Prey 2006: A giant pile of ideas abandoned in a heap on the floor

2006’s original Prey came a full eleven years after 3D Realms began its production. Eventually completed by Human Head Studios, although using some of the original concepts (primarily the portal tech), it was released to rave reviews. Which is odd, because it’s a colossal pile of shit.

I have never played Prey before. It passed me by a decade ago, and has since entirely disappeared from sale. (Extraordinarily, it’s no longer on sale on Steam because 2K ran out of copies.) I managed to get hold of a copy (Steam key reseller if you must know, ew, not something I’m pleased to have resorted to), and have since completed it. And gosh, it’s really bloody awful. Packed with brilliant ideas that go nowhere, fascinating potential that’s never realised, and some truly dreadful combat. I am utterly mystified at how it was allowed to pass in a year as late as 2006.

Prey stands out as an FPS that rather boldly doesn’t feature a grisly muscly white dude as its main character. You are, in fact, Domasi Tawodi – a Cherokee garage mechanic and former soldier (read grisly muscly Native American dude) – who sees his grandfather and not-quite-girlfriend get captured by aliens from their bar. Swiftly captured after them, the bulk of the rest of the game takes place on a miles-high spaceship as Tawodi (known as Tommy) attempts to kill absolutely everything on board while shouting about how cross he is.

But we should back up, because before the aliens show up, Prey starts brilliantly. It gets right what Half-Life got right, and so few games since have – it remembers to be ordinary before it’s extraordinary. You begin in the backrooms of the bar, wander about, speak to your companions, play on the poker machine, then beat the shit out of some customers with a spanner. Usual stuff. (Actually, I’m flippant, but this rather large overreaction to some unpleasant types is a coherent reason why you’re carrying a bludgeoning weapon when you arrive on board the USS Aliens.) It gives you a brief moment of normality to ground your character before he begins his adventures, and it’s something the vast majority of games forget to do to their significant detriment. Then it does even better with a lovely on-rails section on the ship, introducing you to the scale of the threat, the harvesting of humans.

Once you’re on the ship, it immediately starts being clever. I can see why, I guess, journalists over-excited to finally have their hands on this hilariously delayed game – bordering on a reputation of the likes of Duke Nukem – got worked up at this point. A strong opening, and then a peculiar environment of portals, boxes that when walked into exit you somewhere else, and a setting where any wall can potentially become the floor. It feels bursting with neat ideas, elaborated on further when you begin your inevitable journey into the spiritual, gaining a spirit form that can walk through barriers and press buttons, leaving your corporeal form dangling the other side.

So it’s quite extraordinary that absolute nothing clever is done with any of it. That spirit form is, I think, the clearest example. Early on you use it to pass through forcefields or turret-triggering laser beams, pressing a button on the other side, so when returning to your body you can pass through. Later in the game this is used for passing through forcefields or turret-triggering laser beams, pressing a button on the other side, so when returning to your body you can pass through. Nearer the end of the game, this special skill affords you the ability to pass through forcefields or turret-triggering laser beams, pressing a button on the other side, so when returning to your body you can pass through.

The same abandoning of any conceptual development applies to the portals (they appear, you walk through them), and the delightful teleporting crates are simply forgotten about! There is however the nice idea of shooting at switches on walls and ceilings to flip gravity around to make them into the floor, which begins as just a simple way to carry on down a corridor, but eventually becomes – oh no, wait, sorry – it just stays a way to carry on down a corridor.

It is absolutely deserving of note that the portals are uncannily similar to those that would appear in Portal a year later. Same shape, same blue/orange colouring. That’s kind of weird. It’s odd there wasn’t more calling out of that in 2007. But it’s pretty essential to note that while sporting all the potential of that technology (right to the point of having it working to show Tommy visible through overlapping portal lines of sight), they don’t even try to do a single interesting thing with it.

Interlude

On with the show

But this is all as nothing when compared to the combat. Here is where I’m most bemused by the generous pass the game received on release. Enemies don’t react to getting shot! They don’t differentiate headshots. They just calmly get on with their leaden animations as you fire the required number of blasts toward them before they lie down/explode. It looks like something from one of those knock-off Steam releases that get excitable corpulent YouTubers overly worked up. The same dreadfully dreary backdrops dominating the 6-8 hour campaign, filled with unreactive, AI-free enemies, none doing anything novel or interesting, reminded me more of Galactic Hitman than any genre classic.

The results in the peculiar confusion of a giant pile of great ideas, left in a woefully unrealised heap on the dull, grey floor. Yes, you escape the purgatory of the same corridor fighting the same enemies for brief moments of spirit cave doodahs, where your stampy-footed manbaby of a protagonist whinges and whines about being given magic powers, but these are tiny blips in its monotone monotony.

Strangest of all is the child murder. Which aren’t words you get to write often in this business. There is of course a trend for people to moan when you can’t kill kids in games like Fallout, whether because they’re mysteriously invincible, or simply never let near a player with a gun, but it’s invariably for a really good reason. Pretending to kill children is awful! Prey limits this to an absolutely horrible scene in which you are asked to watch one child brutally murder another, and then just aimlessly shooting at the ghosts of former youngsters. Both are incredibly uncomfortable, but, I assumed, there for a good reason. The game begins to wordlessly introduce some other storyline about children being possessed back on Earth, and some peculiarity about their ghosts haunting the ship. And the ghosts of weird bird things. They sporadically appear, their threat a little ambiguous. And this all builds up to… er, nothing.

They’re just completely forgotten! So much effort put into whatever the hell it was meant to be, and it turns out for no reason whatsoever. Which is, to be fair, impressively against the mold. Most games shy away from killing kids – Prey puts it in there for literally no purpose!

It is such a strange thing, deeply anachronistic – not for 2017, but for 2006 – and unutterably repetitive. (It’s noteworthy that its brevity was an issue in those days – today it feels like it outrageously outstays its welcome.) Its eleven year development hell is no doubt a huge contributory factor to the murky messy result, and this of course provides us with a parable for 2017’s Prey release.

Already you’ll have seen certain sites and magazines presenting the game they’ve not yet played as the year’s second coming, accompanied by a reader backlash accusing the press of setting it up for a fall they’ll report equally as gleefully. History has directly repeated itself, a sequel to Prey in development for another eleven years, taken from one developer (this time from Human Head) and given to another (Arkane), possibly finally out in the first half of this year. My hope is that it’s brill, because I love playing brill games. But if it’s not-so-brill, I equally hope we won’t be seeing a lot of very positive reviews that’ll look peculiar to someone writing a retro in another eleven years time.

Oh, and the vaginas.

Prey is genuinely not available anywhere, with even eBay copies mostly listed as having spent their Steam code. You will find it via key resellers, but whether you’re willing to support them is up to you. Prey 2006 is certainly not the game to drive you toward a decision.

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  1. icarussc says:

    "And yes, I do think my opinions are right, or I'd have different opinions."

    I've come to the conclusion that this truth needs very much to be inculcated during one's education: if you don't believe your position/opinion/conviction is the right one, then for goodness' sake, stop thinking it. What on earth do you think ideas are? Mental screensavers?
  1. N'Al says:

    I had fun with Prey.

    • sjjs says:

      I had fun with a pile of shit once, but it wasn’t a proud moment.

      • DirtySidorovich says:

        Oh cmon! Let’s not all act like game was shit just because this one guy says so. I thought it was awesome game. Everyone thought it was awesome game! I replayed it around year ago…it was still awesome! It could have been better ofc but it was still really good as is.

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          Harlander says:

          The idea that something is either totally awesome or a complete worthless pile of tish is a bit of a thing in Internet discussion, isn’t it?

          Prey? Well, it was alright. I finished it, but only a few elements stick out in my memory when I think back.

          It was alright.

      • N'Al says:

        I’m proud for having had fun with Prey.

        • John Walker says:

          Having fun with a crap game is great! It means you had more fun than the people who didn’t, and therefore are winning.

        • TheSplund says:

          I bloody well enjoyed it too. The only two poor things I recall was the hurried end and the overlong story bit you had to work through every time you re-played the game from scratch (it wore thin by the third time)

  2. Snowskeeper says:

    How is pretending to kill kids significantly worse than pretending to commit murder in the first place?

    Like… I get why the devs locked that off–there was some Controversy about after one Bethesda game or something–but if you’re going to allow your PC to run around murdering civilians to begin with, letting them murder innocent children as well as innocent grownups shouldn’t be a problem.

    Videogame developer morality is weird.

