We have reached the heart of summer, and it is definitely showing in the gaming world. Releases are far and few between, and every game has the potential to capture new fans simply because there isn’t anything else out there to play. The Xbox 360 has had a surprisingly good streak of games lately with the recently released LOTR: Battle for Middle Earth II and Moto GP ’06, but gamers have still been clamoring for that one title that will be able to get them through the dog days of summer. That game is Prey. In development for damn near a decade, most thought this game would never see the light of day much like 3D Realms other project Duke Nukem Forever; but, alas, it has finally arrived, and I can honestly say it was worth the wait.
For those of you following the game’s development, you already know the basics. This is a straight-forward FPS built on the Doom 3 engine. What sets it apart though, is the way the game utilizes portals and gravity to alter the already massive environments found aboard the alien spacecraft where the bulk of the game takes place. These devices play a pivotal role in the games many puzzles and really requires the player to think outside the box when attempting to complete even the most menial of tasks, such as, finding an exit.
The storyline is quite unique and yet cliché at the same time. You play Tommy, a Native American mechanic that despises his Cherokee heritage and simply wants to move away with his girlfriend, Jen. Tommy’s grandfather, Enisi, is constantly trying to warn him of a danger that is coming which Tommy continuously ignores. Just when you feel that life can’t get any worse, you, Enisi, and Jen, are all abducted by some strange green light in the sky and taken aboard The Sphere, an alien spacecraft where humans are used for slavery, experimentation, and worst of all food. On your voyage to the slaughterhouse, you are freed by a strange being that refers to you as, Brother, and from here on you begin your quest to save Enisi and Jen from the horrors of this place.
Throughout your journey, you will learn new tricks from your Native American heritage that can aid you. For instance, very early in the game, you obtain a power called Spirit Walk. This allows you to leave your physical body and traverse to places otherwise unreachable. Paths will open up, you can walk through force fields, and you can even get the jump on enemies as they cannot see you until you attack them. This element plays a major role in solving simple tasks such as, opening doors and finding ways to move Tommy from point A to point B.
Another interesting, and really cool aspect of Prey, is that you will never actually see a “Game Over” screen. Instead, when your health is depleted, you will be sent into a spirit realm where you will engage in sort of a mini game that requires you to take aim at different colored enemies representing your health and spirit meters. You only have a set amount of time before Tommy resurrects, so the more you shoot down the more health you return to the game with. This eliminates annoying checkpoints and having to worry about fighting waves and waves of enemies only to be shot down by a single grub then realizing you forgot to save at the last save point.
While all of these make Prey unique, what really makes the game stand head and shoulders above other typical shooters are the environments themselves. The entire game takes place on the gigantic spacecraft known as The Sphere. Inside this massive ship, you never know what you might see. The area is so large that you will run across entire planets with their own gravity field. At one point, I even saw a 747 plane crash land right outside a window of the elevator I was riding. Prey really makes you feel like you are in another world and the scale of the levels is absolutely amazing.
Being massive in size is only the tip of the iceberg though. Each and every area you come across in Prey can also plays with your mind and really throws out everything you know about solving puzzles and finding exits. As I mentioned earlier, gravity will play a major role in the game. Some rooms even have little pads on the floor that can be shot which will flip the room and all of its contents, including you, to the ceiling. This can be disorienting at first, and if you suffer from vertigo, then Prey may not be the game for you. Though, once you get used to it, it is one of the most unique aspects you will see on this genre in a long time.
Along with the gravity, are the aforementioned portals which allow the inhabitants of The Sphere to travel anywhere instantly. While the concept sounds trivial the first time you discover one, slowly walking around it, realizing the massive area on the other side of it, you really appreciate just how cool it is. While I would have loved to have seen perhaps a gun or an item that allowed you to generate your own portals, I can understand how difficult that would be to include.
The enemies of Prey are unfortunately not as interesting as the levels; in fact, there are only a handful of types. The highlights are definitely the possessed children, which teleport around you singing songs and laughing in a genuinely creepy manor. The rest of the cast is your typical horror FPS squad including the mindless grunt, the hulking brute, and everyone’s favorite, the takes-up-half-the-screen-behemoth-with-machine-guns. The enemy AI is certainly not going to win any awards with most monsters running directly into the line of fire, but little things such as diving out of the way for grenades, calling for backup, and even shutting down the gravity walkways, do keep the player on their toes throughout the entire game.
Prey is also host to a unique arsenal of alien weaponry that definitely strays from the FSP norm. You begin the game with only your trusty wrench, which is always nice for bludgeoning enemies repeatedly in the skull. But, after a while, you require some heavier firepower. The player has a standard rifle that has a nice sniper scope on it for maximum damage, the leech gun, which can use different terminals to obtain ammo that ranges from plasma shots to electric bursts, and of course the machine gun equivalent, which resembles a slimy alien creature more than anything.
There are also some heavier weapons including: a rocket launcher style gun, a rifle that shoots blasts of plasma all over your enemies, and even live grenades. And when I say “live”, I mean alive. The explosive of choice is actually a creature the scurries along the ground. When you split it open, it begins emitting a green gas that eventually causes the creature to explode all over its target; great stuff. Overall, Prey does a good job at breaking the tradition and bringing some new firepower to the table.
Like I mentioned earlier, Prey is built upon a modified version of the Doom 3 engine, which has allowed the developers to create some truly stunning looking areas in the game. Never before have I been tempted to stop and enjoy the scenery or investigate every single blackened area. This game is drop dead gorgeous in every aspect. The frame rate can dip at times, but for the most part it remains consistent through the heated battles, and the lighting is just amazing at times. It really makes you appreciate what good developers can do with this engine. Also worth mentioning, is the amazing soundtrack. Composed by Jeremy Soule, who you may recognize from his work on Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. The ambient tones and orchestral melody really set the mood for the game. The sound effects are also very prominent and let the player know exactly what is or is not around the next corner.
Finally, what Xbox 360 title would be complete without multi-player? Prey delivers this in the form of Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch-and that is it. What is most disappointing though, is that it only supports up to eight players total, but after playing it I can understand why there is a limit. The levels are designed with fewer players in mind, and I really couldn’t imagine having 16 people all walking on the walls. It would surely cause my brain to have fits. What is here works, and works well. I can see myself enjoying this for a long time to come, but those gamers weaned on the more strategy based multi-player titles like Halo 2 and Call of Duty 2 will be disappointed in this twitch style of game play.
Prey is exactly what Xbox 360 fans have been waiting for all summer long. A visceral shooter with a great story and superb visuals. The twitch online gameplay should certainly keep players occupied through the hot days of summer. While the single-player can be short if you dash through it, I would guess anywhere between 6-8 hours, it is more than worth taking the time to enjoy so try not rushing through it. While this game has seen more E3 showings than even Kameo, thankfully, it turned out to be another great title to add to the already solid Xbox 360 lineup.