Explore a living alien starship and rescue your girlfriend from its soggy clutches.
PC Release: July 11, 2006
By Ian Coppock
Hello! If you’re here looking for the Indie Game Potpourri, I’m afraid I had it disassembled. I decided that the 11 or so games I reviewed in that article each deserve their own moment in the sun. Additionally, many of them were not truly “indie” projects, so the title was a bit of a misnomer. Instead, I’ve decided to extend the review of Prey into a full-length article. Prey resorts to a lot of the conventions that mid-2000s shooters bore, but it also has enough novelty to warrant its own article.
Prey is a sci-fi shooter that was originally released in 2006. The game stars Domasi “Tommy” Towadi, a Cherokee bar owner who gets abducted along with his family and most of his bar’s patrons into a giant alien spacecraft. Until that point, Tommy’s biggest problem was his insecurity over his relationship with his girlfriend, Jen. Now, it’s all he can do to save her from the spacecraft’s alien inhabitants.
Prey is a first-person shooter; Tommy’s military service has given him experience with a lot of conventional firearms and, paradoxically, the alien ones as well. After a mysterious glitch in the spaceship’s computers gives Tommy time to escape, he sets off into the bowels of the ship to save his girlfriend and discover what it’s doing on earth.
Before we continue, let’s talk for a second about portrayals of Native Americans in the media. In my experience with such portrayals, Native American protagonists spend an overwhelming amount of time fighting for “my people” or “my tribe”. Their battles always revolve around a cause larger than themselves, and these struggles are relegated almost exclusively to the genre of wild west film.
In Prey, Tommy is just a dude trying to survive. Prey does not exoticize his struggle for survival because of his ethnicity. It bears mentioning that Prey breaks a lot of conventions with its portrayal of Native Americans by not only casting one in a sci-fi role, but also setting his goals to be the same as anyone else’s in that situation. Tommy doesn’t recite any ancient proverbs or worry for the safety of his tribe. He just tries not to get shot.
Oh wait… I might have spoken too soon.
After breaking free of imprisonment and killing a few aliens stalking the hallways, Tommy is suddenly teleported into an ethereal canyon landscape. He’s visited by the spirit of his grandfather, who tells him that because he’s Cherokee, he can wield spiritual powers in his fight against the aliens and be guided by Talon, his childhood pet hawk.
I… hmm… I don’t know about this.
Well folks, it looks like my assertion that this guy is just trying to survive has been shot out from under me. Seriously, why does the media do this? Is white media executives’ experience with Native American cultures so lacking that we have to resort to this stereotyping with so many productions?
(sigh). ANYWAY, Tommy can use these powers to access different parts of the ship. Walking through walls allows you to open locked doors from the other side, while ethereal bridges allow you to cross otherwise insurmountable chasms. Your spirit bow can also be used to stealth attack the alien guards and hit targets from afar. Talon, the aforementioned hawk, serves as an objective marker, guiding you to your next area.
Talon is not needed for much of Prey. Most of the game’s environments are as linear as linear first-person shooters get, with lots of cramped hallways. Tommy will have to occasionally go into spirit mode to surpass shipboard systems, but mostly you just shoot at whatever aliens come your way and keep walking to the next objective.
There is a smaller portion of Prey, though, where the objective markers are a dire necessity. Prey does not have any middle ground in its level design; its levels are either boringly linear or so bewilderingly huge that you need a map and a compass. In some areas of the ship, you’ll have to navigate huge rooms and chasms that are literally miles deep. Typically you’ll do this by doing some first-person platforming. It’s a nice change-up from endless corridors but it could’ve been implemented more often.
Prey‘s gunplay was underwhelming enough to match the level design. There were a lot of games released throughout the 2000’s that earned the moniker “Halo clone” and Prey is definitely one of them. You have your standard classes of weapons, from small blasters to big laser guns, and ammo for all of them is quite plentiful.
Prey does get a bit creative by introducing a few items into its weapon mix, like a severed alien hand that you need to open certain doors. Again, like with the nonlinear levels, this was an inkling of creativity that could’ve done Prey a great service had it been expanded upon.
Prey‘s gameplay is nothing special, and the premise that you have to save your girlfriend is extremely rote, but the game’s saving grace is its voice acting. Michael Greyeyes and Crystle Lightning, who voice Tommy and Jen, respectively, were given a lot of autonomy in shaping their characters. Greyeyes apparently took notes that were reviewed carefully by the developers to avoid many of the stereotypes endemic to portrayals of Native Americans. Given the presence of the spirit world, I can’t say Prey is completely without relying on such conventions, but it’s nice that the developers were self-aware enough to let their voice actors some of the development.
The result of this approach is that our characters are believable. Tommy undergoes a compelling character development arc, from being out solely to save his girlfriend to reluctantly fighting on behalf of all mankind. We see his fears and sense of self-preservation erode away to something greater, and it’s done in a tasteful way.
Additionally, despite the racism implicit in being able to use stereotypical Native American superpowers, the two mechanics of gunplay and spirit powers work very well together. You can seamlessly alternate between being a one-man wrecking crew and a ghost walking the ship’s restricted areas. The developers found novel ways to combine both types of gameplay for wandering the ship and for boss battles.
Overall, Prey has a few inklings of novelty in a lot of conventional shooting fare, but I do not regret my time with the game. I do regret that a lot of the same Native American caricatures that our media needs to change were present in Prey, but the leeway the voice actors were given to shape their characters was a nice touch.
Prey left its own mark on the world of video gaming, far more so than most people expected. A sequel, Prey 2, was in development for a number of years, but publisher Bethesda killed the project after its prototype repeatedly failed to meet quality standards. If you saw that bit of news and ever wondered what game had preceded Prey 2, now you know.
Unfortunately, though, there’s no stable download of Prey that I’ve been able to find. The game is not available on Steam, and physical copies are very hit-and-miss when it comes to modern systems. If Prey is ever released on Steam, I’ll add a link below. Otherwise, feel free to comment if you know of a place where everyone can get it.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.