Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Human Head Studios/Venom Games
Release Date: July 11, 2006
Before I begin the heady task of dissecting all of the meaty innards of Prey, easily one of this summer's most anticipated titles, I feel that I should take a moment to offer up a cliché public service announcement for the folks at home: Don't judge a book by its cover. In this particular case, don't let the first couple of hours of Prey ruin the rest of the game for you. Sure, all of it looks pretty good, but you're really just leading an annoying, over-angry garage mechanic from point A to point B, sometimes walking on a wall or ceiling while plugging carbon copies of the same alien soldier again and again, ad nauseam. Then, all of a sudden, the game starts throwing tougher enemies at you in larger, more creative levels with better puzzles periodically impeding your progress, and the main character finally begins to realize that maybe, just maybe, this little adventure is more than just a never-ending quest to save his girlfriend. It's at this point that I realized that Prey really does live up to the hype.
Prey opens with Tommy, a garage mechanic on a Cherokee reservation, coming to his girlfriend Jen's bar to try and convince her to come with him and leave behind the reservation, which he seems to hate quite a bit. Tommy's grandfather, Enisi, is also present because he basically had a vision that Tommy will need him on this night, and being the wise, mentor figure, he is, of course, all kinds of right. After braining a couple of drunks with his wrench (which may have been a bit extreme for drunkenly flirting with Jen), Tommy and company get abducted by an alien spaceship. Things are looking pretty grim for the whole gang until a mysterious man strategically places an explosive, freeing Tommy from the rest so he can go about his girlfriend-rescuing. From there, the story has a few twists, but it's a shooter-caliber story that really serves as a backdrop for why you're running around and blowing holes in exotic alien species that want to eat you and/or turn you into a solider for their cause.
One thing becomes abundantly clear from the moment Tommy gets ripped from terra firma: The Sphere (the giant spaceship, not the Michael Crichton novel) is not a place anyone would want to be. It has a techno-organic look to it, being simultaneously cold, sterile, slimy and disgusting, which not many interior designers can pull off, let me tell you. Parts of the Sphere will literally vomit on Tommy, which can make for slow goings. Luckily, the concept of gravity is a very fluid one within the walls of this giant alien craft, allowing Tommy to walk on walls or change which way is up at the flip of a switch. Wall walking is exactly what it sounds like: Wherever the familiar grid patter appears on a wall or ceiling, Tommy can walk along it just as if he were firmly planted on the ground. It goes without saying that the inhabitants of the Sphere are hip to wall walking as well and will not only use them to get the higher ground, but they aren't above switching off the wall walk system if it means dropping Tommy on his head. In certain areas of the ship, there are switches that alter gravity for the entire room. So, if there were a switch on a wall to the left of Tommy, when shot, that wall would become the floor.
The denizens of the Sphere are all eager to waste Tommy, not to mention the strange voice that contacts him telepathically to taunt and mock him, which is most likely the cause of all of Earth's abduction woes. Early on in Prey, you'll mostly be running into Fodder and Hunters. Now, the appropriately named Fodder are pretty easy to handle, as they're neither too smart nor too hardy. Hunters are a little trickier, thanks to the Sphere's portal technology and their rifles. Chances are that if you enter a room that's empty for the time being, a Hunter or two will teleport in via portal. Don't get too excited about portals, though, as they're just an excuse for the way enemies teleport out of nowhere, not unlike Doom 3. Eventually, you'll get so used to seeing them that you'll have your crosshairs trained on portals when they appear, so when hunters step out of them, they'll be all but dead. When Hunters start to snipe at you, though, they get to be more of a problem. The real headaches come a bit later, in the form of extremely mutated humans that behave a lot like Hunters from the Halo series in regards to the way they lunge at you, flying blobs of flesh that shoot rockets at you, and creatures called Harvesters on mechanical spider legs that use a system of tunnels to loop back around and flank you if you're not careful. Oh, and did I mention the creepy ghost children who cackle maniacally whilst lobbing energy balls at you? If I didn't, you should probably watch out for them.
