To say the first-person shooter genre is saturated in the computer gaming sector would be a bit of an understatement. By far one of the most popular forms of gaming, FPSes have been occupying shelf space for years, and any gamer worth their salt could probably rattle off twenty titles without even blinking. Try that with adventure or shooter titles these days.
Unfortunately, with popularity comes familiarity, and that familiarity can quickly turn into boredom. The mechanic of pointing, shooting, cycling between weapons, and scrounging for health and ammo packs can no longer stand on its own merits - the vehicle that these actions come packaged in must be more than the sum of its parts. Take Doom 3 for example: its widely lauded graphics were matched only by the boredom and apathy that many gamers and reviewers cited after playing through the game. Sure, it looked great, but underneath all the window dressing was the same old tired play that's been done to death a hundred times over.
Game designers recognize this, and many groups inject new life into an old formula by making sure their vehicle isn't quite like anyone else's. The Call of Duty series, Deus Ex, and Half Life 2 use immersion techniques, complex characterization, and creative uses of the target and fire mechanic to the point where the player becomes less concerned with body count and more so with advancing the story or completing a mission. These features help separate these games from the run of the mill FPS and have made them into critical successes, particularly in Deus Ex's case, which some fans argue shouldn't even be classified as an FPS.
Enter Prey, developed by Human Head Studios and recently released for the Mac by Aspyr. A game conceptualized almost a decade ago and brought to fruition only recently on the PC and Xbox360, this game attempts to break the FPS boredom barrier by introducing new ways to move through the world it introduces. Strongly touted by the developers, these methods include judicious use of "gravity-flipping" and portals that can lead to the unlikeliest of destinations. Fans of the venerable Descent have some experience with this "up is not always up" concept, but Prey adds a wrinkle to it by allowing gravity to be arbitrary to the individual. This is especially apparent when the player is confronted with enemies on the walls and ceiling, at least to his perspective, without even taking into account that the whole mess can be shifted by triggering a gravity-flipping switch.
Despite the novelty of such movement mechanics, at its heart Prey is just another competently-executed FPS with little in the way of new surprises or tricks. FPS fans who can't live without mowing down nameless aliens should find a solid experience here, but those tired of the genre or those looking for something fresh in the genre may do well to look elsewhere, portals and gravity non-withstanding.
Something old, something newThe main protagonist of Prey is Tommy, a member of the Cherokee tribe and an ex-soldier who is predictably somewhat damaged by nebulous past experiences and a heritage that he could care less about. This all changes when he, his grandfather, and his girlfriend Jen, not to mention the entire bar they happen to be sitting in, get sucked into a giant alien complex known as The Sphere. From here, Tommy witness all manner of humans being "processed" in a predictably gory fashion, eventually acquiring weapons and dashing through various alien environs in a desperate attempt to save his girlfriend.
While the main story may not win any originality awards, Prey does manage to extend itself past the norm by injecting a bit of Cherokee culture to the mix. Initially dismissive of his Cherokee heritage, Tommy learns early on that there is validity in his people's beliefs and gains the ability to spirit walk. This ability allows him to leave his body and see the world from a different perspective, a view that can get a bit surreal the first time one looks at their own floating body. While armed with a bow during the spirit walk, its main value lies in puzzle solving, as it allows Tommy to see platforms that did not exist before as well as walk through force fields that would normally impede Tommy's progress. More often than not, getting stuck at points in the game can usually be solved by activating the spirit walk and taking a good look around.