Prey Review ★★★★★

It's rare to play a game that fulfills the hopes I had for gaming years ago. By 2006 I would have expected the gaming industry to be commonly churning out games with an evolved sense of art, fun and story. I really enjoy seeing advanced graphics and beautiful artwork combined with exciting gameplay and an engaging tale, especially if the game doesn't take itself too seriously and even has a sense of humor at times. Prey has all of this, and is a game that pleasantly surprised me again and again.

To be honest I hadn't intended to do a Prey walkthrough, expecting this title to be just a Doom 3 clone. (As much as I loved Doom 3, these walkthroughs are very time consuming and I try to mix things up.) Then, I played the demo and discovered how wrong I was. The main character is not just another testosterone-laden gunslinger. He's a Cherokee trying to convince his girlfriend to leave the reservation and come with him to pursue a better life. He's the classic rebel without a cause, but with a Cherokee twist. And he's been abducted by aliens.

Yes, Prey is a game with a sense of humor. As someone who's first library book was a history of UFOs, I really appreciated the Killers From Space film clip and Art Bell radio snippets. In fact, I often listen to Coast to Coast AM while working on my walkthroughs, and to have Art Bell in character in the game made working on the Prey Walkthrough especially thrilling. The most enjoyable science fiction, I find, folds technology, fear, humor, and even kitsch into a semi-serious guessing game of fun versus paranoia.

Whether it's the jukebox breaking into Don't Fear the Reaper as an alien spaceship rips off the bar's roof, or the Haunted-Mansion-style ride into the mothership, there's always a sense while playing Prey that there are puppet masters behind the scenes having a great time controlling this thrill ride of a game.

Innovation abounds in Prey. In fact, one of the worst aspects of FPS gaming is addressed head-on: quickload addiction. For the entire history of first-person shooters, the gamer has had an unsatisfying choice between replaying the level up to the point of death or feeling guilty for quicksaving along the way. Prey resolves this issue in a manner that is fun and fits in with the story. Upon death, the player is sent to a spirit-realm Duck Hunt dubbed "deathwalk" where increased accuracy results in increased health. This solution allows for seamless gameplay when death occurs. There's no need to constantly quicksave or to un-immerse yourself from the game with a quickload when you die. I loved it. (Quicksaving/loading is still available, and masochists are free to load from the level beginning, as always.)

Another great innovation is the use of dynamic gravity as a level design tool. Since most of the game takes place on an orbiting spacecraft, gravity is a malleable force creatively manipulated to make floors out of walls, ceilings out of floors, and completely new ways to traverse the tried-and-true corridors of FPS past. This tactic becomes a force multiplier for content density as the player travels through the same areas multiple times with completely different pathing.

Vehicles are available in a number of the game's later levels. Control is quick to learn and wide-open environments are a welcome addition to the already-thoughtful corridors. A tractor beam lets you pick up your enemies, lift them high above, then send them plunging to a satisfying demise. The weapons in Prey are varied, including a shotgun-like Acid Gun, a rifle (with sniper scope), grenades and corresponding launchers, plus a Leech Gun with characteristics that change as you visit different ammo stations. You'll have to think about which weapon works best for which enemy and environment if you want to avoid unnecessary trips to the deathwalk. One minor touch that I really liked was that your light isn't a flashlight, but a lighter -- how cool is that?

By game's end, you'll have experienced some intense shoot-em-ups, solved a number of satisfying puzzles, and participated in an engaging story. The element of fun is woven throughout all of this, without any sense that filler levels were added to extend the hours played. Prey is a tight game that brings some fresh ideas to a classic style of gaming. I enjoyed it tremendously.

- Last Update 06/14/08