    • Xocrates says:

      This is not “Videogame developer morality”, most people would agree that murdering kids is worse than killing an adult.

      There are a lot of reasons for this – some more rational than other – , but perhaps the easier to explain is that there is some expectation that an adult would a) theoretically be able to fight back, or at least b) understand the context of what’s going on.

    • Donjo says:

      I’m not aware of every single culture and society on earth but I would hazard a guess that for all of them the murder of children is deemed to be significantly worse than the murder of adults. Strangely enough, the morality of videogame developers somewhat follows along the same lines. You may have to do some soul searching if this seems weird.

      • Snowskeeper says:

        I think you’re missing my point, here. My point is not “killing kids is fine;” my point is “developers have this weird disconnect where murdering unarmed, defenseless, terrified adults is perfectly alright–and we’ll even let you perform special kill animations on them where you cut off their head or something–but the only thing your swords can do to their kids is orphan them.”

        It’s a really stupid place to draw the line. Either make civilians invulnerable to begin with, or let the player decide how evil they want to be.

        • Xocrates says:

          Because games will always have limitations, the line will always need to be drawn somewhere. And depending on the game, developers may actually want to limit on exactly how evil you can be.

          Assuming you’re fighting humans, killing adults is coded in regardless and you can at most make a special case for civilians, but there is exactly zero reason why you should be able to kill a kid short of allowing players to act out some weirdly sadistic tendency.

          Frankly, most games don’t even bother adding kids.

          • Snowskeeper says:

            I prefer the “don’t add kids in the first place” method, to be honest.

            Kids are entities. They have health bars, even without the ‘kill kids’ mods. You can damage them. It would, therefore, take extra effort to make them unkillable.

            You do have to draw the line somewhere, yes, but drawing it -there- is silly. In FO and Skyrim, you could still hurt children. They’d still react to being hurt by running away and calling the guards, like everybody else. There was no punishment for hitting them. There is no pop-up that says “hey you really shouldn’t do this; you are a bad person for attacking this small pile of pixels.” They are saying “we’re fine with you attacking these children and murdering their parents, but you can’t kill them” when they do this–and the only reason they’re doing it is to avoid scandal.

          • Xocrates says:

            Entities or not, children will be special cases regardless and as such changing some stat you probably already have to make them immortal is trivial.

            Also while Skyrim and Fallout allow you to be evil, those games still have the expectation of you being the hero, so while you can reasonably argue that there might be reasons for you wanting to kill a civilian, there really isn’t one for killing a child short of the player wanting to be an asshole.

            And even if they’re doing this “just” to avoid a scandal, fact is no-one considers this a battle worth having. It’s a trivial thing to implement that won’t affect 99% of your players.

          • Snowskeeper says:

            Skyrim allows you to torture a man into submitting his soul to a daedra. Fallout 3 allows you to nuke a town for fun and profit. Both allow you to commit mass murder. Don’t buy the “you’re supposed to be a hero” argument.

            I don’t deny that this isn’t a major issue. I just think that it’s a silly solution, and I resent the implication made by the author that it’s not worth discussing (and modding).

          • Xocrates says:

            Silly or not, bottom line is: Society (and game developers) thinks killing children is worse than killing adults, and games reflect that view.

            There is nothing arbitrary about where the line was drawn, but there really is no way to discuss this without going into a deep anthropological and psychological discussion regarding human morality and how arbitrary or not it sometimes is.

            But this discussion brings to mind something I once read where Harry Potter fans hate Dolores Umbridge a lot more than Voldemort that is essencially wizard Hitler, because Umbridge’s evil is relatable and something you see in real life.

            Nuking a make believe city on the post apocalypse? Fantasy.
            Harming a child for shits and giggles? You’re being an asshole.

          • Snowskeeper says:

            Okay, but that doesn’t justify your “those games are about being a hero so that’s why you can murder a city’s worth of innocent, terrified civilians but not their kids” argument. I’d argue that murdering an unarmed merchant or peasant is also pretty shitty, but we seem to be okay with that. Murdering a child is worse, by many measures, yeah–but that doesn’t mean making them immortal isn’t an absolutely absurd coping technique. Would be better to just have them not show up outside of cutscenes.

          • Xocrates says:

            No, we’re not okay with that, killing an innocent civilian for no reason is still a shitty thing to do, but there may be situations within the context of the game where it may make sense. Being able to wipe out cities is a consequence of that, not an intended goal.

            But there are NO situations where killing a child makes sense outside of the player being an asshole.

            Also, you can still be a hero while being evil, my point was merely that the developers may want to cap how evil you can actually be, not that they’re good at it.

          • Xocrates says:

            And sure, having them be immortal when no-one else is can feel weird, but the solution isn’t always for them to be absent.

            One of my favourite quests in Fallout 4 was the one where I was standing in front of a class of kids talking about that time I fought a Deathclaw. Kids do add to the feeling of a living world to a game, so I really am fine with them being there even if I can’t do something that I really have no reason for doing in the first place.

          • Jediben says:

            We need a game where you can go back in time and have the opportunity to kill Hitler as a baby. That’ll answer it once and for all.

            Personally I think the argument that you “can’t” kill kids for any reason in a fantasy environment is ridiculous. It’s just laziness. GTA 5 could include babies in prams and running them over could result in immediate 5 star wanted rating. Executing kidd in Fallout could lead to a posse being formed to take you down relentlessly. The Witcher could easily handle a “had to kill the kid due to possession by an evil spirit” option which would cause repercussions in the interactions with later characters. It might make gameplay suffer bit then that would be an in-world response, not a heavy handed “make all kids invincible” get out of jail card.

            Hitman should have a mission to assassinate a dodgy businessman and any and all witnesses. Having to kill the guys son because he walked in on the strangulation and live with yourself after (and disapproval from Diana) would be exciting – do you make sure the kill takes place well away from sprog or do you consider anonymity more important?

          • Sui42 says:

            A lot of people seem to be arguing that you should be able to kill kids just because in a game you should be able to do ANNYTTHINNG

            But games are very limited. You can’t do very many things. You can’t file your taxes in Fallout 4. Like reading a novel, you are at the whims of the author. Games are art; which means they are conveying the message of the author. You can only act within their parameters.

            And guess what? Some developers don’t want you to kill kids. It’s not part of their ‘art’. You don’t really have any right to object to this, any more than you can object to the fact that no children are killed in a Jane Austen novel.

            If you want a full simulation, where you can do ANYTHING YOU WANT; you’re already in it. It’s called life. Go kill a kid already, if that’s what you really want to do.

          • Snowskeeper says:

            That’s an absolutely ridiculous argument. Life is not, by definition, a simulation. Nobody is arguing that you should be able to do anything in video-games. People, including me, are pointing out that the decision to make it impossible to actually kill kids, despite the fact that you can murder everybody around them and beat the shit out of them if you want, is ridiculous. It deserves ridicule.

            If you want to argue against that point, fine–but don’t invent positions that nobody actually holds.

          • Juan Carlo says:

            If I remember correctly, you could kill a kid in the original Fallout (or the USA release, the Euro release removed the sprites of the kids so even though they were there you couldn’t see them), but you’d be branded as a child killer and most people would treat you as a pariah for the rest of the game. So it had severe consequences if you did it. Which is an interesting approach, building social taboos against killing kids into the game mechanics.

        • thedosbox says:

          I think you’re missing my point

          No, you’re ignoring his.

          Or wot Xocrates said.

          • Snowskeeper says:

            I’m not ignoring his. ^^; I’m explaining mine. He argued that people in real life think murdering children is worse than murdering adults. My point was not that murdering children in real life is not worse than murdering adults, but that allowing someone to murder innocent civilians in video-games, but making the children in the same town completely immortal, is a very strange decision.

            So yes, he either missed my point, or he deliberately ignored it.

          • Donjo says:

            I understood your initial point and explained why developers choosing to not allow players to kill children isn’t really that strange. Now your saying it’s something about making children immortal. Obviously no solution will be perfect, everything is going to be arbitrary in some way but it’s pretty obvious why the “allow players to decide how evil they want to be” solution isn’t embraced by many.

        • TheSkiGeek says:

          “murdering unarmed, defenseless, terrified adults is perfectly alright”

          While there are plenty of games where you can do this, and the penalties are often minor, *usually* it is at least discouraged through the game mechanics. Like it gives your avatar a bad reputation, or triggers guards/police to attack you, or you fail the level/objective if there is too much (or any) collateral damage.

