Thursday, 01 February 2007 00:00

Prey (PC, 2006)

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Overview

Prey was a game that caught my eye mainly because it was... everywhere. Best Buy, Target, Walgreen's, hell, I even saw a copy in a little hole-in-the-wall type shop I randomly dropped in on to browse. I picked it up mainly because there wasn't anything else interesting to be found, and they had it on deep discount despite being fairly recent. It looked interesting - the Native American angle is one that few games attempt, and even fewer manage to get right - and it was priced right. The last piece of the puzzle was that it's built on the Doom 3 engine, an engine that - I think at least - has awesome promise to it. I picked up the PC version, and brought it home to give it a shot.

Review

Folks, lemmie start this review with this very simple statement... GOD DAMN THIS GAME FUCKS WITH YOUR SENSE OF DIRECTION!! Have you ever played any of the old Descent games? Or maybe Forsaken for the N64? Those games might as well have been straight lines compared to Prey. The game takes place inside an alien creature/ship called simply the Sphere, a place where gravity is relative - one that's completely unrelated to you, at that. As you run through the game, you'll find yourself going down corridors, up walls, through portals that drop you off on the ceiling, shooting at enemies standing at a 127 degree angle to you, running between planetoids that have separate gravities... You must understand that up and down means nothing more than where you happen to have to shoot at that moment to fight enemies. Prey's use of the Doom 3 engine's capabilities aren't just stunning, they are utterly insane. You will be disoriented - but not to the extent of a game like Descent, because while gravity is relative, there IS gravity, and hence a tangible up and down to work with... just one that varies according to your situation.

Prey is a game built on a foundation that uses Native American mythology as its basis. You play the role of Tommy, a son of the Cherokee nation, former soldier, and current mechanic. Tommy lives on a reservation - not by choice - with his grandfather Enisi, and spends much of his free time at the Roadhouse Bar, which is run by his girlfriend, Jen. The story sets out with Tommy staring himself down in the mirror - and not liking what he sees. He steps back out into the main area of the bar, meeting his grandfather on the way, who says something about it being time to embrace his heritage, before the night unfolds. Tommy brushes him off, and goes back to trying to convince Jen to leave the reservation with him. Unlike him, though, Jen is very proud of her heritage. It's about this time that the two customers in the bar start pestering Jen, and Tommy, pipe wrench in hand, makes them back off... yeah, that's as good a way of putting it as anything else.

Of course, that's also about the time that the shit hits the fan, because the bar starts rattling as strange green lights appear overhead. Tommy, Jen, Enisi, and the two drunks get sucked into the air. Tommy wakes to find himself strung up to a plate of some sort, being carried on an overhead track through... something that might either be a living creature or very poorly up kept slaughter house... I think you get the idea.

Let me say this foremost, folks... this game is not for children. The designers made full use of the Doom3 engine, and spared no gory detail. Beyond that, it's also one of the foulest games I've ever played. Tommy swears like a former Army man ought to, and he's carrying around quite a bit of rage. Layered through that is Enisi, taking the role of spiritual advisor after meeting a very nasty demise in the slaughter house. This actually makes for a surprisingly rich story to draw on, something that is rare, to say the least, for FPS games. Through the course of the game, you learn that the aliens seeded life throughout the galaxy, intent upon building a sufficient food source to maintain them, and the Sphere, as it travels through the galaxy. Every few thousand years or so, it makes a stop at Earth as part of this path.

The graphics are awesome, as I've alluded to thus far. Unlike Doom 3, it's also well enough lit that you can see where you're going. Make no mistake, the designers knew what they were working with, and they got great results out of it. They even had a little fun with it - at a certain point in the game, you step into a very dark hallway... extremely dark. Blatantly dark. Tommy makes the comment... "Damn... so dark. I'm Doomed." Having played Doom 3 and its expansion pack... I laughed my ass off at that. Getting back to the point, the enemy models are well done, detailed, and with equally good textures. I'd have liked a bit more work on Jen's model - she seemed a bit... unpolished. But overall I was happy with the character models. By the way, play with your lights down... if you don't mind having the bejeezus scared out of you. There are quite a few good scares to be found, and the ambiance is damned creepy. As a comparison, remember when you first reached Delta 4 in Doom 3? Prey starts right about there, and then takes the express elevator down.