Luckily, Tommy's service in the army means that he knows his way around guns, and while different in appearance to the firearms Tommy would've used, they function in the same way. The arsenal that he'll collect by the end of the game amounts to a semi-automatic rifle, full auto machine gun, shotgun, grenades, rocket launcher, and something called the leech gun. Throughout the Sphere are different types of nodes that are loaded with different kinds of energy, like lightning, ice, plasma, and pure energy. Each type of ammo behaves differently and has varying levels of power, with the pure energy ammo pretty much guaranteeing that you'll punch a hole through anything at which you aim it. All of the weapons will maintain at least a moderate level of usefulness thanks to their alternate fire modes. For example, the hunter rifle (the first projectile weapon you receive in the game) has a sniper scope that you'll be using quite often.
Now, all of those guns are nice and shiny and all, but Tommy's only one man against a gigantic ship full of foes, so he needs all of the help he can get. Enter Enisi, the wise grandfather. He'll be showing Tommy the benefits of his Cherokee heritage in the form of spirit walking and death walking. While spirit walking, Tommy's spirit leaves his body, allowing him to walk through force fields and bridges that otherwise wouldn't appear to him. During this time, Tommy is armed with a Cherokee bow, which drains spirit energy every time it's fired. Death walking occurs every time Tommy dies throughout his adventure. When it inevitably happens, his spirit is transported to a plateau in a spirit world with a hole in the middle that is slowly pulling his body down into it. Flying around the perimeter of the hole are two colors of spirits, red and blue. Shooting red spirits adds to Tommy's health meter, while blue ones add to his spirit meter. The only problem is that this makes the game, even on the more challenging Cherokee difficulty setting, way too easy. It's essentially giving you unlimited continues with no drawbacks. In many situations, it's easier to die and shoot enough spirits to come back with full health than it is to hunt down health pick-ups.
Prey is definitely one of the X360's most visually impressive titles. It uses a modified Doom 3 engine, which is a game that looked great on the original Xbox, so with the exponential increase in horsepower that the 360 offers, the Sphere looks as great as an alien deathtrap can look while maintaining a nearly impeccable framerate. I did experience one little hiccup toward the end of the game, but it by no means affected the gameplay. Besides the Sphere and the bar, Tommy makes a few trips to the Land of the Ancients, where he receives training from Enisi. This area looks like the mountains of the American southwest, a welcome break from the weird sights within the sphere.
The score for Prey was composed by Jeremy and Julian Soule. Jeremy's work includes The Secret of Evermore, Guild Wars, and most recently, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. The duo brings a nice sound to help set the mood for Prey, although in most parts of the game, I couldn't hear much music. However, towards the end, the game's main overture plays and really elevates the experience of that particular level from great to epic. The voice acting in the game is top-quality, with its only issues being with the writing, and the only problem with it is Tommy. He just comes off as a very angry person with moments of levity here and there, making it difficult to sympathize with his situation.
Prey's multiplayer … umm … excuse me, Multiprey (must've been a long brainstorming session for them to come up with that one) is underwhelming. It's limited to eight players and only has deathmatch and team deathmatch game types. Granted, it does utilize some of the cool gravity tricks from single-player, and spirit walking adds a little to gameplay that's otherwise an industry standard at this point. I didn't experience any lag playing over Xbox Live, but there weren't too many games to choose from, either. The only reason I could see people sticking to Multiprey for too long would be to unlock the achievements for it, such as 25 sniper kills.
What it comes down to is this: At the end of my 10-hour stint playing through Prey, I was plenty satisfied. The story, while not groundbreaking by any means, made it worth it to play though. This isn't even taking into account the actual gameplay, which as I noted previously, gets so much better as it goes on. Prey doesn't revolutionize the FPS genre, but it does plenty of things right, making for a great game that no 360 should miss.
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