Well, now – this is odd, isn’t it?
The original Prey was a new IP released in 2006, and one which the developers evidently hoped would turn into a much broader franchise than it ever did – the final scene of the game ends with the text “Prey Will Continue”.
But Prey didn’t continue, for reasons I never quite understood. Possibly there was less thirst for new properties in 2006. ‘05 had seen the release of the 360, KOTOR II, Doom 3, Shadow of the Colossus, Psychonauts and, lest we forget, the ineffable 50 Cent: Bulletproof, among others.
‘06 seems to have seen less in the way new, original content (at least, based on this list), but we still saw the original Just Cause, Rainbow Six: Vegas, Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, the then-novel Gears of War and the initial rollout of the PS3. E3 that year would have been all atremble with anticipation for Halo 3, GTA IV, and the looming specter of motion control integration in the form of the Wii and Sixaxis. Wild times, eh?
It really looks to me as if we were all so awash in novelties that we were collectively comfortable with letting certain of them slip through the cracks. Sequelitis had yet to set in. We could not yet look forward to the release of the PS4 and Xbox One, and their anemic collection of rushed, dysfunctional, stuttering titles. If only we’d known.
Prey is notable in my memory for a couple of reasons. Reason the first is that Prey has one of the absolute best opening sequences in video game history – picture it, if you will.
“The world is full of stories,” an old man says. “And from time to time, they permit themselves… to be told.”
Fade in from black. You stand in a filthy bathroom, looking down at a sink crusted with years of chewing tobacco and vomit and shame. You raise your head to the mirror and see a Cherokee man with long, black hair looking back at you. I do not remember what he says at that point, but it’s something about needing to get of this goddamned Rez.
Straightening, our hero (whose name is Domasi, or Tommy for short) comments that a person named Jen has really let this place slide. At this point the game surrenders the controls to you, Dear Player, and you (like me) run around that filthy bathroom, flushing toilets and admiring neat mirror shader over the sink, because you have just come from playing Star Wars: Battlefront II and this is all very next-gen and interesting.
Out in the hall, you encounter an old man – the same old man who narrates the opening line. Turns out he’s your grandfather, and he has an inkling that something momentous is going to happen tonight. You shrug him off and keep on walking, the theme here being that you are a person who thinks that he knows shit, but, in fact, does not.
Out on the main floor of the bar, you find a handful of interactive video slot machines, a shitty jukebox playing Ted Nugent, and your girlfriend (Jen), who is putting up with a couple of Hell’s Angels types seated at the bar. You chat with Jen for a minute, evidently rehashing some long running debate about how Tommy wants to get off the Rez and Jen doesn’t. You are interrupted by the bikers, who want another round. While Jen serves them they begin dropping the sort of inflammatory remarks all but guaranteed to spell an end to the pleasant portion of the evening – “Hey, Cleans-With-Rag!” one of them yells at her, at some point.
Well, you’re not gonna take that are you? No sir. You are the protagonist of a video game. Your love interest is in jeopardy. Fortunately, you have a wrench (because you are a mechanic), and the bikers do not. You do what video game characters do in that situation, which is that you beat them both to death right there in the bar.
This is not a good move, because now you are going to go to prison for a double homicide. Jen and your grandfather do not want you to go to prison, and they are halfway through explaining that to you at the top of their lungs when Don’t Fear the Reaper starts playing on the jukebox, the roof of the bar dissolves, and all three of you are abducted by aliens who fly around in this thing:
The remainder of the game’s story is, for the most part, pretty rote – it now becomes necessary to escape, try and rescue your girlfriend, and kill shit along the way. The story is occasionally spiced up by a handful of reasonably effective twists, like the scene where you actually find your girlfriend only to discover that her top half has been Cronenberged into a monstrous walking tank which screams piteously while you shoot it, and the fact that you occasionally intercept radio transmissions from earth wherein a late-night radio host (Art Bell!) tries to make sense of the reports he is getting of lights in the sky and monsters in the streets.
What really made Prey shine in my mind, though, was a very respectable attempt to innovate first-person shooter mechanics. Ordinarily (and continuing on up to this very day) a first person shooter is largely the exercise of killing shit at the end of long hallways, and while Prey is replete with such sections, it also integrated some variable-gravity mechanics in which you can change the direction of the artificial gravity in a given room to either solve puzzles or kill shit more effectively. Enemies can do this too, or at least take passive advantage of the gravity mechanic – more than once, you will look around to see who is shooting you only to discover that the culprit is thirty feet above you, standing on a wall at a 90° angle to everything else.
It had a promising though ultimately underutilized ability which allowed your character to walk through certain walls. It also played with wormholes of the sort which Valve would ultimately use to such effect in Portal, though Prey’s developers never quite got ahang of allowing you to place them wherever you wanted.
All of this was wrapped up in a vaguely Geigeresque bio-tech setting filled with puckering butthole doors and alien guns which occasionally look back at you and lick their slavering barrel/maws in anticipation of butchery yet to come.
So – we have this game full of cool little novelties, a competent storyline, some new or at least new-ish mechanics and some actual characters in it. I would have expected it to take off, just as it’s developers evidently did.
But it didn’t. There were rumblings for a while – this is the pre-rendered trailer for the abortive Prey 2 which was met with a complete lack of interest by E3 a couple of years ago.
Prey 2 was subsequently shitcanned and will, at this point, never see the light of day. I, and the eight other fans of the – franchise (?) – who saw that trailer were disappointed for a while, and then we all moved on.
But now there’s a new thing called Prey. When I first saw the trailer, I assumed it was some entirely different IP using the same name – none of the characters, iconography, environments or concepts appear to be related to the original in any particular way.
Though a reboot it is, somehow. Or, possibly, a spiritual successor of some kind. In fact, I really have no idea what this new thing called Prey is.
Who knows – maybe it’ll be good.