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About the Story
A horror-lite science fiction game of evasion.
Language: English (en)
First Publication Date: April 5, 2023
Current Version: 0.9.4 BETA
License: Creative Commons
Development System: TADS 3
Forgiveness Rating: Polite
Entrant, Main Festival - Spring Thing 2023
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Number of Reviews: 3
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(This review is based on the Spring Thing 2023 version.)
Well this is something else!
I Am Prey is a tense pursuit thriller where the PC is free to parkour around the map. If you can find the routes in time…
What the player would normally think of as scenery is transformed into accessible passages and back-ways in this game. Furniture, pipings, machinery,… They’re all available for climbing, jumping, crawling to find alternate routes and handy shortcuts around the map. Good thing too, the normal hallways are patrolled by a monstrous unseen entity looking to find you. (The fact that the kitchen pantry has been empty for some time does hint at the reason why…)
I tested this game in its bare-bones parkour proof-of-concept incarnation. It felt like spotting some rare and beautiful lizard in the branches of a vine-overgrown tree. A flicker of colour and movement that I could not quite make out yet.
What a treat to see it now in its glorious splendour!
The commands will take getting used to, as will orienting yourself in relation to the passages between locations. Read the manual and take your time to learn the game. You will be rewarded.
There is an anxiousness-inducing stealth element to the game, where the PC needs to locate certain items before being able to escape. All the while the presence of the Predator is felt and heard, every corner might be lethal.
Sounds play an important role. First of all the voice of your pursuer taunting you through the intercom. I found this actively stressful, distracting from the task at hand and paralysing me with indecisiveness.
Second, sound betrays where you and the pursuer are. Used with care, sound can be your ally…
Along with being a stealth game, I Am Prey also rang a lot of platformer-bells in my head. Jumping, climbing on surrounding objects to find hidden routes? My days playing SuperMarioLand on the SNES revolved around all that.
A parser-based text-game is turn-based, almost by definition. (Real time parsers will exist, no doubt. I shudder at the heartattack-inducing experience playing them would be for typing-challenged me.) Movement between locations is not the point, the game’s about what you do once you are in the next location. Contrary to that habitual room-based gameplay, I Am Prey succeeds in drawing the player into the movement-system as the key-feature of the game.
Remember the resting points on the platforms Mario could stand on relatively safely? You had just completed a precise jump onto a reassuringly broad platform and now you can breathe and plan the next move. Maybe there’s even a questionmark-block to investigate or some coins to pick up. But the focus is on the next jump, the next climb.
The rooms in I Am Prey felt like this to me. Places of temporary relative safety, for catching your breath and quickly searching. But you gotta move, man… You always gotta move…
Very exciting, very inviting to replay. I’ve never seen anything remotely like it.
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.
(JM) JUMP ROUTES:
[**] JUMP ATOP THE WIDE STORAGE CABINET
[**] JUMP ATOP THE SUPPLY CLOSET
[**] JUMP ATOP THE LOCKER
The following surfaces are either in easy reach, or rest on the same surface that I do:
the exit door
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.
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.
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.
This game has a lot more in common with roguelikes than standard IF gameplay (unless I've deeply misunderstood roguelikes). There is a fixed map with seven important items randomly generated in it, and an enemy that moves around the map and reacts to you; additionally, there are several difficulty levels that basically give you 'extra lives' or make the enemy a bit slower.
I beta tested an early version of this game.
Here are my overall thoughts:
+Polish: The game claims to be a beta, but I found the version I played (near the end of Spring Thing) to be fairly complete; I didn't find any bugs, and objects had a lot of detail.
+Descriptiveness: The map is both overflowing and sparse. Each room is detailed, but many of them overlap in the items they have (filing cabinets, screens, etc.). Items are utilitarian but hint at a greater cause. It's an interesting mix, and I found it fairly evocative. The map is very helpful.
+Interactivity: The frantic scrambling around to find the seven items isn't something I've seen a lot before, and it was a fun change from the usual staid, considered type of IF game I tend to play. There is a parkour element, but it never came into play for me, playing on the easiest non-tutorial setting. Its main effect seems to be to help with escaping, but I only ran into the Predator once, near the very end. Perhaps in harder difficulties it is more useful.
-Emotional impact: I think the writing overall is strong, but a lot of the pieces just didn't fall into place for me. The story has so many intro declarations and warnings and prefacing and guides that it almost felt bubblewrapped, designed to protect me from the game but simultaneously blunting its experience. The warnings on themselves are useful, as the game has frequent strong profanity, which isn't always in service to some overarching narrative goal. In the game itself, there are a couple of strong threads: (Spoiler - click to show)a capitalist society trying to make brainwashed slaves, (Spoiler - click to show)a fellow clone, or some other experiment, hunting you down, perhaps as a test to make you stronger?, (Spoiler - click to show)a siege wearing you down. They all tie together in game, but they feel disparate. Is your pursuer your comrade or your foe? Both are okay individually, but with both as possibilities there was less tension for me.
+Would I play again? The core gameplay loop isn't bad, and the overall polish makes for solid gameplay. I could see myself revisiting it.
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