Speaking of the ambiance, no 'creep' noise in Prey - quite to the contrary, there's actually a pretty damn good soundtrack. It doesn't play all the time - but unlike Doom 3, and many recent FPS games, it DOES play actual background music to accompany the action sequences. I don't like 'creep' noise, because frankly, it drives me nuts. It's repetitive, annoying, and often enough the game is too dependent upon it for the situation's ambiance. Using actual music, on the other hand, not only highlights portions of the game, but actually acts as an anticipation builder, making you grow tense as it starts up. There's a solid ending theme too. Besides the sound track, I'll add that the actual sounds are pretty damn good. The voice acting was excellent, each actor fitting their part perfectly. I was very impressed with Enisi's VA. In a nice touch, here and there throughout the game, you'll run across radio scanners that pickup broadcasts done by Art Bell, talking about the 'strange goings on'. These broadcasts were done by Art Bell himself, and really ramp up the understanding that Tommy is the only poor bastard that really understands that Things Are Fucked Up Here.

Like all games based on the Doom 3 engine, Prey is easily mod-able through simply adding a folder to the game directory with the modified pack file in it. This allows for reasonable replayability. I haven't tried multiplayer - I don't like playing FPS multiplayer on the PC, I'd much rather have a controller than a keyboard, for the simple fact that I find it easier to play. As long as I'm on the topic, I'll mention that Prey has NO joystick support. It's possible to use key mappers to play, but... don't pick up the PC version expecting to play on your favorite game pad.

The weapon balance is pretty good, but I would have liked to see better ammo carrying ability, or at least substantially more ammo drops. Either would have worked for me. The first gun you get is a combination machine gun and sniper rifle, and is overall an awesome general purpose weapon for the first half of the game. It's a little underpowered, but not so badly that you're burning more ammo than you have. Conveniently, it will regen ammo when you run low, just fast enough to keep up fairly consistent fire on enemies. I should mention that all the basic weapons are represented, just not in a standard way - namely, nearly every weapon is actually a living creature. Last but not least, there's your Spirit Walking ability, which allows you to send your spirit ahead while your body stays behind. This allows you to pass through force fields, get free shots with your spirit bow on enemies ahead, cross gaps on spirit bridges... and oh yeah, completely and totally negate that pesky death thing. When you run out of health, you don't die... you get pulled briefly into the spirit realm, where you can shoot ghosts of the angry dead to recharge your life and spirit energy, before being dropped off right where you left off.

Overall

I've been greatly enjoying my copy of Prey. It's a well built game, on a great engine, with a well written story and awesomely deep back story to draw upon. The gravity and portal system makes for interesting game play, and wild puzzles. You WILL become disoriented while running around - there's no way around it. Like I said, I'd also have liked to see better ammo carrying ability. And if you don't want your cute little kiddies exposed to bad language... don't play when they're around, and most definitely do NOT let them play Prey. This having been said, this is a great game, well worth the money. It's got some good scares, some good lines, and a couple laugh out loud moments. It puts the Doom3 engine through its paces too, and gets great results for the effort. Go ahead and grab a copy if you like FPSs!

Additional Info

  • Title: Prey
  • Genre: FPS, Action, Horror
  • Composer: Jeremy Soule
  • Platform: PC, Xbox 360
  • Developer: Human Head Studios, 3D Realms, Venom Games, Aspyr Media
  • Publisher: 2K Games
  • Engine: id Tech 4 (Modified)
  • Writing: TOASTY! (+4)
  • Pacing: Groovy (+5)
  • Graphics: TOASTY! (+4)
  • Controls: Above Average (+1)
  • Voice Acting: Groovy (+5)
  • Soundtrack: TOASTY! (+4)
  • Replay Value: Good (+2)
Last modified on Saturday, 31 March 2012 21:27

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