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I Am Prey, by Joey Tanden

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
So am I, April 10, 2023

I had a lot of things to do recently and figured that I could get around to some of them now that the stream of new entries on IFDB died down a bit. But then Spring Thing 2023 was like, “actually…”

But nonetheless I was thrilled to see what people have submitted to this lovely event.

I was immediately drawn to this game. The cover art embodies the weirdness I absolutely live for. It reminds me of my favorite playlist of poorly and/or strangely animated YouTube videos that spew absolute nonsense, although I Am Prey is more refined than that in terms of content.

Just a heads up, the author has made it clear that the game’s entry to Spring Thing is experimental and in Beta phase. Consider my rating as a tentative three stars that merely reflect the state of this current version. I hope the author continues to develop the game into its intended final product. Cool stuff.

I Am Prey follows a clone protagonist in an abandoned cloning facility located in who-knows-where. You are a sickly-looking thing reminiscent of an albino lab rat. But you are anything but a lab rat. You are a durable and annoyed clone eager to survive past your first birthday. And you will prove it by escaping this mess of a facility.

By the way, Prey, you are being hunted by the Predator.

The gameplay begins with you catching your balance in a mesh net after being born as a fully grown clone. Happy birthday! Naked, you grab a uniform and marvel at your new existence. It does not take long for reality to kick in. The Predator makes an announcement over the intercom: He is coming for you! Yes, you must run or be killed.

Your only hope is to retrieve seven pieces of a spacesuit-like garment that will allow you to survive in the wasteland outside of the facility which can only be accessed via the emergency airlock.

The key component for strategizing in the gameplay is the sound of the doors while you explore each room. When door slams shut, it alerts the Predator who takes opportunity to announce your mistake over the intercom.

The Predator's voice can be heard over the intercom:

“Sloppy, Prey! You let the door to Lab B slam shut! That means you’re near Lab B, yeah...?”

Of course, you can use this condition to throw him for a loop by slamming a door and then scurrying off to a hallway on the opposite side of the facility like the clever clone you are.

There is high replay value in the sense that you have six modes you can play in. One is a tutorial for players new to interactive fiction, another is for those new to the game, and the remaining four are different difficulty levels depending on the Predator’s mood. This ranges from Easy Mode to Nightmare Mode.

The Predator has had a string of victories, and will go easy on you, mostly for his own entertainment.

The IF beginner tutorial is where you play as the Predator’s cat which on one hand, yay, but on the other, I am not entirely sure of the point. The Predator wants to give you a bath and you want to avoid that outcome by hiding. It is useful for simply scoping at the map, but it did not give me much more insight that I would otherwise have as a fugitive clone running for their life.

My black coat is speckled with streaks of silvery tips. White highlights my chest and paws, like a tuxedo.

Nor was it much of a tutorial for IF. Still, I appreciate the option. The cat’s personality shines through which makes it a humorous diversion. Even if the cat (Spoiler - click to show) only eats human clone flesh as of late.

Do not be afraid to test out the more difficult modes since there were times in the easier ones where it seemed like that the Predator simply forgot about me. He would do the creepy monolog over the intercom to reassure me that I was dead to him, but then this trickled away. I actually went looking for him with little success.

However, there are a several gameplay mechanics that are showcased in the helpful survival guide (provided separately) but never fully used or as dynamic as they sound (so far).

For example, there is the usage of “tricks” to throw off the Predator. These tactics include turning on sinks to distract him with irritating noises or slamming the door in his face to slow him down. Rarely did I ever get the chance to use them. It is easy to forget that they are available. Of course, availability depends on which mode you select at the start of the game.

Slam the exit door?
You have two tricks remaining, which you can spend on slamming the door in his face! This will delay his chase, but will cost one of your tricks!
Y = Slam the door!
L = Leave door open

Unless the game flat out presented me with a trick opportunity (see above), I never used them or even needed them.

The parkour idea is cool but nowhere near as cool it sounds since it consists of jumping onto tables or lockers to reach something on the top shelf. Right now, it is more of a hindrance. The vent shortcuts to other rooms were nice, though.


