Sunday, 20 March 2016

Prey (PC)

Developer:Human Head|Release Date:2006|Systems:Windows, Mac, Linux, Xbox 360

This week on Super Adventures, I'm having a go at Prey! I've already played Doom 3 and Quake 4, so I figured it was about time to give the third id Tech 4 game a go.

Prey was going to be 3D Realms' cutting edge graphical showcase, a game designed from the ground up to require a 3D card! It was originally intended to come out in 1998 you see, as a competitor to games like Unreal, Half-Life, Turok... Daikatana and Duke Nukem Forever.

The advanced 3D game engine was going to support things like area sourced coloured lighting, reflections, dynamic shadows, and dynamic portals. This portal technology was actually a clever way to divide the levels up into smaller areas of geometry so the processor only had to think about one room at a time, meaning higher polygon counts at faster framerates. Though by 1998 the developers were also showing off proper Portal-style placeable tears in reality, and there was much hype.

But then 3D Realms went and pulled a '3D Realms', scrapping all the work they'd done so far due to issues with the technology and starting over with a different engine. The project fell dormant until Human Head took over in 2001, and in 2002 they licensed the shiny new id Tech 4 engine (with its working portal tech) and spent four years putting together an entirely different Prey with it. Which was then completely overshadowed by Portal the following year. Alas.

Before starting it up, I created an autoexec.cfg file and typed in a couple of lines to hopefully turn off the mouse acceleration and smoothing:

seta m_accel "0"
seta m_smooth "0"

(Click images for slightly bigger screenshots).

Aww, look at that tiny little arcade cabinet! The game let me change the aspect ratio, but so far widescreen's just making the menu screen wider.

Seems that Cherokee difficulty is ghosted out until I've beaten the game, making this difficulty select screen a bit redundant. Though I can play Casino mode at least, where the enemies don't even bother showing up!

I don't necessary have an issue with a game having the one difficulty level for all players (especially when this apparently has some kind of adaptive difficulty), but I imagine some aren't going to be impressed that they can't play ultimate bastard hard mode until they've suffered through baby mode first. Seems like it would've been better to hide the option entirely for the first playthrough.


The game begins with a guy called Tommy whining to himself in the mirror. Remember mirrors? They used to show up in games sometimes, mostly in bathrooms.

Well actually the game begins with a short narration by an older Native American gentleman who explains that the world is full of stories and they occasionally permit themselves to be told, but after that it's straight to the toilet.

I was worried the game had pulled a Duke Nukem Forever by starting off with the hero taking a piss, but he's actually washing his hands here. So right away we learn that Tommy respects the importance of hygiene, he's got hair that'd make John Romero jealous and he's not the kind of protagonist that keeps his thoughts to himself.

Someone called Jen's yelling for me to come out to the bar, which is good as it means I have a clear objective and I like clear objectives. I don't feel comfortable screwing around and ignoring a task until I know what it is I'm meant to be doing. I think I'll start by flushing the toilet, then I'll snoop around in the back of the roadhouse some more.

I’m onto you, level designer! Everywhere I go, here this is.

The textures don’t quite hold up to my futuristic 1280x720 resolution I’m afraid, but they're fine. It'll look better once things get more sci-fi.

Also I love the sound of bottles rattling across the floor whenever I catch them with my feet, as it proves that I have feet. I can't actually see them when I go to look, but I can definitely hear them down there, even when I'm just turning around on the spot. There's a definite feeling that I'm controlling a human being, not a floating arm with a camera on it. It feels a lot like Doom 3 in fact, which isn't a surprise seeing as the game uses the same engine.

Turns out there's not much to do at the back of bar, but on my way out I was intercepted by the narrator, Tommy's grandfather Enisi, who wanted to chat about the great change on the winds and suchlike. Our hero doesn't go for that shit though, and tells him to go home. I get the feeling he's had these talks before and his patience for hearing about the old ways ran out a long time ago.

