Review by Soul Ender
"Go Turok--I mean, Tommy!"
The summertime is a time when most gamers finally have the time to play what they want, when they want. Ironically enough, it is a gaming doldrum in terms of releases--very few titles are released, and most of the ones that are released are abysmal. So imagine my amalgamation of surprise and suspense when I spied on the release list "Prey", a quirky first-person shooter with a B-movie premise, slated for shipping dead in the middle of July. A first person shooter? Not a sports game or movie tie-in? I was elated. As the release date neared however, and the demo recieved both hype and snipe from the critical masses, I became a little hesitant to drop seventy bucks on the game (I'm a collector's edition kind of guy.)
To put it bluntly, I'm glad I did.
Prey is truly great. Not ground-shattering (the game uses Doom 3's engine--to great effect, I might add) or particularly innovative in terms of actual gameplay (the gravity effects and portals are cool as hell, however), but in that it brings together several elements--including a surprisingly fresh and enjoyable story--to a satisfying conclusion in the first first-person single player campaign I've felt compelled to complete in years. Let's talk about why:
Prey's graphics are the reason I feel proud to own a 360 and feel even better when I tell PC owners to shove their four-hundred-dollar video cards straight up their--back on topic, they're great. Based on a heavily modified Doom 3 engine, the textures (mostly) shine, the weapons look suitably slimy and incredibly detailed, and more than once I died because I was busy admiring the details on a Hunter's armor. Light pools and dips into crevices in the textures, and blood spews satisfyingly every time you bury more heat in your enemy's brain. There are a few hiccups--most noticeably the mudballs and sink in the beginning of the game, those look bland and painted--but overall, Prey is pure eye candy.
Ah, yes, the sound--I feel obliged to mention it because everyone does, though I rarely actually pay much attention. Here was no exception--the audio wasimmersive enough to pull me in, because once I truly sat down to play Prey's campaign, I didn't get up. Not much else to say on it, I'm afraid; the music was notably absent in most cases (though my 360's custom soundtracks provided an excellent theme for the final boss battle, I recommend Senses Fail's "You're Cute When You Scream").
Here is where Prey shines--and, unfortunately in some cases, is apparently gilded. The game uses several innovations to make Tommy (the main character) a viciously powerful miniature God, and this is one of its shortcomings. There's rarely any real challenge, since Deathwalking enables you to become literally immortal--when you die, instead of seeing a game over screen, you can warp to a nearby point by completing a simple mini game to restore health and spirit. The bosses do not recover health, enemies are not respawned; there is literally no penalty for dying. This doesn't provide a particular problem for the casual gamer, who's probably just playing to play, but for those of us who enjoy a challenge, it's a real pitfall. Also, the combat is a bit reptitive after a bit, if for no other reason than the fact that enemies rarely employ any tactics past "shoot him in the effing head". Spiritwalking (detaching from your corporeal body) makes for some interesting kills and puzzles, but it never really feels necessary other than in spots where it's been contrived to be necessary. The gravity and portal mechanics, however, more than make up for this--I haven't had this much fun with a game gimmick in a very long time. Shooting your enemies and watching them tumble upward is truly an experience the first time, as is seeing your enemy tilt over a crate and watching as it leads into another room. These mechanics carry over to MultiPrey (xbox live and system link) with great results, and the DM and TDM both excel in balance and fun, despite being the only available modes--you never feel like you got killed by someone whoring an overpowered weapon. Lag has been a problem, though it appears to have been fixed. Overall, Prey provides an interesting, if not exactly INCREDIBLE single player experience and a very fun multiplayer feature to make the gameplay alone worth the purchase.
This is what surprised me the most. What could have easily been a cheesy story (c'mon, it starts out with a Cherokee rampaging all over a living alien ship) turned out to be the single-player's most compelling feature--while the pacing is a bit clipped, the game's story evolves into much more than "save the girlfriend" and is even emotionally stirring at a couple points (the ending particularly.) It takes sci-fi and Native American mythology and blends them together nicely, if a bit hastily (there is a blatant cut at one point in the game where Human Head Studios obviously had to cut out some of the campaign material, though the game provides a suitable excuse.)
Prey's elements coalesce into a whole far greater than the sum--the game provides the first real reason to play through the single player component in years, and while the multiplayer probably sounds tacked on (two modes? wtfomgbbq!?!) it's a nice kickback to good old days of deathmatch for hours and hours, and the story itself needs to be seen to be believed (and taken with a pinch of salt.) Overall, Prey, in my humble opinion, was well worth the purchase, despite a few flaws. In a dead summer, a good game like this is gold.
+MultiPrey is fun for hours'
+Gravity tricks and portals are awesome
-Underwhelming singleplayer combat
-Short, blatantly cut
-Story gets a little hasty toward the end
-Only two multiplayer modes
-Spiritwalking is unnecessary and Deathwalking is cheap
RENT or BUY: If you wanna blaze through the campaign once for the story, just rent it. If you want to enjoy the beauty of the campaign multiple times and then kick some asses on Live, buy it. You won't regret it.
FINAL SCORE: 8/10
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 07/16/06
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