Kill and/or be killed
Development time for a game should not be taken lightly. If you don't spend enough time on a game, you'll likely end up with an incredibly buggy game with no depth and little appeal to it. This occurs mostly with movie-to-game tie-ins that are rushed to come out at the same time as the movie it is based on. Spend too much time on developing the game and by the time it's released, the market will have moved on, leaving your game stuck in the past.
Alas, that is exactly what has happened with Prey
, by limbo-inducing company 3D Realms
. After a little too much time in the cooker, this meal is overdone and is mostly inedible.
The game kicks off with you as Tommy in the bathroom of a bar owned by your girlfriend Jen, insulting yourself in a mirror. This bar is where you practice interacting with objects, basic movement and combat. Before long you, Jen, your grandfather (who was only there to give you a foreshadowing warning) and most of the bar is abducted by an alien race who apparently harvest humans for protein for some mysterious 'Mother' figure. From there on it's your standard 'save the girl and defeat the enemies' FPS fanfare we're all accustomed to.
What we're NOT accustomed to is Prey
's gravity-bending situations. In several parts of the game you'll encounter strange green generators, several in a room at once. Shoot one that isn't active and it'll turn on, changing the pull of gravity in that room so that the surface the active generator is on is now the floor. You'll use this to get around certain obstacles and to generally reach the far door. Although you encounter these somewhat often, it's always during a lull in combat, which means you won't really be using it strategically to kill anything, which is rather disappointing. I want to flip gravity and send some guys into a death pit, dammit! In other parts of the game, you encounter walkways that allow you to walk up walls. These serve the same purpose as the generators, but only affect you when you walk on them. What's more, you can't jump on them or you'll fall to your doom, and you can't jump onto a ceiling mounted one to latch on.
Oh, and early in the game, you get some new abilities, such as the capability to send your spirit out into the world to help you get through some areas, known as Spirit Walking. Although it sounds good on paper, it's let down by the games 'breeze mechanic' known as the Sun symbols. When you see one, the puzzle involves Spirit Walking. That wouldn't be so bad if it didn't tell you when you could already recognise that the area does indeed require Spirit Walking, such as force fields which you can only pass through to get to the panel by Spirit Walking. You are also given a Spirit Bow, which allows you to kill enemies silently and trigger those gravity generators when Spirit Walking. The bow is powered by your Spirit Energy, which you can recharge by killing enemies. That's right. You have to kill some enemies very loudly in order to be able to shoot at enemies quietly. That sucks. Fortunately, you can Spirit Walk without Spirit Energy, so you will always be able to solve a puzzle.
Then there are the portals. For anyone who has played The Orange Box
, you'll know how these work. You walk in one portal and come out the other. Relatively uninteresting, apart from one instance early on where the portal shrinks
you into a display case. However, this occurs only once in the game, and as such is yet another disappointment. That bit is awesome, do it again!
Like pretty much every FPS nowadays, Prey
occasionally breaks up the monotony of shooting with vehicle sections. These parts are not really any different from the rest of the game, aside from the fact that they can occur with free-floating movement and that there's no puzzles when you're in one. The first time you find one, you encounter a new bad guy, but they later show up again sans-vehicle, so you can't really say the combats different. What's more, the vehicle itself is very reminiscent of the Aesir flying sections from Red Faction
, in that it behaves in a similar fashion. The only differences I could find between the Red Faction
Aesir sections and the shuttle sections in Prey
is that the Aesir has missiles instead of a tractor beam and that you fly upwards a lot more in Prey
The weapons aren't anything overly remarkable, though one would think there'd be a bit more than the 7 or so you do get. Granted, they are pretty multi-purpose (the rocket launcher, for example, can fire a bubblish shield that absorbs enemy bullets), but in this day and age you still want to have plenty of guns to use.
The aesthetics of Prey
isn't anything to write home about, though. The levels are a mixture of biological and metal walkways, which makes me wonder why they harvest protein from humans to feed 'Mother' when their ships are made of the stuff. I've never been a fan of organic-looking technology, and so I don't really have anything to say about the weapons, seeing as they all look like they have pulses. The enemies are also a mix of organic and metallic substances, which helps them to fit in. What strikes me as stomach-emptying grossness is when they use wall and floor panels shaped like a certain womanly feature, and coloured to represent the 'wrong time of the month' to both enter and exit a room. That, and the toxic vents that are shaped so that you believe the ship is farting in your face. Theis is definately a game you don't want to play on a full stomach.
The music and sound are relatively good. Everything sounds like it should, but the music doesn't really strike me as particularly great. It's fine, but it could be better, really. Plus, I'm rather getting sick of 'now I'm playing, now I'm silent' music in games. Just have it on all the time, but crank the volume when it's needed.
And now I get to the really
negative. When you die in Prey
, you are not 'dead', but instead are transported to the Spirit World, where you have to use your Bow (which, whilst you are in the spirit world, will have infinite ammo) to kill some Spirit Wraiths in order to charge up your Life and Spirit Energy meters. Each one you kill sends it's energy to your body, which then falls down a hole into the real world. Your spirit then gets sucked into the hole and you continue playing. Although this is a nifty feature, it gets dull pretty fast when you repeat the same puzzle over and over because you keep mistiming a jump and fall into a pit. It also means you never really get scared because you know that if you get killed, you're only a few Wraiths away from a second chance. I don't know if this is also on the higher difficulty setting, but it's pretty bad.
The bit I hate about Prey
the most though is the platforms where you land your shuttle. I bet you that the person who thought that using the same button for using the tractor beam should be used to get out when over these platforms, the person who made the level where you have to remove panels to shut down a doors electrical locks using the tractor beam and the person who made it so that your momentum is conserved when exiting a shuttle aren't the same person. Otherwise, they'd have realised that the combination of these three things is very bad. Many times I found myself in the Spirit World whilst in that level because I tried to tractor out the panel, only to exit the shuttle and, because I was moving into position, fall over the edge.
isn't very good. All that extra time in development has kept the game back from being a truly great experience. The game just seems to be relying entirely on it's portal and gravity-bending gimmicks for sales, and seeing as how half of that is already in The Orange Box
, that really doesn't help much.