Prey Preview - The Story, Characters, and Gameplay of Prey

This long-delayed action game has gotten a new engine, new characters, an all-new story, and a brand-new destination: the Xbox 360, along with the PC. Get the details here.


Sometimes, you don't want to be a hero. Sometimes, all you want to do is get off the reservation with your girlfriend and get a lucrative job as a mechanic. That's how it is in Prey, the upcoming shooter from Human Head Studios and 3D Realms. While other first-person shooters generally focus on you running through corridors from a first-person view and blasting everything that isn't you, Prey will instead attempt to turn the typical shooter upside down, literally. Over the course of the game, you'll be captured by aliens and travel to outer space, where you'll find yourself in low- and zero-gravity areas. You'll also encounter alien technology that creates gravity fields on walls and ceilings, so you can expect to be running sideways and upside down while fighting off hostile alien life-forms so that you can rescue the girl and get back home (or whatever is left of home).

While Prey will have some kind of multiplayer, Human Head is focusing primarily on the single-player game, which will in turn focus on characters and story. You'll play as Tommy, a disillusioned Native American Army mechanic who was recently discharged from service and has returned home to the reservation in Taliquaa, Oklahoma, where his girlfriend, Jenny, lives and works. Tommy won't exactly be a knight in shining armor. The guy really doesn't care a whole lot about his heritage or his few remaining family members, and he just wants to get off the reservation with his girlfriend and make a better life for himself. For a number of reasons, including his lady friend's stronger sense of duty toward their shared heritage, Tommy is basically stuck on the reservation, spinning his wheels. That is, until the aliens come.

According to the game's story, the aliens aren't even the bad guys. Not all of them, anyway. A bizarre entity, part gigantic spaceship, part living being, has apparently been scouring the galaxy in search of new life-forms and cultures to capture by sucking them up into its hull with a powerful tractor beam. The ship seems to be looking for slave labor--it needs someone to maintain the ship, and others to be enforcers among the slaves it has captured. So, some of the aliens on board will be hostile to Tommy, while others may be neutral or may even try to help him, because they'll be helpless captives, just like him. Tommy only finds this out after he, his grandfather, and his girlfriend are all abducted in a dramatic scene that appeared in the E3 2005 demonstration video, in which his local bar, the slot machines, his grandfather, Jenny, and eventually Tommy himself get forcibly yanked skyward in a beam of blazing green light from the mysterious alien craft.

At first, Tommy doesn't really care about his grandfather's spiritual teachings. You can guess how that makes him feel.
At first, Tommy doesn't really care about his grandfather's spiritual teachings. You can guess how that makes him feel.

Before you even begin your journey, you'll notice the emphasis on interactivity. Considering that the game is being developed with production assistance from Duke Nukem creator 3D Realms, you may not be surprised to hear that it will have fully interactive environments. So, on the reservation you can expect to see the usual, usable restroom facilities, playable slot machines and arcade games, a TV with ongoing reports of strange sightings in the area, and a jukebox that will spit out a series of licensed songs for Prey's soundtrack. Once you're on the ship, you can expect to interact with plenty of bizarre alien technology, including switches that alter the orientation of a room or the flow of gravity.

Gravity will be a big part of your adventures in Prey. Even though the ship is alive (and so, many of its areas will be lined with pulsating, fleshy walls with machinery and computers buried inside), it's also equipped with gravity-based technology that can turn gravity on and off at the flip of a switch. In several areas, you'll find lighted paths, along floors, walls, and ceilings, which generate localized gravity. You'll find yourself in situations that recall artist M.C. Escher's infamous painting Relativity (a study in geometry that depicts people walking up and down stairways on the walls and ceilings of a house), just with more upside-down aliens shooting at you.

That's the Spirit

Unfortunately for Tommy, it'd be too easy if he could just stroll across the entire ship and pick up his girlfriend. He'll be attacked at every turn by numerous enemies. Some will be hostile aliens that have made a deal with the ship to act as guards in exchange for safety; some will be bizarre patchwork monstrosities made of bulbous, hairless bellies, and mismatched limbs (which are the result of experiments conducted by the ship on its captives to breed better guardians); and then some will be helpless creatures forced to attack Tommy against their own will.

The welcome wagon isn't exactly friendly.
The welcome wagon isn't exactly friendly.

One of Tommy's most insidious enemies will be the wraith, a kind of space ghost (without the studio audience) that flits through the ship and takes possession of other living creatures, including friendly aliens and even human children. As seen in the E3 demo, one of the most dangerous foes you'll come across is a possessed 8-year-old girl (in blue jeans and pigtails, no less), who comes at you with glowing eyes and teeth bared. And as if this didn't already make Tommy's situation difficult enough, his only hope of preventing innocent children and other life-forms from being possessed is to catch sight of the invisible wraiths early.

Of course, seeing things that are invisible is impossible for most humans, unless they happen to have a link to the spirit world, like Tommy. In between his adventures on the ship, he'll actually go on sojourns to a spirit realm--a dusty, rocky desert not unlike the area around his native Oklahoma, where he'll meet with the spirit of his grandfather and learn mystical abilities. The first ability Tommy picks up is "spirit walking," the ability to step out of his own body (and actually leave it suspended in midair, leaving his body a lot more vulnerable) while his insubstantial spirit travels through the world. Though he can only use spirit walking for a limited time, the spirit form not only lets him detect wraiths, but also helps him advance through certain areas in the game, like passing through an area with locked gates in order to hit the switch on the other side that will open the door. Spirit walking will also give Tommy some stealth abilities, as he'll be quiet and much harder to detect. Along with this ability, Tommy will also receive a powerful longbow that he can use to pick off his enemies at a distance.

