3DRealms is alive and kickin’

(June 27, 2006)

Believe it or not, 3DRealms is about to release a game Really Soon Now. And I don’t mean the kind of »RSN« they kept telling us for the last ten years – this time, they have released a demo of the game!
Of course, I don’t mean Duke Nukem Forever (DNF). I’m talking about Prey, the other vapourware product of 3DRealms. It’s been in the works since 1995 (two years before DNF was first mentioned!) and it’s finally finished. While development of this title was not as twisted as DNF’s, it’s nevertheless interesting. The project used a very, very ambitious graphics engine that generated stunning images back then. In 1999, development stopped for some reason, and in 2002 the lead programmer died. Development was then assigned to the external company Human Head Studios, who kept true to at least parts of the storyline.

The Demo

Prior to installing the demo, I didn’t have any idea about the technological basis or even the story of the game. The only thing I knew was that it is a first-person shooting game :)

The installer quickly revealed that the game is based on id Software’s Doom 3 engine. This engine was used for futuristic science-fiction scenarios like space stations exclusively up to now. I was relieved when I saw that Prey actually starts with a familiar environment situated on Earth: a bar somewhere in the Cherokee reservation. However, this doesn’t last long – the people inside the bar get abducted by aliens after a few minutes. From that point on, the graphics looked exactly like in Doom 3 and Quake 4 – that is, boring. For sure, the engine does a decent job at rendering dark and dirty envirionments, but seeing the ever-same environments does get boring after two games.

Relief

But OK, there’s more to a game than graphics. Although the main storyline – aliens invade Earth and the antihero has to rescue the world all alone – is pretty worn out now, 3DRealms did add some refreshing new ideas never seen before in other games:

Portals
A science-fiction game just doesn’t work without a teleportation technology of some kind. In Prey, these are solved realized in a pretty cool way: there are surfaces behind which there simply is another room! You can look through them, you can shoot through them, they are just integrated into the whole environment. A very funky installment of this is a place where the source and destination portals are arranged in a 90-degree angle, so that you can watch yourself entering the portal.
Spirit Walk
Since the hero of the game is of Native American heritage, he also can use some of the fancy tricks that are tols in the legends of this culture. The so-called »spirit walk« allows the player to leave the body and walk through impassable forcefields to turn them off from the other side. The spirit is even armed with a crossbow to take out enemies before they notice the player.
Crazy gravity
Without doubt, the most interesting features of Prey are the plays on gravity. For example, there are »wallwalks«, ways that are build from special metal plates that allow the player to walk up walls or along floors. If you jump up from such a wallwalk, you lose the effect of inverted gravity and will land head-over-toe on the real ground. Whereby even the term »real ground« gets loosened later on. There are passages with strange devices on all walls that can be shot. After that, the surface where the device is placed at, becomes the source of gravity. This will be very confusing to the lightweight 3D shooter kiddies who never played Descent :)

To sum up, Prey is a very promising title. Especially the gravity effects are really, really cool. I had this idea long ago, but I had to wait quite some time to finally see it exploited. I’ll have a deeper look into the game as soon as it hits the stores (according to Wikipedia, this will be the 22nd of July). Let’s hope that Human Head Studios didn’t show off all great ideas in the demo, so that there’s still something new to explore in the final game.

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