          But it can be jarring when they’ll let you make a lot of horrible decisions, but “inflict violence on children” is not one of them.

          • ooshp says:

            If I found a kid torturing a dog in Fallout 5 I would see a clear-cut moral case for killing a child. I like pixel dogs more than I like pixel children. Pixel children are even worse than real ones, they never grow up.

      • MajorLag says:

        There are games where you commit species-wide genocide and blow up planets. No one seems to think this is a big deal morally, even though millions, if not billions, of child mortality are an obvious result.

        There’s a popular game where the goal is literally to infect every human being, children presumably included, on the planet earth with a lethal disease.

        The simulated killing of children isn’t a big deal to anyone, really. What is a big deal, is seeing it happen. Personally, I think that’s something it would be good to expose players too more often. Think of that time in Skyrim you wanted to kill that little brat. Well, what if you could? You impulsive pull out your sword and cut their little body down, blood everywhere, people screaming, dead child in a heap in front of you. Think that might make you think for a moment about what you just did? I do, and I think that’s worth a having even though it means a bunch of people out there are, *gasp* having fun doing it.

    • stringerdell says:

      It’s just normal morality, not some specific video game developer morality. Plowing a bus into a big crowd of people on GTA is good for a chuckle but only a certain type of person would enjoy it if you were mowing down kids.

      • Jediben says:

        But it isn’t real. You shouldn’t have the same sense of revulsion in a fantasy world! Do you cry at Eastenders?

        • Xocrates says:

          Suspension of disbelief is our ability to engage with “fantasy” by accepting it as real, so we’re able to empathize with what we’re seeing/reading/playing/etc…

          Yes, you know it’s not real so you never have the same level of response, which isn’t the same as saying that there’s no response.

          So yes, you can cry at Eastenders.

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      Head Bob says:

      I mean, it’s hard to put horrific crimes into some kind of rank-order of horrificness, but killing children is definitely a lot more sickening to most people than killing adults.

      • Emeraude says:

        Something I always thought perfectly hypocritical, though it makes sense as an adaptive strategy.

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          Harlander says:

          Why’s it hypocritical? It’s not solely a special case (though it is a special case), it’s also the endpoint of the idea that an attack is worse the more defenceless the victim is.

          • Snowskeeper says:

            It is absolutely not the endpoint of that line of thought. They do nothing to prevent the attack; they just remove the attack’s natural consequence. You are free to beat the crap out of kids if you want; they just can’t die as a result of it.

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            Harlander says:

            The “it” you’re talking about isn’t the same “it” as I was talking about.

          • Snowskeeper says:

            Ah. Sorry. The conversation in this stack is sort of vague and confusing; I should have asked before responding.

    • Faults says:

      Let’s not forget that Deus Ex let you kill actual living children seven years prior.

      • theblazeuk says:

        *Actual*!? Warren Spector, you monster.

        • Faults says:

          Well, fake actual living children. As opposed to fake alien ghost-children. God, I am so good at semantics.

      • Spakkenkhrist says:

        I’m ashamed to say I did murder the kid at the docks in Deus-Ex after giving him a chocolate bar because I just wanted to see if the game would let me, I’m further ashamed that it had me in hysterics because of the dreadful voice acting.

      • ooshp says:

        Let’s not forget the AI and animations are so awful in that game that it takes reasonable effort to distinguish between a child and a lamp. Oh golly, I said something negative about the perfect game, did I break the internet?

    • Coming Second says:

      There’s also the more mundane reason that your game featuring child-killing is going to have a *much* tougher time receiving a rating that will enable it to sell well.

    • Emeraude says:

      I’m thinking it might not so much be a matter of developer morality as much as a matter of state regulation (I was about to say censorship).

      Some countries have regulations that will put your product directly into the 18+ bin – if not worse – for allowing child murder in it.

      Hence why Fallout 2 US has children, and Fallout 2 doesn’t. Was easier to simply patch out children altogether.

      • Someoldguy says:

        Beat me to it. This is pretty much the whole reason for this and other things (like swastikas) not appearing in any modern video games unless they’re modded in by amateurs afterwards. Some European states have zero tolerance for it, so the game simply wouldn’t be sold there. iirc they’re allowed to show the deaths of children in cutscenes but the player cannot harm them. For that reason it’s been simpler just to remove them altogether and avoid censor hassles. It’s also why European Carmageddon had everyone squishing green-blooded zombies before the modders arrived.

      • MajorLag says:

        Yeah, it’s still kinda weird though. Murder a child because they’re a brat in Skyrim? The horror! Blow up an entire planet, presumably home to millions or billions of children? Might pull off an E rating if you cutesy it up enough.

    • Hyena Grin says:

      There’s an inherent obstacle in thinking that moral(ethical) actions are either Good or Bad. The obstacle being that almost no set of binary criteria survives the scrutiny of being applied to all possible scenarios.

      It is better to think of morality in terms of a gradient, made up of variables that differ from scenario to scenario.

      The very notion of ‘justifiable’ homicide presents us with a number of problems that demand adjustment to preconceived notions of black and white morality. You have to ask a series of questions about the context of a murder.

      Even amongst unjustified (bad) murders, there is a gradient to how much it troubles people, based on a number of factors. It’s a spectrum. Whether a person was defenseless or not, whether they were made to suffer, whether it was premeditated or a crime of passion, what the motivation was, etc. A lot of these kinds of things are even factored into how criminals are punished. Based on the ‘seriousness’ of the crime.

      Children just by default occupy a lot of sensitive areas in the spectrum of what people find objectionable. They are defenseless, they are innocent of crime and affront, they are more prone to fear and suffering and trauma.

      Of course some part of it is just the natural urge to protect children, but it’s not irrational, it’s just exaggerated.

      So no, I don’t think it’s senseless to exclude the murder of children from a game that allows the murder of adults. Even in two identical murder situations, if you replace ‘adult’ with ‘child’ then it’s going to change the nature of the crime for most people.

      • Snowskeeper says:

        The games I’m referring to don’t exclude child assault, though. They just make it so that the children in question can’t actually die. You can hack at them with your axes or whatever as much as you want. The child just doesn’t fall over at the end of it.

        • Hyena Grin says:

          Fair enough.

          The thought process was probably that they had to draw a line somewhere. They didn’t want kids to be killable, but also didn’t want to break immersion by having your weapons have no effect at all, so they went with a compromise of sorts.

          Of course it’s worth mentioning that I bet these games don’t simulate injury in any way. They may have made a different decision if the game allowed you to hack their limbs off, you know? At the end of the day, a health bar decreasing and then filling back up, or a fleeing animation and some voice lines, is pretty tame as far as violent media goes. It was probably deemed that the ability to attack children was not intolerable within the specific context of that game and its combat mechanics.

          Again, I think context is a complicated thing.

          I can’t think of any games that allow visceral, graphical harm (gory executions, etc) to come to children by the player’s hand, but allows them to live after.

          So yeah, I’d say that the actual violence in these games is cartoonish at best up until the point where it results in a consequence. Cartoon violence is less objectionable than visceral violence and thus gets a pass for children.

          I’m not trying to lay down an objectively accurate answer here, just trying to understand the nuances of ethical portrayal of violence and player agency. Obviously different developers take different approaches, and arrive at those approaches in different ways.

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      zigguratvertigo says:

      Garriot drew an awful lot of criticism for this in the 90s. Once you’ve created a system where killing people is what you do to move yourself further towards your goal, it becomes fine. Implications are not something you should concern yourself with; you are doing what the game asks you to do. But then awkward; imagine these monsters are small children… killing indiscriminately becomes something you may feel uncomfortable with. Ultima 7 required you to think about what you were doing and used moral philosophy 101 to achieve that. If you are so used to destroying things on your screen that they don’t become painful until they are less than some arbitrary age limit, then perhaps you should think more about what you are actually doing. If you complain about child deaths in a game that promotes death as a mechanic, it likely isn’t the game that is doing things wrong.

    • cardboardcity says:

      Post your address so you can be placed on the appropriate lists, like a sex offender.

      • Snowskeeper says:

        Really? “Ur a pedophile?” Is that how you want this to go?

  3. Premium User Badge

    Head Bob says:

    I remember spending a lot of the game thinking, “this is a cool mechanic – I can’t wait to see what kinds of puzzles it can be worked into!”

    And then the level ends and you never see that mechanic again.

    • Emeraude says:

      That’s basically my reaction to Portal.

      • John Walker says:

        I’m not entirely convinced you’ve played Portal.

