Prey is an perfectly serviceable AAA-class, science-fiction survival thriller game. It’s a first-person shooter, a stealth adventure, and a surprisingly enjoyable platformer. The plot is all right. The art is iconoclastic and gorgeous. As is traditional for the genre, much of the storytelling transpires through the environment: emails, voice logs, and diorama. There are some lovely ethical questions, both abstract and reified. For some reason, these are the things that people talk about when they talk about Prey.

After all, Prey is a videogame, and gameplay, art direction, and story are how we read videogames as texts. But I’d like to step back for a moment and talk about Prey’s symbolic and thematic choices, which are absolutely fucking fascinating. Spoilers ahead.

Prey is a fantasy wrapped in a nightmare wrapped in a reverie. Like so many thrillers, it takes the device of a framing narrative and turns it inside out. We open in Morgan’s apartment, which we discover is a simulation: a laboratory to study her personality and abilities through Neuromods, and now, an iterative prison. Morgan lives each day over and over again, her memory reset to the injection of her first Neuromod. The laboratory envelops her in its idyllic dreaming. Around her, the world is collapsing.

These are unpolished thoughts. I started playing again for sources and to refine these ideas, but the game crashes so often that I’m giving up. Still think some folks might find this interesting. Spoilers everywhere.

In the opening, Davey notes that the CounterStrike level appears to be a desert town, but Coda has scattered these floating boxes and out-of-place, brightly-colored cubes in the level: a reminder that the game is not exactly what it purports to be. “Calling cards”, he calls them. A reminder that the game was created by a real person. “They are all going to give us access to their creator. I want to see past the games themselves. I want to know who the real person is.”

Jump up a level. We’re not just interested in learning about Coda as a person. We’re interested in understanding Davey as a person, too. What were the rough circumstances in Davey’s life? How did Coda’s work help? If each level tells us something about Coda, the purported author, then The Beginner’s Guide tells us something about Davey. And in another sense, the characters of Davey and Coda tells us something about the real Davey, and the people on his team. For instance, regardless of how we interpret the narrative’s characters, it’s likely safe to say that the real Davey is interested in questions of authorial intent.

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If I recall correctly, this was the result of a protracted 1v1 CounterStrike match between myself and Jon Beare. Neither of us could move without exposing ourselves, so we fought by proxy.

Back in 2004 I played this mod for UT2004 called Neotokyo, which, in addition to being a really fun futuristic shooter with a good community, had an excellent soundtrack. Over the last five years they've been busy porting the game over to the Source engine, and are almost (fingers crossed) to a first release. One of the coolest things to come out of their efforts so far has been the just-released soundtrack put together by the talented Ed Harrison: a two-disc album which I now have the pleasure of owning.

First impressions: astounding. There is not a single track among the 26 that is not worth listening to carefully. The album has a characteristic "Neotokyo" design: ominous scale and atonal drones, punctuated by sampled vocals and driven by electronic baselines. Soaring orchestral movements empower tracks like "Scrap I/O" and "Tachi", while spacious drums and harsh cello drive the centerpiece "Pravhaba" to inexorable conclusion. "Footprint" evokes a more contemplative mood, with light percussion and querulous synth piano taking time to explore the landscape, building to discontinuous crescendo. The bass sometimes feels lacking, and at some points the layered sound can become so complex it's hard to tell what's happening, but these are minor flaws in an all-around solid release, full of high-quality material. For $11, it's a bargain. Go get it while it's still around.

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