Venom
2K Games
Shooter
1 (2-8)
07.10.06

Prey (Xbox 360)


The first person shooter is one of the most overdone genres in the Xbox/Xbox 360 world. Since the original Halo helped make Xbox a household name, it seems every developer in the world is trying their hand at the genre. Gamers are constantly assaulted with a never-ending array of shooter titles, ranging from the World War II simulator Call of Duty to the high-tech super spy Perfect Dark Zero. With titles like Halo 3 and House of the Dead 4 on their way, it begs the question: are game developers practicing quality over quantity?

Along comes Prey, an FPS developed by Venom games. Though generic on the surface, Prey comes armed to the teeth with a fresh new concept, puzzle solving, and new innovations to the genre, some of which are downright weird. But it takes more than that to go toe-to-toe with Master Chief or Joanna Dark in this market. Prey has what it takes to get into the ring, but will gamers want to take it to the finish?

Gameplay

Before I go any further, I would like to say for the record that Prey has one of the most original plots of the entire FPS genre. Prey pits you as Tommy, a man of Cherokee descent who lives on a reservation, going nowhere slowly. Tommy and his grandfather are killing time at Jen’s (Tommy’s girlfriend) bar when suddenly, aliens arrive and kidnap everyone. This Ed Wood-inspired plot begins to pick up, however, when during the transfer of prisoners, Tommy escapes from his shackles, and decides to get his girl back, the long, hard way…the kind that leaves a trail of bloody alien corpses. Along the way he uncovers a story about his people, his birthright, and fun ways to kill the aforementioned aliens. Underneath the generic “kill them all” exterior is a real “digging up” of Native American mythology and a culture’s views on love, honor, and killing lots of aliens.

The first thing you’ll notice about the game are its environments; they’re interactive and want to hurt you. Along with the sliding doors, metallic surfaces and war-torn walls that are common in every FPS “alien” environment, the ship Tommy fights his way through also features an all-permeating alien slime. This slime reaches about every corner of the levels and has it in for Tommy. When Tommy’s not blowing his way through the portal-happy aliens, the walls will shoot acidy vomit at him and tendrils will reach out and try to touch him. This not only makes each level all the more difficult, but adds a new level of innovation in the FPS, a genre that too often boasts an intelligent AI but environments that take rocket launcher blasts and have barely a burn mark to show for it.

It’s not just the walls that can get you; space itself is a bear trap waiting to spring. The aliens in Prey think doors too often get in the way, and therefore open portals in the middle of space-time to lunge out and come after you. Sometimes this portals. Sometimes these portals are activated by flipping a switch, but most of the time they will pop out in front of you, behind you, and in some cases, on top of you. To compensate for the inconvenience of aliens falling on your head, Prey allows Tommy to use the portals to his own ends, transporting to places and getting his hands on items, weapons, or more aliens.

One of the neatest, features of the game is the gravity system. Gravity in the ships can be manipulated, which is necessary for certain puzzle aspects of the game. Many levels will feature portals that are only accessible by hitting the gravity switches in a certain order (the switches change which direction is up), sending him in front of the portal and getting him to the next point. Other levels feature a plethora of portals, which all lead to each other, forcing Tommy to find the one that will take him further in the game. While some gamers might find this mode incredibly pointless, it acts as a diversion from the otherwise endless fighting that goes on throughout the rest of the ship, and makes much more use of the 360 controller than just holding down the right trigger and running the same direction for an hour. One feature many gamers will enjoy is the “spirit walking”. Spirit walking allows Tommy to leave his physical body and walk through impassable objects, such as energy shields. Some walkways can only be seen and accessed in this mode, and like the gravity modes, adds another diversion to monotonous fighting.