        • Plank says:

          Pretty sure that during the development of Prey, the developers would have been aware of Narbacular Drop and Valve’s hiring of that games students. There was more than likely screenshots of Portal or an early trailer released?

        • Emeraude says:

          Well, indeed, that’s my main complaint. I was introduced to a tedious overextended tutorial, and just as I thought the game was finally starting and things were going to be interesting and I would actually start playing, it was all over.

          • Halk says:

            I completely agree. It got interesting in certain fan-made extensions, for example in the “Flash Version Map Pack”.

      • anon459 says:

        I felt that way about Portal 2. The first game felt at the time like it expanded on its ideas pretty smartly, but the second game felt like it never took full advantage of the gel mechanics, and the portal puzzles never increased much in complexity past the first game, which makes sense I suppose for business reasons. Neither game was very hard but the first game had advanced versions of all the puzzles, basically amounting to a hard mode for the whole game. The second game lacked this.

        That said, Portal 2 had awesome atmosphere, characters, story, and basic mechanics and is one of my favorite games despite having, imo, mediocre puzzles.

  4. nimbulan says:

    I think you mean a giant pile of awesome.

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    Thulsa Hex says:

    Prey’s portal mechanic is something that can easily be taken for granted these days but I remember it being very impressive back when it first came out. The static nature of the portals themselves obviously meant it was made obsolete when Portal itself finally hit, but Prey did serve as an exciting prelude to the possibilities Valve was promising. I hardly bat an eyelid when first person games use similar mechanics nowadays, but it was weird and disorienting enough to me in 2006 to hide the limited utility.

    The opening areas are what I actually still remember the game for, though. That jukebox had some fantastic tunes. I loved poking around the bar while it was blaring Judas Priest.

  6. Risingson says:

    You know, John, when you start being moralistic, I just don’t believe you. I cannot believe you.

    Apart from that, the game is uneven in its design, but it is pretty enjoyable.

    • John Walker says:

      I genuinely have no idea what your first line means. You think I don’t have morals? You think I exclusively lie whenever I mention something with a moral aspect? Or weirdest of all, you’re taking issue with my mentioning how weird it was to have a whole subplot about kids dying that just gets abandoned?

  7. Premium User Badge

    Nauallis says:

    Prey was so thoroughly unmemorable in 2006 that I have always been a little baffled by the nostalgic acclaim it seems to get. On the other hand, I’m sure I was busy playing Oblivion, Gears of War, and Halo 2, and I only vaguely remember renting Prey to try it.

    • Uninteresting Curse File Implement says:

      Memory is a funny thing, all I can remember about the three games you mention is how thoroughly unremarkable they were. While Prey, for all its… well, crappiness, really sticks out in my memory.

  8. deiseach says:

    Simon Evil would have had no problem killing children.

  9. Rao Dao Zao says:

    7/10, then?

  10. Sui42 says:

    Prey got good reviews because it was, compared with other games at the time, a pretty good game. Let’s not forget that most games in 2006 were pretty rubbish by contemporary standards. Prey is propped up by gimmicks, yes – but the vast majority of 2006 shooters weren’t really propped up with anything.

    Of course, everything is relative – and yeah, in 2016, Prey is pretty crap. Its gimmicks have lost their sheen, and with the huge amount of indie / alt games blossoming all over the internet now, simply depicting a character who is not a straight white male isn’t impressive any more.

    But the same applies to contemporary games. I guarantee you that, in 20 years, singleplayer shooters will cease to exist in the form they do now, and people will bawk at the fact that something like Return to Castle wolfenstein: The New Order could be praised, despite the fact that you just run around shooting goons for 10 hours with some story snippets jammed inbetween.

    But, compared to other games out now, RtCW:TNO is a good game. Oh, but I’m going in circles…

    • John Walker says:

      *Portal* came out less than a year later! Games in 2006 were not innocent primitives incapable of smartly innovating on their core features! Call Of Duty 2 came out in 2005, *Oblivion* came out in 2006! I think you might be thinking of the late 90s, where Prey really feels like it came from.

      Pssst, it’s 2017.

      • Sui42 says:

        Fair point. I think I was just in a facetious mood and felt like typing things, despite having nothing of interest to say.

        Though, for the record, I’d argue that Oblivion is just a bucket of content as well. With the exception of the Dark Brotherhood questline, it has few clever ideas. But I would say that, as an old-school Morrowind fanboy, wouldn’t I?

        And oh yeah. TIME. Urghhhh

        • John Walker says:

          “I think I was just in a facetious mood and felt like typing things, despite having nothing of interest to say.”

          You should be a games journalist!

      • Halk says:

        Errm… what? The average game in the 90’s was a lot smarter than the average game in the 00’s.

    • shde2e says:

      You can still compare it to contemporary games, and even in that case Prey seems to get the short end.

      Also, just because it’s handicapped by it’s age doesn’t mean you can’t recognize the things it does well. Like having the buildup before they threw in the aliens like John pointed out.

      Narrative structure, encounter and environment design, writing quality, combat feeling, aestethic design, and so on. These are all things you can still appreciate even without having to tack on “*for its time”
      It’s what people mean when they say something “still holds up to this day”

      • treat says:

        I still play Doom and Quake more than I’ve played anything else in the last 15 years, and Prey definitely has it’s finger on my pulse. I think part of the reason there’s such a divide regarding the quality of the game is because it appeals to something that’s precisely “classic PC FPS” that’s hard to really pin down. It’s not an excellent game by any metric but it *feels* like the kind of game I love and want to play.

  11. Premium User Badge

    Swordfishtrombone says:

    Is that David Byrne dancing by the fire?

  12. Halk says:

    “[…]it was released to rave reviews. Which is odd, because it’s a colossal pile of shit.”
    So maybe, just maybe you’re in the minority then? Or is your opinion absolute, always right and unquestionable? You sure make it sound like that.

    Oh, and you still haven’t named any games that did decisions right. Still waiting for an answer there. Did you conveniently forget it because you can’t name any?

    • thedosbox says:

      He might be in a minority, but it’s not of one. I played the game when it came out and couldn’t stop laughing when I saw those vagina doors. And he’s right about the game having some great ideas, but not really doing anything interest with them.

    • John Walker says:

      I have no idea what you’re being cross about, sorry.

      Also, yes, I do think my opinions are right, or I’d have different opinions.

      • Xocrates says:

        Opinions can be subjective, and opinions can be (unknowingly) wrong.

        Acting like that’s not the case – and to be fair John, you do that a lot – tends to come across as arrogant and narrow minded.

        So yeah, people tend to get cross when someone says they’re wrong because “I say so”. Whether you’re right or not.

        • Optimaximal says:

          Woah, ‘Opinions can be subjective’?

          I can’t imagine what lead you to believe that an opinion piece, as in, a piece of writing that reflects the opinion of a person or a set of people, might very well be subjective?

          link to i.giphy.com

          • Xocrates says:

            “is your opinion absolute, always right and unquestionable?”
            “yes, I do think my opinions are right”

            ^^This is what I was replying to. Whether or not John intended it, he implied his opinion was absolute.

          • John Walker says:

            No, I said that I emphatically agree with my own opinions. If I thought my opinion was wrong, I’d think until I had an opinion I thought was right.

        • John Walker says:

          This is absolutely not the place for this discussion, but let me end it by saying: I am a critic. It’s my job to report my opinion. I am not going to add, “but you might like shit games so think this terrible feature is good” at the end of every sentence. I am confident that my opinions about this game are reasoned and evidenced in this article, and will not pretend otherwise. Were someone to make a cogent defence of a feature I’d criticised, revealing a flaw in my reasoning, I’d be delighted to change my mind. In short: a critic’s job is to be a critic, no matter how ridiculous public discourse becomes.

          • Xocrates says:

            The problem is not one of reasoning, it’s one of attitude. This quoted segment:

            “it was released to rave reviews. Which is odd, because it’s a colossal pile of shit.”

            Comes across as unnecessarily aggressive and confrontational. You state matter of factly that the game is shit while admitting that most people disagree, you’re essentially accusing everyone who disagrees with you of being wrong.

            And I’ll be honest John, that’s the problem I have with your articles. They may be well reasoned, but they feel too absolute. I know it’s your job to report your opinion, but you do so in a way that implies everyone else is not only wrong, but an idiot for disagreeing.

            And I absolutely get that it’s not your intention, but it most certainly is how it reads.

