At least one game begun by 3D Realms a decade ago will see release this year, and while it doesn't star Duke Nukem, it does feature a lot of ugly, nefarious aliens. The game is Human Head's Prey, a Doom 3-engine-based first-person shooter with a Native American flavor and an exceptionally long development history. Human Head rebooted the abandoned 3D Realms project just a few years ago, and the finished game will finally see store shelves early in July. But you'll have a chance to play it even before that. Next Wednesday evening at 9 p.m. PST, a meaty Prey demo will premiere on GameSpot, and we've been fortunate enough to receive the demo early to put this long-anticipated shooter through its initial paces.
We've seen enough of Prey in the past to know that this demo starts right at the beginning of the game, when main character Tommy's late-night visit to his girlfriend's bar is rudely interrupted by a group of marauding aliens who decide that Tommy, Jen, and his grandfather (among many other residents of Oklahoma) would be better off on their gigantic biomechanical mothership than they are on Earth. Actually, scratch that--after witnessing the grisly goings-on that subsequently take place aboard the ship, we don't think the aliens have Tommy and friends' best interests in mind at all. Some really bloody events ensue--even the most desensitized video game hit men may wince at a couple of the things we saw--and Tommy will have to grab whatever grotesque alien weaponry he can find to save his girlfriend and blast their way to freedom.
Prey's big technological claim to fame is its unique portal system, which we finally got to try out in the demo. Some portals are embedded in doorways, crates, and so on, while others will open out of thin air--but they all share the same features. Essentially, stepping through one will seamlessly teleport you to a completely different section of the level with no load time or other interruption. You can see and even shoot through to the other side, and sometimes the orientation on the other end will be different, so you'll emerge looking at (and then falling toward) the floor. Other portals can even reduce your size, making the previously tiny room and regular-sized enemies enormous. We noted a few entertaining applications of this technology throughout the demo, and we hope to see more creative portal puzzles later on in the game.
Some ballyhoo has also been made about the gravity-defying abilities in the single-player game, whereby you'll find energized tracks that let you walk up walls and over ceilings. You'll even be thrown into a number of combat situations with enemies on different planes during the demo, which can be a little disorienting, but it's fairly unique as shooters go. These gravity tracks, coupled with the portals, actually made us feel a little woozy, and we've never had a problem with motion sickness when playing a video game before. If you're prone to such things, consider popping a Dramamine before firing up the game.
The Prey demo will also include two levels from the game's multiplayer mode, which focuses on the old deathmatch standby. There are more weapons available here than in the single-player portion, which features such things as a shotgun-like goo blaster, a gross-looking organic chaingun of sorts, and everyone's favorite, the rocket launcher--or at least, some biomechanical variation thereof. But while the weapons may sound like old hat, Prey deathmatch has a few interesting tricks up its sleeve. One of the maps is literally wallpapered with the gravity-defying illuminated walkways you'll see scattered around the single-player game, meaning that you never know when an opponent is going to come charging down the wall or even across the ceiling at you.
Of course, you need only look at the HD-quality movies of Prey to know that it's a rather fine-looking game, though admittedly the use of the Doom 3 engine all but ensures a certain baseline level of visual fidelity. You can expect all the normal mapping, specular highlights, real-time lighting and shadowing, and other niceties that made Doom 3 look so phenomenal. Plus, the weapons and environments have a cohesively disturbing look to them, too. Hopefully the visual aesthetic keeps going in the same direction throughout the game, while adding in some variety to the environs. It's also worth noting that the portals we've encountered have had no impact at all on the game's performance, even when it's essentially rendering parts of two different scenes at once.
So far, Prey has handed over a solid shooting experience with excellent visuals and enough unique gameplay elements to keep us blasting through it. We're hoping the game keeps up this momentum for its duration, and if it does, it might just live up to 10 years' worth of built-up expectations. Come back next week to try the demo and decide for yourself.