The enemies of Prey come at you in all directions. However, much like the thirty ninjas that come at Chuck Norris and still get their asses handed to them, you will have no problem wasting the aliens in a face-to-face confrontation. Although you will have to watch yourself in all directions, the aliens exhibit little to no strategy, and in the event they do kill you, there’s no worry; with the death-walking feature, Tommy regains his life by shooting at flying demons with his spirit bow. Though at times spineless and dim-witted, the enemies are fairly accurate, especially in the final stages of the game. Dodging a bunch of trigger happy duds in the beginning of the game makes for barely a practice session, but trying to make your way through levels with three or four marksmen coming at you from multiple directions is somewhat of a challenge.

Prey touted itself with having an adaptive AI, but AI that just gets harder as the game progresses is not adaptive. In all fairness, few games promise an adaptive AI, and even fewer deliver. Though in retrospect, the need for an “adaptive AI” in an FPS is questionable. The enemy already outnumbers you, has home field advantage, and has ready access to the weapons you’ve spent the entire game scouring the map for. If a gamer wants a truly adaptive AI, they should pick up ChessMaster 2000.

Prey does for multiplayer what Russell Crowe did for the music industry; nothing. While the single player is innovative and worth a couple go-throughs, Prey’s multiplayer is laughably pathetic. There are only two modes of play; deathmatch and team deathmatch. While the multiplayer does make good use of the gravity wall-walking and spirit-walking features, hardcore gamers will go through the eight available maps and debate if it’s worth getting out of their chair to put Halo 2 back in. In all fairness, the game’s developers made it very clear that multiplayer was not their focus. Though some gamers hope that more modes will be added on through Live, chances are the game’s developers would wait to expand upon the multiplayer for the sequel (if they make one, which they probably will).

Though unabashedly short, the single player mode of Prey sets apart from the myriad of Doom clones through its puzzles, use of portals, and spirit-walking. And unlike other FPS, Prey won’t bog you down with unnecessary third-person cinema; all of the dialogue, cut scenes, and gameplay is all done from Tommy’s point of view. Although eight hours worth of play (ten if you take your time to admire the graphics), Prey offers a different, albeit short, gaming experience for the lonesome gunman.

Graphics

From the beginning you’ll know where ten years of development went into; the environments. The alien environments breathe with life, and are pretty repulsing if you take the time to appreciate them. The aliens themselves are well-designed, organic, and actually pretty intimidating. The human models, however, are mediocre when compared to the rest of the game. They’re boxy and look as if they’d be more at home on a Playstation console. The earthly environments are, when compared to the earth environments of Perfect Dark Zero and Halo 2, downright laughable. It’s as if the developers thought that since you know what people and the earth look like, they didn’t really need to dazzle you with details.

Sound

The sounds of this game are worth playing it. The Native American-influenced themes are both relevant and good ambience. The sounds of the weaponry are well-engineered and realistic, although none of the weapons are large enough to really test the sound capabilities of the system. The true highlight of the sound is the voice acting of Tommy, Jen, and Tommy’s grandfather. Tommy’s observations and Jen’s prayers for help keep you stuck to the storyline, and lend it a level of credibility that the FPS genre often lacks in character. Compared to the voice-acting of some of the more popular FPS titles, Prey is a step in the right direction.

Replay Value

Practically non-existent. A single-player mode that can be tackled in a weekend (or on a day off from work), and one of the most disappointing multiplayer modes for the Xbox 360. The wall-walking and spirit-walking lend to offer a little Live play, but nothing to get excited over.

Bottom Line:

One of the best rental deals on the market. Those with game passes to Blockbuster or some sort of mail-in game rental system would be doing themselves an injustice by not trying this game out for themselves. On the other hand, those who actually go out and spend the sixty dollars for this game are doing themselves an equal injustice. Fast, innovative, and compelling, but too short and too reliant on the single player mode to play in the big leagues. I rarely say this, but I hope a sequel is in the works, if only to make up for the shortcomings of this potential-endowed newcomer.

Related Links:

Official Website for Prey

-Jimi Robertson




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