          • theblazeuk says:

            that was my favourite line and I have to agree, even as someone who played all of Prey and kind of enjoyed the weird setting and concept, it was definitely pants.

            It’s an entertaining writing style, not some kind of challenge sticking two fingers up at any who don’t feel either the same way or even as strongly. I can see why say, the developer of Prey might feel hurt by those words- but I don’t see why anyone else would be. John does not really feel his opinion is the One True Way, but he’s a critic and this is his voice, for wont of a less high faluting term. I enjoy it, even where I disagree. You may not. You are wrong*

            *couldnt resist.

          • Xocrates says:

            Which is a valid and well reasoned opinion that I respect, but one which I must politely disagree with while trying to make clear it’s merely my opinion on an otherwise subjective topic.

          • John Walker says:

            “And I absolutely get that it’s not your intention, but it most certainly is how it reads.”

            It absolutely is my intention to write as if I believe what I think is right. And by turns, that people who disagree with me are wrong. To do anything else is dishonest.

          • Xocrates says:

            My problem is that you’re treating a subjective matter as objective. This is not a science, two disagreeing opinions can, in fact, be both right.

            And that’s my problem with it, you’re declaring your opinion as the only valid one.

            Frankly, my point is very simple: leave other people opinions out of your reviews.

        • shde2e says:

          Didn’t he spend an entire article explaining why he felt that way?

          That’s not saying “you’re wrong because I say so”. That’s saying “you’re wrong and here is a list of reasons why”.

          • Xocrates says:

            Read my reply above, but my point it more that he could have said “this is why I felt it was shit” rather than “you’re wrong and this is why you’re wrong”.

          • Premium User Badge

            Nauallis says:

            You’re pushing this nitpicking point-proving commentary a little too far. The “my attitude and opinion is the absolute right one” aspect is swinging the other direction, now.

            By all means, keep at it – it’s fun to watch you backpedal.

          • John Walker says:

            I think this is the nub of it, Xoc – you have entirely invented my announcing that *you* are wrong, and are taking it personally. (Unless you wrote one of the terrible reviews in 2006, in which case we could argue specifics.) I wrote a long and detailed explanation of why I think the game is shit – that you perceive any of it as “And that Xocrates is an idiot for disagreeing” is the work of your own head and filters.

          • ooshp says:

            “And that Xocrates is an idiot for disagreeing”

            Well that made me laugh, and hopefully quoting it enough will point Google here and the actual point of the article will be forever lost.

      • icarussc says:

        “And yes, I do think my opinions are right, or I’d have different opinions.”

        I’ve come to the conclusion that this truth needs very much to be inculcated during one’s education: if you don’t believe your position/opinion/conviction is the right one, then for goodness’ sake, stop thinking it. What on earth do you think ideas are? Mental screensavers?

        • Eisler says:

          I’m with a few others here. John, it’s not your opinion that bothers me. You are a critic and you are meant to have one! There is something however, that has crept into your style of writing that is rubbing people the wrong way. Some have tried to describe it as “moralistic” or your “attitude”. I can’t quite put my finger on it other than to say that there is a nastiness that has crept into your articles on occasion.

          Maybe it’s just a sign of becoming, like many of us including me, a grumpy old man. Perhaps you are not aware of it. Whether you are aware of it or not, surely you can see there is a growing frequency in the amount of comments on your articles that touch on this topic? Please try and reflect on this. Nastiness in writing style is not something I look for in websites I visit, and that’s one of the reasons I have been a long time RPS reader.

        • mseifullah says:

          “And yes, I do think my opinions are right, or I’d have different opinions.”

          So perfectly said. I made that my quote of the day at work today. You’re famous around these parts now John Walker: John Walker’s quote on the white board

    • Snowskeeper says:

      This is not a review. This is an opinion piece. The author is not required to be polite; he is not critiquing this game.

      You are free to disagree, and, frankly, Walker’s tone in the article sort of gives you the right to be snarky as balls about it if you want? But arguing that he should have been calm and unbiased is sort of missing The Point.

  13. Sui42 says:

    Also, a note on portals: they’re the same as the ones in Valve’s Portal because you can’t really design them any differently.

    They have to stand out against the environment, and seeing as most game environments feature a lot of straight lines and angles (due to the nature of polygonal design), an oval shape makes a lot of sense; and helps the portal to not get confused with other, rectangular doorways.

    As for the colour: The entrance and exit need to be opposites on the colour wheel so that they stand out as clearly as possible,
    and while there are a number of combinations you could use (red and green, for instance), orange and blue is one of the most commonly used colour combinations. EG, see here for why orange and blue are used obsessively in movies & their posters:

    link to priceonomics.com

    • Optimaximal says:

      You can’t compare the portals in either game – in Prey, they’re fixed entities that are triggered by scripts and sometimes do clever things, but it’s never really clear if it’s genuine or a trick, whereas Portal’s efforts are completely dynamic and allow momentum to transfer through them.

      • ooshp says:

        “You can’t compare the portals in either game”

        You just spent an entire comment doing exactly that. Liar.

  14. Richard Cobbett says:

    The best thing about Prey is that the aliens abduct everyone to Don’t Fear The Reaper, but if you check the jukebox before, it doesn’t actually have it. So, really, their first act in the invasion is to download their tunes before kicking things off.

    • Kefren says:

      Nice, I like that. :-)

      • brulleks says:

        So do I, but I’m still going to be a pedantic arse and point out that shouldn’t that actually be upload, as they put their tunes onto the jukebox rather than extracting them from it?

        (Even if the direction in which the tunes travelled was, in terms of their ship’s position relative to the jukebox, down).

        And just to add for the record (snarf), I played Prey about a year after it came out, and persisted with it through to the end. I remember enjoying very little of it other than a few of the environments and a couple of the perspective-shifting puzzles. The combat and the spirit sections were particularly dull and aggravating.

  15. Scandalon says:

    I’ve played through the first part probably 5 times, due to it originally having a demo, and then acquiring it, then getting it activated on Steam, things like this… Think “yea, that was pretty cool, should finish it”, and then, yea, what the article says. It just gets old.

    Bonus crap points for your character complaining to his (dead) grandfather that he doesn’t believe in all this ooga-booga stuff after using to survive/active buttons 3 or 4 times.

  16. WMain00 says:

    The vagina doors were admittedly not the finest of moments, but the rest of the game was a good time and for all it didn’t develop any of its key ideas, it still entertained enough that I completed it and felt satisfied with the outcome.

    I was going to say it probably wouldn’t hold up to games of today, but then again given the mediocrity of gaming nowadays, it probably would still earn a 7 or 8 out of 10.

  17. DaftPunk says:

    You are full of shit op.. Its one of the better pc fps games out there. Among Crysis 1,FEAR 1,Half Life series,NOFL etc..

    • John Walker says:

      Sorry, you make a good point in your cogent deconstruction of my critical fallacies. I’ve changed my mind accordingly.

    • Optimaximal says:

      DaftPunk, i’m attempting to replay the original Crysis right now.

      It’s a dreadful game with a clunky wheezing engine (that *still* struggles to do a locked 60fps @ 1080p, 10 years later, despite the LOD system being abysmal and things like rocks and sticks popping up 5 feet away with everything set to Ultra), boring firefights, awful AI, about 3 or 4 different enemies and the entire game falls to pieces when they introduce aliens, because ‘it’s what Crytek do’.

      Also, John is largely right about Prey – it did some fun and interesting things, but either forgot about them at the next level-load or just did them badly, clearly as a result of design flaws caused by it’s troubled gestation.

    • Mags says:

      OP? I think you got lost on your way to Reddit.

  18. Faults says:

    Re the “enemies don’t react to getting shot” thing – I may be missing a beat here, but there are loads of FPS games just as guilty as Prey if not moreso that never, ever get called on it.

    Rage was terrible for that. Like enemies literally going through really laborious ‘get up off the floor’ animations while being peppered with gunfire. Even Doom 2016 does it a lot. I can’t tell you the amount of time I spent getting really hacked off at the combat at that game when I pepper imps with shogun blasts at point-blank range and nothing happens.

    I’m not saying Prey was perfect, but it continues to astound me the kind of selective memory people will employ to bolster a narrative that backs up their existing opinion.

    • Spacewalk says:

      Granted, if John were as roided out as the enemies in Prey are he probably wouldn’t react to getting shot either.

    • John Walker says:

      But you see how I’m saying no one called this game out for it at the time, right? So like the other games you mention, they should have done.

      I’m absolutely at a loss as to the selective memory you’re accusing me of employing.

