There's some good news and some bad news about Prey The bad news is that it's based on the Doom III engine. The good news is that it's not as tiring and insipid as that game, making excellent use of the engine and producing something rather more interesting and fun to play.
Prey kicks off kind of badly. You take up the role of Tommy, a Cherokee Indian with a bad attitude and equally bad voice-acting. He has a blue with just about everyone in the first scene, starting out in the toilet of his girlfriend's bar, arguing with his frankly annoying grandfather and then tries to get the girlfriend, Jen, to leave the Indian reservation. Then a couple of boozed-up blokes who put the hard word on Jen decide to take you on despite a large spanner in your hand and things really kick off. Only an alien craft comes and abducts the lot of you from the diner. Seriously; we’re not making this up.
You spend the next five minutes pinned to a big metal pod listening to your irritating girlfriend whine about being stuck and scared and whatever else. Then there's the equally irritating grandfather who, thankfully, gets sliced and diced in a fairly grisly (yet satisfying) manner. Finally you break free and you can start killing the bad guys.
Things improve vastly from here, despite the return of the now-dead grandfather. There's some whacky physics going on in this game and that's what sets it apart. It all feels very familiar with the developers using a ton of Doom III's source material. There's plenty of rock and metal walkways with panels askew, screaming almost anything from iD in the last few years. The familiarity stops, though, when you start walking on the crazy gravity rails that take you up walls and across ceilings. It doesn't stop there with what look like metal crates but are portals into other parts of the craft. It's crazy stuff which helps distract from what could have been an immensely tedious corridor run, overturning conventional level design. It can be confusing but that's part of the fun. There are also some blue gravity pads that when shot change the gravity in the room.
There's a bunch of cool weapons too. They do the same things, of course, but look and sound different. This also helps set the game apart from, say, Doom 3 (ahem). The mines are pretty cool, these organic crawly things that scuttle across the ground and blow things up. There's also pods that squeeze themselves out of walls and prove rather useful in getting through what look just like sphincters in need of being blown apart. There are a range of shit jokes we are going to avoid for the sake of decency.
The final big one is the ability to leave your body as a bow-and-arrow-wielding spirit. Your childhood pet, a hawk, helps guide you through the various portals helpfully suggesting ways of getting it. The hawk is a spirit too because, as your character observes, it has been dead for years. The supernatural theme continues when you come to grief for the first time and each subsequent time. Your grandfather returns and guides you through a couple of silly little tests to show you how to pop in and out of your body. Leaving your body lets you through force fields and other such obstacles. It's also rather good fun.
The game really looks excellent although, as with most next-gen games, doesn't really step up to the mark in a big way. If you've played Doom III and Quake 4 you really see the link. Obviously it has been through a reasonably heavy re-code, but the slightly primitive lighting is a dead giveaway as are some of the physical quirks. The aliens look good and glisten with goo while being ugly enough to give you nightmares. But when did cardboard boxes get shiny?
The control is pretty easy to master and certainly ensures that your brain spends more time sorting out where the hell you are in the catacombs of the alien ship. The acceleration on the X and Y axes is consistent and easy to master although as per usual with console shooters, small movements are difficult to get right. Nothing new there and it's in good company with that complaint.
Aside from the awful voice-acting, the sound is excellent. There's lots of blood-curdling sounds to go with the seriously ugly villains. The music fades into the background which is fair enough and doesn't get in the way. It does have to be pointed out that Tommy has a bit of Duke Nukem about him - he's a foul-mouthed little boy but good for a laugh. Aside from that, he's depressingly dull and just little bit thick.
Sadly, a number of things keep Prey from greatness. There are a number of odd physical quirks, like the weird pod things that can suddenly bounce across the room instead of reacting as you would expect to a light bump. The storyline is pukesome, the voice-acting atrocious and the ageing undercarriage shows through in a number of ways. And the enemy AI is pretty ordinary, with none of the deeply amusing cleverness of the undead in Condemned. A great pity.
Prey is, as has been said, plenty of fun and that's why we play games. The multiplayer is better than average although we challenge you to find anyone either a) awake or b) close enough to be playable. Prey stands out for a number of excellent reasons even if the portal hopping and gravity-swapping can get a bit confusing. It’s definitely worth a go.