Incidentally, Enisi is played by John Galt, who also voiced Tracer Tong in Deus Ex and Lo Wang in the original Shadow Warrior. Seems like he's the guy you call in when you want a cringe-worthy accent, though I have to admit he sounds perfectly believable to me here. Tommy on the other hand is voiced by an actor called Michael Greyeyes, who looks so much the part he could've played his character in the movie.

I found Jen at the bar dealing with a pair of comically shitty drunk bikers with practised charm, and the two of them fell straight into their old arguments as well. He hates the reservation, she loves it here, he wants them to leave, she wants them to stay...

These conversations start up by themselves when I get close enough to another character, but I don't have any say in what's being said, and I'm getting kind of bored of it so I'm going off exploring again.

Hey, this jukebox screen is an interactive high-resolution id Tech 4 scripted GUI surface! More games need to let me seamlessly transform my crosshair into a mouse cursor when I point at a computer screen. Plus they should follow Prey's example and get some proper licensed metal on the soundtrack too.

A game using licensed music was nothing new in 2006 (or even 1996), but Prey does something really unusual with it: it shoves all the songs into a jukebox right at the start and then you rarely ever get to hear any of it again! Tommy needs to get himself a damn iPod.

I've also found a slot machine, a blackjack machine, draw poker and a Rune Man arcade game, and it turns out that I'm bad at all of them (huge shock). I might as well go back over to Jen again and get this intro over with.

Well it looks like I'm fighting the asshole bikers. They were trying to get into Jen's pants, so I decided to step in case they ever figured out how to get across to the other side of the bar. I'll just gently tap them across the face with my wrench a few times and let them sleep it off.

This gives me chance to talk about the combat.... but honestly I'm more interested in what's showing on the TV. I tried Google searching "movie showing on the TV in Prey roadhouse" phrased a dozen different ways, then finally gave up and switched to image searching a cropped screenshot. Turns out that it's a terrible 1954 horror movie starring Peter Graves called 'Killers from Space'. Shame there's only a couple of short clips being looped so I can't hang around and watch it. It's not like The Darkness where you can sit down and watch the whole of 'To Kill a Mockingbird'.

Anyway, turns out that melee fighting's pretty much the same as using the crowbar in Half-Life: I just keep pressing the button until I win, nothing clever to it. HUDwise I've got a very mopey Max Payne-looking health bar that regenerates as far as his kneecaps, so I can't afford to be too reckless, and a handy damage indicator that flashes up to tell me which way the hurt's coming from (in this case it's coming from their fists).

Well I won the fight, but that turned out to be the cue for the aliens to begin their invasion of Earth. Now the ceiling's been beamed away and they're abducting all the arcade machines! I hope they're better at video poker than I am.

Also 'Don't Fear the Reaper' by Blue Oyster Cult just started playing by itself, which is kind of weird seeing as it wasn't even in the jukebox when I checked it. Spooky!


Clicking this image will get you a high quality 1920x1080 version I made by screwing around with the game's screenshot options.
There's never really a good time to be abducted by aliens, but all things considered this didn't turn out so bad for Tommy. He's completely off the hook for beating those two bikers into a bloody mess with a wrench, he's gotten his girlfriend to come with him off the reservation to see the world, and he even had a chance to take a piss before he left!

This is one of those classic 'stick the player on a train and give them a tour' intros made popular by Half-Life but thankfully it doesn't last nearly as long and it's as pretty as it is unskippable. Could've done without Jen repeating "Unequa, whose breath gives life to all worlds, help us in our time of need, deliver us from evil," for half the ride though.

A friendly cyborg planted a bomb and wrecked the track, so now I'm loose inside the mothership! Unfortunately Jen was on a different rail so there'll be no co-op gameplay for us.

So my main objective is to rescue Tommy's girlfriend. Oh, plus his grandfather I suppose. My secondary objective is to smack around these gross little creatures who roll into the level as balls, then pop open and run over to attack me.

I've played (and finished) the game before, but this time around the level's reminding me of the worst parts of Duke Nukem Forever, with its slimy walls and organic doorways vomiting guts at me. But then I guess those levels were supposed to be a parody of this, maybe?