      And “existing opinion”? I begin this article saying this is the first time I’ve played it! Maybe hold back on the misplaced furious accusations in future.

      • Faults says:

        Notice how I said ‘people’, not ‘John Walker’. My annoyance is with this kind of lazy revisionist ‘this old game that people like is actually a trashpile because it doesn’t hold up to my contemporary standards of taste’ game journalism that there is actually a fair bit of in general.

        But regardless, we’re kind of all in on the joke here, John. You write an intentionally inflammatory article about some fairly innocuous thing that people generally like with an overly emotional tone and lazy grammar. RPS commentariat is vaguely annoyed. Traffic is driven. We all carry on after and have a swell old time. Please don’t blame me for playing along.

        As for the selective memory, I’m pretty sure you were playing videogames back in 2006 – and unless your memory is terrible, I can’t help but wonder what alternate reality you come from where poor enemy feedback was not in fact de rigeur, and worthy of devoting an entire paragraph to in criticism of a game that was (according to almost everybody else) just fine for its day.

        Maybe stop going for the low-hanging fruit of “people say thing is good but it don’t” contrarianism and you wouldn’t have to be spending so long in the comments section writing oh-so-snarky ripostes to your own readers.

        • Premium User Badge

          Nauallis says:

          Hey now, those snarky ripostes are the second best part of John Walker’s articles. Keep the entertainment going, random internet stranger!

          • Faults says:

            I suppose in some ways it’s comforting to know that even the editor of a fairly successful gaming news site can waste as much of his time on the comments section as me.

        • John Walker says:

          I did not write this article in any particular style for the hits. I wrote this article for two reasons:

          1) I’d not played Prey, and thought it was a good time to do so in advance of this year’s hopeful release.

          2) I thought it would be funny to tweet that I’d reviewed Prey, and scare all the other games journalists who follow me.

          I wrote honestly about how I feel about this game. You disagree with my thoughts, have for some broken reason taking that personally, and are now looking to find solace in personally insulting me in return. That’s very silly of you, albeit depressingly normal in comment discourse.

          It speaks only of you and your own lazy thinking that you are happy to dismiss something you disagree with as “contrary”. I finished the game before I even looked at how it was reviewed at the time, and then conveyed my surprise and disappointment in the writing that immediately followed. But rather than assume that, you’ve opted instead for a conspiratorial line of thinking that, if anything, I’m far too tired to have even considered.

          It’s also wonderfully telling that rather than oppose any of the arguments made in the article, or even just defend the game in your own words, you’ve just opted for imagining elaborate machinations and personal insults. (To save time, “lazy thinking” is a specific term, not an insult calling you lazy.)

          • Faults says:

            Look, I really don’t have the energy to carry on this discussion, but if you feel personally insulted by what I wrote, I’m sorry. Genuinely.

  19. Kefren says:

    Holy crapola, I’d forgotten about this (or blocked it out). I think I did complete it once, and I’d kind of like to play it again. Especially since some parts of it obviously lodged in my brain, because I have also just realised that my last novella Harvest Festival had a chunk of Prey-ishness to it. Yeah, I really wish the game was still for sale on Steam, because this retro write-up has filled me with the desire to play it again! Or maybe the fact I can’t do something makes me want to do it more, let’s not quibble. It’s always a shame when games disappear.

  20. mejobloggs says:

    I loved the Prey. I had a blast. I thought it was unique and different and fun. I loved the gravity switching.

    I also loved the death mechanic of going into the Spirit world thing and having to fight your way out of death. I thought it was a clever way to have a bit more game-flow rather than just reloading your last save.

    Regarding AI, usually if you look back on any old game you find AI pretty clunky. Heck I still find todays often AI clunky

    I don’t remember the child murdering part though. Rather weird and disturbing

  21. Premium User Badge

    AceJohnny says:

    Truly, 2006 was brightened by Prey’s vagina-doors.

  22. Sin Vega says:

    Prey did one or two things with the portals that Portal didn’t (shrinking everything down so that it seems like there’s a whole little world inside one of them comes to mind) but they were very rare and inconsequential. And on top of the combat being a bit rubbish, there’s absolutely zero consequence for dying so no tension at all. Just stand there blatting aliens, and if you die, blat a few spirit aliens then revive on the spot to continue blatting aliens. A shame really.

    • theblazeuk says:

      The shrinking bit is about the only thing I look back on and smile, other than the horror of it all.

  23. Daymare says:

    I was 18 when I played this game back when it came out so I wasn’t the most critical-thinking player.

    Either way I still remember fondly the weirdly organic weapon design, pathways leading along ceilings, being vaguely confused by the manipulation of gravity in some rooms, a portal that made you walk on a tiny meteorite with its own gravity, and how in the last chapter some reality bending was going on that freaked me out, as did the bio-organic environments. Making you kill your character’s girlfriend was quite horrible to me back in the day.

    All in all, back in 2006 there were just a lot of cool gadget-y things to find and enjoy in Prey, and be scared of. Thus, while it might not have held up that well over time, I still hold it in good memory.

    • DudeshootMankill says:

      Yup. Sums it up for me aswell.

    • warenhaus says:

      Same here – though I was about 30 when I played it back then. I think I bought (and played) it on Steam in ’08, but steam didn’t keep track of playtime stats then. I didn’t finish it, and I remember it as quite good, so I consider it as part of my backlog that I plan still to finish (might be lying to myself there).

  24. stkaye says:

    Prey, for me, has the distinction of producing one of the finest – perhaps *the* finest – demos of all time. All of the clever exciting stuff from the first hour or so of the game, playing with scale and gravity and scoring big with an awesome abduction.

    I can’t really comment on whether the rest of it sucked as much as John says, because the demo was both brilliantly entertaining and *completely satisfying*, leaving me with no real desire to play any further.

    • ooshp says:

      That sounds like the worst demo ever made, at least from a Publisher point of view.

  25. drewski says:

    Oooh, I have a hard copy sitting on my shelf I’ve never touched. Looking forward to finding out just how bad it is.

    Also it’s surprising how many 8 or 9 out of 10 games just don’t hold up at all a decade later. I finally upgraded my PC to handle all the pretty shooties I missed out on years ago, and probably 90% of the stuff I wanted to play back then turns out to be a bit naff now.

    The absolute best stuff still tends to hold up, creaks and all, but the B-roll really turns to crap once you have an additional decade of game design ideas.

    • Premium User Badge

      Nauallis says:

      Oh god, it’s the answer to the titular question of yesterday’s article: “Why do we spend time playing games we don’t like?”

      Morbid optimism. That’s the answer. It’ll get better, I swear.

    • Emeraude says:

      Conversely, the 6-7 that had niche appeal tend to age rather gracefully.

      For people inside the niche at least.

    • Someoldguy says:

      I fully expect that in a decade or two everyone will have worked out that fundamentally all FPS, MOBAs and ARPGs are tedious repetitive crap with no redeeming features and joined the bandwagon demanding high quality turn-based RPGs and strategy games that are as good as their memories of classic ones they played back in their teenage years. If for no other reason than when they hit 45 they’ll realise they don’t have the hand-eye coordination to play the current generation FPS properly or the eyesight to appreciate the fast moving graphics. Turn based is the future ;)

    • drewski says:

      Well, I installed it, and played it, and I’m almost finished now. Rather enjoying it – the story’s rubbish and the lead character is *such* an idiot, but the weapons are pleasingly punchy, the enemies just capable of killing you without being overpowered, and the movement around the levels is pretty great. Didn’t mind that they didn’t do new things with the movement ideas like portals, the walkways etc.

      Probably would have found it pretty annoying if they didn’t have the death mechanic in there, made it much easier to not get frustrated with the occasional wonky bit of combat.

  26. treat says:

    I’ve played Prey through to completion 3 times, most recently just a few months ago. To me, that really means something. It’s incredibly rare that I finish *any* game, but that might just be a testament to how short it is.

    Anywho, despite playing through the game multiple times I’d be at a loss to describe anything that takes place after the first hour or two with exception of the final boss and kid murder. I honestly can’t even remember any of the weapons aside from the wrench and the alien machine gun with sniper rifle alternative fire you get within the first 20 minutes. Again, I played through the game again just a few months ago. I enjoyed it, as I assume I always have–but it’s definitely utterly forgettable in just about every regard.

  27. Turkey says:

    You have to remember that Prey came out straight smack in the middle of “PC gaming is dead” times. A lot of people wanted a big 3D Realms type shooter to hang all their hopes on for a return of the 90s.

