E3 06: Prey Exclusive Look - The Last Days of Development

We travel to Wisconsin to take a gander at 3D Realms' and Human Head's long-anticipated shooter in the final stage of its production.


A couple of years ago, 3D Realms' mid-'90s portal-based shooter Prey felt like a distant memory. But if you've doubted that the game, originally announced nearly a decade ago, would ever see the light of day, you can believe it now. We recently traveled to the Madison, Wisconsin-based Human Head Studios to check out a hot-off-the-presses new build of the game, due out in July. From what we saw, even all these years later, the game will offer just about everything 3D Realms talked about when it began the original iteration of the game so long ago.

When Human Head picked up development of Prey, 3D Realms specified a few basic tenets of the original design that had to be maintained: the game had to feature space-bending portal technology, and it had to maintain the Native American protagonist and cultural flair of the original story. The first Prey's Talon Brave has given way to a much more down-to-earth guy named Tommy, who's just trying to get off the reservation with his girlfriend and start a better life when an alien ship inconveniently swoops down and abducts him, his girlfriend Jen, and his grandfather, taking them into a massive biomechanical hell orbiting a few miles above the Earth. Of course, it'll be up to you to save your woman, thwart the aliens' nefarious plans, and get home in time for corn flakes.

We got to sit down and watch the PC version of Prey being played from "new game." You begin the game in Jen's bar just before the abduction, and here you can see how the game's interactivity with the environment will work. Any time you approach an object you can mess with (which is often), a hand will pop up, letting you manipulate everything from soap dispensers to toilets to juke boxes. After an unfortunate bar fight, the aliens descended and made off with Tommy and company, and we got to see an appealing effect where the level geometry disintegrated all Matrix-style as the hapless humans were pulled upward.

You'll find some truly gruesome enemies and obstacles onboard the alien ship.

Once you get onto the grotesquely biomechanical alien ship, you'll waste little time picking up alien weaponry, from a shotgun-style goo gun to the "leech gun," which absorbs different types of ammo from the ship's energy nodes and can fire in modes similar to a rail gun or the lightning gun from Quake. Speaking of alien technology, it won't be long before you run into your first portal, which works exactly like you'd expect: walk through, and you'll come out in an entirely new area. Shoot a gun through, you'll fire all the way to the other side. The level geometry is fully rendered on the opposite side of the portal, which makes it all feel totally seamless. The designers have even used the portal tech to devise some devilish puzzles, such as a portal maze where you'll see yourself running ahead of your perspective if you're going the wrong way.

Not long into your tumultuous journey, you'll have a spiritual journey of sorts as you travel mentally to the "land of the ancients," in which your grandfather will instruct you on the uses of your Native American heritage. Among the powers you'll gain from this is the previously publicized spirit walk, which lets you project your astral self to solve puzzles that your corporeal body can't reach. Also, you'll be able to find some hidden walkways while in spirit mode. You'll also be joined by Talon, a spirit bird (and nod to Prey's original protagonist, Talon Brave) who can help you by translating alien text and speech for you to read and hear.

Prey will make use of a couple of innovative design ideas that should make the game flow more smoothly. First is the death walk ability, which replaces the traditional quick save/quick load routine employed by most first-person shooter gamers. When you die, you'll be transported to a quick spirit-world minigame where you have to shoot down flying spirits to regain access to the physical world. This only takes a few seconds and requires no load time, so we found this vastly preferable to watching a progress bar reloading the level after dying. Prey will have no initial difficulty selection; instead, the game will track your combat stats as part of an adaptive difficulty system, which will modify everything from enemy behaviors to ammo pickups based on how well you're doing.

The spirit powers should put an interesting twist on the standard shooting gameplay.

Finally, we got to take a look at the Xbox 360 version of the game. This one will be identical in terms of content to the PC version, though, of course, it will feature unlockable achievements that Human Head says will be skewed primarily toward the single-player game, with a majority (but not all) of the points becoming unlocked during your first time through the game. For those who were dismayed at the poor performance of Quake 4, the last Doom 3 engine game to hit the Xbox 360, take heart: even in its unfinished state, Prey was running nice and smooth in 720p and played well with Halo-style controls. Luckily, the developer has essentially gutted the engine's graphics subsystem and rewritten it to use Direct3D instead of OpenGL, resulting in vastly improved performance over Quake 4.

Even though it's been almost two years since Doom 3 hit, Prey is keeping that technology vital with a few tweaks to the engine and solid art design. The alien ship itself presents an unsettling mix of industrial technology and biological elements all melded together, and many of your weapons will come from the ship or the aliens themselves and will be appropriately organic or otherwise bizarre.

From what we saw, Prey looks like it's shaped up to be an entertaining shooting experience with some interesting and unique ideas. Given the turmoil of the game's initial development at 3D Realms way back when, it's impressive the game's coming out at all--but we're pleased to see it's coalesced into what looks like a solid game nonetheless. Prey is due to hit stores on July 10, and in the meantime, you can check out some new direct-feed footage of the game's deathmatch multiplayer mode in action.


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