Written : Sunday, July 29, 2007
By: Dan Webb (GT: Webb x360a)
Prey had been dubbed ‘the game that nearly never was’ because it took nearly 10 years to go through the phases of becoming a video game. It was originally announced way back in 1997, only to be cast into oblivion a year later, but today we find it blessing our systems. If you would have said way back in 2002, that in 4 years time you’d be playing Prey on a new Microsoft console, you would have been strapped to the stake and burnt alive for such ludicrous comments. But here we are now, and it’s a reality, but was it really worth the wait? The answer is a resounding yes!
The story begins in a run down bar in the wastelands of rural Oklahoma. You find yourself taking control of Tommy, a native American who goes from mechanic (who’s given up on his heritage) to interstellar super hero, as an unknown race comes to Earth to harvest its inhabitants. Most of the game takes place on the alien mothership as Tommy desperately fights to save the love of his life, Jen; and even more so, the human race!! Tommy is not just some mere mortal on a one-man mission to become a hero, he’s got his trusty spirit-self which stems from his forgotten heritage, to help him in his task. It is a truly an entertaining plot with many twists along the way which is a joy to be a part of.
"Right, who wants a piece first!?"
As far as graphics are concerned, Human Head does a commendable job for their first outing on the 360 and it is a good indication of how the future of the console will shape up. They have also done a fine job modifying the Doom 3 engine in this title and that really stands out. This engine, nowadays considered past its prime, has been used in such a way that critics may have to eat their words after marvelling at this game's visuals. In laymens terms, its the same as throwing a McClaren F1 engine in to a pre World War One Buick, essentially improving something that many considered dead and buried. The environments are detailed and the enemy mothership is astonishing at times. Surprisingly, the game is fairly well lighted throughout which is a nice change from other games of the Sci-Fi FPS genre and the developers have pulled some really nice effects out of the bag by using vivid lights combined with a light, misty haze. The ship itself, literally pulsates around you as you navigate it, breeding life into the environments; add to that some flickering lights that are constantly unnerving and the developers have managed to set a great mood. Definitely a good sign for the future of the console.
The soundtrack is one of the best things of this game. It is almost untouchable to date. Not only do you start with such an inspirational and fitting song in Blue Oyster Cult's 'Don’t Fear the Reaper', but should you finish the game, you will hear the delights of After Midnight’s Projects 'Take Me Home'. Both songs very fitting and are a perfect fit with the style and build of the game. The voice acting and sound effects are very entertaining and realistic throughout, a real plus in the game. The language is a bit over the top at times; think Pulp Fiction meets Predator, as every other word that Tommy seems to utter is a profanity. Suppose it is meant to add to the tension the poor guy must be feeling. Hello? Native American with spirit powers on an alien ship trying to defeat their race to win back his girl; hell, I’d even be a little bit edgy. The subtle ambiance of the score is very fitting; when you first encounter the phantom children, the echo of their chilling laughs sends shivers down the spine as you find yourself checking behind the couch to make sure the sounds aren’t in your front room. As a complete package, the soundtrack, cast and sound effects are nearly faultless.
Taking control of Tommy is fairly simple and, most of the time, a joy to behold. The controls feel responsive throughout… Well, except when you pilot the only vehicles of the game, then the controls suddenly become heavy and awkward. Thankfully, these vehicle sections are few and far between and last no more than a couple of minutes. One obvious pitfall in the game is the painful loading times between levels, the game is pretty linear, so I'd hate to guess what the game is loading.
"This wall surfing is over-rated"
Now on to the area where Prey excels ahead of the rest of the competition; the much tried and usually failed, innovation. We finally have a game that effectively pulls it off and truly stands out from any other game in the FPS genre and kudos goes to Human Head for this. They use three main features for this; you have portals, gravity walks and the ever-powerful spirit-self. The portals are the main navigation around the spaceship and the first time you really marvel at this technique is most definitely when you go through one very early on in the game. After travelling through what seems like a run-of-the-mill portal, you find yourself on a spherical centre-piece in a room. It takes a minute to realise that you've shrunk to a tenth of your original size. Panic really sets in though, when one of the guardians piles into the room. You literally find yourself cowering in the comfort of your own home for fear of being spotted by this giant beast. It's great set pieces like this that really have a lasting effect on you. Then the game introduces the gravity walks. Now the fantasies of becoming Lionel Ritchie become a reality. You'll be 'dancing on the ceiling'... the walls, back to the ceiling in no time. Talk about fun. Incredibly disorientating at times, but definitely fun. Throw some enemies on to it and you'll be blasting them wherever they stand, whether they be using them as they hang from the ceiling or you using them as you hang from the ceiling. Bit of advice though, jumping at this point is not recommended because the walkway no longer remains active as you leave it and you return back to the floor with a crash. Last, but by no means least, we have Tommy's spirit powers that he obtains early on in the game. The spirit powers carry two main powers. Firstly, the spirit walk which allows Tommy’s spirit to leave his body and let you control him. With a simple press of Y you can send your spirit to do the dirty work with the overly powerful spirit bow or even just walk through a force field to flick a switch. This is such a great feature of the game and one you will have great fun with. Remember though, when out in spirit mode, your body (which now looks like a lifeless puppet hanging from the rafters) is open to attack, so be careful. The second bonus of having the backing of the spirits is…. Wait for it… The ability to bring oneself back from the death… What!? I can hear you shout "you cannot be serious!!??" from way over here. Sadly, I am. When you die, you activate a mini-game where you use your spirits bow to hit red and blue wraiths. Hit a red one and it adds to your health. Hit a blue one and it adds to your spirit's health. After about 5-10 seconds, you are sucked back in to the exact same position you were, to carry on. With the plethora of gimmicks, Prey is one title that has you entertained from the first minute, however it must be noted that it is NOT a game for those that suffer from motion sickness. Don't say you haven't been warned.
