Monday, 16 April 2007


I finished 3D Realm’s Prey a couple of days ago. First time I head about Prey was around 1997, back when I was an avid reader of the English version of the PC Gamer magazine. The details seemed so far ahead of anything else that existed back then. Coloured lights, reflections, insane character polygon counts for the time and of course portals. I’ve even downloaded a small video from the Internet (through dial-up!) and gasped at the amazing graphics of the day. I still have that video and I’ve found more, nothing beats some video game nostalgia.

When a friend bought a brand new PC about a month ago and asked for a really good-looking game to test his kit, I did not hesitate to suggest Prey. The new version of course (the old one was discontinued unfortunately and never saw the light of day), which is based on the Doom3 engine. After a while I could not resist the temptation and asked him to give me a copy to play with. I installed it on Girlfriend’s laptop, patched it to the latest version and soon I was good to go.

And now that I’ve finished it, here are my thoughts on this game whose beginnings are more than a decade ago.

The graphics are of course really spectacular. Even on Girlfriend’s laptop which is nothing great the lightning effects are top-notch. The levels are really interesting as well, playing a lot with the notion of what is up and down. Gravity (and its manipulation) are a central part of the game and used creatively to create some really interesting puzzles. It’s also used to enhance the sense of scale in some cases, like when you exit the bad guys’ mothership with a small space shuttle and land on a small asteroid that has its own gravity field. It sometimes becomes disorienting but I count that as a Good Thing™ (Nothing beats the sheer sense of disorientation you get when playing Descent 1 & 2).

Additional tricks are the Portals that act as teleportation devices that also show you where you end up. If you played Quake 3 Arena, you’ll remember in q3dm7 the portal near the rail gun and the quad damage. It looks like that, although it’s more advanced since it’s a two way thing and you can also shoot stuff through it.

The final trick is the notion of Spirit Walking. When your character first dies, you are told that your spirit has the special ability of leaving your body and moving around on its own abiding to slightly different physical laws. This enables you to solve some puzzles like walking through force-fields for example. Another implication is that once you die, your spirit has the chance to return to you body, effectively letting you resurrect from the dead.

Every single time.

And that’s where the problem is. After a while, I found myself not really caring if I died since there’s no real impact on the game apart from a small slow down while I try to resurrect my character. You don’t lose your weapons and there is no limit on how often or how many times you can die. Once you’re dead, you don’t even have to do anything to resurrect, after a while it happens on its own.

While an interesting idea it ends up ruining the game. After a while there’s no real motive to become better at aiming or develop a different strategy because it doesn’t really matter if the bad guys kill you. In the end, you will beat them because they cannot really kill you. It ends up being just an annoyance that slows you down. It feels like having a invincibility cheat turned on permanently.

I also suspect that the designers of the game deliberately tweaked the game mechanics to make you die more. The weapons are not only unoriginal they don’t feel powerful either. You get the standard set of weapons: A melee weapon, a machine-gun type with a scope for long range shots, a grenade type with a sticky mode, a machine-gun with grenade, a shotgun again with a grenade function and a rocket launcher. The only interesting one is a plasma-laser-frozen flamethrower all in one, that accepts 3 different types of ammo, out of which only the laser feels really powerful (but ends up not being one). All the rest are just not powerful enough, they do not carry the actual punch you think they will based on how they look. Why do you give me a rocket launcher if it cannot even kill one of the basic enemies with one shot?

It’s a shame because Prey has a really good story. It might not be the most original one ever but at least it’s told in a really good way. The voice acting is also great. If only for the bad guys that are really stupid and the spirit walking, I could have gotten a much bigger sense of accomplishment when I saw the rolling end credits.

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