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Prey Review

By Jeff Buckland, 7/14/2006

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Played on:


Dell XPS M170
Pentium M 2GHz CPU
GF Go 7800GTX Video
Windows XP

Prey is one of those odd games that reminds you of the golden days of first person shooters, yet manages to innovate to the point where it's hard to compare this to those games made ten years ago. The story behind the creation of Prey is pretty long and really only interesting to those who love the history of video games, but it boils down to this: a years-old premise for a game by the creators of Duke Nukem was finally brought to life by Human Head, the developers who brought us the well-received action Rune from several years ago.

Prey tells the story of Tommy, a Cherokee living on a reservation, and how he comes to terms with his own future and with his heritage. As the game starts, Tommy is a pretty secular guy that has already finished a stint in the Army; he doesn't care about the Cherokee religion, the spirit world, or the warnings of his grandfather - at least, not until the night that aliens come to invade.

Ok, let's stop right there because unless you have played the game in some form or another (like, say, the demo), then this story probably sounds like the top-level of lame reserved only for 80s B-movies or Chuck Norris jokes. But the storytelling actually will get you into the game a fair amount, and while it starts out with some Cherokee drama, it quickly becomes a sci-fi FPS title with lots of alien weaponry - it just happens that the main character is a Native American rather than some super-tough space marine.

One of the most unique features in Prey is the portal system which allows the player to pass through from one side to the other completely seamlessly with no special effects at all (which is actually good) - you can see right through the portal and see what's going on before you pass through, as well. These portals really start to get interesting, though, when multiple portals are close together, and you can look through one and actually see your character from the right - then you realize the portal you're about to pass through is actually pointed at you from your right side. It gets a little more complex than that, but they're significantly tougher to explain in words, so you'll have to see them for yourself.

It's not long into the game when Tommy meets his demise at the hands of the aliens whose massive mothership he's trying to escape from. This is where the game's possibly most unique feature comes in: Tommy can use the spirit world to perform an out-of-body experience and travel to places his body otherwise can't. This is the solution to many of the game's puzzles, most of which wind up being pretty easy once you get the hang of the spirit world. Human Head has also done something unique with death, where instead of forcing you to load your game from your last save point, you'll be thrust into a quick minigame as your spirit self, fighting to bring your body back to life. This is a great way to deal with the problem, as the game is actually pretty tough but you will usually be able to fight your way out of it anyway.

The last unique feature in Prey would be the gravity-defying pathways you can walk on - when combined with the portals and the ability to switch the gravity around in a room as well, this game will send you upside down and back around, sometimes right in mid-fight. The AI is also set up to be disoriented when you do something like this, so if you can switch out gravity on yourself or your opponents, you will gain time to get in a few shots.

And speaking of shots, Prey has what initially looks to be a pretty standard, if alien, arsenal. There are some unique twists and some great overall graphics (and nice weapon animations), but you'll still find old standbys like grenades, shotguns, and rapid-fire rifles. But the delivery of this weaponry is at least somewhat unique: for example, the shotgun actually fires out acid, and the alternate fire throws out a canister with lots of acid for some nice corrosive area-effect power. One weapon gets literally torn off of one of the bosses' arms, allowing you to pick it up and use it yourself. And since every gun's got some sort of alternate fire, you've got plenty of ways to kill your enemies.

As you play through Prey, you'll likely find that while the story is pretty novel and the game design has plenty of familiarity combined with lots of innovation, the execution doesn't quite live up to the quality you might expect after playing something like Half-Life 2. The character animations could have used another level of polish, and while the combat's plenty of fun, the reason why you're fighting just doesn't seem to work for me. I felt like the story was telling me to go places, but the linear paths through the game's levels were arbitrarily put together to get me where I needed to go. There's a disconnect going on here between the gameplay and story, and the sub-par voice acting doesn't help to bring them together in the slightest.

From a technical standpoint, Prey does well. Based on the DOOM 3 engine, the game's dark without being too dark, and there are plenty of special effects flying around with overall very good frame rates. Some of the sci-fi themes could have used a little more imagination in my opinion, but that doesn't make this game unoriginal at all. The music and sound do a great job of making the game feel that much more unique, and the weapons mostly look, sound, and feel powerful in Tommy's hands.

But let's get online and try a little multiplayer. Many of the gravity-defying antics that go on during the single player game are here in Prey's multiplayer modes, and that makes for some interesting firefights during your deathmatches. I remember trying the online play when the demo was released, and found it pathetically bad. But what I realized later was that these weren't dedicated servers - playing on dedicated servers with the full version of the game has been much more fun and satisfying.

Prey brings some unique storytelling and great, interesting features, but it just lacks the polish required to make this game a top-quality shooter. The action's great fun both online and offline, but nothing is really compelling enough to make it anything like a classic. It lacks that extra amount of oomph or polish to make it a true A-quality game, and while it's not really going to win any Game of the Year awards, it's still good enough to be easily worth the purchase.

Overall: 84%



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