Released in 2006 for PC and XBox, Prey is an 18-certificated first-person shoot-em-up which combines alien biotechnology with Native American belief systems, creating a bizarre yet involving mix which takes quite some getting used to. First conceived in 1995, the game went through several stop-start phases of development and was then put on hold altogether in 1999. Fortunately, producers 3D Realms were able to license the Doom 3 engine in 2001, and gave Human Head Studios the chance to take their idea and make it into a cutting-edge game with next-generation graphics. The game is dedicated to William Scarboro, who helped develop the game's portal technology early on in the game's life, but died of an asthma attack in 2002 and never saw the game released.
Please note that this Entry contains spoilers.
The game centres around Tommy, aka Domasi Tawodi, a Cherokee Native American who denies his heritage and wishes to escape the reservation where he lives. However, his girlfriend Jen refuses to leave her home at the Roadhouse, a local bar on the reservation. The story begins one slow night when, just after Tommy is forced into a bar fight with two obnoxious drunkards, the entire bar is lifted into space along with Tommy, Jen and Enisi, Tommy's grandfather. Though the trio find themselves stuck on a factory line heading towards a rather nasty killing machine, a mysterious figure disrupts the machinery, allowing Tommy to escape and start fending for himself. After seeing his grandfather killed, Tommy sets off on a mission to rescue Jen, arming himself with both alien weapons and the knowledge provided by his grandfather via an ancient spirit world. However, his presence starts to cause disruptions on board the alien sphere, and he must fight his way through an ever-increasing variety of foes with the help of his spirit guide, Talon.
Gameplay and Atmosphere
Though the game includes so many different ideas that they would seem confusing if presented all at once, they are delivered one by one with careful timing so that the game always has something new to show the player. Combat is often quite sudden thanks to the portal system, which allows enemies to appear from nowhere and suddenly swarm the player, leading to fierce combat. However, the game world also contains friendly characters, although most of these are other humans who have been driven insane by what they have seen, with 'I want to go home' being written in blood on several parts of the ship. Meanwhile, an intercepted radio talk show can be heard at various points, with different people calling in with their reports on the alien invasion. The next-generation graphics used make the whole game environment look terrifyingly realistic, which - coupled with the soundtrack and constant first-person perspective - give the game a proper 'interactive film' feel.
A Living Ship
The alien sphere in which Tommy finds himself is based upon some form of giant living creature fused with biotechnology, adding a sometimes disgusting edge to the game. Doors are replaced with ugly brown sphincters, while tentacles grow from the walls and ceilings and strange orifices vomit acidic brown waste into the corridors. Some parts of the ship also lay eggs which hatch into hostile creatures, while others produce slimy bombs which can be rolled around by the player and detonated in convenient places. The ship also contains human artefacts which were beamed up along with a large number of human beings, though the main focus of the sphere is as a feeding machine for a mysterious entity known as the Mother.
Like the ship, most of the weapons available to the player are formed from a combination of metal and flesh. The rifle comes with a sniper scope setting via a tube which lunges for Tommy's eye, while the grenades take the form of rather fidgety bionic spiders. Available armament range from Tommy's wrench through energy weapons and acid launchers to heavy ballistics, with each having its own alternate fire to add to the already vast range of different effects.
Onboard the sphere, enemies range from flesh-hungry creatures to well-armed hunters, with the alien army being supplemented by mutilated human slaves. The sphere is also inhabited by hovering tentacled creatures which will squirt acid over anything that moves, and bionic 'squiddies' similar to those seen in The Matrix. As Tommy ventures further into the alien world, he discovers more and more bizarre combinations of creature and machine, some of which seem almost undefeatable at first. Meanwhile, the real world and the spirit world start getting a little too close to each other, and Tommy is forced to battle demonic wraithes which have taken the form of school-children.
Not satisfied with being weird enough already, the alien sphere features walkways which climb up the walls and even onto the ceilings, allowing the player to reach inaccessible places and fight enemies at right angles as well as upside down. There are also gravity zones in which any direction can be up, depending on which control is active, thus creating a range of puzzles in which the player must find the less-than-obvious route onwards.
Meanwhile, the game also includes a more traditional way of defying gravity, in the shape of one-man shuttles that can be activated and piloted at various points in the game. The shuttles come with both guns and a tractor beam, but the flying zones are policed by 'squiddies', making it hard not to crash and burn while trying to solve puzzles.
One of the more interesting features in Prey is the alien portal technology, which allows the player to pass straight through a rip in the fabric of space, taking them from one area to another. Portals can appear in the game in various forms, ranging from glowing holes in reality to the contents of otherwise ordinary-looking metal crates. Often, the portals only work in one direction, or only from one side, and may simply transport the player back to the same room, only from a confusingly different perspective. Portals can appear from nowhere and disappear just as quickly, allowing large numbers of enemies to invade a previously quiet area.
Early on in the game, Tommy is taken to the ancient spirit world of his ancestors by his grandfather, who shows him how to spiritwalk. Using his spirit energy, Tommy is able to leave his body behind and explore the world using his spirit, thus allowing him to find ways around barriers which he cannot physically pass. Armed with a bow, his spirit form is able to shoot at enemies at the cost of becoming visible to them. Spirit energy is lost through shooting at enemies or by Tommy's spirit self taking damage, but can be replenished by taking the spirit energy of those he kills in the physical world.
Tommy's childhood pet, Talon, acts as his spirit guide throughout the game, landing on important objects to help indicate the way ahead. Talon also helps by translating alien writing into English, and helps in battle by distracting and clawing at enemies while Tommy fights them.
Instead of simply dying each time their health reaches zero, players are directed to a Death World where Tommy's spirit must battle the wraithes of the dishonoured dead. Every wraith shot with the bow before Tommy's physical body falls back into the real world provides the player with life energy and spirit energy for use once they return. However, the Death World has a downside, in that some of the wraithes and other evil creatures soon manage to escape into the real world, causing a great deal of trouble.
The game provides a very unreal experience through playing with reality in several ways, often combining them in an attempt to make the player's head really hurt. As with all games flaunting new ideas, Prey will probably be the forerunner to even better, more complicated schemes for improving games and adding novel ideas. The game's plot has quite a conclusion, but leaves the way open for a sequel, which if it is made will hopefully bring with it more of the same fresh ideas.