Imagine a pack of creative artists slouched on a couch trying to come up with a premise for a new, unique first-person shooter. One mentions aliens, the obvious inclusion and favorite cannon fodder of choice. Another connects aliens to Roswell, New Mexico, the self-proclaimed alien capital of the world. And yet another, who has traveled the desert region, remembers passing through numerous Native American Reservations. Suddenly a light clicks in their collective buzzing minds. Aliens have never fought Native Americans in a game before. Why didn’t anyone make the connection before? And thus is born a precious new concept for a first-person shooter.
Fictitious story aside, longtime game fanatics have been waiting to take control of arrogant Cherokee Indian Tommy in Prey for nearly a decade. The shifting of rights and development houses postponed the game into the next-generation console window, making Xbox 360 an obvious platform for sailor-mouthed Tommy to take on an evil alien “mother” and her gnarly minions.
Tommy’s bad day begins in a Reservation casino restroom, complete with interactive toilet seats, flush handles, toilet paper rolls, hand dryers, and hot and cold faucets. Several minutes can be spent perusing the dingy stalls in search of new action-triggered objects. Wandering out into the halls and bar reveals more hands-on goodies, including a working jukebox with selectable songs, playable Blackjack, Poker and slot machines, and a working TV with multiple channels. Before a single shot is fired, Prey offers more environmental interactivity than any first-person shooter of recent memory.
This interactivity and real-world setting evaporates the second Tommy, his grandfather and his girlfriend Jen are abducted from the casino by brazen aliens into an extraterrestrial sphere orbiting Earth. Swirling toilets and running water are replaced by a heavy wrench and library of living, moving alien weapons. For example, grenades are the limbs of a frog-like creature that are pulled off and hurled at targets. Another gun reloads its energy by leeching from power sources within the sphere. Dark corridors in the game are reminiscent of Doom 3, towering multi-level environments borrow heavily from Halo’s level design, and Quake-like genetically altered (and creepy) human experiments make the dank casino look like a funhouse.
Familiar stomping grounds are typically reason for concern in this genre, but not within the confines of the unpredictable sphere. 3D Realms has done a marvelous job manipulating gravity to keep the linear path towards a conclusion interesting enough to never want to turn back. Special walkways allow Tommy and his enemies to walk on walls and ceilings, and in some cases the walkways can be activated or deactivated to send foes plummeting to their death. Other areas offer panels that, when shot, change gravity’s direction 90 degrees. The appearance of these panels usually signals a change is required to proceed past an obstacle and into the next area. Really keeping Tommy on his toes are dynamic teleporting portals with a knack for opening up when least expected. More often than not, a giant alien “hunter” emerges with gun drawn and an itchy trigger finger.
The most potent tool at Tommy’s disposal is spirit walking, an ancient Cherokee gift taught to Tommy by his grandfather in a heavenly burial ground. A quick click of the Y button allows Tommy’s spirit to leave his body and explore areas the flesh-and-blood Tommy could never reach. 3D Realms has marked each instance where a spirit walk is required with a symbol, so even novice gamers should never get stuck (though intermediate and experienced gamers may be insulted by the lack of discovery). In addition, Tommy can use a bow and arrow to take out enemies in the walk, thereby clearing areas before the real Tommy ever reaches them without having to worry about taking damage. Firing these arrows is strategic, though, because with every arrow fired, the spirit’s health drains, and it can only be recouped by gathering the spirits of the killed foes.
In death, Tommy is transported to the Indian burial ground where he must shoot blue and red eagle spirits to rebuild his spirit walking and life energy. Deaths are infinite, though, and returning to the game after death in most cases takes Tommy directly to the spot at which he died. This generous system provides unlimited opportunities to take out larger enemies and bosses with as many deaths as needed, which in turn aids blowing through each of the 22 chapters at a brisk pace.
Tommy’s grandfather provides his grandson with the knowledge to cheat death, spirit walk and shoot an ancient bow and arrow. Yet Tommy is a total schmuck. I’m sorry, but after being pulled into an alien sphere, watching my grandfather get impaled and flattened, then being pulled into some Indian afterworld to learn spirit walking, I might be willing to hear him out. But no matter what craziness occurs, all Tommy cares about is getting his girlfriend, Jen, back. “I don’t care if the world is coming to an end, grandfather. I must find Jen.” If there were a way back to the toilet from the opening scene, I’d flush Tommyâ€™s head in it.
A fairly short single-player campaign usually signals robust online offerings, but Prey’s only multiplayer options are limited to deathmatch and team deathmatch, either ranked or unranked. These matches are barrels of fun with the inclusion of portals, gravity walks, spirit walking and all the fun alien weaponry. But, with limited modes, Prey’s multiplayer stickiness will be in jeopardy with the next big FPS release. Achievement fans will be happy to learn that more than half the game’s accomplishments are obtainable by competing on Xbox Live and reaching very obtainable kill numbers with different weapons. The other half are easily knocked out with the completion of each single-player chapter.
Prey is a fantastic choice for gamers who don’t have a ton of time and want to get in, beat the game fast and shift to multiplayer action. The levels are stunningly beautiful, if a bit familiar. At times shifting gravity and rippling environments can make you feel like you’re in a tumble dryer (and at one point Tommy even pukes), but this monkey wrench and Native American influence in an otherwise standard first-person shooter ultimately helps set it apart from the growing pack.
- Gameplay: 8.8
- Who knew tinkering with gravity could be so much fun? However, the gravity puzzles can get old, there’s not enough enemy variety, and the game may be short for some.
- Graphics: 9
- Great visuals, even if it does feel an awful lot like a Doom 3 “me too.”
- Sound: 9
- Above-average voice acting and a nice use of surround.
- Replay: 7.8
- The campaign’s short enough to replay on the Cherokee level, but there are only two online modes.
- Overall: 8.7
- Spirit walking and weird gravity are fun and fresh, but not having consequences for death takes away some overall suspense.
— Dan Bradley