Life isn't easy for Tommy, a native American garage mechanic and ex-army type who now resides on an Oklahoma reservation. One minute he's spending his time doing normal, everyday stuff - fixing cars, hanging out in his girlfriend's bar, having lengthy debates over whether not one can escape one's heritage through conscious thought and behavioural choices or whether culture and ancestry are an intrinsic part of the self and therefore the entire scope of one's existence, that sort of thing. The next, he's being abducted by aliens, hauled aboard some kind of "living spaceship" and forced to watch his Grandfather impaled on a series of increasingly large metal spikes.
And so begins Prey, 2K Games' long awaited PC and Xbox 360 first-person shooter. We're down at their London office for a hands-on preview of the multiplayer mode - but first, Timothy Gerritsen of developer Human Head wants to show us how the single-player adventure kicks off.
We're initally intrigued by the title screen, which reveals there are two difficulty settings: "Normal" and "Wicked". But before we get the chance to ask Gerritsen if that's meant in the Lewisham sense of the word, he's off - telling us all about how, when the game begins, Tommy is trying to persuade his girlfriend to leave the reservation with him and start a new life. She, on the other hand, wants them to stay put and embrace their heritage.
The argument is settled when they get sucked up into the aforementioned living ship, otherwise known as the Dysonsphere, along with poor old Grandpops. Like all the cut-scenes in the game, the opening FMV is presented from Tommy's perspective - so you see through his eyes as he watches his loved ones being hauled around. Like you, they've been clamped to metal panels hanging vertically from an overhead pipe, and as the panels are shunted along and you're shown more of the ship you start to get an understanding of just how weird and wrong things are about to get.
The thing is, it's not just hordes of marauding aliens with giant guns you have to worry about in Prey. The spaceship itself is your biggest enemy - and there's no escape. It's made up of both mechanical and organic components, which combine to create a giant sentient being that will stop at nothing to defend itself from attack. Visually, the effect is utterly bizarre - one minute you're looking down a generic spaceship corridor, the next you're staring into what appears to be some kind of enormous pulsating intestine.
Since the ship is a living being, it requires nourishment, which is where you and thousands of other unfortunate humans come in. The aliens aboard the Dysonsphere are abducting people at an alarming rate, and either using them to feed the ship, turning them into worker drones or performing all sorts of painful experiments on them. Obviously, none of these options have much appeal for the abductees, which is probably why there's an endless cacophony of screams, prayers and pleas for mercy echoing around you.
Next thing you know, it's time to say goodbye to Grandad - he's been selected for food, and the ship is getting those big metal spikes ready to harvest all of his meaty goodness. There's just time for a few wise words from the old fellow before BLAM, BLAM, BLAM - no more Werther's Originals for you, sonny.
Jen has been chosen to fulfill another purpose, however, and the thought that saving her might still be a possibility gives you the strength to break free from your metal bonds and set about exploring the ship. To start off with, you're armed with nothing but a pipe wrench - it's nice and hefty, but not really hefty enough for what you're going to be dealing with.
So thank heavens for the fact that as you wander around, you'll come across loads of seriously powerful weapons and plenty of ammo. Well, it wouldn't be much of an FPS otherwise, would it?
The simpler weapons include a rifle, which has a single shot mode and can be used to pick off enemies sniper-style. There's also an auto-cannon, which fires grenades but can overheat if you're not careful.
But much more interesting are the weapons which, like the ship, combine plain old technology with all sorts of organic weirdness. Take the Leech Gun, for example, which has four different fire modes. By attaching it to the various "leech nodes" you'll find dotted around, you can suck power out of the ship and charge it up. Then there's the Bio Acid Gun, which is basically a shotgun that fires acid of the violently yellow and devastatingly destructive variety.
If your aim's not so hot, you might like to grab yourself one of the strange four-legged crab-type things, known as Crawlers, that are wandering around. You can pull off one of their legs (leaving the others to wiggle helplessly in the air) and chuck it at an enemy - on contact it'll explode just like a grenade. The Crawler Launcher gun makes things even easier, and can even be used to create a shield around you.
So things are looking grand in the weapons department, but there's still a tough task ahead of you. So it's a good job your Grandad has come back from the dead to act as your spirit mentor, really. To help guide you as you explore the ship's labyrinthine corridors, he sends the spirit of Talon - a pet hawk you had as a boy.
You can't control Talon directly, but he will follow you wherever you go. He can translate alien voices and inscriptions, which comes in very handy, and distract enemies so they attack him instead of you. He will also offer guidance if you get lost, and give you hints if you can't work out what you're supposed to do next.
At certain points in the game, you will need to enter something called Spirit Mode, which means the body of your character will stay still while you go exploring in ghostly form. As a spirit, you can't open doors, but you can move through energy barriers. So, for example, you might need to traverse a barrier and pull a switch to turn it off before returning to your body and walking on through. In addition, you can see and traverse Spirit Bridges, which allow you access areas that would otherwise be out of reach.
Whilst you're a spirit you can't use any wicked guns, but you do get something called a Spirit Bow. Each shot you fire uses up some of your spirit power - this is collected from dead enemies, and the amount you have left is shown in a blue gauge just underneath your health bar.
But it's not just the Spirit Mode which gives Prey an extra edge when compared to your average first-person shooter. Even more intriguingly, the game lets you play with gravity - in all manner of exciting ways.
For example, as you explore you'll come across things called gravity switches. Flicking these can reverse gravity, turning rooms on their sides or upside down to open up new areas, and giving you the opportunity to confuse your enemies no end. Plus there are specially lit pathways in certain areas which allow you to walk up walls, along ceilings and so on.
Then there are the portals, described as being like "A 2D surface between two 3D areas." At first, you'll think someone's just ripped a giant hole in the wall - but look closer and you'll see that there's more to it than that; they're illogical pathways to whole new areas. You can fire weapons through them and walk through them, but so can your enemies, which can make for some nasty shocks.
These elements really come into play in multiplayer mode, as we found out when we got to go head-to-head in a deathmatch (the only other MP mode is team deathmatch; there's no point trying to capture silly old flags when the laws of gravity can change at any moment).
It's carnage, essentially. One moment you're happily firing plasma at an enemy to your left, the next you're covered with acid - and in the split second before you die, you look up to spot your killer walking upside down on the ceiling above you. It's all very disorientating and, after a while, a bit nauseating - but it's brilliant fun.
There's a healthy selection of guns and ammo to be found as you make your way around the deathmatch levels, so you'll never have to resort to using your pipe wrench - and you'll never know exactly what kind of death your opponents are about to unleash.
In short, Prey's multiplayer mode is something we'd definitely like to spend more time with - and the single-player game is shaping up nicely, too. Who would have thought that a game about a garage mechanic trapped on a spaceship with only a dead Grandad and a talking hawk for company could turn out to be so intriguing?
Prey is due out on PC and Xbox 360 later this year.
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