The following surfaces are either in easy reach, or rest on the same surface that I do:
the exit door
the desk

First you must find a parkour route in the room for it to be used. Discovering it was a byproduct of the game telling me that [room object name] was too high for me to jump on but [room object name] was, although it often took another [room object name] to reach the unusually tall table. While part of the whole point of parkour is to reach areas by jumping or climbing around, it needs more refinement for it to have the same thrilling effect in the gameplay.

One feature that I did use was the “look [compass direction]” command. It was genuinely helpful in deciding on where to go based on the contents of nearby rooms.

>look north
I carefully peek north...

(looking into The Assembly Shop...)

He paces around on the floor, as he watches me!

(returning my attention to The Common Room...)

I better get going, then.

Also, how do you reach the reservoir? The map (separate) shows several locations that seem to be off-limits in the gameplay. These locations are (Spoiler - click to show) Waste Processing, Reservoir Corridor, Reactor Pump Room, Reservoir Control Room, Reservoir, and Utility Access Corridor. A total of five locked doors are also shown on the map. None of these have cat doors.

I am not sure if the game will let you go swimming/exploring in reactor related areas, but the survival guide did say that you could dive into the reservoir to escape. The closest I got to this was a location called (Spoiler - click to show) “The Strainer Stage” where water is separated from kelp with a grate. You cannot enter the grate or swim in the water, leaving you with no choice but to return the way you came.

While flawed and undeveloped in some cases, I still had fun. I’ve already played this game several times.

Story + Characters
So, who is this guy? The Predator, that is.

What we know about the Predator is that (Spoiler - click to show) he’s a mutated clone gone wrong who is now aware of your presence and wants to hunt you down, perhaps as a potential snack. The facility ran out of snacks long ago. The cloning facility was run by non-clone humans and designed to generate a labor source of clones for industrial applications, but some catastrophe happened. This is the Predator’s turf now.

The game ends when you reach the emergency airlock after collecting all seven pieces of your environmental suit. This leads to a scene that seemed like it was supposed to be an emotional moment, but ultimately it did not impact me the way I thought it intended.

(Spoiler - click to show) Both Predator and Prey meet face to face on opposite sides of the airlock where it is obvious that the Prey has won. There is this fellow clone bonding moment where they realize that they are not that different from each other after all. The Prey, knowing that they could never be accepted by humans in the outside world, leaves with the intent of never letting humans get their grubby paws on the facility again.

This is a neat idea in terms of character development, but the writing is lackluster. It also lacks the exposition to make it unfold with any depth. While it could be a meaningful exchange, currently it is not. My response was huh, that’s… nice. I have a feeling that is not the response the author was going for.

Also, I do not mind profanity if it is wielded strategically, which is up to interpretation, but the swearing in this game leaves a weak impression on the player. It does not enhance anything. We know that the Predator is angry that this Prey is running around his abandoned cloning facility. How dare you. How dare you try to escape.

It’s just that the swearing in the dialog in these scenes seemed unoriginal and bland.

Final thoughts
The author seems to have a strong grasp of their own boundaries and abilities when making a game under strict time restraints, in this case being submitted to Spring Thing 2023. It seems clear to me that the author focused their efforts on a consistent structural framework so that the game was playable and could be completed from start to finish. Gather seven pieces of a survival suit and escape.

Was it sparse in some areas? Yes. But I would rather have a sparse game with a strong foundational structure than a game with all the fun details that is a nightmare to finish.

Still, details can make or break a game as well. The author has stated that they plan to release a post-comp version, and I look forward to seeing I Am Prey in its full glory. Already it is a fun and unusual game. Three stars for a Beta version is not too bad. And for crying out loud, let me swim in the reservoir.

Truth is, exploring (sorry, being chased around) an abandoned cloning facility is kind of fun.

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Galactic Peace, by Jeffrey Rosenthal
If only it were that easy, December 12, 2022

In Galactic Peace, astronomers observed a new planet in the Alpha Centauri system. This planet is called Guava and has six moons, three of which contain humanity's first sign of extraterrestrial life. However, communication broadcasts reveal that these three moons do not have peaceful relations with each other. Given the system’s close proximity to Earth, any war could be disastrous. You have been sent to intervene, deescalate, and hopefully make some allies for your home planet.

