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Original Article Here…
Fads. Gimmicks. USPs. Hooks. Whatever you call them, you can just about guarantee these days that any first person shooter for the PC is going to have something a little bit “special” to seperate from the others. Half life 2 had the Gravity Gun, FEAR had hand to hand combat and bullet time. So it should come as no suprise to learn that Prey, also known as “The Other Vaporware” title from 3D Realms, has a fair few tricks up its Native American sleeves.
See, belive it or not, Prey has been kicking around for a fair few years now, the original incarnation was first announced all the way back in 1997, back when the Spice Girls were still a band and before we’d even heard of a certain HEV wearing bespectacled scientist with a crowbar. On the Quake 2 – yes, that’s right, I said 2 – engine, the game was to be a ass kicking FPS with one major selling point. That of portals. Yes indeed, many of you will have heard of Valve’s upcoming Portal game and many of you will no doubt be familiar with the concept of them. For the four of you not concentrating, quite simply a portal in a level can instanouesly transport you to another part of the level. Not only that, but you can look through and see the other side. Get two portals close to each other and you can find yourself in an infinite loop of portals. Of course, nowadays you might be sick of hearing about it, but even back then, it was a big thing. Nine years, a fair few engine upgrades and finally a release later, Prey has eventually arrived to us on the PC, still retaining the portal gameplay promised to us so long ago. But is it enough to make it a must own FPS? Well the answer to that is: sort of…
Lets start off with the graphics. As you can probably tell from the screenshots, Prey looks decent enough. Utilizing the Doom 3 engine was a smart move, as everything looks either suitably icky or metallic – and given the setting of an organic spacestaton, this is a good thing. A part of me had hoped that we would get to see the engine doing a little more than dark tight corridoors. Unfortunately, you do end up spending a lot of time in dark, narrow corridoors. But it works. And that’s rpobably the important thing, the lighting is suitably moody and dark, which compliments the action and story rather well, given you are in a spaceship made for harvesting humans, and the reflections on the fleshy walls and indeed the more “alive” parts of the ship are enough to gross you out, without making you feel you just walked into a vat of jelly. Even better is the fact that the minimum specs aren’t too demanding for this day and age, and apart from certain moments where there were a lot of enemies and projectiles on screen, I had little to no slowdown at all, making the experience pleasant on the eye, while also easy on the machine. A slight niggle with the graphics is that the levels themselves do end up looking a little samey. This could be poor level design or just bad textures, but quite often I never felt I was actually maing any progress and really being funneled along room after room after room.
However, portals aren’t the only trick inside Prey’s top hat. Indeed, just like spiderman doing whatever a spider can, an interesting concept the levels have is the wallwalking. In certain areas, parts of the wall are lit up brightly, if you see a wall like this, chances are it’s a wall you can walk up, and indeed you’ll be finding yourself on the celieng of many areas. This also presents a rather interesting dynamic during fights, as it means the player is forced to look in 360 degrees in order to work out where shots are coming from. The first time you end up being shot at while on the celing, you’ll probably spend about 2 minutes working out where from when you realise that they’re actually [i]above[/i] you. In addition to this, in certain areas you’ll find lights on the floor and celing that, when shot, flip the gravity around in the room you are currently in, making down up and vice versa, ditto probably for the contents of your stomach. Giving 3D Realms a fair amount of credit here, both of these a good way to make use of twice the area that FPS levels usually use, and also make the player think more about the placement of their enemies. This is A Good Thing. It’s just a shame the textures on each level seem a little, well… samey.
So that’s how it looks, how does it play? Well, the answer is filled with palpable relief as I say “pretty good, actually”. Indeed, the levels themselves are fairly well thought out, and the areas do provide a good challenge for the player, letting them think for themselves how exactly to cross that gorge. Do they use Tommy’s “Spirit Walk” ability, which is actually very clever and fun -in fact, I’d say it’s one of my favourite aspects of the game. At the touch of a button, you can leave our hero Tommy’s body (prefably somewhere safe) while your spirit form scouts the path ahead and helps to solve some of the tricker puzzles. How exactly does it manage this? Well for one thing, you can pass through barriers your physical form cannot, which is great for seeing what’s behind that barrier (most of the time, a switch) and you may still interact with the various switches and the like dotted around the place. You also get the satisfaction of firing a bow and arrow into your enemies, and they can’t really do too much about it. Again, this does seem to expand the game a fair bit, especially when you realise there are some secret passages you can only get into using your spirit form. A bit of a change also appears in the sections which you fly a spacecraft, which are indeed a welcome change to the corridoors, walls and celings of the rest of the game.
However, for all it’s promise, Prey overall is a little, well, shallow, ironically enough. 3D Realms have given us a heck of a lot of gimmicks and great stuff in theory, but it’s execution leaves the experience feeling very diluted. Portals, wall walking and gravity switching all seem like very cool premises, but in reality they’re never really explored to their full potential. It’s not the gimmicks fault alone though, uninspired AI and rather mediocre weapons make most firefights seem more like a chore. Sure, a few of the boss battles are pretty fun, but you don’t really feel there’s much difference in each enemy, other than their sizes. The weapons look space age enough, but most of the time you’ll only ever really resort to two weapons for most of the game, and none of them really have that satisfying feeling to use. Possibly the weirdest thing is that – in the rather small number of weapons in the game, one of the slots is taken by the grenades, which again is a little bit of a let down. The fact that most fights are pretty much fire and forget doesn’t help and ironically, the death walk, designed to eliminate frustration related with dying, actually removes any real challenge from a firefight, as you can pretty much jump right back into the fray as if nothing had happened straight after this deathwalk. Granted, in some cases this is what quicksave and quick loading does in a way (and strangely, these functions are also included) but it does result in the Death Walking feature feeling, like many of the other additons, like a bit of filler.
Despite Prey’s faults though, I still feel strangely compelled to reccomend it. Sure, the story is a little predictable, and the game itself is flawed in many areas, it still manages to be a good game. Underneath the layers of cream and sauce, Prey does deliver a slice of jam filled sponguey goodness that certainly does fill a hole in the stomach of FPS gamers, and indeed, the welcome multiplayer does make a tasty, solid desert. However, the faults which Prey does have stop it short of being a [i]great[/i] game, as opposed to a good one – If you haven’t played some of the big names coming out of the FPS bakery recently, you’ll probably prefer them over this. However, if you’re looking for a decent game to tide you over – yes, I’ve quit with the food analogy – Prey is well worth a look of your time and money. It’s just a shame it feels more like a doggy bag of goodies rather than a full five course meal…Dammit!
Final Score: 74%