Did you know that Prey actually has nothing to do with the game of the same name, released by Bethesda Softworks in 2017? The most recent release was a re-imagining, as the rights were acquired by Bethesda Softworks, instead of a straight-up reboot or remake.
Prey is one of those games which has an interesting story to tell, but it’s nothing to do with what happens in the actual game. Why? Well, it took 11 years to hit the physical and virtual shelves after being announced. Whether it was key people leaving the project or technical challenges that couldn’t be overcome, it took until E3 in 2005 for us to see a gameplay trailer of what would be the final iteration of the game.
But Prey would generate even more buzz after its release, because it was announced that a direct sequel was in the works. Despite coming in for some criticism today, it was a commercial and critical success for 2K Games at the time. However, the rights to the intellectual property were acquired by Bethesda Softworks during development, which threw things into doubt.
Despite this, Prey 2 made an appearance at E3 in 2011 and again in 2012, with a fair amount of in-game footage being revealed. Sadly, in 2014 the game was officially confirmed as cancelled, and developers Human Head Studios also left the project. However, two years later the re-imagining of the original was announced by Bethesda and (most likely a shock to Prey fans) released promptly the following year.
Anyway, that’s the history lesson done with. The original Prey was released for PC and Xbox 360, but didn’t actually make it to other consoles. In it, the alien ship known as the “Sphere” approaches earth and we learn about its insidious intentions through Tommy and his family. He is the playable protagonist who, along with his girlfriend and grandfather, is abducted by the Sphere.
Prey is a first person shooter which had Tommy exploring the vast environment within the Sphere. Portals came in useful for quick travel, as well as dispatching the alien menace. Gravity was also off kilter at times, making for some passages of play that required a careful and considered pace.
However, the biggest novelty (if you like) for Prey was the ability to take control of the protagonist’s spirit after death. Tommy, a Native American Cherokee, was bestowed with spiritual powers by his grandfather after a near death experience. It certainly came in handy, as when in spirit form he could roam freely for a short time. Before resurrection, in his spirit form Tommy could solve puzzles and find hidden paths, but had limited powers when it came to interacting with the environment and his enemies.
It didn’t all happen whilst Tommy was on foot however. He did have access to vehicles (of kinds) at certain points in the game, such as the shuttle which acted as a sort of a mech suit which enabled Tommy to fly. However, you would need to keep an eye on its armor to ensure it wasn’t destroyed, taking you with it to an early grave.
Prey did an excellent job of creating an alien environment in the Sphere, which was visceral and very organic looking, whilst at the same time fused with advanced technology. It was very reminiscent of Doom and Quake for me in terms of the look and feel of the game (probably because it used the same engine as Doom 3).
Despite receiving praise in many areas upon release, it feels odd to say that the combat element of the game (don’t forget, it’s an FPS) was the weakest part. Tommy had a decent array of weapons to choose from, but their uniqueness didn’t translate from how they looked to how they worked. They lacked diversity, as did their impact on your enemies. Your foes felt like simple bullet sponges at times, nothing more.
For the record, I don’t think it was as poor as many critics said, but at the same time it wasn’t as enjoyable as I would have liked. Given how impressive the Sphere environment was, along with how it played with your perceptions, the combat wasn’t as creative but instead proved a disappointingly average experience. This is simply because it lacked the same impact as other areas of the game, so you couldn’t help but compare and feel underwhelmed. You could forgive it, but Prey was a victim of its own success here.
If you strip away all the surrounding noise and focus on the game itself, Prey isn’t a vintage example of the FPS genre. However it’s worth checking out, especially if you’re curious to see a game that comes with so much history pre- and post-release.
If you want to play the original Prey from 2006 then head over to the Xbox Store. It’s playable on Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S via Backwards Compatibility.