Prey Review

Prey has been hanging in the rafters for some time now. First presented as a concept in ’97, we’ve had to wait a while to see it come to fruition. 3D Realms — master of the delayed game (*cough* Duke Nukem) — is coincidentally the backer of the ambitious title, adding further irony to the development time. Well, it’s finally made its way out to the public and onto the Xbox 360. But how well does it translate after the years of development? Was it enough to make it something original and thrilling rather than something we’ve seen 100 times over? Let’s find out.

A first person shooter at its core, Prey is based off the Doom 3 Engine. Say what you will about John Carmack or id’s engine, but it accomplishes "spooky" quite well. The graphics are very reminiscent of Doom 3 and Quake 4 (for obvious reasons), which tends to lend everything a "Shiny plastic steeped in shadows" effect. However, for the surreal gameplay and twisted storyline of Prey it actually seems the ideal choice, as the game looks and feels great. Another feature of the D3 engine that’s taken to an extreme is the physics. Prey turns many conventions on their ear, as there is a huge amount of physics play in this game. But we’ll get to that later.

For those of you who don’t know, Prey follows the storyline of Tommy, a modern day Cherokee Native American who is stuck on a reservation with his girlfriend Jen and grandfather. He longs for a life outside of the cramped reservation environment, and begins the game almost immediately having a fight with Jen about "leaving this place." Things, of course, go extremely wacky, and very quickly at that. After a few minutes, the entire place is busted up by some freaky aliens and you’re hauled off to do your "fire in the sky" thing, and so the story really begins. The plot actually isn’t very deep; it’s more of a precursor to explain why you’re Native American and in space with guns and aliens. But after the stage is set, this game really starts moving, and you’ll forget all about that pesky plot.

Speaking of guns, there is a decent spread of weapons available, but not the 20+ we’ve seen in shooters lately. Prey likes to keep it fairly simple in the weapons department. This is not to say the weapons aren’t cool, because they are. The default weapon is a wrench, but you quickly eschew this and never look back. The first default gun is a non-standard looking rifle which appears to shoot irradiated bolts, just like the crossbow weapon in Half Life 2. The most interesting thing about the weapons is that with few exceptions, they all appear to be alive. They twitch and gyrate, and the default rifle even regenerates ammo at a slow rate when you run out. The whole feeling is very organic and creepy, adding to the gameplay. The actual ammo and effects are fairly standard, though; bullets, explosions, etc. Every weapon has a default fire and alternate fire, as well. For example, the main gun also has a sniping mode which is slightly more powerful and will probably be your standby for most of the game. Eventually you’ll move up to the Leech gun (whose alternate fire lets you absorb different kinds of ammo from around the levels), a machine gun/grenade launcher, and my personal favorite, the grenade. The grenades are actually small green crawling creatures with 3 legs. You pick them up and when equipped, hold them twitching in your hand. To activate them, you rip off one of their legs and throw it, creating a splattery day-glo green grenade explosion…yeah, it’s pretty cool.

So none of this — space, aliens, shooting, etc. — sounds terribly original, does it? No, not really. But where Prey really begins to shine is in its experimental game play, namely portals. Portals are basically circular openings in the game which lead somewhere else instantly. Big deal, right? Well, its more than that. A portal can be a rip in space, the contents of a crate, the entrance to a door way, or a hole in the floor. You never know when a portal might show up or what shape it will take. Some portals spit out enemies, some are useless and lead right back where you started, and some are necessary for the game to continue. To really drive you crazy, the portals don’t always work like doors. Walking horizontally into one may drop you sideways out of a wall, or upside down in the same room. There are even some places where the portals are so tightly located that you can see yourself going in and out of them; its a heady experience.

The concept is further enhanced by gravity buttons, which are small gravity generators you can trigger (by shooting) to "flip" the gravity in an area. There are often cases where you can pass a difficult area simply by flipping the gravity and walking on the ceiling. For more physics play, there are wall-walk pathways. Some pathways can be activated, and when active, allow you to walk on the path no matter where it leads. Up a wall, in a circle, upside down on the roof — it’s all fair game. It’s particularly satisfying to blast an alien baddie while upside down and watch his corpse crumple off the pathway and plummet towards the ground. The AI will even have the enemies doing the same, sending you flying off the walkways when they deactivate it while you’re on it.