What the title makes up on innovation, it seriously gets pegged back on the challenge front. You can run through the single player campaign in 10 hours absolutely max and you don’t even have to play it carefully, as you are pretty much granted invincibility. Complete the game and play on the hardest difficulty, Cherokee and still, it lacks the challenge that a hardest difficulty should offer the gamer. Disappointing really, as its hard enough to muster the courage to sit through it twice, yet alone any other time! Even the puzzle sections throughout the game aren’t challenging; more of a Chinese finger puzzle than a Rubix cube. Simply breathe, pause for a short thought, then commence solving. The game seems to wrap the gamer up in cotton wool, its as if the developer doesn’t want to go too hard on them. Hell, even if it looks like you're lost in game, your trusty spirit bird pal (yeah that’s right, you read that correct) guides you the right way, either that or a short trip in to spirit mode and a spirit path will become blatant. Add to that the save whenever you want policy and this should be a breeze for almost every gamer.
The game's innovation crops up once again, but this time, in the weapons, it takes the usual standard weapons of every FPS and adds a little twist to them. Whether it be the acid shotgun or the rocket launcher with secondary feature which can only be described as a shield made of a translucent, gooey matter. Add to that the Leech gun which you have to refill as you go through the levels with different elemental powers and the wrench, the all time melee classic which has no value later on in the game apart from the much credited novelty value and the game shines in this area. Hey, the beauty of the weapons in this game, has to be the fact that so long as you have ammo, you’ll never need to reload. No more fiddling through the buttons mid battle to get much needed ammo in the barrels. Just blast away at your hearts content.
The enemies in the game are a little slow at times, mentally I mean, its like fighting Forrest Gump in an alien outfit,. But hey, they are a bit of eye candy and a joy to battle against from an aesthetical point of view. They range from little grunts to huge Centurions with twin cannons who can be a challenge sometimes, but it all falls down on this never dieing issue again. I mean, you can “die” 50 times if you like before you take down 1 of them, but you can still carry on through the game. Either way, there can be some entertaining battles full of some gore, even though the challenge just isn’t there, doesn’t mean its not fun, cause believe me, it is!
The multiplayer screams potential from the outset but unfortunately it fails to live up to this. After experiencing the single player, you can picture a quirky online game with people fighting on all walls of the map, however, fire up the multiplayer and that thought is a distant memory. Instead you are faced with some interesting maps and environments shrouded by a laggy haze. Lag is an understatement to the online play. Any more than 2 people in your room and your in for a rough ride, hell, sometimes, its bad enough with 2 people. It is such a shame for a game that offers something new to the usual FPS multiplayer arena. If it wasn’t for the terrible connection to each other and the servers, the game may be an online success, unfortunately, that isn’t the case.
"I bet I can pick that fork up before you!"
As far as the achievements go… Well, it’s possibly the most unoriginal part of the game. You are rewarded for completing each level and so many kills with a certain weapon in the multiplayer arena. If it wasn’t for the original secret achievements which take the form of doing certain things on the arcade machines dotted throughout the game, whether it be poker, blackjack or a Pac-Man-esque game called Runeman, then the achievements on the game could be described as plain... Unimaginitive... Boring... Which is a let down after seeing the use of their creative minds throughout the game. Possibly the only saving grace is that we are less than a year after release and developers are still getting to grips with these pesky things.
To go without experiencing Prey’s innovative and entertaining single player would be a mistake. A revolutionizing experience that is matched in terms of quirky gimmicks by no other game, lasts no longer than a few sit downs which is a damn shame. But don’t let that get you down, what we are offered is a single player experience that is worthy of this generation of consoles. A delight on the eyes and auditory masterpiece, that nearly, I stress nearly, makes up for the poor multiplayer execution and lack of challenge within the game.
Impressive from the first song to the last song, throw in some good voice acting and audio wise, Prey is top of the class.
A great start from Human Head on the visuals. Game seems a bit samey throughout but that never retracts from the experience.
Easy to control, fun to play, what more can you ask for? How about bucket loads of innovation and a game which should be marketed as “comes with cast amounts of motion sickness”.
On the whole it is delivered to a high standard with plenty of innovation…. But you can’t shake the fact that it is sooooooooooo easy!! Makes you shudder at times…. Oh well, there goes the longevity of the game.
Where for art thou originality? And forcing us to play a laggy multiplayer for some points… Shame on you!
A great game overall, but let down on the multiplayer side. The single player experience must not be missed but in all honesty, after 10 or so hours of play you are wondering what to do next.