It is very rare in life that I have ever wished to be in advertising, but Prey has managed this notorious feat. As a game, it’s the easiest sell ever.
This game has gravity rails that let you stand on the walls and have gun battles with enemies on the ceiling – Wow! This game has a gun that, instead of a scope, has a parasitic alien snake attach itself to your eye – Sick! This is the game that did portals before Portal – OMG! WTF etc. etc.
Yes, yes, it does have all of those things, but in the manner of a true advertising man, I have been cruelly lying to you by omission, raising your hopes so that I might dash them against the cold hard rocks of reality. You see, it does have portals, but as pretty as they look you have no control over them, they are, to all extents and purposes, just doors, and after a while they become as boring as doors. Ah another tear in space-time, I guess I’ll just step through there to get to the next level of dull and uninspired combat.
Whoops, third paragraph and I’ve already given away the game’s greatest flaw, because, as flaws go, it’s omnipresent and therefore impossible to escape. So I’m not going to do the thing where I’d build up from disappointment to disappointment before finally playing my ace and blowing the lid off the whole deal, instead I’ll just summarise the game’s greatest problem like this:
There is a very simple test you can do in any FPS to test the intelligence of your enemies. It involves lining yourself up with them, pressing forwards and holding down the fire button, perhaps screaming a war cry of your choosing. The minions in Prey will spectacularly fail to react to this, watching your approach as a rabbit would a gargantuan big rig, spending the last moments of its life being overwhelmed by the god-like massiveness of the thing heading towards it, not even sparing a thought for its rabbit wife and millions of little rabbit children, simply waiting to become a three foot purple smear on the vast grey highway of life.
You are not a colossal big rig, you are Tommy, moron extraordinaire, a man who remains steadfast in his skepticism despite the fact that he speaks with the ghost of his dead grandfather on a regular basis and possesses the ability to divorce his consciousness from his body and walk through walls at will. Luckily for Tommy his enemies are incontinent idiots who, among other things, seem to lack the ability to move and shoot at the same time. Mechanically the walk speed is too slow and the environments are claustrophobic, eliminating all element of strategy from combat. Oh, and you can’t die.
Yes, whenever your health reaches zero you are sent to the spirit world where you spend a few minutes shooting spirits to restore your health, and then you’re thrown back into the game exactly where you were. There is no way to possibly die or lose in the spirit world, so by the end I simply didn’t even bother shooting the spirits, as simply being there restores half of your health automatically. This mechanic attempts to replace the standard practice of reloading your last quick save but is awful for two reasons. One: it is a completely infuriating and pointless break in the action which simply makes you want to turn the game off and play Peggle. Two: realising that the player can’t die, the developers have structured the combat around sending waves and waves of enemies against you with the full knowledge that you will not survive, resulting in one of the most dull and frustrating final thirds of any game I have ever played.
I’m being cruel to Prey because it has an awful lot going for it. In fact, it’s very close to being great. The visual design is a brilliant mix of fleshy walls and glowing alien technology and there are interesting ideas in here. It’s fun to manipulate gravity, it’s fun to fight on miniature planetoids and to walk on the ceiling. The problem is that all of these potentially original mechanics have somehow been mashed into an incredibly generic core game that grows old after the first few hours. Here’s hoping that Prey 2 can fill in the gaps and raise this series to greatness.
Things that happened while playing this game (SPOILERS):
-Laughed hysterically as Tommy’s girlfriend, who you spend the entire game searching for, appears grafted onto a huge alien mutant, which then proceeds to attack you as she flops about on top screaming “I can’t stop it Tommy!”
-Endured an ’emotional’ scene in which Tommy’s girlfriend decides that she simply can’t live with being grafted to a large and now dead alien mutant, asking you to put her out of her misery, which I did, with the rocket launcher.
-Swore repeatedly at the stupid stupid enemies as they charged predictably in their waves.