  28. HumpX says:

    I have no idea what game you were playing but Prey was a breath of fresh air in the shooter genre the year it came out. Were some crappy decisions made in the game design? yeah (the ending was a huge letdown…..bossfights? Really?), cornball dialogue etc

    Many folks dont seem to take certain entertainment in the context of the year it was released (music and movies deal with this constantly). When the E3 gameplay vid came out for Prey that E3 it blew everyone away. Here was a game with some unique gameplay ideas that made shooter fans hope that the future wasnt simply tactical FPS or Quake clones. Yes, again, it couldve been better but that hardly deserves this dressing down of a classic.

    • Premium User Badge

      subdog says:

      Prey’s contemporaries in its genre (2004-07):

      Half-Life 2 (and its episodes)
      DOOM 3
      Portal
      Riddick Butcher Bay
      FEAR
      Far Cry
      Republic Commando
      Bioshock
      STALKER
      Crysis

      This wasn’t exactly a dry spell.

  29. HumpX says:

    BTW, I’m curious is Prey’s lack of availability is due to the current atmosphere of hyper political correctness…..some of the dialogue was cringe-worthy given todays political environment.

    • Premium User Badge

      subdog says:

      I mean it was a commercial failure with over a decade of bad press. But let’s go ahead and blame political correctness anyways.

      • John Walker says:

        Actually it was a commercial success (over 1m units shipped in the first few months), and has received bizarrely positive press over the last decade.

        However, no, of course that’s not why it’s not on sale. Games slip out of publisher’s contracts, and it’s more hassle than it’s worth to figure out who owns them to sell them.

  30. Premium User Badge

    subdog says:

    Hey John I enjoyed this review and I’m sorry the comments about it turned into a mix of the old “killing children in video games!” shitshow and attacking you for expressing a negative opinion about a mediocre game from a decade ago.

  31. liquidsoap89 says:

    YOU’RE a colossal pile of shit!

    So, NYA!

  32. Alex says:

    “It looks like something from one of those knock-off Steam releases that get excitable corpulent YouTubers overly worked up.”

    I heard Jim Sterling bash you the other day for praising Homefront. Do you guys have a beef?

    • John Walker says:

      Nope. Didn’t know about that at all.

      • Vermintide says:

        Don’t try and deny it John, I haven’t seen someone throw shade like that since my girlfriend made me watch Ru Paul’s Drag Race.

  33. ThornRage says:

    link to youtube.com

    Video I made in early 2007 of Prey back when I was doing regular MTV like game videos.

    I enjoyed the game because I was able to immerse myself into it. I miss that with a lot of single player games today. Maybe I just got old.

  34. keefybabe says:

    I remember at the time thinking it had some good ideas but I never ended up finishing it. I think it’s time for a reinstall to see if I agree with you.

    • keefybabe says:

      Ok, played it through..

      Compared to a lot of modern shooters it’s actually quite good. The constantly spawning enemies gets a bit tiresome but hey.

      It’s no half life 2 but it’s not monumentally awful. For example I finished prey again today but I still haven’t brought myself to finish the titanfall 2 campaign.

      But then what offends me isn’t the same as what offends you. I didn’t get offended by shooting the posessed spirits of kids, it was obvious what they were, and given the frankly horrible other surroundings it was clear that you weren’t supposed to think, “oh, awesome I’m killing kids.”

      However what I do find offensive are the jingoistic “shoot brown people simulator” FPS games which actually ARE designed to make you go, “oh, awesome I’m shooting brown people”.

      Maybe that’s the issue I had with TF2, it’s militaristic roots reminded me of horrors like the last Medal of Honor or Homefront. It wasn’t “shooting at darkies” but it had that same, “oorah… the enemy are those because reasons”.

  35. OmNomNom says:

    I enjoyed Prey too.
    I actually have a t-shirt for the cancelled Prey 2 that i received at a sneak preview at an expo about 5 years ago. I actually remember Prey 2 looking quite epic in that preview. Shame it was cancelled.

  36. tonicer says:

    Wait Prey is considered bad and abominations like DOOM4 are considered good? WTF?!

    You people are weird.

    What’s next?

    Apple,Facebook,Video Game Consoles,Witcher,CSGO,Stardewvalley,Pokemon,Mariogames,etc. are considered good?!

    Oh wait all of that is considered good. ಠ_ಠ

    The saying that at least 95% of Earth’s populus are mentally disturbed is apparently extremely accurate.

    idontwanttoliveonthisplanetanymore.jpg

    • Premium User Badge

      Harlander says:

      Fortunately you’ve supported your opinions so well you’ve convinced everyone you were right about all those things.

      Congratulations!

    • DudeshootMankill says:

      You may hand over your keyboard to an adult.

    • ooshp says:

      Need a hand building that rocket? I’m pretty handy with Kerbal Crater Simulator.

  37. Joe Clark says:

    Don’t fear the Reaper, baby take my haaaand….

    Busy thread but I can’t resist Opinioning.

    I think it’s worth emphasising how much of an influence Portal has when looking back at Prey. Portal did so much with the portal technology, it really cast Prey in a different light. A bit like how Sin came out with headshots and cinematics and we all went “wowsers!” – until Half-Life turned up and showed us how to really rock the Kasbah.

    Prey was never great – but for a while, but pre-Portal, it looked a lot better, and I think that’s why it reviewed how it did. We’ve since been spoiled with much better elaborations of the same idea over two Portal games.

    And I, for one, enjoyed the simple superficial pleasure of playing as Angry Tommy shouting “JEN?! JEN?!”. It gave just enough narrative and dramatic push to help lift the gameplay – which yes, was often pretty flat. I loved the organic weapons, too, although going back to them a couple of years ago they didn’t quite hold up to memory. Ah, memory and its wibbles.

    Superb interlude, well played.

  38. haldolium says:

    I enjoyed it quite a lot.

    I didn’t really follow the hype upfront very close, so maybe I didn’t have some marketing-made expectation level, but the game sure was a “8/10” shooter for me.

    While I see the points you made, I didn’t value them too much (especially in the context of 2006) too and a bit of wasted potential (as well as some annoyance with the presentation of the native american storyline) I enjoyed Prey for quite a few reasons.

    In particular weapons and shooting was quite nice and reminded me of Half-Life due to its semi-organic arsenal. Feedback and sound was also great, the use of the id Engine was very good (except for levels with actual light from the sun) and what I remember most were the comments from Tommy.

    He showed actual human reaction, even so if it was mostly in the beginning right after the abduction, it was far more empathic as staged soap opera dramas or bro-culture shit almost every other big production game offers.

    I don’t know if I’ll see it still the same today, but I did replay Prey a few times and didnt change my opinion on that part (which I personally think is a MAJOR issue why VGs are merely seen toys instead of being on a level with movies at least) – so there were good things in Prey as well.

    And vaginas.

  39. Sunjammer says:

    I rather liked it at the time but it hasn’t aged all that well. I particularly liked just how gnarly the whole thing was. It’s a bad scene.

    It does seem a bit vacuous to review an old game and say it’s shit. There is such a thing as “for its time”: not all games have to be timeless, especially games that hinge so precariously on their innovations. I had not, at the time, played a game that screwed so freely with perceptions of space, and even to this day few games go down this road. Prey feels kind of crazy.

    I really, really liked Blake Stone when it came out but I’m not sure it held up in 2006. I’m struggling for words here but I don’t feel “this game IS shit” is appropriate when talking about a 10 year old title. You can’t just omit time as a variable in that equation, even in subjectivity, unless you are just wilfully being a dick about it. Which it kind of sounds like you are.

    Prey’s alright.

  40. AbyssUK says:

    So Prey being full of fun ideas that can be expanded gives me real hope for Prey2 right.. I’d assume the Prey2 guys have played the arse off Prey and have been refining and expanding all these mechanics in all kinds of ways.. add-in learnings from other games (portal etc..) this should make a decent game right.. the ingredients are all there.

  41. PixelsAtDawn says:

    I had a whale of a time the couple of playthroughs I had with Prey. Sure, some of the ideas could have been taken further, but generally the ones in there were done WELL. All the gravity-changing effects that threw you an Escher-esque loop. That one bit where you wander around on a tiny sphere. The interesting variety of weapons.

