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Published on April 23, 2008 By warreni In PC Gaming

I finished Prey recently. It may be that in my old age I have developed a short attention span (I blame my wife), but unlike many other reviewers, I really felt as though the game wore out its proverbial welcome, like the friend or family member that you're very fond of who visits for Christmas but won't take a hint that you're ready to go to bed.

The story revolves around a Cherokee named Tommy who is tired of life on the rez and has nothing but contempt for his heritage. Tommy's grandfather is always encouraging him to respect his ancestral ways and, while Tommy is ready to leave the reservation and start a new life somewhere in the wider world, his girlfriend Jen likes it there and has no desire to run off with Tommy. The characters themselves are not really all that well fleshed out--they're typical movie archetypes: the brooding hero, the wise old man, and the doting but feisty girlfriend. When an alien spacecraft rudely shatters Jen's bar and sucks up the hapless inhabitants, including the three main characters, the game begins in earnest. Tommy escapes from captivity with the assistance of some mysterious rebels, about whom he uncovers much more information later in the game; in the meantime, he works toward freeing his grandfather and his girlfriend from the aliens' custody.

There are a few key game mechanics that Tommy will be manipulating in the course of his journey. The first of these is spatial portals; alien technology allows for the creation of portals between different locations in the vast ship known as the Sphere. For the most part, these portals are a way to spawn in enemies for Tommy to fight, as well as a way to transition between levels. The portals are elliptical, translucent, and weapons can be fired through them. The second such mechanic is gravity manipulation, in the form of "grav switches," which are areas on walls, floors, or ceilings that can be shot to activate them; when activated, whatever surface the switch is embedded in becomes the new "floor." The other way that gravity is defied is by the use of "wallwalks," strips of wall that, when active, Tommy (and enemies) can use to walk up walls and/or along ceilings. The third mechanic is an ability that Tommy acquires pretty early in the game - he can literally have an "out of body" experience and spirit walk. In spirit form, he can shoot a bow that uses spirit energy as ammunition. Also, when he dies in the real world, his spirit emerges in a kind of limbo where he must use his spirit bow to shoot red and blue wraiths that gain him health and spirit energy respectively; after a short period of time, Tommy returns to the real world with whatever energies he was able to recover. This makes our hero, effectively, immortal.

I haven't played Half-Life 2 yet (and I know that's a kind of sacrilege in some circles), but I understand that with the Gravity Gun, it was doing the sorts of things that Tommy spends a lot of time doing with a shuttle's tractor beam two years earlier. The portals are pretty nifty and a lot less silly than enemies just teleporting in at random as they tend to do in other games. It's the puzzles, which make generous use of the grav switches mentioned above and Tommy's spirit walk ability (using which he can move through impassable force-field barriers), that tend to make the game drag. After you've played through about 10 of Prey's 21 levels, you've seen just about everything it has to show you, so you're just grinding to get to that next end-level blue portal. I used a "godmode" cheat on the last few levels because it might have taken me another week to finish otherwise. The immortality granted by the spirit walk ability is all fine and well, but when you're low on good quality ammunition and you're having your ass handed to you within a couple of seconds every time you respawn, the whole exercise becomes a test of your patience.

The graphics are good if not Crysis-I-can-see-that-my-avatar-didn't-shave-this-morning good. The ambient sounds and music (by game music vet Jeremy Soule) are effective and the voice cast does a fine job with what relatively little spoken dialogue there is in the game. For what it's worth, the American Indian characters are voiced by real Indian actors and the game itself was praised in the Native American community for not relying on easy, racist stereotypes. The game is rated M because Tommy uses the "F" word a lot, shoots and blows up a lot of things, and there are numerous scenes of the aliens doing or having done some rather gruesome things to people (no simple rectal probes for these guys). There's an interesting story to be uncovered by playing the whole way through but the narrative would have been better served (and I might have cared a bit more about the fates of the various characters) had the journey itself been a bit shorter.


Comments
on Apr 24, 2008
I thought the game was:

too short

too easy (dying means nothing, in fact, it can be a good thing, it can be used to heal yourself up).

The fact that it wears out its welcome before its over is true, but that's the fault of poor game design. It should be designed in such a way to keep its welcome, no matter how long it is. I don't pay 50 bucks for a single player FPS I can finish in one sitting (which I did). I want my money back.
on Apr 25, 2008

SmegInThePants


I thought the game was:too shorttoo easy (dying means nothing, in fact, it can be a good thing, it can be used to heal yourself up). The fact that it wears out its welcome before its over is true, but that's the fault of poor game design. It should be designed in such a way to keep its welcome, no matter how long it is. I don't pay 50 bucks for a single player FPS I can finish in one sitting (which I did). I want my money back.

 

Well, Smeg, (revolting Red Dwarf-themed nick, by the way ), I can't help you with the refund. I actually picked up the CE about a year ago at GameStop for $20.

I guess it really depends on what you mean by "poor game design." In my case, and I certainly can't speak for all or probably even many, but I tend to find doing many variations on the same thing to become tedious rather rapidly, especially when it comes to action games. That's why I concluded that it was too short--the story felt as though it could easily have been accommodated in half of the number of levels that were present. A lot of the remainder of the game just seemed like filler where you're needlessly shooting grav switches to invert the room or spirit-walking through yet another force field to find a switch to disable it and/or some eye beams. I honestly don't know what would have made this a better game, other than condensing the number of levels.

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