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The Boys are Back in Town
3d Realms made it big with Duke Nukem, but since then they've been in the shadows, dodging the gaming radar for a number of years. 3d Realms has had its share of influence with the older crowd even though they've been absent from the scene for a long time. Now, their once struggling game Prey is back. And 3D Realms has teamed up with Human Head Studios for the long haul. When we watched Prey in action we were astonished to find a surprisingly unique game in a tiny, low-profile booth. Good things do, indeed, come in small(booth) packages.
The twelve minute demo was entirely in-game graphics (nothing was pre-rendered) demonstrating the immense power of the Doom 3 engine. Prey was literally a breath of fresh air (they were pumping some cool air in the booth from an air-conditioner), but it was also one of the more surprising games being shown on the floor. The game demonstrated some refreshing AI, detailed alien space worlds, outer space battles, and a pretty neat little vehicle section.
Prey is the story of Tommy, a Native American recently returned home from the army who wants little to nothing to do with his roots. The tagline for the game is "Earth's Unfortunately Earth is invaded (as it frequently is) and Tommy is transported from his home to an alien spacecraft filled with some less than happy E.Ts. The aliens have this neat little ability to make transport portals to assault dear Tommy. At first this seems like a substitute for the Doom 3 demon spawn? that was so prevalent throughout id's game, but upon closer look, the portals can be used by Tommy himself to transport to new sections of the ship - or new worlds. As he passes through a the portal from a metal spaceship to a pulsing, living corridor, Tommy finds himself lost again in another foreign world. Discovering each area, each new portal, seems like an incredibly smart technique for keeping the game fresh. As a result, the 12 minute demo felt like a persistently changing world.
The weapons of the game so far look alien-inspired. The game showed off a rifle? of sorts; it featured rotating tubes that fired MP5 speed bullets.? There was also a crab-like creature that functioned as a grenade (you pull its leg off to arm it) and a launcher type weapon that worked similar to a rocket launcher; the ammo was, interestingly enough, the same crab creature as the grenade. After Tommy commondered a spaceship, he landed on a moon and proceded to shoot canisters of goo at enemies that were unfortunate enough to get in the way. Though the shown guns seemed limited at this point, they also didn't seem to be the focus. They were definitely cool, but not the focus. The action is, without a doubt, central to Prey.
As the demo progressed it was obvious this wasn't your traditional first person shooter. This game walked on walls. Literally. Tommy can follow illuminated walkways and travel straight up walls, even on ceilings without a second thought. Shooting from on a ceiling to a creature on one of the walls is a nifty feature that I have never seen used in a FPS. But the gravity aspect doesn't end there. There also appear to be triggers to change the gravity on the fly; Tommy can use these triggers to get by certain obstacles. In action it looked very impressive. I was concerned that the gravity aspect would become merely a gimmick, but it seems that 3d Realms isn't going that route; they appear to use it thoughtfully to create puzzle? areas in the midst of combat, challenging areas that look to enhance the already frenetic gameplay.
And combat looks very good. In fact, Prey looks like the game Doom 3 should have been. It has similar, if not better, graphics overall (the special effects in particular are much better) than Doom 3. But expect the same smooth corridors, characters, and environments that made the engine famous. The environments are larger, wider, more detailed. In fact, there seemed to be fewer corridor levels than id's game, and that's a good thing. As much as I love corridor crawls, Doom 3 needed some variety; Prey has it. The demo showcased Tommy moon walking while blasting enemies into the cool reaches of the infinite. And the enemies? There were some that were just massive and some really intimidating. Overall, the enemies are smarter - some charge, some hang back, some shoot while taking cover. There was kamikaze enemy AI, but there was also smart AI. And it appears different enemies treat the threat of Tommy differently.
Tommy's guide for this trip is his grandfather. And, as far as I could tell, his grandfather is central to Tommy's spiritual awakening (more on that later). He functions like Half-Life's G-Man, but in a more emotionally compelling and unique way. From his grandfather Tommy has learned to have out of body? experiences - literally thrusting the player out of his body and into his spirit. In spirit form Tommy has the ability to fire sprit arrows and advance through barriers that would otherwise be impassible and disable them for his body. This game dynamic itself allows for a host of options for the developer, and I saw a number of clever uses of it. For instance, it is possible to kill enemies in spirit form, take on a few enemies and then switch back to Tomm's body and toss a few grenades.
The game deals with death in a new way as well. Instead of a game over? screen, or merely a bloody body collapsed on the ground, Prey takes you to the spirit realm where Tommy's spirit has to fight for his body to return to life. If he is successful, he returns to life in the middle of the hectic battle, as if he hadn't even left.
The game feels very polished even this far from release (sometime 2006) and the 12 minute demo is making my head spin for new information and new game footage and, if I'd only be so lucky, a playable demo. Maybe next year. Until then we at GF! will be biting our nails with utter anticipation.
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