Does anybody remember gunning down extraterrestrial fools and messing with gravity in Prey?
We do, although anything even remotely associated with last generation consoles is probably already considered archaic at this point.
But guess what: the cult first person shooter turns 10 this month, plus a reboot is on its way, so we couldn’t let this momentous occasion pass by without setting the record straight about this criminally underrated game.
The Cherokee connection
Nowadays, there aren’t many video games with Native American protagonists, and in 2006 there were even less. I can say with absolute confidence that Prey was the first game that I ever owned that featured a Native American main character.
The game opened in a bar, run by Tommy, his grandfather Enisi, and Jen, Tommy’s love interest. They were all partly Cherokee, although it was apparent early on that Enisi took his faith much more seriously than Tommy did.
We’re not just giving out points for diversity here either: the fact that the game raided the vaults of Cherokee lore for its context made for generally fascinating touches.
In fact, it was one of the most interesting elements of the game.
There was a great emphasis on the spirit world, and using your inner powers to progress through puzzles and fight sequences. And those inner powers came in mighty handy when Tommy and co were abducted by an invading alien force.
Using his new-found powers, Tommy could detach himself from his mortal form and traverse the ship as a ghostly apparition, find pathways that would otherwise be hidden, and resurrect himself from death.
Speaking of which…
That’s right: you couldn’t actually die in Prey – at least not in the traditional sense.
Upon losing all your health points (remember: lowering the difficulty is a sign of personal weakness), instead of flopping limp on the floor, Tommy would be transported to the spirit world, inexplicably armed with a ghostly bow. If the player managed to shoot enough of the enemy spectres circling the platform, Tommy would be revived where he left off.
And the award for the best death mechanic in a video game goes to…
Our point is, that the Cherokee connection in Prey wasn’t just a novelty for the sake of diversity: it was a genuinely interesting direction for Human Head Studios to take the game.
It helped progress the plot, made for an off-beat feel, and gave us plenty of second chances after ‘unforeseen’ deaths (we’ve all had them).
It had portals!
And before you go claiming that they stole their portal designs from the appropriately named Portal, we feel inclined to tell you that Prey was released a year before Valve’s puzzle masterpiece.
But you’d be right to make the connection. Prey’s portal system worked in exactly the same way as Portal’s, except for the fact that you didn’t have a weapon that could freely place them wherever you fancy.
Throughout a typical level (because this was back in ancient times when not every game was open-world), the sporadic portals allowed for seamless travel between, streamlining the gameplay experience.
And let’s be honest, brass tacks: portals are cool.
It was a genuinely innovative gameplay mechanic at the time, and although Portal popularised it, Prey got there first.
It seemed like Human Head Studios worked hard to make sure the gameplay was as exciting and smooth as possible, and we’ve got to give them credit for that.
As with most aged games, Prey’s level-by-level system was too linear, but the effort that the developers went to wasn’t in vain.
The story had so much potential
How Human Head managed to take the old ‘aliens invade earth’ thing and turn it into a compelling story, we will never know, but they did.
By the end of the game it felt like we’d just played a really good, and really long, prologue to an epic sci-fi adventure – and we can’t help but feel like there was so much more they could have done with it.
Sadly, that was not the case, and now we’re left with no Prey (because all of our Xbox 360s have obviously red ringed by now), no sequel (the second game was cancelled an infinite number of times), but hope in the shape of a Bethesda-steered remake/re-imagining well on its way.
It’s not very often that you finish a shooter and actually care what happens to the main character afterwards, but Prey was definitely one of those games.
We can only hope that Bethesda manage to do the same with their 2017 release.