Prey is a game that's been a long time in coming. It's a first-person shooter with Native-American themes (which is a nice touch) that involves an alien sphere hovering over the Earth and kidnapping various humans. I say it's been a long time in coming because it's supposedly been in development hell for a few years now. Was it worth the wait? I've been getting more into first-person shooters than I used to be, and I have to say that I had a lot of fun with it. It definitely has its faults, but I'd also say it's worth the money (possibly even more so if you like to play multiplayer).
Recommend this product?
You play Tommy, a young Cherokee who wants to get off of the reservation. He has a girlfriend, Jen, who he wants to come with him, but she refuses to go. She likes it there among her people and doesn't have much interest in seeing the outside world. Tommy is constantly badgered by his grandfather who wants him to embrace the Cherokee and his heritage, including the mystical aspects of it. They are having this conversation in Jen's bar when something strange happens. A bright light appears above the bar, a ship! The roof is removed and all three of them are sucked up into something called "The Sphere" for weird experimentation and food production! Can Tommy rescue his loved ones and defeat the evil masters of the Sphere? And what do these strange beings want? Can it be a little more personal than we're led to believe?
Gameplay and Story
You'll be exploring the Sphere in first-person mode, engaging various enemies and trying to discover just what's going on (as well as rescuing Jen). Your initial weapon is a wrench, which you use hand-to-hand, but you quickly subdue a "Hunter," who drops a rifle that will become your basic weapon from here on out. That's not to say there aren't some other cool things to kill these creatures with, but the rifle is your most-used (at least until near the end). In later levels, your opponents will get harder, as flying or ground-based harvesters, flying robots, and other nasties, not to mention the couple of "bosses" you'll face. Hunters and Harvesters are your most common enemies, though, and they'll quickly become annoying.
Controls are fairly easy and standard. "A" makes you jump, "B" is crouch, "X" throws a grenade, "Y" enters and exits "spirit-walk" mode (more later). You cycle through your weapons by hitting the left or right bumper buttons. Clicking the right stick activates a lighter which will give you a little bit of light for a short period of time. I found this all fairly intuitive and easy to use, which is nice in the middle of a heated battle.
Your weaponry consists of organic-looking variations on the rifle, shotgun (an acid blaster that's more short-range), grenade-launcher, machine gun, rocket launcher and grenades. Each weapon is fired using the right trigger, with an alternate firing mode using the left trigger. This doesn't always fire, though. For the rifle, it brings up a computerized scope that will allow for headshot. For the grenades ("Crawlers", spider-like things that you'll find crawling around), the alternate mode allows you to set it as a proximity charge rather than throwing it as a grenade.
There's also a "Leech Gun", which has four kinds of ammo. It has no alternate fire, but pulling the left trigger will charge it if you're near a charging station. The four types of ammo are: a series of plasma bursts, cold ammo that will allow you to freeze your enemy (though it's extremely short-range), lightning ammo (which will kill most anything in one or two shots, but you can't store much of it) and, near the end of the game, pure energy that will actually force you backwards as you fire. This is very important in the end-game, as many of the enemies at the end are tough mothers. I found most of the weapons interesting, and extremely cool looking. If you stand still, the organic parts will move, swivel, or whatever, and your rifle actually has an eyestalk that will pop out and look at you for a moment. However in effect, they are your basic first-person shooter weapons.
There are a few levels where you're flying something that's basically a shuttle through the sphere. Some of the puzzles involve doing something with your tractor beam, and you of course have cannons to deal with the inevitable enemies. This can be fun and provides a break from walking around the Sphere, but it's just a part of the overall game. It's not that interesting in and of itself.
The main attraction to Prey, however, is the scenery and puzzles. The Sphere has some weird gravitational properties that make getting around it extremely interesting. There are walkways that, when you walk on them, allow you to basically ignore gravity. You can walk up walls, on the ceiling, basically wherever the walkway leads. This can get extremely confusing if one of your enemies pops out of a portal somewhere else. Often, you find yourself facing a Hunter who appears to be hanging upside down because of this, so be careful. Thankfully, when you take damage, it tells you what direction it's coming from, so that helps. Other ways of travel are portals that open up (these are the same portals that the bad guys come through sometimes).
The puzzles are usually straightforward, though they do take some thinking. Some rooms have objects that, when you shoot them, gravity is changed and you fall to the new "floor". At times this is temporary, but most of the time, this is the way you stay until you fire at another gravity-changer. These are usually used in puzzles as you have to figure out just where to stand so that you land in the right place when gravity changes. The puzzles are usually fairly easy to figure out, and at times I wish they had been a bit tougher. But they're still very interesting and fun.
There is a bit of Cherokee mysticism in the game (more on that in a minute), and this is also sometimes used in the puzzles. You can "spirit-walk" by pressing the "Y" button. You usually do this when you see a drawing or carving of a sun somewhere around you, as this is an indicator that spirit-walking will be useful here. You leave your body and your spirit moves around your area. You can't open doors (the automatic doors don't react to you), but you can go through force-fields and activate switches. Often, you'll have to do this. Your body stays suspended where you left it, and many puzzles require you to leave your body in a suitable place so that your activities as a spirit will move you along (for example, making sure your body is on the lift when you spirit-walk to the controls for it). Pressing "Y" again brings you back to your body.