    No-one seems to have mentioned the multiplayer, which was fantastic, especially in a LAN setting. Because all that portal stuff was suddenly a multiplayer mechanic, which is something Valve has never done. And the gravity stuff too – one of my most memorable multiplayer moments is hiding on the ceiling and picking people off from there. So special. Not just a basic run-and-gun. I think part of my brain may have melted in the process though. Fnarble.

    • ooshp says:

      “Because all that portal stuff was suddenly a multiplayer mechanic, which is something Valve has never done”

      I highly recommend playing Portal 2 before typing something silly like that. Or even glance at the Steam store page for 3 seconds.

      • PixelsAtDawn says:

        I take your point, but as much as I like Portal 2’s co-op, it is light years away from the kind of multiplayer DM that Prey offered. Puzzle games and FPS shooters are very different beasts.

  42. Scrand says:

    Just want to say I agree John. And yes opinions are subjective, and no… John doesn’t have to feel bad for having his own opinion, and no, he doesn’t have to worry about it hurting anyone’s feelings. It is fun to feel strongly about a game, regardless of other’s opinions about it. I would enjoy this site less if the writers tried to soften their articles too much. Just let them write what they want. So far I really like it this way, I don’t need to see an experiment in more “morally correct” game reviews. Also, I couldn’t get more than 1 hour into Prey, I’m sorry. It just didn’t work for me. For a lot of the reasons listed in this article, and some of my own. No blame or shame to any of the devs or the fans of Prey. I totally know context is king in development, and in enjoying/disliking media. We all have different experiences. Its fine. Let’s still talk like adults ( and not censor ourselves unecessarily, that’s for kids in school ).

    • Eisler says:

      Your post is a colossal pile of shit. It’s fucking awful.

      Actually, I don’t think that at all. I generally agree with your point and i’m all for an exchange of views/opinions about video games in an adult manner without unnecessary censorship.

      My first sentence of this post was a combination of two sentences from John’s recent reviews (the above Prey review, and the Walking Dead). As I type this comment I notice RPS’ own rules: “We love having a friendly, positive and constructive community – you lot are great – and we want to keep it like that.”. As I have said in another comment above – I feel John’s reviews are at times too nasty. I’d appreciate less of the aggressive language in his reviews and more constructive criticism.

      Adult conversation (and adult games reviews!) don’t need to include aggressive sweary language.

      • UnknownDev says:

        You made your point well! I probably would’ve enjoyed this more too: ” is a colossal pile of dog doo.” and “It’s stonking awful”. I am now realizing that my favorite writers for this site DO use swears less common and instead put in their fav quasi-swears. I’ve grown to really like guessing who the author is as I read based on their stylish piccadillos. Straight up nasty language I don’t really mind, but you are correct in saying you can actually write better without using nasty language so often.

  43. MadTinkerer says:

    I felt that parts of Prey were good enough that some day I want to play through it again one last time to get to the good parts. AFAIK, there’s not a lot of first-person shooters that have you messing around with gravity, for example. I also really liked when you got the shuttle with the tractor beam. No one talks about that part! The good parts of Prey almost feel like a completely different game, bookended by terribleness.

    There’s even the occasional hint of something good in the terrible parts. Like when you’re stuck in a bunch of boring corridors, then unexpectedly shrunk down onto a planetoid with it’s own gravity, then escape into more boring corridors. But hey: planetoid! Before Super Mario Galaxy!

    I’m not forgiving Prey for the terrible parts, I’m just saying that some parts of the game are actually interesting and thoughtful in spite of 2/3rds or so of the game not being very good, the protagonist having no redeeming qualities, and the entire “story” being just dreadful. It’s like a really good professional engine tech demo stuck in a terrible student game.

    • MadTinkerer says:

      Oh, and the shooting was a mixed bag. The seemingly-eternal claustrophobic corridors worked against the design of the weapons, which were clearly designed with large arenas in mind. Additionally, the game is ridiculously stingy with the initial gun selection. When you finally got all of the weapons and were able to use them in relatively open areas, the shooting parts were finally actually good. But then you get to the last part and you’re harshly reminded that you’re playing Prey and not a game that’s consistently good. Or even consistently bad.

      If it was one or the other, the good parts wouldn’t make the bad parts so painful.

      I hear the multiplayer was fun. I didn’t have good internet at the time, so I couldn’t check it out, but I heard it was good.

  44. Halk says:

    Why would using Steam code resellers be considered morally ambiguous?

    (No offense intended, I honestly don’t know.)

    • Premium User Badge

      FhnuZoag says:

      There’s a number of arguments. The big ones I can think of are:

      1. Many sellers are selling fraudulently obtained goods. For example from people who claim to be reviewers and convince devs to give them free keys.

      2. Some sellers are connected to money laundering for organised crime. They buy keys using stolen credit card info, then resell the keys to get clean money.

      3. Many sellers are trying to get around regional pricing differences. This can be annoying to some people but OTOH can be due to legitimate reasons, like some countries just being poorer than others. So if too many people who can afford to pay more take advantage of lower prices aimed at poorer folks, this could mean the latter in the long term losing access to games.

      • Halk says:

        Thanks for the explanation! At least the second point seems to be a very valid concern.

      • ooshp says:

        Well at least we know Valve employees read RPS!

  45. Chaoslord AJ says:

    Only in truth it’s an average shooter with some original ideas and I did not regret picking up the disc in a bin.
    Natives abducted in space and dude fights back with shamanism is good enough as video game plots go and I even forgot about the kids part, the GF and the vaginas. It was really short and if they make a good sequel, why not. 7/10
    Now, “colossal pile of shit” I guess that’s a statement made for the audience. Everyone’s entitled to his opinion but the worst games I played are “rather broken”, “somewhat crap” or the like even included the early access titles with selfmade MS-paint assets. Now there are “colossal piles of shit” and dudes play them on Youtube -google “The Slaughtering Grounds”.

    Regarding the kids: in Deus Ex you could kill them with a flame thrower but I don’t need it really. Skyrim had its plate of unkillable NPCs anyway starting with that abominable Ulfric who sits out the war in the castle while you do the dirty work.

  46. Brackhar says:

    I don’t disagree with the thesis that Prey is a fairly uneven game design wise. It definitely has a lot of individually quite cool setpieces/ideas mixed between fairly standard gameplay. Had it come out slightly earlier, closer to Half-Life 2, or slightly later, after Portal had been released, I don’t think it would have been as notable as it was. However, 2006 was a somewhat dry year for innovative PC games on the PC, so it did well in contrast to its contemporaries.

    All that said, I do have to agree with some of the other commentators that I didn’t particularly enjoy the tone of this article. The style of writing, which feels both combative and dismissive of other opinions, reads to me like the style of a youtube rant video, where extremely strong statements are made for the purpose of generating laughs and/or reactions. I didn’t feel like the article attempted to contextualize the game or tried to view the experience through multiple lenses. It’s this style of writing that in the past has driven me away from other gaming news sites, and I hope it doesn’t become common here as well.

  47. gordonfreeman says:

    I have mixed feelings about this game, but overall I enjoyed it back in the day. It was definitely ahead of its’ time but didn’t make the most of the portals and gravity etc.

    Something which struck me was why kill off the girlfriend? She was the driving force behind Tommy’s quest (they had already killed the grandfather), so it felt unnecessary to kill her aswell. I think it was after that point that the game lost some momentum for me. I mean she was no Alex Vance, but she was a reason to keep going. They could have made her more capable like Alex and could have involved her more in the story. As it was, the game felt a bit callous and soulless.

    Half Life 2 worked so well because of the interaction with the characters, even though it was really just a ghost train ride through a set path with no real exploration as such. Prey was the same i.e. a set path but without the humour, charisma and inventiveness of HL2.

    Also, the weapons were criticised for being a bit feeble/unimaginative which is true but they were animated nicely. I just wish they had more of them.

    Prey was very nearly awesome, but was let down by some strange decisions and omissions which Human Head thought were cool at the time. :/ (But I STILL prefer it to Call Of Duty 278654322!!!)

  48. AaronSteinmetz says:

    I have a sneaking (and potentially obvious) suspicion the whole rape cave sequence in Duke Nukem Forever was supposed to be a spoof of Prey, which would make sense seeing as they were both 3D Realms games at one point in time. Problem was too much time went by between the releases and people didn’t make the connection.

    That…and the rape.

    I remember really enjoying the first half of the game, but the overly bleak storyline wherein pretty much everyone dies and nothing good happens bugged me, and I recall thinking the ending was a downer. Tried playing it again recently. Unbearable. Simply unplayable. Gaming has moved on, and I think Duke Nukem Forever is further proof.