Those with delicate stomachs may want to play Prey in short bursts. The new first person shooter from 2K Games introduces some slightly stomach churning gravity-based elements in its gameplay which should excite those looking for a new twist in their FPS habit. An overly easy single player campaign and some fairly linear gameplay undermine the innovation, however, resulting in a game where some of its individual elements outshine the whole.
Prey's storyline is fairly stock standard for an FPS nowadays -- alien invasion strikes Earth, reluctant hero has to single-handedly stop the out-of-this-world scumbags, you get the idea. Prey's protagonist is Tommy, a Native American Indian who hates his Cherokee heritage. We first meet him in the bathroom of his girlfriend Jen's bar. Tommy is trying to persuade Jen to leave the reservation and live in the city, but Jen (backed up by Tommy's grandfather) refuses. Before anything more happens, aliens strike, sucking up Jen, Tommy, his grandfather and most of the bar in some sort of tractor beam. Inside the alien's huge ship, Tommy manages to escape with the help of some mysterious benefactors, and immediately sets off to find Jen.
You'll come across Prey's unique elements pretty early on in the adventure. These particular alien invaders seemed to have mastered space and gravity, with portals and gravity-bending pathways strewn throughout the levels you'll encounter. These portals are like windows into different areas you can walk (and shoot) through, and there are some pretty mind-bending uses of them throughout the game. One early section sees several portals aligned in such a way that you can see yourself leaving and entering a room. Others will move you into the same large space, but what you thought was the floor before has now become the ceiling. Also in liberal use in Prey are walkways which allow you to travel along walls on or ceilings. These can lead to some headache-inducing firefights where your opponents are on several different planes.
Another interesting gameplay twist you receive pretty early in the game is the ability to spirit walk. Tapping into Tommy's mystical Cherokee heritage, spirit walking allows you to leave your physical form and reach places which would otherwise be inaccessible (such as through force fields). While in spirit form, you have access to a spirit bow for attack, and can also still pick up objects like ammo or weapons.
These elements are pretty fun to encounter, although the fairly linear nature of Prey's single player experience tends to overshadow its unique aspects. There's little to no multiple pathways in Prey -- most of the game is a corridor crawl in which you always know exactly which way to go. Spirit walking isn't much of a mystery either -- there's almost always a small sign on the floor which indicates when you should be using your spirit walk powers. Simply put, you'll never get stuck wondering where to go next in Prey.
One aspect which some gamers may love or loathe is the spirit world. Every time Tommy dies in the game, instead of having to restart, players enter the spirit world. The spirit world is a little mini game where Tommy, armed with his spirit bow, has to shoot down red and blue wraiths. The more wraiths he shoots down, the more health and spirit power he gets back. After a few seconds, Tommy is put back into the gameworld at the exact same place he died, ready to fight again.
Players, in essence, never "die" in Prey. While this can take away a lot of the hassle of having to continually save your progress, the seamless way in which the spirit world is incorporated also makes the game rather easy, as there's no real incentive to battle through without losing a life. Thankfully, there's a decent amount of gameplay to be found here even if you do blast your way though (about 12 or so hours).
The weapons and locations in Prey all share an organic-mixed-with-technology feel. The weapons you'll find all look cool and icky at the same time, sporting living tissue and even tentacles. Grenades, for example, are actually spider-like creatures -- players need to break off one of its legs and throw it to result in explosions. Sadly, you only get a small variety of weapons to play with in the game.
Your enemies for the most part are stock-standard FPS baddies who sport a moderate degree of intelligence. They will move around to avoid fire and find areas of cover, but we never ran across any serious flanking or advanced manoeuvres. Some of the boss fights are fun and hectic.
Prey uses the Doom 3 engine, and it's certainly a pretty game to watch on a HD screen. Textures are realistic and amazing, and there's always plenty going on in every frame. Sound is also top notch -- we'll give any game that has Blue Oyster Cult in the soundtrack a thumbs up.
Prey is fun while it lasts, but its unique gameplay aspects don't do enough to compensate for what's at heart a fairly straightforward first person shooter.