Visually these are stunning, as you're able to see the originating room through the portals' front windows. Static portals also populate the game and these allow you to fire, or pass through into new areas. Essentially they're just teleports with a visual upgrade, but it's another example of imaginative design tweaks that cumulatively build great character and unique atmosphere.
Not far into the game you're taught how to leave your physical form and enter the spirit world. You leave your real body and weapons hanging (and it can be attacked while you're gone) and equipped with only a spirit bow and a mystical bird of prey that harries aggressors and translates alien door-codes, you can pass through obstacles to your physical form (usually force fields) and scout a new path before rejoining.
Again it really helps to break the pace of the game and transforms what is essentially a linear adventure into a significantly more involving, and never too frustrating experience. The other spirit aspect we're not so convinced was a good idea...
Whenever you die in the game, your spirit form takes its bow to a mystical planetoid circled by blue and red ray-winged creatures that represent physical (red) and spiritual (blue) recharge. Kill them and each refills a portion of your dual health bars. After a set time you're sucked back into your recuperated body.
In effect this means you rarely need to reload (great!) but it also detracts from the threat you should feel trapped inside an extremely hostile alien host. Even in boss fights you can die, recharge and return to find the alien behemoth at the same level of damage as when you left.
So you could, if you had the patience, take down the biggest boss in the game with your monkey wrench. On balance we'd have preferred less innovation in this case, at least during boss battles. Sometimes, you need to die and be punished for it.
Your enemies in Prey may be masters of unfathomably superior alien technology, but in battle tactics they could be beaten by an octogenarian paintball team who just had tea, but left their colostomy bags on the coach.
Combined with your inability to actually die, the proliferation of health recharge blisters and the fact that you revive at the same point that you departed, mean that Prey can be tough (in enemy damage) but is not as tactically challenging as it should be. Which is a shame, because the enemies are innovative in design. Zombie-types keep attacking after their heads have been blown off. Snapping dino-types hatch from large eggs that schlurp out of gloopy tubes. You can even use force-field doors to slice the gun-limbs off some bosses and use them as weapons against them.
Occasionally a grunt will think to switch off the walkways and drop you to the floor, but these seem to be isolated scripted actions and not representative of the general level of intelligence.
SQUEEZE ONE OUT
Prey is packed with great ideas and there's always a surprise around every sticky corner. We need titles like this that play with convention while still courting it. They prove that you can make games within the constraints of third-party engines but still cut a new dash if you've got the imagination and mischievous sense of humour that this shooter is loaded with.
On occasion, what no doubt seemed like a crazy-cool idea down the pub just didn't work well in practice (spirit death-defying in particular) and fun has taken the edge off challenge, but you'd have to be an extremist alien sympathiser not to thoroughly enjoy Prey from the moment it sucks you into its viscera to the moment it squeezes you out again.
Worshipful! Get down on your knees and Prey!
- Innovative ideas throughout
- Incredible level and texture detail
- Great sense of 'Duke-lite' humour
- Fun tends to override challenge
- Very basic enemy AI is dissappointing