capsule review

Prey

At a Glance
  • Aspyr Media Prey

    Macworld Rating

Think you’ve seen everything there is to offer in first person shooters? Guess again. Prey is here, and we gave it a Best of Show award at Macworld Expo this past January for a reason.

Prey puts you in the role of Tommy, a bitter and angry young man of Cherokee descent whose life is going nowhere. A garage mechanic who’s spent his life on his home reservation (with the exception of some time spent in the military), Tommy wants nothing more than to leave the reservation. But he can’t, as his girlfriend Jen—his one true love—is happy there, tending bar, even if her clientele aren’t the most savory characters in the world. Enisi, Tommy’s grandfather, tries to keep him grounded in his people’s tradition, a seemingly fruitless task.

One dark and stormy night (I know, clichéd, but bear with me) an alien spacecraft sucks them into its belly and takes off into space, and that’s where the real fun starts. Tommy manages to get free on a conveyor belt and runs off to help Jen and Enisi, and soon finds himself in the bowels (quite literally) of a spaceship that’s as much organic as it is mechanical. This isn’t the hard, insect-like chitin we’ve seen in the alien movies—this ship pulsates, throbs and glistens with an organic quality that’s quite unsettling.

Tommy soon finds that he’s an unwelcome visitor—he’ll be assaulted by nightmarish creatures of all shapes and sizes, from the Fodder (feral bipeds that roam the ship like wild dogs) to the nastier Hounds, the Hunters, the infantry of this invading force, mutilated humans, and more.

Tommy doesn’t buy into any of Enisi’s Cherokee mysticism, writing it off as superstitious nonsense. But an event early on in the game forces Tommy to get religion in a hurry. You’ll gain the ability to Spirit Walk, to leave your physical body as a ghost, essentially, shooting enemies with your Spirit Bow and manipulating real-world objects. This comes in incredibly handy, because many of the problems you’ll face involve getting behind forcefields or accessing areas you can’t do in your physical form. It requires you to keep track of spirit energy, which you use like health, and can collect from the souls of your fallen enemies. And if your corporeal form dies, you’ll find yourself in the spirit realm, where you’ll have a few moments to catch your breath, firing your spirit bow and arrows at the wraiths of dishonored spirits that orbit around you before you’re brought back to life. I can’t judge the relative accuracy of the Cherokee mythology presented in Prey, but it adds some fun and unique elements to the game I haven’t seen repeated in other first-person shooters ad nauseam.

Out of body experience Sometimes you can get a new perspective on things in Prey by going for a spirit walk—in this case, across a bridge of energy you can't access in your real body.

That’s right—there’s no “game over” here—you’ll just keep going back and forth between the spirit realm and the physical one, and that’s perhaps Prey’s greatest weakness. With no way to die, the single-player mode has absolutely no replay value that I can find, although once you get through the game you’ll unlock a tougher difficulty level.

Another unique element in Prey—at least from the Mac gamer’s perspective—is the liberal use of portals and the switching of gravity. We’re on a spaceship, after all, and rather than limit us just to walking on the floors of each deck, we can wall-walk on various surfaces. In some cases we might have to activate a catwalk in order to do it, but the net result is that you can find yourself on floors, walls, and ceilings. It’s a dizzying and totally disorienting effect, and it’s not for those that suffer vertigo easily. Portals, meanwhile, transport you instantly to somewhere else—often into another part of the same room you’re in. Again, it’s disorienting—especially when you see yourself in the portal, looking in another direction. There are gravity switches, as well, that will switch the gravity of an entire room to the wall or ceiling. Barf bag not included.

Tommy starts out equipped with a heavy wrench and a lighter for seeing in dark spots. There’s the standard menagerie of alien weapons that you’d expect—a rifle, grenades (that, well, crawl around on their own), a “Leech” gun that drains different kinds of energy from nodes throughout the ship, each imbuing the gun with different kinds of attack, such as heat or ice. Tommy can also replenish his health using health “spores” that run rampant throughout the ship, as well as health “basins.” The bad guys can too, though, so watch out.

Something to chew on In Prey, even the doors have teeth.

There’s a backstory in Prey involving the ship and the intelligence that controls it—known as Mother. It turns out that the craft itself is a sphere which converts protein into energy, hence its organic qualities, and its insatiable appetite for people. There’s also a not-fully-explored subplot involving the displaced spirits of some of the people the sphere has assimilated as well; while that’s never sufficiently expounded on, it does lend a creepy Twilight Zonish aspect to the story.

There’s also a multiplayer mode. It’s pretty standard action—deathmatch and team deathmatch. Level designs in multiplayer obviously emphasize Prey’s strengths—to wit, lots of wall-walking, portals and gravity switches along the way. Frankly, I found the multiplayer mode to be a bit of a bore.

Built on the same engine that powers Doom 3, Prey looks gorgeous. Prey features a lot of the same style of level design—dramatically-lit corridors and walkways, rarely any wide-open spaces.

The game will default at settings it thinks are right based on the horsepower of your machine, and you can tweak things accordingly. The game also has a great soundtrack, very atmospheric and well-suited to the environment, and licenses some classic rock songs as well. (Heart’s “Barracuda” and Judas Priest’s “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’” make a couple of appearances.)

This game is rated M for Mature by the ESRB, and it deserves it. Not only is there a heavy amount of gore and violence, but there’s also a lot of R-rated language, Although to be fair, you can turn off the profanity in the game’s settings. And if you don’t, Tommy’s occasional comments are not only funny, but they’re spot on, offering the same sort of internal monologue I was having playing this game. Still, giant sphincters spewing acidic waste and zombified humans spraying to bits after they’re riddled with bullets do not a family-friendly title make.

The story behind Prey’s development is almost as interesting as Prey’s story itself. This game was first shown to the public in the late ’90s, and quickly gained a reputation for being another “Duke Nukem Forever”—a game that was heavily promoted by its developer but never released. The game went through several development cycles and ultimately succeeded in being released after Human Head Studios became involved. Long-time gamers may remember them as the developer of Rune, another interesting shooter (this time using a Viking theme) that came out back in the classic Mac OS days.

The bottom line

Although it suffers a few shortcomings, Prey is an awesome first-person shooter that’s sure to please jaded fans of the genre.

At a Glance
  • Macworld Rating

    Pros

    • Gorgeous effects
    • Portals, wall walking, and gravity switches make for unique gameplay

    Cons

    • No “game over.”
    • Tepid multiplayer modes
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