Hello all! Last time, I wrote about a wonky oldie from my childhood. It’s on Rare Replay on Xbox One, and it’s still wonky. Fun, too.
Today, I want to talk about Prey. But not the recent one. The original, somewhat forgotten one.
Prey, or rather, the Prey that I know, released in 2006 for the PC and Xbox 360. In this first-person-shooter, you play as Domasi “Tommy” Tawodi, a Cherokee mechanic hanging out in a bar with his girlfriend Jen and his grandfather Enisi. After goofing around in the bar for a while (including playing a bunch of licensed tunes on the jukebox, which was really cool at the time), things take a hard left turn as Tommy and Co. are abruptly kidnapped by aliens, who transport the entire bar upwards to the tune of “Don’t Fear the Reaper” by Blue Öyster Cult. It’s a pretty awesome sequence (skip to about 7:00 for the cool part):
Prey is a pretty standard FPS after this, but one with a couple of cool tricks up its sleeve. Your weapons are alien guns, but they behave like standard FPS guns—machine gun, shotgun, etc. The fun comes in the design of the guns themselves—for example, the sniper rifle, rather than simply zooming in and out on your targets, features a gross little parasite that attaches itself to your eyeball. It’s purely just a visual trick, but more on that later. Prey also lets you travel into the “Spirit World” for a time to solve puzzles and shoot Spirit Arrows at enemies.
Prey has portals, too. Some are orange, and some are blue, just like Portal, which would come about a year after Prey. Portals had been seen in games before (DOOM, Turok, etc.), but they were extra special here, because they weren’t “level warps,” as in those previous examples. In exactly the same fashion as Portal would demonstrate later, Prey featured no discontinuity, no transition between its portals. You could see the level through the portal, and jump in like it was simply a hole. I’m well aware I’m describing Portal exactly, but keep in mind this kind of thing had not been seen before. Combine this with the fact that Prey did some fun things with gravity and size (one portal led you to a tiny planet inside a glass case and, in the process, made you ant-sized) and things in Prey got twisted pretty fast. It’s trippy.
Prey has a fully realized sense of world, which is a game design philosophy I love. Not so much like something you would see in, say, Dishonored, where the levels don’t feel too “game-y,” but rather, they feel like real, lived in places. The bar in Prey’s opening sequence feels like a genuine place you can visit, but the alien ship afterwards does feel like your basic shooter endless-corridor type of level. Still, though, I found Prey’s ship, the Sphere, claustrophobic and fascinating even today. Despite the twists and turns, and the portals and the fact that sometimes you’re on the ceiling, I never felt like I was lost, and that speaks to the great level design. Linear, perhaps, but great nonetheless.
That sense of world extends to the characters, weapons, everything. Tommy is a different kind of hero than the usual FPS gruff-voiced dudes one could find in every game ever in 2006. He’s a Native American who’s not defined solely by his heritage. He’s just a random everyman, and a somewhat more believable everyman than we see in games. If there’s a fault with the characterization in Prey, it’s that Tommy is more or less the only character we really meet and learn about. Jen and Enisi are present here and there (with Enisi guiding Tommy from the afterlife, having been killed in the early stages of the game), but we don’t get to know them. It’s Tommy’s story, I guess, but still. The weaponry, too, as I said, all consists of alien guns that all look the part. While they perform as ordinary FPS guns (disappointingly so), they all look freaky and weird, and that’s what I love about them. I mentioned the sniper rifle parasite thing earlier; little touches like that make Prey unique and fun.
That last word there, fun, sums up Prey pretty well. While it does a lot of these cool things I’ve mentioned (portals, variable gravity, etc), the game is just plain fun. Aliens pour forth by the bucketful and you shoot them. At its core, that’s what Prey is; there’s little in the way of strategy or tactics. Just shoot first. But it’s that combination of fun weapons with tight control and superb audiovisuals that make Prey more than the sum of its parts. It’s so memorable. I’m surprised it seemed to disappear; few who talk about the new Prey mention the original, and that’s a shame.
I hear the new Prey is pretty great, but I kind of wanted to see a proper sequel to...I guess let’s call it Prey 2006. It ended on a “To Be Continued” note that will never be resolved. It’s too bad, because few games are as fully realized, somewhat whimsical, and just damn awesome as Prey. This one’s a little tougher to find than most of the stuff I cover (Steam removed this game from sale years ago), but seek out a copy if you have the means.
And first one to point out the reference in the article title gets 10 points.
Thanks for reading my stuff! Yell at me on Twitter, and/or suggest other games I should cover!
Next week brings us a strategy title for the DS, based on a cult favorite JRPG series that involves Norse mythology (I can’t just say it; that would give it away)