Review: Like Lionel Richie, you too will be ?Dancing on the Ceiling'.
When I first got my hands on the demo to Prey, I was told constantly by my friends how reminiscent it was of Duke Nukem. Now, I've personally never played Duke Nukem, but honestly, if it plays anything like this, I should probably run out and get it ASAP. Still, it's not surprising coming from the folks behind Mr. Nukem's adventures. Having been pushed back two generations, Prey is definitely a well executed epic involving Indians, UFOs, and all sorts of weird space-age technology. While the fairly predictable plot wears thin and smells of cheese, there is still plenty of suspense to keep any player hooked to see the game through to the end.
The story of Prey takes place late one night at a bar on a reservation just outside of Texas. We find our hero, Tommy, troubled. He is tired of his heritage and the ways of his people and wants to leave the reservation with his girlfriend Jen. However, both Jen and Tommy's grandfather plead with him to embrace his heritage and stay. Of course, things get strange when suddenly the lights begin to flicker, the TV begins to display static, and, yeah, the roof disappears just as Jen, Tommy, and his grandfather all get swept away into a blinding extra terrestrial light. On board the ship, Tommy is freed from his imprisonment by a mysterious human, and from there is forced to fight his way home, or die trying.
The presentation of the game is fabulous. Everything just looks, sounds, and feels surreal. Taking a note from Max Payne 2, the spherical space ship is littered with radios that will pick up broadcasts from Earth, showing just how little the folks on Terra Firma know about what is going on. More often than not the radio shows are done for laughs, but they add another eerie dimension to the already strange story, making the game feel like there really is a world going on outside of the game.
Prey has some interesting gameplay quirks that have to be seen to be fully appreciated. First and foremost are the numerous portals littered throughout the ship. Often boxes lying around contain said portals, leading to and fro across the spherical space craft. Portals can really be anywhere, and they can lead anywhere. The developers really had a lot of fun with the portals creating all sorts of wild and fun puzzles involving travel between them. There's something really cool about the first time you look through a portal, only to see yourself already on the other side. Enemies too can use portals, and will often spawn unexpectedly right in front of Tommy. Unfortunately, try as you might, most of the enemies' spawning portals will close before you can run through them. Those that don't close are meant to be passed through. It's this linear progression that takes a little of the wonder away from the whole portal experience. At the same time, it makes a system that is already confusing just a little easier to navigate. Words just don't do the portals justice. You'll just have to play Prey to get the full effect.
Of course, the game isn't all portals. Tommy will also find strange glowing pathways throughout the course of the games known as wall-walks. These of course allow Tommy to walk up walls and on ceilings. Wall walking is also used in strategic places, and can be quite a bit disorienting. A word of caution, do not jump while on a wall-walk, or you probably will die. That said, when Tommy kills other enemies using the wall-walk, they will plummet towards the ground, which ever direction that may be.
The final unique thing players can do in Prey is invert gravity. This is what will probably make people motion sick. If Tommy shoots a special item hanging from the ceiling or the walls, the entire ship will appear to turn so that the surface the item was on becomes the floor. The fist time I encountered this, I was very confused how it all worked, but with a little trial and error, the gravity shifting puzzles are actually a breeze to complete. Still, if you get easily motion sick, you will hate this element of Prey with a passion.
As the game progresses, Tommy will learn how to leave his physical body and go for a ?spirit walk?. Spirit walking basically makes Tommy into an impervious ghost. In his spirit form Tommy can walk past power barriers, fight off enemies, and even find special hidden pathways that lead to helpful switches or power-ups. There are a few downsides to spirit walking. First, while in spirit mode, Tommy's body is completely vulnerable to any and all attacks. It's very jarring to be walking in spirit mode, and then all of a sudden be whipped back into the mortal coil facing a barrage of enemy projectiles. Secondly, when fighting enemies with his spirit bow, Tommy loses some spirit energy. This energy can only be gained from killing enemies, but if Tommy keeps missing with his bow, he will quickly run dry. Luckily if Tommy runs out of spirit energy, he is still able to walk in spirit mode, but he can't perform any attacks. The last downside to spirit mode is that Tommy can't pass through normal doors this way. I don't understand why power barriers are passable, but metal doors aren't. It never is explained, and it is curious because often times ghost-like enemies will pass through walls but Tommy in his spirit form can not. It probably would have been a nightmare to build the levels to allow for Tommy's spirit to pass through walls and doors, but still, it was a bit disappointing.