You'll be gradually called upon to use spirit walking sparingly at the early stages of the game, though later on you'll find yourself making extensive use of the ability to solve complex puzzles, discover secret areas, and generally get the drop on your enemies. And as it turns out, you won't come back from the spirit world alone. After one of Tommy's later visits to the spirit realm, he'll gain a new companion, an intelligent hawk named Talon who can trip switches, fly over impassable gaps, and even harass enemies before flying back to Tommy's shoulder.

Tommy will eventually be taught spiritual powers that will give him a fighting chance.
Tommy will eventually be taught spiritual powers that will give him a fighting chance.

Not all of Tommy's spirit-related powers have been revealed, although we did learn of his supernatural powers that grant him one other very special ability, known as "death walking," though you could also call it "no more reloading your saved games after you die." Unlike every other shooter before this one, Prey will actually let you recover from death, not by going back to your last save file, but by literally fighting your way out of the afterlife to return to the world of the living. When death walking, Tommy takes on his spirit form on an otherworldly plateau in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by howling spirits that he must fend off with his longbow. Once he begins fighting spirits, he has only a limited amount of time before the earth beneath his feet swallows him up and drags him back into the world of the living (or in Tommy's case, the spaceship of the living). The more spirits he can kill off with his bow, the more health he'll recover before he returns.

Didn't I Just Come Through Here?

Death walking is actually part of the streamlined approach that Human Head and 3D Realms are taking so that the game will be user-friendly for both the PC and Xbox 360 players. For instance, an early version of the game we saw had hardly any kind of onscreen interface, other than a small meter that showed Tommy's relative health and remaining spirit meter, but not much else--no ammo readout, no weapon crosshairs, no nothing. This may change in the final version, but the game could very well come with a nearly empty interface that has hardly any clutter between you and the action. The same goes for the way recovering health will be handled--you'll recover from your wounds by standing on top of "health pills"--pill-shaped nodes on the floors (and walls, and ceilings) of the ship that will automatically heal you to a certain extent. Unfortunately, many of your enemies will be smart enough to use these nodes too. Don't be surprised when they call for help or run for cover when you start tossing grenades, either.

You'll trip the light fantastic in a spaceship. Unfortunately, you won't be alone out there.
You'll trip the light fantastic in a spaceship. Unfortunately, you won't be alone out there.

Grenades, spirit powers, gravity...Tommy will need just about every tool at his disposal to make his way through the ship safely, since he'll be up against a great variety of alien enemies, and not just possessed 8-year-olds, but also gun-toting grunts, cowardly soldier aliens that carry energy shields, and even huge, humanoid monstrosities that cause the ground to shake with a single step. While Tommy will start the game with nothing more than his trusty mechanic's wrench, he'll eventually recover a powerful alien arsenal full of weapons that are half-technology, half-living beings. For instance, rather than toting around hand grenades, Tommy will recover a handful of small alien creatures about the size of his fist whose legs are explosive, and instead of tossing grenades, he'll tear the legs off the critter and hurl those. And each weapon will have an alternate firing mode, so Tommy can toss an entire grenadelike critter and it will stick to any wall and act like a sticky bomb. Later in the game, he'll even pick up a rocket launcher-type weapon that fires the grenade aliens as ammunition.

In addition to exploring the guts of the spaceship, Tommy will have several opportunities to enter outer space in a tiny probe ship that he controls with a single hand. The ships, which were shown in the E3 2005 demo, are small and a bit unwieldy, but they're equipped with powerful laser cannons that can blast enemy ships (and even aliens that are capable of surviving in outer space). He'll usually find these ships stationed at docking bays that open out to space, where he risks getting flattened by meteor showers, in addition to getting shot down by angry aliens. However, he'll need to use these ships, and his other abilities, to solve the game's various challenging puzzles.

Aside from using his spirit-walking abilities to bypass barriers, Tommy will be up against challenging logic puzzles that focus on using "portals," floating gateways that will take him, and his enemies, to different parts of the ship. Portals will come in all shapes and sizes. Some portals will be two-way (you can actually fire your weapons through them), some will be one-way, and some will be hidden. At one point in the game, you'll actually come upon a maze of portals and mirrors that are arranged so that you'll actually run past yourself as you try to escape. (Here's an early tip for that section: don't go crazy with the rocket launcher if you're surrounded by portals that lead back to you.) You'll also have to use gravity to your advantage in several puzzles--these might be simple ones in which you can flip a gravity switch to grab at a bunch of extra ammo and other goodies strapped to a ceiling. You'll also come across more-complicated sections, like being trapped in a gigantic floating cube built of puzzle pieces. The cube has a missing piece, and you must rotate gravity so that you can manipulate the cube.

Tommy will have to use both alien weapons and spiritual powers to get him home safely. If there's still a home left to get back to.
Tommy will have to use both alien weapons and spiritual powers to get him home safely. If there's still a home left to get back to.

If nothing else, Prey will look extremely impressive. The game is powered by an enhanced version of the Doom 3 engine, and in addition to making use of the technology's excellent lighting and shadow effects, the game will also feature highly detailed textures to indicate the ship's steely floors and fleshy walls. The game will also make extensive use of dynamic lighting for its many special effects, including the mirrorlike look of its portals and the translucent sheen that the world takes on when Tommy uses his spirit-walking ability. This will be a good-looking game that will take advantage of high-end PC hardware and the Xbox 360.

There are hardly any details known about Prey's multiplayer modes, other than that there will be some kind of multiplayer in the game. But, considering all the different options and abilities the game has to offer, it seems as though there will be some pretty wild possibilities there. Otherwise, Prey's single-player game, at least, should offer innovative gameplay, a comprehensive story and characters, and cutting-edge Doom III engine graphics. Stay tuned to GameSpot for more updates on this impressive action game.

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