You begin on Earth at your launch site, ready to board your ship the Peace Flyer. This is a big deal. You are surrounded by press, politicians, and engineers who are all encouraging you to create galactic peace, or at least galactic peace in our corner of the galaxy. There is a small coordinate puzzle. I have never been good at those and have memories of playing long sci-fi games (such as Enlisted) where I needed to cling to a walkthrough for half an hour as I carefully replicated the quadrants. Not an issue here. Coordinate puzzles are only at the beginning and end, and they take hardly any time to complete (yes, I used the walkthrough).

Once you reach the Alpha Centauri system you can land at Guava, or any of its moons. Its moons are Abacus, Bandana, Cappa, Xenon, Yoplait, and Zappa, with Abacus, Bandana, and Cappa being the home worlds of each race. The gameplay can be organized into stages. Gain each leader’s trust, teach each leader on how to lead, and then introduce leaders to each other to inspire them to work together. Early on, this involves finding appropriate items to please each leader before transporting them to different moons for negotiation.

The story can be disjointed. Here, these three races are on the brink of war and yet their leaders do not bat an eyelash when this random human creature lands in a foreign spaceship to "negotiate." Somehow, they manage to speak and understand English.

The Cappa Leader snarls. "If you cared about us at all, you would know that we are dying from a terrible kalempa shortage. But I guess you just don't care about that." The Cappa Leader snarls. "Just leave us alone."

It also follows a theme of “humans to the rescue!” This felt strange, especially since these are supposed to be advanced space-faring peoples. The game’s description warns that these races have substantial firepower that could blow off the Milky Way’s arm, and yet this technology is never even suggested in our interactions with them. The Abacus leader is dealing with a crisis. They want to (Spoiler - click to show) fasten a scroll to a board, but it keeps falling off. Solution: Take a piece of chewed gum and tack it on for them. Bam. The entire civilization is in your debt.

Galactic Peace is not a particularly serious game, especially with its characters. Sometimes this cultivates an endearing atmosphere, other times it creates a watered-down effect with the player’s mission. There is something appealing about spacefaring and (supposedly) weapon wielding leaders (Spoiler - click to show) bonding over flowers.

The Abacus Leader takes a deep breath, and declares, "Oh, I love the smell of blue flowers!"

The Abacus Leader and the Bandana Leader, sharing their love of blue flowers, gaze at each other with affection for the first time in years. Slowly, they break into a shared smile. After a few awkward moments, they even shake hands. Of course, they will never be close friends -- but you get the sense that maybe, just maybe, now they can work together.

** Your score has increased by 5 points. **

But ultimately, these leaders have no real character. Leaders are portrayed as somewhat loopy characters who stand their ground at first but later become submissive to the player's actions. They start out as "grouchy," then “friendly,” before finally reaching a state of enlightenment achieved by watching Earth popular culture in the form of CDs and DVDs that give them the wisdom to rule peacefully.

They also allow the player to lead them like sheep. Once you help them, they will follow you around with a one turn delay. If you want them to follow you onto your ship you would enter the ship and wait for them to arrive. Otherwise, you close the airlock to prevent them from boarding. It’s like closing the door in their faces. None of them have any objection to this type of handling. Their behavior becomes almost puppy-like. The Bandana Leader slowly arrives, happily and lazily following you. These are sentient and proud leaders of worlds that could wage legitimate warfare on its neighbors. If anything, this seemed out of character.

Final thoughts
It seems like this is the author’s first game. As a first effort, it’s of decent quality. There are some occasional spelling and grammar errors, but no bugs. The structure is consistent enough. Gameplay mechanics are built around traveling to each location in the Alpha Centauri system and either giving tokens of good will to NPCs or cajoling them to follow you into your ship so you can transfer them elsewhere.

That said, the story is not as interesting as it sounds, especially since it does not take long for the NPCs to break their molds as Civilization Leaders and turn into rather submissive followers. At least the player does do something significant for the (Spoiler - click to show) Cappa leader. So, there are rewarding moments.

Galactic Peace is an enjoyable game. The core ideas are likable, but its supporting content lacks depth. I would recommend it to players looking for a sci-fi game with a focus on space travel and visiting alien worlds. There is even some diplomatic value. Otherwise, it may not sustain your interest.

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