(All dates come from the internet, so don't put too much faith in them.)
Speaking of Duke Nukem Forever, here's a helpful chart to illustrate their respective ridiculous development time. DNF's definitely the winner with 15 years in production, but Prey's 11 year span puts it in close second.

Oh, that chart's a bit out of date now, as I put it together two years ago and we've learned since then that Prey 2 ain't ever coming out. It was originally intended for release at the end of 2012, but was shut down in 2011 after just a couple of years in development because it wasn't up to Bethesda's quality standard. These are the people who did the bug testing on Fallout: New Vegas and felt that Star Trek: Legacy was suitable for human consumption, so there must have been something seriously wrong with that game.


Oh damn, I guess I can scratch 'rescue Enisi' off my list of things to do.

I'm sure this is supposed to be horrible, but it's probably one of the most hilarious deaths I've ever seen in a video game because of how over the top it is. He's stabbed multiple times by four giant spikes until the wall's been painted in his blood, and then finally a giant metal block slams in place to finish the job.

Fortunately my mysterious cyborg friend stepped in once again to shut down the machinery in the nick of time! Well, in time to save Jen anyway.


I love the grey and red colour scheme in this part of the game, it reminds me of Skeleton Krew.

Hey, I know where I am! I'm standing right where the cyborg was a moment ago. So that must be the switch to activate the human pulping machine. I remember the first time I played the game I thought 'hey a switch!' and pressed it before putting two and two together. And that was how I learned that killing innocents isn't a game over.

I should mention that the thing sticking out of the wall on the right is a healing machine, but most of the time I get my health back from glowing spores lying around on the floor.

Oh damn, that sounded like a girl screaming. Time to run over and smite the bad folks with my wrench of justice.

Actually fuck the wrench, I just found myself an alien machine gun! It's a lot like a regular machine gun, except it keeps fidgeting and I don't get the satisfaction of hitting the reload key.

The enemies have been shooting back, but I'm doing pretty well strafing around their shots, and it seems that pain gives them reason to pause. They're not the brightest or most agile aliens I've had the pleasure of gunning down in a video game, but they've got the decency to die quickly and I appreciate that. I can't abide bullet sponges.

I keep waiting for that portal he came through to close up, but it's not happening. I remember enough to know that I'll never get to make portals of my own (that feature died in the first version of the game), but I can at least pop in through his one and grab a bit of health on the other side.

Here's something else that's very Duke Nukem Forever: rolling balls around to get doors open. It's actually an explosive, so I need to push it into place and then shoot it to blast open a hole, but I was left to figure that out for myself.

Prey doesn't have Doom 3 style audio diaries lying around, but it does occasionally have radios and they're all tuned in to real life radio personality Art Bell talking to callers about the alien invasion. Seems that the people on the ground have only gotten as far as noticing mysterious lights in the sky, so I can't expect a rescue by President Whitmore and SG-1 any time soon.

Hey I've found a cute little glow in the dark grenade crab thing! It's just like a regular grenade, except it likes to snap at my fingers when I'm holding it. Why I'd ever want to hold it I've no idea, as the game's got a dedicated grenade throwing key, but... oh I can use the right mouse button here to switch grenade modes. Well that makes sense then.

There's no dedicated wrench swinging button, so I can't get in some quick melee strikes during gun combat, but I can at least hold a lighter and a weapon at the same time! We've come a long way since Doom 3.

Oh see that glowing strip in front of me? That's some kind of gravity plating that lets me walk up walls and along the ceilings like I'm riding the world's slowest roller coaster. Which is cool, I guess.

Look at this guy being a smart-ass and using cover. That's a new one for them.

He's not all that good at it though, as he started off shooting the wall he was hiding behind, giving me a chance to step out and blow him away with my with my assault rifle's secondary sniper mode. I get the feeling this scope's another victim of widescreen mode, as everything's very oval shaped right now.