Another aspect of mysticism shows up very early. It's called the "Death Walk," and basically it's where you go when you die. Here, you use your spirit bow (your only weapon in the spirit world) to shoot various spirit wraiths (red add to your health and blue to your mystical energy). After a bit of time shooting wraiths, you are sucked back into the real world and back into the sticky situation that got you killed the first time (unless you died by falling). While this is a nice addition, there is a problem with it.
Now that you can't really die, there really isn't that much of a threat anymore, is there? Instead of using strategy and tactics to kill your enemies, you can do some stupid things and if you die, so what? Just kill a few wraiths and go back to what you were doing. Sure, you can challenge yourself to not die at all, but it's a shame that you have to do it instead of the game doing it. Some of the later encounters I just bludgeoned my way through, knowing that I was pretty safe. Sure, occasionally your enemies (especially the bosses) regain a little of their energy while you're dead, but it's not fatal. Also, I loved the feature of being able to save wherever you want (instead of just at checkpoints), but there's not a lot of point in doing that if you can't really die. The only reason I saved as much as I did is to protect myself against system crashes (which thankfully there weren't any) and because occasionally I didn't like how much I had to redo when I came back to life. Thus, the game became too easy.
As for the AI, it's decent though not exceptional. Your enemies will try to flank you and avoid your shots but they don't use cover much. Harvesters often have organic "flaps" in the areas where you encounter them, and they'll often use those to get away from you and appear somewhere else. Occasionally they'll even regenerate a little bit, so you'd better get them before they enter one of those things. Overall, I'd have to rate the AI as good.
As for the story? This is where Prey really falls down. The story itself is decent, but you play a whiny dweeb! Tommy is one of the most neurotic, boring characters I've played in a long time. At the beginning of the game, he's whining about the reservation and Jen not coming with him. Then he's whining to his grandfather that he doesn't believe in this mysticism stuff (a belief he continues to hold for most of the game, despite the spirit walk ability and Death Walk place he visits when he dies, but I guess he's hard to convince). Finally, he whines about rescuing Jen throughout most of the rest of the game. The voice-acting does not help any of this, as none of the main characters' actors can use their voice to act their way out of a paper bag. I give kudos to the developers for the Native American story using Native American actors, but surely they could have found some better ones? The story itself intrigued me, but if I hadn't been playing Tommy, I would have wished him dead almost from the beginning.
The graphics are phenomenal, with one exception. Vast vistas within the sphere are dazzling, and I had to stop and just look a few times, especially when I got a view of space outside the sphere. The scenery is majestic, everything has a biomechanical look to it that just jumps out at you. There's one level that's one huge, open space with parts of the sphere surrounding it, and it's just breathtaking.
However, when people are involved, the graphics get worse. It's not that they lose any of their crispness (this is truly a next-generation game as far as graphics go), but the people (Jen and your grandfather, mainly) are stiff. There's no flow to their movements whatsoever, and their hands are one block with fingers, almost like they have fingers but can't spread them out. Considering the stunning graphics in the rest of the game, the people disappointed me.
The sound is quite good, though nothing extraordinary. You feel like you're on a huge ship with the rumble of machinery. When the Hunters have their laser-sights aimed, you can hear a shrill sound that alerts you to that, which is especially helpful if you don't see the lasers because the Hunter is behind you. Your weapons also make sticky, organic sounds when they're not being fired. All of this immerses you in the game quite well.
As for other sounds, I have to question the use of some regular rock songs in this game. If you're going to license the likes of Judas Priest ("You Got Another Thing Coming"), you should use it in more than one scene? Twice, you get access to a jukebox where you can choose a few different songs and listen to them. But they're not part of the soundtrack at all, and other than these two spots, you don't hear them. So what's the point? I hope they were cheap. A couple of exceptions to this, however. When you're first abducted, "Don't Fear the Reaper" kicks in, adding a neat atmospheric punch to the proceedings. Secondly, another major encounter happens to an appropriate-sounding Nine Inch Nails song (I don't know the name, however). These two songs are great, but the rest? Eh.
Finally, you occasionally happen upon an area where you hear snippets of the Art Bell show talking about the strange occurrences of this night. While this doesn't add to the storyline at all, it does add to the atmosphere and can be quite amusing as well. Especially when "The Keeper" calls in (he's the guy you're initially after).
I don't play multiplayer, so I can't comment on the quality, but there are two modes: Death Match and Team Deathmatch. No cooperative play or anything like that. Most kills wins! The funny thing is that almost half of the Xbox360 achievements are multiplayer ones, so if you only play alone, you're shut out of a lot of them.
I really enjoyed my time playing Prey. I loved the puzzles (especially the gravity ones) and I prided myself on only needing an online game guide a couple of times. Thus, while the game is challenging, it's not too difficult to get overly frustrating. The graphics will wow you (at least until somebody comes to talk to you) and the atmosphere will just suck you in. The game also has an epilogue that gives you some clues on the inevitable sequel to the game, so make sure you stick through the credits! On normal difficulty, the game will give you 10-15 hours of gaming pleasure, but going through on Cherokee difficulty, as well as going multiplayer, can certainly add to that.
It's too bad that Tommy's annoying, as the storyline is very good otherwise. Unfortunately, that along with the easiness of the game once you can't die means I'd probably give this 3.5 stars overall. However, since it's so fun, I'll bump it up to 4. It's definitely a good shooter, though there are better ones out there.
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