Prey features a visually different arsenal than any other First Person Shooter before it. All of the guns look like biological experiments gone horribly wrong. Most guns wiggle around in Tommy's hands, which is really disturbing if you focus too much on it. The grenades are especially nasty looking. Grenades look like giant green three-legged spiders. To set the grenades, Tommy must rip off one or more of the legs which causes the insectoid to explode in a huge green slimy mess. Most of the guns work in strange ways. The first gun works like a cross between a machine gun and a sniper riffle, draining much more power in its secondary sniping mode than in its primary mode. Other guns work like your average shotguns and machine guns, some featuring grenade launching properties. There is one gun that is powered by special ports on the ship itself. This gun can be charged with three different kinds of energy, each with its own effect. If the gun is charged with fire, it will shoot out numerous fireballs in rapid succession. Charge the gun with ice, and freeze enemies where they stand. By far the coolest effect is the lightening charge, which will often kill enemies in one shot, but of course this charge wears off the fastest. One thing I noticed is that at all points in the game, every gun still managed to retain its usefulness, which is something that can't be said about most FPS titles out these days.
One very interesting thing feature of Prey is the fact that the player can't die. Instead, when Tommy runs out of life, or falls to his death, he quickly awakens in spirit form in the spirit world. Here he must quickly fight off several flying fish-looking enemies to recharge both his health and spirit energy. If Tommy is too slow, he will respawn with only half of his physical health regained and no spirit health whatsoever. Granted, this takes virtually all challenge away from the game seeing as there is no way to ever get a game over. Still, this takes away all frustration with the more difficult battles. It was a very ballsy thing for the developers to do.
Prey won't likely keep single players busy for too long with its short story. The single player campaign really only takes seven to ten hours to plow through, and once it's finished, there isn't any reason to go back. Unfortunately, multiplayer won't help win any extra fans over. Featuring the mandatory Xbox Live connection, players can fight battles with up to eight players. Stages are all loosely based off of areas from the single player game, and each features numerous portals, wall-walk platforms, and weapons. Players can still perform their spirit walking, though other players will be able to see the spirit forms of their opponents. Otherwise, the multiplayer still works like your average deathmatch rounds in any given FPS. Lag is a give or take thing with Prey. Depending on how far away your opponents are, lag will be present. I've played games against friends that live in-state, and didn't notice any lag with them, so it all is variable. I'll just say that lag in the online Prey games isn't anywhere near as bad as that found in Dead or Alive 4.
Visually Prey is good. The entire game runs off of a high resolution and well modified Doom 3 engine. While the game looks much better than Doom 3, environments still have a fake plastic look to them. I know that compared to the original Xbox the graphics are astounding, but in the grand scheme of things I question if Prey will still hold its visual appeal in the next few years. Still, for now Prey offers plenty of eye-candy for its players. Everything on the ship sways and moves. Shots explode in the air leaving gooey slimy residue on the sides of the ship. All of the special effects look great. Character models look a little weak and somewhat blocky compared to many of the games being released these days on the 360. Small things like this are what makes Prey lose some points in the visual category. Despite the fact that everything is supposed to be ugly and disgusting, I'd still say that Prey is hardly an ugly game.
The music in Prey is fantastic, but of course that is to be expected when Jeremy Soule, the composer of the Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion soundtrack is involved. To say that the music is epic would be an understatement. I often found that the music was much more powerful than the performances of the voice actors, which is really a credit to the composition, because Prey features some very good voice acting. All of the actors held their own weight perfectly, especially Tommy, who talks to himself through most of the game. I found that Tommy often vocalized what I was thinking, albeit with far dirtier language than little ol' me would ever use. I have to admit, if I saw half the things he saw, I'd probably be fluidly dropping f-bombs, myself.