Sniper mode is very effective, but it's not all that joyful to use unfortunately. I haven't got much satisfaction out of any of the gunplay so far really, and the enemies are a just a thing to kill on the way to the next sci-fi set piece.

See, look at this. This is Prey all over.

There's a small spherical rock floating inside a glass case with a portal crate lying next to it. Why? Because aliens are weird, that's why. The door over there makes a beeping noise when I approach it, meaning it's got no intention of ever opening for me, so to get out of this room I need to enter the crate.

But the crate portal drops me inside the glass case. So now I'm running around the outside of the floating rock like I'm in Super Mario Galaxy!

Big portals leading to tiny portals, there's one trick that Portal never did. It's not a trick this does either really though, as I don't remember ever having to shrink myself down to make progress later in the game.

I hate to say it, but Duke Nukem Forever wins this round with its size-shifting Duke Burger kitchen level.


Well some stuff happened and now Tommy's dead. Well not quite, but he would've been if he hadn't somehow teleported away to the spiritual realm in the nick of time.

Tommy's still having a hard time accepting the supernatural, even though he's currently having a conversation with his dead grandfather in a place that's very much not a spaceship. Dude, Tommy, the man's fucking glowing, maybe give him a chance to explain himself.

I appreciate that the game never takes me out of first person view, but it does mean I usually spend these cutscenes leaping around bored, while Enisi tries to continue his very serious conversation

Enisi reveals that Tommy has the power to step outside his body and walk around an invisible ghost, armed with a bow fuelled by souls.

I've no idea why he in particular gets to have this power, or how much accurate any of this is to Cherokee mythology, but hey I'll take it! Being the chosen one is much better than being the stain on the wall. I've also recruited the ghost of Tommy's dead hawk, called Talon, who can fly around and translate computer panels for me!

Incidentally, Prey's original protagonist was going to be called 'Talon Brave', but thankfully they replaced him with the much more sensible Domasi "Tommy" Tawodi. Except 'tawodi' is the Cherokee word for 'hawk', so he's basically called Tommy Hawk (tomahawk).


Here's me using my new spirit walking trick to solve a puzzle. The gravity panel I was walking down lead to a dead end, but I saw the spirit walking symbol on the ceiling floor above... below... whatever. So I activated the power and dropped right down from the ceiling. Seems that gravity panels don't work on ghosts.

I figured that while I was on the floor I might as well walk right through the nearby forcefield in my semi-intangible form and hit the switch behind it to start the gravity panel moving across to connect to another track. Tommy's physical body's been left floating helplessly on the ceiling this whole time, but I can instantly teleport back with a press of a button.

Oh, one thing I really like is how Talon likes to fly over and sit next to switches I can use. The buttons can be kind of hard to spot at times, but a glowing blue bird always stands out.

Every now and again I come across other humans roaming free like I am, but they're usually men cowering in their underwear, or beating their hands against the doors. Tommy's tried to spark up a conversation a few times, but they're each a gibbering shell of a human being with a shattered mind, so they mostly just screamed incoherently at no one in particular. Seems that Tommy's been really lucky to keep hold of his pants and his sanity for so long.

These children though seem to be handling their ordeal relatively well.


A spirit flew into her body, shredded her from the inside, and then stole her spiritual form. Then for an encore, her ghost grabbed the other kid and impaled him on the metal spike. That’s... not something you expect from your slightly goofy first person shooter! Then again I guess grandpa did get juiced earlier.

With Talon around to translate, Tommy can now hear and understand the alien leader when she contacts him, and she mentions that these malevolent spirits weren't here before our hero's trip to the spirit world. So he basically opened the door for them to start possessing people. Nice job Tommy.

But there's really only two things Tommy's concerned about right now: saving Jen, and trying not to throw up in this gravity puzzle room.

Those blue devices on the wall are gun activated gravity panels, and if I shoot them that wall instantly becomes the new floor, for every object in the room. They also have the secondary effect of making Tommy lose his lunch if I flip him around too much.

