A couple of years ago, you probably would have been branded as a lunatic if you had said that we'd ever get to play Prey. Many of the game's ideas were originally hatched a decade ago. The game was even shown off to press in 1997. But in 1998, Prey was canned so that the development team could move on to other projects, and it was assumed lost. It resurfaced last year with a new developer and new technology thanks to the engine that powered both Doom 3 and Quake 4. The end result is a pretty standard first-person shooter that offers up largely the same sorts of thrills you've probably come to expect from this style of game, in spite of some superficially novel twists.
Prey opens with the main character yelling at himself in a bathroom mirror. Tommy, a Cherokee Indian, doesn't really care about his heritage and wants to take his girlfriend, Jen, and leave the reservation. But before he can muster up the courage to convince her to leave (and just after he bashes in the skulls of a couple of morons causing trouble in her bar), an alien invasion sucks Tommy, his grandfather, and Jen up into some sort of spacecraft. With the help of some unknown benefactors, Tommy manages to get free and you set out on your quest to rescue your girlfriend and, of course, save Earth in the process. There are a few plot twists here and there, but some of those twists feel like they've been lifted directly from other games.
The two things that seem meant to separate Prey from its brethren are the game's liberal use of portals that bring you from place to place and a bag of gravity tricks that are meant to keep you wondering which way is up. The portals are open and let you see and fire weapons through to the other side. They lend themselves to a couple of neat tricks, including one where you see yourself entering a portal on the other side of the portal. Just try to resist the urge to shoot yourself in the back of the head. The portals are a neat idea, and their potential is revealed early on when you walk through one that shrinks you down and puts you inside a small glass case with a sphere inside. But for the rest of the game, the portals might as well be doors, because the linear level design rarely leaves you wondering if the portal that just appeared in front of you is indeed the right way to go.
Playing around with gravity is a much more interesting part of Prey. You'll encounter powered walkways that let you walk up walls and onto ceilings. Also, some portals will drop you into a room you've already been in, but you'll be walking on what you previously thought was a wall. And in a few other cases, you'll be able to shoot objects to change gravity, which forces your view to rotate as you fall to another surface. These segments of the game serve as the majority of its puzzles, but they aren't difficult to figure out.
The straightforward level design means that you'll spend the bulk of your time in combat. The game throws enemies at you pretty consistently, though their numbers are never overwhelming. And since the crazy aliens invented this portal business in the first place, they can teleport in rather than run around trying to find you. However, unlike the imps in Doom 3, Prey's hunters don't just teleport in behind you and attempt to catch you off guard, but also have a few basic evasive maneuvers at their disposal. That said, the game's artificial intelligence isn't particularly advanced. The hunters, armed with the same machine gun/sniper rifle combo that serves as your first real weapon, will occasionally take cover or toss a grenade in your direction if you're not in their line of sight, and they'll pick you off at a distance if you stand still in the open. But the rest of the enemies, a somewhat small menagerie of alien beasts and the occasional flying robot, stay out in the open and either rush right at you for a melee attack or attempt to circle around you and fire weapons, if they're armed. None of the enemies are difficult to deal with.
You are, of course, always armed. While you've got a pipe wrench at your disposal for melee attacks, it's useful only for the first couple of minutes. Then you take out your first hunter and get a rifle that fires like a machine gun but also has a scope that can be used for a more powerful sniper shot. All of the weapons are of alien origin, so many of them look kind of goofy and keep up the organic-merged-with-metal motif that the rest of the game is going for. For example, rather than having hand grenades, you pick up tiny crawling creatures that explode when you rip off one of their legs and toss them at an enemy. If you flip them over with the alternate fire button, you can plant them as mines or use them as Halo-like sticky grenades. You'll also get a rapid-fire nailgun-like weapon that works as a grenade launcher, an acid gun, and a rocket launcher that also fires a misty cloud that blocks weapon fire. Unfortunately, the mist also blocks your shots, which makes its use limited. You'll also get the leech gun. No, it doesn't fire leeches that bore into your enemies' flesh--that'd just be gross. Instead, you can leech power out of specific power terminals to charge your gun with energy. There are multiple energy types, so you might get hot-plasma shots, a freeze ray, a powerful burst of electricity, or, near the end of the game, a constant stream of energy that works roughly like Quake's lightning gun. While there are multiple weapons of varying power in the game, their alien look doesn't fit with their mostly conventional usage. On top of that, most of the game's enemies aren't tough enough to warrant that type of firepower. You could very easily cruise through the majority of the game using only the default rifle, since it has a recharging ammo supply.
Because Tommy's a mystical Cherokee warrior, he eventually gains another ability, even if he doesn't believe in mysticism. Early on in the game, you, as Tommy, gain the ability to leave your body and "spirit walk." In spirit form, you're armed with a bow that can be used to kill many enemies in one shot, but the real benefit of spirit walking is puzzle-oriented. To put it simply, you can walk through force fields when in spirit form. So anytime you see a force field, just punch the spirit walk button and walk on through. You can collect ammo and interact with switches and touch screens while in spirit form, so you'll usually use this form to turn off force fields, electric eyes, and other objects that get in your way. Some paths and walkways appear (and function) only when you're in spirit walk mode, so there will be some gaps that you can cross when you're outside of your body. Much like the game's other unique mechanics, it's an interesting idea that doesn't feel like it was fully explored for the purposes of the game.