The enemies are creepy (but well designed) looking aliens who are brutal when they get a hold of you. I did find the difficulty to be lacking in some areas due to the limited enemy AI, though. Most of the time, the enemy behavior makes little difference in the game; enemies are required to be quick and scary, and that’s it. At other times, however, the limited AI can lessen the gameplay experience when the aliens act like dumb beasts and throw themselves at you rather than display the type of intelligence required to create interstellar travel. This trend is broken only occasionally by huge mini-bosses who are very well designed, but sadly they are few and far between. The only other exception to this rule is the relatively short and unexplored section of the game which focuses on the spirits of the dead people slaughtered by the aliens. These enemies are difficult and scary as hell, but occupy only a small portion of the game. No matter who you’re fighting — whether it be alien, ghost, or mini-boss — the combat is always fast paced and visceral, so the AI issues can be forgiven in most fights. But after a while, you’ll constantly notice it as you effortlessly clear a room full of enemies.

This brings me to what could be one of the downsides in the game (or an upside, depending on your play style): you can’t die. No, really — it’s impossible. Shortly after the game gets going, you’re given the ability to automatically get dropped into a mini shooting game which allows you to gain back health and spirit energy before getting sucked back into the game. The result? Death is a 30 second setback, at best. With a copious amount of auto-saving, the ability to save whenever, and death not really being any kind of threat, it really seems to take a lot of tension out of the game. On the flip-side, it really keeps things moving and you’re never overly frustrated due to stupid mistakes like running out of ammo. But is it worth it?

The puzzle difficulty is also lacking somewhat. There are a few brain benders, but most come down to tedious "point A to point B" types of puzzles. You’re given the ability to ‘Spirit walk’ earlier in the game which allows your spirit to leave your body and walk through trip lasers and force fields unharmed. While an innovative and fun idea, it also makes a lot of the puzzles overly simple. Generally when faced with a situation where you simply cannot continue, you just spirit walk and the problem is solved; it’s not exactly advanced theory. If you’re already knee deep in this game and FPS games in general, you won’t find any of this too concerning as it’s mostly an action game, but good puzzles provide a few nice respites in a game, so they’re usually a plus.

The sound in Prey is a notch in Human Head Studios’ belt. Everything is produced in perfect surround with just the right amount of ambient tension. Classical scoring and top notch sound effects (like hissing steam, collapsing bodies, and cracking windows) sound incredible in the game. The soundtrack is also occasionally broken up by semi-modern rock and alternative hits like "Don’t Fear the Reaper" which are surprisingly fitting when heard. How well the game sounds is, of course, dependent on your sound setup. But with the right home theater system hooked up to your 360, you shouldn’t have any complaints — except the ones from your neighbors.

Since this is the 360 version of the game I suppose it’s only fair to cover what makes the console version different than the PC one. To sum it up, not much. The loading screens are updated for the 360, and there are unlockable achievements like scoring highly in mini-games or completing the game on the unlockable difficulty mode. The multiplayer experience is modified for the 360’s unique voice chat, but on console or PC the multiplayer is FUN. It is a whole new ballgame when your enemy could be anywhere (even right above you!) or coming out of the walls. The 360 seems to handle the advanced graphics with aplomb, and there are hardly any hiccups in frame rates. The advantage still lies with PC’s, though, and their switchable resolutions and potentially better graphics depending on your set up. Other than that, you’re not really losing out either way.

When you break down all its components, Prey really does strike a few chords and come up with some completely new (and fun) concepts. However, the overall feeling that you’re given throughout the game is that these concepts weren’t as fully explored as they could have been. The developers really could have done more, or made a longer game, as you’ll be lucky to get 10 hours of gameplay if you take in the sights. Don’t get me wrong, this game does get going fast and plummets you forward with some impressive "WTF!" moments and some truly innovative ideas. But the whole thing is over far too quickly, and it feels somewhat hollow when it’s all said and done. The weapons don’t get as much of a workout as I hoped, the enemies never really get too hard, the puzzles are a bit blah, and you can’t really die or get a Game Over. From a perspective outside the nitpicking, it’s a really fun game; it’s scary, fast, brutal, and very well executed. In the end, I can recommend picking this up. Despite its shortcomings, it’s still one of the first really good games for the 360, and definitely worth playing. It’s not perfect, but it’s damn close at times.


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Author: GamerNode Staff View all posts by

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