Oh by the way, I collected a leech gun! It fires a freeze ray right now, but if I leech the energy from that red machine on the wall down there it'll turn into... another boring machine gun basically.


Prey poker royal flush maximum win
Whoa, I got a royal flush! Is that good? I don't know anything about poker.

The aliens broke the machine when they abducted it from Jen's bar, so it's impossible to ever lose on it now. I figured I'd stick around for a couple of minutes, rack up an impossible score and get the achievement. But it turns out that the Steam version doesn't have achievements!

Okay then, back to walking down the linear levels, shooting two or three enemies per room then. Maybe if I'm really lucky I'll get another forcefield to walk through.

Okay creepy nursery rhyme music and child ghosts throwing energy balls at me is definitely different, but I'm not sure it's good different. Beautiful looking room though.


A SCHOOL BUS DRIPPING WITH BLOOD? Okay now the game's just taking the piss.

Fine Prey, I'll tell people that you're edgy and dark, are you happy now? Can I get back to the other bit without the screaming kids and pre-teen poetry now? How about some portals huh? You loved playing around with portals earlier. Or snipers maybe! We sure had fun with those snipers earlier.


I fought some more dudes, and some snipers, and a couple of floating creatures, and now I've reached a boss fight! He's got a health bar and everything.

Well he's shooting at me with his gun hands, so I suppose I'll get myself behind a pillar and shoot back when he pauses for breath.

Crap. I got a little bit careless there and now I have to fight the dishonoured dead in the spirit realm for a bit.

This is a circular arena and I have to shoot as many ghost fish as I can while Tommy's mortal body falls down the shaft of light into the hole in the middle. Red fish give me health, blue fish give me souls. Then when I'm done here I can carry on the with the boss fight where I left off!

You might think this means I'm an immortal who'll inevitably win every fight through sheer persistence, but actually... yeah okay you're basically right. I'm sure there's some way to lose, but I haven't found it yet.

Alright then, back to emptying all my guns at this giant lumbering lack of creativity personified. Oh wait, they pretty much are empty. Okay, time to duck inside an alcove and hope there's ammo in there.

Whoa, I accidentally cut his hand off with a forcefield! I just wanted to stop him shooting at me for a moment to I could get back outside again, but this works much better for me. Maybe this boss fight's not so simple after all.

Hey, I can grab his gun! And it's another biomechanical machine gun, well that's certainly given me more tactical options. I can carry as many weapons as I want, and they're all the bloody same! To be fair it does have a rocket launcher as the secondary attack, but I'm finding this arsenal pretty disappointing after playing Painkiller the other day, with its shotgun, stake launcher and spinning blade energy rod thing.

Anyway I shot the boss a few times with his own gun and won. So that's nice.


There you go, a game defining screenshot. This room is Prey.

I'm on the ceiling right now, shooting a couple of folks on the floor with an alien machine gun. Count to three and either they're down or I wandered into their bullets more times than I realised and I'm back to the spirit world shooting at red ghosts with a bow.

After making a bit of progress like this I'll get to a part I'm confused about and I'll start wandering back and forth around the level trying to figure out where the game wants me to be. Then I'll notice the switch/gravity device/exploding ball I missed, and I'm rolling again.

But then I get to the next flashy effect room and it was all worth it. For me anyway, I'm sure the game's grimy metal art design doesn't appeal to everyone.

Farscape, that's what these levels reminds me of! Well, kind of.

And now I'm flying around in a little fighter, Descent-style! Even now the game's still throwing new things at me! But I should stop playing here before I get in too deep and accidentally finish the thing.

Oh, I should mention that the game also has multiplayer! Which I've never tried and never will.


To jump straight to the point, Prey uses its fantastic (for 2006) visuals and inventive reality bending tricks to prop up some weak gameplay. It's not unplayable by a long shot, it's just not overly fun to shoot at things in the game, and as it's a first person shooter that's kind of a problem. There's a limited variety of enemies, a limited variety of weapons and a limited number of ways the two are going to interact.

