Prey Review


Title: Prey

Rating: Rating Pending

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Suitable ages: Teen

Studio: 2K Games, Venom Games, Human Head Studios

Platform: Xbox 360

Release date: July 10, 2006

Plot summary: Young Cherokee Tommy must learn to control his developing spiritual powers while saving himself, his girlfriend and the Earth from an invading alien fleet in this science-fiction, first-person shooter game.

Similar games: Halo 3, Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter, Call of Duty 2, Doom 3, Quake 4

What is "Prey"?

Prey is a science-fiction shooter game developed by 2K Games, Venom Games and Human Head Studios for the Xbox 360. Running on the Doom 3 engine and featuring impressive 3D graphics, Prey takes players on a long, wild ride into space and beyond.

The game revolves around garage mechanic Tommy. A Cherokee, Tommy has just returned to his home on the reservation in Taliquaa, Oklahoma, from life in the army. All Tommy wants, though, is to get off the reservation and make a life for himself and his girlfriend, Jenny. Soon after returning, however, Tommy and everyone on his reservation are abducted by a strange alien mothership. Tommy, Jenny and the rest of his people fear they are doomed.

But before the aliens can put him and his friends to work as slave labor, Tommy finds himself developing mystical powers. These powers, he learns, are his birthright from his ancestors, and they're the only thing that can save him, his tribe and the entire planet from the aliens. Tommy must learn to use these spiritual powers and to speak to his spirit guide, a majestic hawk, in order to escape the alien's plot and keep humans from being turned into slaves.

As Tommy, you battle your way through a huge number of levels, both on Earth and beyond. The environments are incredibly interactive, allowing you to manipulate everything from toilets and soap dispensers to alien computers and weapons. The environment itself can even act as an enemy, with some alien walls and objects actually attacking Tommy. In addition to the many enemies you'll encounter, there are also a good number of puzzles to solve, many of which rely on Tommy's spiritual powers. In addition to the great single-player storyline, Prey includes a multiplayer deathmatch for up to eight players via Xbox Live.

Background

Some video games are developed quickly and easily, hitting the market on or near the release date originally given to them. Not so with Prey. Originally announced in the mid '90s by 3D Realms, the game has undergone numerous changes and revisions, eventually ending up in the collective hands of Human Head Studios, 2K Games and Venom Games. Human Head Studios, the creators of the hit game Rune, handled the majority of the development under direction by 3D Realms.

Once in the hands of Human Head, the game underwent a number of changes, although 3D Realms did specify that the Native American mythology, aliens, space-bending portals, and the overall feel of the original storyline had to stay. The original hero, however, had to go. Talon Brave was a little too serious and stern, and Human Head Studios replaced him with Tommy, a more laid-back, down-to-earth hero.

In addition to the character and storyline tweaks, Human Head also brought in the Doom 3 engine, one of the most impressive first-person shooter engines ever. With a few modifications and upgrades, the two-year-old engine delivers incredibly impressive graphics, and the game's controls are solid thanks to a Halo-like control scheme. In addition to the Xbox 360 version, Prey is also being developed for the PC.

The Story

The story of Prey follows Tommy as he is abducted from his girlfriend's bar, ends up on an alien spaceship and then battles his way back to Earth while holding off an alien invasion. The storyline takes a number of different twists and turns, and before the end, players discover that not all the aliens are evil, not all the humans are good, and not everything is what it seems.

Of course, that's once Tommy gets around to accepting his role as hero. The official tagline of Prey is "Earth's savior doesn't want the job." Tommy is none too happy about being abducted or put in the position of stopping the aliens, and he lets everyone know it. However, Tommy doesn't whine through the entire game. Instead, he gets angry, and while he's not exactly happy about being thrown into the hero role, he does enjoy kicking some alien butt.

One of the most unique aspects of Prey is Tommy's spiritual powers. Weak at first, these abilities expand and grow as the game progresses, and eventually, Tommy ends up with some pretty incredible powers. He gains these powers by going into the spirit realm, an area that resembles his native Oklahoma. Here, Tommy meets his grandfather and learns more about his own powers and history. The first power he receives is spirit walking, the ability to project his spirit out of his body, which allows Tommy to move through walls and other objects. Spirit walking is also the only way Tommy can see wraiths, ghost-like aliens that can possess innocents.

Another fun ability is death walking. This ability shows up the first time you die. Instead of seeing "game over," when you die, you'll find Tommy in the otherworld surrounded by ghostly phantoms. Armed with a bow, Tommy must shoot as many of these phantoms as possible before he is pulled back to his body. The more phantoms you shoot, the more health Tommy will regain.

