Prey (Xbox 360) review
"Prey's basic concept, which most players have seen five or six times before, is this: a reluctant hero has been sucked into battle against homicidal aliens! A mysterious, metallo-organic sphere hovers above the Earth, ripping entire chunks of the planet apart and dumping civilians into harvesting machines (reminiscent of War of the Worlds). With his girlfriend's life at stake, without any friends by his side, Cherokee Tommy — the hero — must creep his way through a bunch of linear levels to put an end to the alien menace."
Word on the street is that Prey was originally conceived in the early 1990's. It seems that everyone and their mothers were "eagerly anticipating" the game, were "saddened" when it was cancelled, and were "ecstatic" when it was resurrected. Personally, I never even heard of the game until a couple months ago. Call me sheltered, call me clueless, but I think that's a good thing. If I had spent ten years waiting for Prey, I'd have been suicidally disappointed.
Unfortunately for 2K Games, I'm still around to slag their boring FPS.
The basic concept, which most players have seen five or six times before, is this: a reluctant hero has been sucked into battle against homicidal aliens! A mysterious, metallo-organic sphere hovers above the Earth, ripping entire chunks of the planet apart and dumping civilians into harvesting machines (reminiscent of War of the Worlds). With his girlfriend's life at stake, without any friends by his side, Cherokee Tommy — the hero — must creep his way through a bunch of linear levels to put an end to the alien menace.
For the most part, "creeping" means wandering through dark, fleshy corridors and killing one or two sparsely-distributed enemies at a time. Occasionally, three or four creatures attack simultaneously, which is laughable compared to every other modern FPS. If not for Tommy's lack of actual stealth skills, the dearth of opposition might trick you into thinking Prey is a stealth adventure. It's not! It's an FPS loaded with rapid-fire weaponry... and very little to use it on. In fact, only near the end of the game does Prey ever break out into a full-scale massacre.
Tommy's only stealthy technique is his "spirit walk", which lets him project a ghostly astral form. While in spirit mode, Tommy shoots rifle-toting aliens with a bow and arrow, because that's apparently the Native American way to fight. The main reason anyone would ever actually want to "spirit walk" is to solve one of the game's many forcefield puzzles: teleport beyond the shimmering barrier, flip a switch, and then your real body can pass through unharmed. Repeat ad nauseum.
Tommy can also "death walk", which is a fancy way of saying that when Tommy dies, he's resurrected on the spot and keeps fighting. These resurrections are INFINITE. Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is embellishing the simple truth: Tommy never dies, and you never have to re-load the game or restart a level.
So we've got a visually dark, linear FPS that lacks enemies. Tommy's special power is primarily used to solve repetitive puzzles. On top of that, he cannot die. Those elements all combine to make a pretty damn boring game. What, then, was Prey counting on to keep people interested? The back of the box advertises two key points...
"Portals change everything"
I remember when a friend first told me about Prey's portals.
"You kick a box over, and there's a gateway that leads to another area! Or maybe there's a portal just hovering in mid-air!"
That sounded interesting. It made me think there might be some exploration, or some hidden secrets, or something. But here's the truth: a portal is just a one-way door. You walk through a portal and you're in a new room. Instead of enhancing exploration, portals actually make the game MORE linear, because you can't backtrack to pick up the ammo you left behind. The back of the box would be more appropriate if it read, "Fancy-looking doors change nothing!"
"Imagine walking on walls and ceilings"
When Ryu Hayabusa ran across walls in Ninja Gaiden, it looked cool because you could see him running on the wall. The unfortunate thing about walking on the wall or ceiling in an FPS is this: it still looks like you're walking on the floor, because the perspective acclimates itself to your new position. The only time this ever looks cool is when you shoot an alien and it falls upwards. Otherwise, it's easy to forget that you're even on the ceiling.
Furthermore, Prey's wall-walking is primarily relegated to puzzles. Imagine this: you're walking on the floor. You reach the edge of a pit. You shoot a conveniently-placed glowing panel (reminiscent of Super Castlevania 4's whip hooks), which re-orients gravity so that you're walking on the right-side wall. You walk across the wall for a few steps, then shoot another gravity panel... which flops you back to the floor, on the other side of the pit. Then you carry on with your quest. As with the forcefield puzzles, repeat ad nauseum.
BLEH. When Half-Life 2 introduced the gravity gun, it was a fresh element that made the game fun and exciting. When Prey implemented gravity in its puzzles, playing the game became a chore.
Quite frankly, Prey irritates me. When I first started playing, it seemed so damn promising. You could turn on the sink! You could lower the toilet seat! The world felt so interactive that I wanted to play more. While sitting at the movieplex, I kept thinking back to Prey. And when I finally had time to devote to the game, when I finally made it past the first few levels... the promise withered.
Those of you who remain dead-set on purchasing Prey might be eyeballing that tin-case Collector's Edition. To you forgiving souls, I offer one final piece of advice: GET THE REGULAR VERSION. There was plenty of room for 2K Games to include a DVD case in the tin box, but they decided to save a few dollars and instead attached the disc to the bottom of the tin. If you open the box from the top, it looks like they forgot to include the game. If you open the box from the bottom, it's easy to accidentally scratch or actually bend the disc. I've never seen worse packaging for a video game, and 2K is charging $10 extra for it.
To everyone else, I suggest you save a whole bunch of money and wait until the entire game costs $10. It's certainly playable... it's just not fun.
Staff review by Zigfried (August 11, 2006)
Zigfried likes writing about whales and angry seamen, and often does so at the local pub.
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