You take on the game one room at a time for the most part, the levels are the opposite of a maze, so there's no danger of ever getting hopelessly lost. Getting hopelessly stuck on the other hand is definite possibility, either due to confusing level design or because you're struggling with a puzzle. There's just enough of them around to annoy players who only want to gun down aliens, and it soon becomes obvious that there's only one way to progress through them.

It's a shame really, because the game's got so much to show off and on paper it all sounds awesome. It has you diving through portals, changing size, astral projecting, flying spaceships, flipping gravity, running across walls, running across ceilings... but only when and how it wants you to. The game keeps throwing out these new concepts and then never lets you do anything with them yourself! The lack of a portal gun in particular is a huge missed opportunity in retrospect. Well okay you can start spirit walking any time you want to get a couple of sneaky kills in before your soul ammo runs out, but it's mostly there to let you slip through forcefields so that you can reach the switch at the other side. And those switches I found were often right on the other side of the barrier, so I didn't feel like I was making a particularly awesome use of a my ghost powers.

Tommy's immortality is another feature you don't see in many games, though I wouldn't say that it leaves the game without challenge. It's just that instead of being challenged to get through a combat encounter without dying, you're being challenged to make it through without getting your ass kicked and having to do another 10 seconds of tedious ghost shooting in the spirit world. It might have been better if they'd jumped on the regenerating health bandwagon instead, as having to keep your head down behind a box for a few seconds before you're back in the fight would've been less dull. Plus you've also got the more mundane time manipulation power that comes with having autosaves and quicksaves, but I'm not inclined to complain. Basically, if you persevere with Prey you're going to be able to see the end of it; it's not a test of gaming skill.

I have to admit, my favourite thing about Prey has always been the fact that the editor is called 'Preditor'. My second is the way that Tommy swears out loud every time something messed up happens to him, which is basically every third room. Some people might not appreciate such a vocal first person character, but it works for me. Incidentally profanity can be disabled in the options, but shooting at child ghosts can't. The game's definitely got a little edginess to it, as it gleefully crushes the elderly and impales children. Plus the damsel in distress plotline only gets darker. But it's not Postal 2 or Duke Nukem Forever, the game's going for horror rather than offensive humour, and the orchestral Jeremy Soule soundtrack insists that despite everything, it's actually meant to be taken seriously.

Speaking of Duke Nukem Forever, the two games are like brothers, but this is definitely the better constructed of the two. I'm not sure I'd say it's significantly more (or less) entertaining, but it's fun enough to be officially 'not crap'.

The game's on Steam but you can't actually buy it because they ran out of keys in 2009. You can however roll the dice, buy a retail copy, and hope the CD key hasn't been registered yet. That's what I did! Even if it is registered you'll still end up owning the game on disc so it's not that much of a risk.

Fun fact: I actually replayed Duke Nukem Forever start to finish to compare the two games, or at least that's the excuse I'm going with.

Anyway, drop some thoughts, feedback and opinions in the comment box below! You can even take a guess at what the next game will be, and good luck with that.


  1. You're doing Frost Byte next I see. May Odin have mercy upon you.

  2. Alien sci-fi mixed with Indian mystic?!
    I really love that!
    Compare with criminals + ghostly nonsense ala Fear which IMO is very terrible

    Btw why you put TF 2 on chart?
    It is purely multiplayer FPS not like others on chart

    1. I never said it was a chart for FPS games with a single player campaign! Sure I didn't list any other purely multiplayer shooters, but TF2 was in development for almost a DECADE, so it didn't seem right to leave it out.

      Also there's no criminals in Fear! Just endless super soldiers. Constant unceasing super soldiers. And ghosts.

    2. In my opinion although time bullet seems to be just for the graphics, FEAR is one of the action sagas with best argument.

  3. The main thing I'm taking from this is that Portal came out in 2007 and I wonder where nine years went.

  4. Oh hey I didn't know you could use retail Prey cd keys on steam.
    Apparently neither did the previous owner of my copy.

  5. Would've been awesome to play out the shrunken sequence more on though haha


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