Besides Tommy, three other characters play a large part in the game: Tommy's grandfather, his girlfriend, Jenny, and his spirit guide, Talon. While his grandfather appears only to help him develop his spiritual powers, and Jenny is absent for a good part of the game (Tommy's main goal is to rescue her, after all), Talon the hawk appears during much of the game and helps Tommy battle the aliens.

Named for the game's original hero, Talon accompanies Tommy back from the spirit realm and becomes an invaluable asset. The hawk can attack and distract enemies, fly over huge gaps that Tommy can't cross, and even flip switches and activate controls. Many of the puzzles require you to make use of Talon's abilities.

The game includes a large amount of Cherokee mythology, all of which has been well-researched and compiled. The myths represented include actual Cherokee stories and symbols, and these myths and items are blended into the science-fiction-based storyline in such a way that the two very different concepts seem to fit perfectly together.

In the next section, we'll find out what the gameplay is like and what it takes to win.

 

 

Playing Prey

One of the most groundbreaking aspects of Prey is its portal technology. Portals were conceived very early in the game's development and were one of the main concepts that 3D Realms insisted stay in the game. Portals are exactly what they sound like: gateways, in this case to other areas of the alien ship. However, unlike normal games where players can only walk through the portals, in Prey, portals function exactly like in real life. You can look through them and actually see what's going on on the other side, and if you see aliens in there, you're free to fire away and take them out before stepping through the portal. Of course, aliens can fire through these portals, too.

Another fun aspect of the game is the way it uses gravity, or actually doesn't use gravity. Some of the areas of the alien spaceship have very little gravitational pull, which results in Tommy leaping across the area like Superman. Other places warp gravity, causing Tommy to end up running along the walls or the ceiling. You may find yourself under attack by aliens standing on the underside of a stairwell or shooting from a door that opens up in the middle of the wall. These areas are a lot of fun to play through and look amazing.

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The alien spaceship graphics are wildly bizarre, with fluorescent colors and odd geometry giving the entire game a very strange, very alien feel. When this is added to the fact that some of the walls actually attack Tommy, you get a game full of suspense and thrills.

While Tommy relies on his spirit powers and Talon to do a lot of damage to enemies, he also relies on something much more tangible: lots of big guns. These guns, like the setting, are very alien-like, both in look and in action. Each has several different modes or uses. One biomechanic rifle can function either as a normal gun or as a type of nail gun, while an arm gun can include an automatic mode. Some of the weapons don't even look like guns; tiny alien spiders can be used as grenades or stuck to the wall like a explosive.

And, of course, what sci-fi game would be complete without some high-flying action? Tommy gets behind the controls of a small probe ship and explores the area surrounding the mothership. Aliens follow him into space, and you have to maneuver the ship, aim its single laser cannon, and dodge meteoroids and other space debris all at the same time. Puzzles follow Tommy out into the void as well, and solving them requires just as much thought and patience as solving the puzzles inside the ship.

Most of this article has focused on the single-player mode, but the multiplayer mode promises to be just as much fun. Here, you can play with up to eight other players via Xbox Live in what is easily one of the most challenging deathmatches ever. The odd level designs and changing gravity are in play in the deathmatch arenas, so you never know where your opponent is going to be. While this takes a bit of getting use to, once you have played a few matches you'll have no trouble taking out enemies on the ceiling, the walls, or the floor. To help keep you oriented, each surface you can stand on is clearly marked, and ammunition only appears on the real floor. Portals are in play in multiplayer mode as well.

How to Succeed in Prey

To succeed in Prey, you have to be on your toes at all times. The environment, unlike that in some games, is a danger to Tommy, so you have to watch for attacking walls. Likewise, you've got to look out for portals. Aliens on the other side of portals will take aim and fire at Tommy if they see him. In addition to walls and portals, you've also got to keep an eye out above you. With gravity functioning differently than it does on Earth, there's no telling where an alien may be.

Another tip for surviving in the world of Prey is to master Tommy's spiritual powers. You need to spirit walk fairly often to find the enemies before they can possess any innocent humans or aliens in the vicinity. This power is also necessary to solve many of the puzzles in the game and to open other areas of the spaceship for exploration. You also need to master using Talon to open doors, change the gravitational pull, and perform other actions in areas that Tommy can't reach.

Finally, the puzzles require you to think on your toes and to take notice of everything in the area. The solution to some of these puzzles is obvious, but some are a bit more difficult. If you find yourself stuck, look for portals to explore, places to change the gravitational pull, or a probe ship to pilot. Also, listen to the radio broadcasts from Art Bell, the famous conspiracy theorist/radio host. He often drops hints about what to do.

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