imagine this: you need to get into a door, which, for some reason, is high up on a ceiling, and there’s a strange, lit walkway in front of you. You walk on it. As you continue forward, the path creeps up the wall. You keep walking and suddenly, you’re walking on the wall! You keep going, and soon you’re on the ceiling! Now you’re at the door! The feature was fun to play around with in the early levels, but once you realize that your first experience is going to be the same as your thirtieth experience, you’re going to lose all interest in it. Sometimes you’ll have to fight enemies that are on the floor while you’re feet are attached to the ceiling, but the ceiling is already your floor, so there’s no real disorientation from being upside down. Ignore the aesthetics of the room, and the whole battle is just like shooting at enemies that are above you in any other first-person shooter.
Shooting is something you’re going to be doing rather infrequently. I was surprised that there weren’t more enemies around to destroy or more variety in the ones that you are killing. When you are given the opportunity to kill a few aliens, they seem to either be alien dogs or alien soldiers for a better portion of the game. The developers missed a great opportunity to create some truly terrifying creatures, and they also missed another opportunity in weapon design. You’re not going to see anything truly exciting like the BFG from Doom or the super-powered Gravity Gun from Half-Life 2. Instead, Tommy wraps his fingers around basically the same weapons you wield in every game that just happen to look a little alien. Assault rifle…plasma rifle…yawn.
To recap: awful storyline, no-reason-to-try gameplay, a very poorly implemented gimmick, a general lack of any enemies to kill, and piss-poor weapons to kill them with.
I’ve got more to add to that list.
In the beginning, you’ll be really impressed with Prey’s graphics. It does look good. When you first board that alien ship and you’re pulled through it on a roller coaster of death, you’ll be awestruck by the living world around you. Everything seems alive. Doom III (Prey uses Doom III’s graphics engine) was an overly shiny game, but Prey almost seems organic. You’re going to be really excited, like you were to play around with gravity. But, like the whole gravity thing, you’ll lose your interest in the graphics about halfway through the game when you realize you’ve been looking at the same damn wall texture for the last three or four hours. The graphics just get boring as hell. If there ever was any variation in textures later in the game, I never saw them. I was too busy rushing to finish this boring game as quickly as possible.
I think that the developers of this game got a little too excited about the whole gravity thing. They knew they wanted to allow us to flip rooms upside down, and I think in their haste to allow us to do that, they forgot about the things that we wanted. We want interesting levels. We want a variety of enemies that challenge us. We want cool guns to kill them with. Instead, the developers did what they wanted. They put doors on ceilings and tables on walls and little switches to hit to pull you where they want you to go. They forgot everything that makes games fun. They forgot about us. Prey just isn’t worth a purchase. It isn’t unplayable, but it just doesn’t deliver a fun experience because of laughably poor design.