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Review – Prey

posted on January 19th, 2007 by tony

I first heard about Prey in 1998 when sci-fi shooter was announced by 3D Realms as being in production for release on the PC “in the near future.” Apparently the near future is almost ten years later, and the PC they were talking about is the XBox 360 (although it was released for the PC shortly after). Regardless of how much time it’s taken, this game was conceived ten years ago and it shows.

We heard you guys were looking for extras for the new Doom game. What the hell is Prey? Ah, why not.

The gameplay is perfectly straightforward. You run around the levels and shoot aliens, you take their weapons, and then you kill tougher aliens with those new, more powerful weapons. There are four basic armaments (a very small number when compared to other recent shooters) and they are as unimaginative as you can get. Alien assault rifle — check. Alien heavy assault rifle — check. Alien creatures you can use as bombs — check (Half Life anyone?). Cherokee Indian spirit bow — uh, wait … what? Well get to this one later. And you can decide for yourself how much of the following is based on “true Cherokee mythology” as the developers proclaim.

The story follows Tommy, a Native American who isn’t happy with his life on the Cherokee reservation. All he cares about is his girlfriend Jen, who he wants to run away with him to start a new life somewhere else. He runs into his grandfather who immediately beings spouting some mystical wisdom, which Tommy doesn’t believe in at all. He’s pretty much a dick to everyone around him and you start to wonder why anyone puts up with him at all. Some guys are hassling Jen at her bar and you kill them with a wrench (pretty smooth) and immediately go back to asking her to run away with you. At his point, all hell breaks loose and aliens begin abducting everyone in sight (a great in-game cut scene, by the way) and Tommy, Jen and his grandfather are sucked up by the clichéd tractor beam lights and wake up strapped to machinery making its way through the bowels of a space ship high above the Earth. Tommy manages to escape and then tries to save his loved ones by, you guessed it, killing things.

Sauron’s brother Chet, never having his own black tower and Hobbits to spy on, had to make due with the Native American community.

After about twenty minutes of game play you witness your grandfather die, you complain some more, and then you unavoidably plummet to your death. It’s all part of the story though, as you wake up somewhere in the North American southwest and meet the spirit of your dead grandfather. I’ll give you two guesses what he talks to you about. If you said background story about why the aliens attacked, you’re a fool. If you said pieces of strange philosophy taken from every faux-spiritual Native American movie ever made, you are sadly correct. This is the point at which I would normally tell you that your hero starts off as an asshole and then slowly turns into a strong character by the end of the story. Well I guess being resurrected, talking to a dead relative and then being shown how to use your disembodied spirit to pass through fire to retrieve a magical bow isn’t enough for Tommy. With spirit bow in hand he strongly states that none of that was real and he still doesn’t believe. He insults his grandfather and demands to be sent back so he can save Jen. The plot never really goes any further than this.

Some of the unique parts of game revolve around portals that allow you to travel to other parts of the ship, sometimes into rooms where gravity is turned ninety degrees or sometimes completely upside-down. This makes things sort of interesting as you never really know what to expect when you enter a portal and it takes a few seconds to get oriented to your new surroundings. At some points, alien enemies will emerge from a portal on the ceiling or walls of the room you are walking through, which added another dimension not usually found in first-person shooters. I found myself entering a room and no knowing where to expect attacks from, making the game a lot more tense than it would normally have been. When I found out that I couldn’t really die, and that I just had to shoot some spirits to regain health until I was brought back to life, getting jumped by aliens wasn’t so nerve-wracking anymore. As a matter of fact, the game is way too easy. Even the ability to walk on walls gets old and you have to fall back to the plot to hold your interest. I believe I’ve already covered that disappointment.

Straight gangsta!

It’s hard to recommend a game that is interesting for about two of its roughly sixteen hours, even though the parts that are fun are worth experiencing. The gravity tricks are fun at first, but the repetition and insultingly bad plot are too hard to overcome. The spirit-walking provides for some interesting puzzles, but it’s painfully obvious when the game wants you to use the power. I think the thing that turned me off the most was that the hero is a complete jerk and it’s impossible to root for or care about him. When the first act you have your player carry out is the murder of two men, you’re in for a bad ride. For plusses, the game looks and sounds great, but this is the XBox 360 and that’s nothing special at this point. If this is what a decade in development produces, maybe I don’t want to see Duke Nukem: Forever after all.

2 Comments

  1. Christian said on January 20, 2007:

    I think this is a fantastic review, because I felt the exact same way about Prey just by playing the demo, and I feared that meant the rest of the game would get really stale after a while.  Of course, none of the reviews out there ever seemed to have the guts to say either way.  Now I know.  Thanks Tony, for looking out for the readers!

  2. Matt said on January 20, 2007:

    Yeah, I also played the demo and felt it to be way too repetitive and boring. And not the dying thing is a weird design decision. There would never be any urgency, making it even more boring. It’s funny too, the game has been in development for so long, but Valve is making Portal in less than a year and it looks far more interesting and innovative.

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