Many years ago, corridor shooters were top of the FPS genre. These inventive and insightful shooters often exploited sci-fi, horror, and fantasy to deliver some impressive and highly engaging games. Duke Nukem, Doom, Perfect Dark and many more were kings of the late 90’s and early 2000’s. That was until the release of the 7th generation consoles and we got many uninspiring dull shooters and the genre was reinvented in many ways with the likes of Half-Life 2. Military shooters became the norm and it was rare for an inventive and quirky FPS to arrive. I’m looking back at one of the last, truly weird and fascinating corridor shooters, the 2006 cult classic, Prey (Not to be confused with the 2017 game from Bethesda).
Prey had an interesting life, starting from the late 90’s as what you would expect a corridor shooter to be. Over the years, it took on many forms and finally in 2006 it released as the mind-bending sci-fi shooter we know today. I remember watching early gameplay footage of Prey and when I bought my first Xbox 360, I bought Prey. It was a pleasant change from what was becoming an overwhelming market of tactical shooters and Halo clones.
But does Prey really hold up?
Prey centers on a Native American named Tommy, a man who lives with his girlfriend Jen and his grandfather on their reservation, living a simple yet unfulfilling life serving the white man. Tommy wants to leave, his girlfriend Jen doesn’t and his grandfather is talking about an upcoming change in the winds. Turns out that change is a deadly alien invasion and Earth is pretty much a buffet table for the mighty Sphere. Tommy must now become one with his spiritual self in order to survive and defeat the growing legions of murderous aliens. As far as plots go, this is nothing special in terms of a narrative.
But what makes Prey unique is the themes, lore, and setting are inspired by Native American mythos. Tommy’s heritage plays an important part in the plot and the gameplay, making this really one of a kind as we don’t see other games tackle Native American culture. Tommy is likable, considerate, and wants to do right, making him a decent hero. The supporting cast is great and even small touches, such as a radio presenter speaking with random humans and even taking calls from the attacking aliens adds a little depth and an element of world building.
There’s plenty of elements that make Prey stand out visually, and make this a cinematic experience compared to many titles at the time and even now. The opening alone is worth checking out and stands as one of the best opening levels in gaming. Mechanically, Prey is a simple game with a couple of neat twists in its design. Fundamentally, you go around the Sphere and shoot aliens while trying to find various Blue and Orange portals which take you further into the ship. Blue and orange portals? Huh, another developer used this idea after Prey didn’t they? There’s plenty of cool set pieces and elements of horror to increase the tension and scares. Prey is not afraid to kill off small children, so be warned. One of the best moments involves the ghost of murdered children and a haunted school bus. Pretty scary stuff!
Tommy is able to pick up various alien weapons and blast his way through a dozen levels of alien mayhem. The weapons are pretty inventive while looking cool and having that impact which makes them feel truly deadly. From an organic mini-gun to an acid spewing shotgun, the developers wanted to make sure you felt like a bad-ass while fighting the alien hoards. It’s a shame other developers don’t get creative with their weapons anymore (like Shadow Warrior). You’ll find yourself using each and every weapon in the game as they’re all effective in any situation. In addition to the inventive weapons, the soundtrack is amazing and the visuals still hold up pretty well even after 12 years on. There are some flat textures here and there, but the design of the creatures, aliens, and world is still staggering.
What made Prey different for its time was the mind-bending physics that included walking on walls, using portals to reach other parts of the ship, and using Tommy’s spirit form to pass through barriers and cross particular gaps. These are all great ideas and used effectively enough to create some simple puzzles and lateral elements. Many of these puzzles require Tommy to phase into spirit form and press a button to open a barrier, which is underwhelming after a few hours in. Then once in a while, something more complex and interesting comes around, such as the anti-gravity elements or entering a series of portals to reach a particular location. I would’ve liked to have seen more done with these gameplay elements, as they are used in a rather simple manner.
While the lateral side of Prey was hit and miss, having some great ideas which were underutilized in most respects, the shooting was immensely satisfying. Prey offers a great deal of exploration and fierce combat with a variety of different enemies across alternating terrains and locations. As mentioned previously, the guns are a great deal of fun to use and they’re usefulness relies on the different situations across the campaign. There are moments where Tommy will be ambushed by heavily armed enemies, fight snipers in large, open spaces, and classic firefights in tight corridors. The pacing throughout Prey never brings a dull moment, as you’ll be given plenty of time to explore or fight with injections of mind-bending puzzles and some great boss battles. The only flaw with Prey‘s sense of action and adventure is the vehicle segments. Tommy will from time to time gain control of a small flying vehicle that he’ll use to traverse certain parts of the Sphere. The controls for the vehicle are extremely awkward to grasp and the level design for these segments can be either too claustrophobic or be too large, making it easy to get lost.
Another problem Prey suffers from is that it’s a pretty easy game to beat. It doesn’t help that you can’t die either, as when your health is depleted, Tommy is taken to a spirit realm where he has to shoot a couple of floating demons, and he’s returned with no penalties. It’s a shame, as this mechanic could be used more effectively to increase the difficulty, such as new enemies re-spawning or Tommy losing some of his weapons. The harder difficulty has no health pick-ups which does not have much effect, as you’ll die more frequently and end up in the spirit realm over and over again. This does become tedious after a few hours.
Whatever may hold Prey back is not enough to put it in a bad place. Prey is a fantastic and cinematic corridor shooter that delivers some surreal and mind-bending fun with inventive weapons, enemies, boss battles and some cool set pieces that go all the way to freak you out. This was one of the last shooters in the era of Corridor shooters and it’s a shame we don’t get more like it. But I understand the genre needs to evolve and moves pass some of its dated elements. But thanks to Prey, its influence has inspired the likes of Doom. We need more games like this…and less like the uninspired and rather boring Shadow Warrior.
That’s right, be more inventive Flying Wild Hog.