Note: This review is based on the XBox 360 version
How important is innovation to you? Does it really matter? If you play a game, and it's tons of fun, but you've played it in some form a bunch of times before, is the game worse because of it? Now, opposite question: Say a game is completely original, has a bunch of things that's never been done before, but it's not all that fun. Do you give it the benefit of the doubt for trying something new or trash it for not being very enertaining? In my eyes, I see innovation as a great bonus. If a game is awesome, but derivative, guess what: It's still awesome. But if a game can throw in some new twists, it can take a slightly above average game into a great title. Such is the case with Prey.
The fact that Prey actually exists in it's current form is something of a shock/small miracle. The game has been in development since the late 90's by 3D Realms (Like Duke Nukem Forever). Since then it sat on the shelf while small doses of information and rumors spread about when/if exactly it would come out (Like Duke Nukem Forever). In late 2004, the game was picked up by Human Head studios (Who's biggest game beforehand was the highly mediocre western FPS Dead Man's Hand) and has finally come out (Unlike Duke Nukem Forever) in the crowded Sci-Fi FPS Genre.
In the game, you play as Tommy: An Ex Marine Cherokee Indian. He lives on the reservation with his deeply spritiual grandfather: enisi, and he hates it. Tommy isn't the most spiritual Native American on the planet, and all he want's to do is get off the Rez and take is Girlfriend: Jen, with him. About three minutes into the game, aliens show up and abduct you, your girl, your Grandpappy, and pretty much everyone in sight. Unfortunately, these aren't the "Probe you and send you back" type aliens, but rather the "Mince you up into little pieces and turn you into either food or more aliens" aliens. It's up to you to save your girlfriend, your grandpa, the world, and find out more about your heritage.
This story had the potential to be really, really cheesy and stupid. Thankfully Human Head decided to actually make the story fantastic. The script is very well written, and will defiantly throw you through some loops. you'll really feel the drive to save Jen, and by the end of the game, you will HATE the bad guys and will be absolutely stoked to fill 'em full of holes. Also, one of my pet peeves in gaming is the fact that most characters in games who are minorities are walking offensive stereotypes. Tommy acts like a normal guy, doesn't have a feather in his head, and helps the game have a really natural feel. Grandpa is a little stereotypical, but he fits well into the story. The game is steeped in Cherokee mythos, and you really get the feel for the world the creators were trying to portray. From start to finish, you will be enthralled and want to know what happens. You don't really see a deep story like this.
Sound wise, the game scores big as well. Everything from the gunfire to the death sounds to the churning flesh to the menacing machinery all sound loud, bassy, and in your face. When you let out a lightning bolt of doom from one of your guns, it sounds like your TV just exploded. I hate it when games have quiet sound effects, and Prey goes right for the gut and rocks your socks. This is heightened by an excellent soundtrack by Jeremy Soule (Who also did the music for games like Guild Wars and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion). The music is the sweeping orchestral affair that's loud and booming or quiet when it needs to be. There's also some classic rock songs that you can listen to in the bar early in the game (And hidden in the mothership) from Heart, Ted Nugent, Blue Oyster Cult and a couple others.
Voice acting in the game is also superb. Tommy, Jen, and Enisi all do a great job of portraying emotion. The main bad guy in the game sounds good as well, but is trying too hard to do a Judi Dench impression. But by FAR the best part of the entire sound presentation is the inclusion of famed Alien conspirator Art Bell. For years he has hosted the nationally syndicated radio show Coast to Coast, and he was brought in to record these little tidbits of his radio show. You'll find about 6 or 7 of these sprawled around the game on monitors titled "EARTH TRANSMIT ION", and they're all campy good fun, and do a good job of lightening the game's dark mood. These are so good, that you'll just wish there were more of them since there's only a handful, and they're only about 3 minutes long each. The inclusion of Art Bell (Like the game itself) is a great send up to all the great Alien conspiracy theories you hear about, and really round out a fantastic audio presentation.
Graphically, the game looks pretty fantastic. The game is based off the DOOM3 engine which means great lighting and dark, gloomy corridors. The character models are also quite good, and express themselves very well. The framerate does tend to drop once in a great while, but only when there's 100 things going on at once, and for 95% of the game, it stays at a solid 30 Frames Per Second.
It's also worth mentioning that this game looks absolutely disgusting and repulsive Everything in the game is slimy, dirty and horrifying. If the developers wanted to make you wanna throw up, mission accomplished. Basically the ship is made up of 50% sharp, rusty metal and 50% organic, beating fleshy matter. During the game, an oraphis of some kind will literally throw up on you, and monsters will climb out of things that look like certain body parts that I don't think I'm at liberty to mention on this website, and all of this just looks revolting, but in a good way. It fits the mood very well, and really makes you squirm. the look of the game is something you've never seen before, but if you have the stomach for it, the game is a grotesque spectacle.
Now, earlier I mentioned the importance of innovation, and how it translates into this game. Before I talk about the game's "innovations", it should be noted that this game is a pretty standard FPS. You go from point A to point B, shoot a bunch of aliens along the way, blow some stuff up, fight a boss once in a while, and save the day. So as far as the core gameplay goes, there's nothing really new here. Where the innovation lies is how you get from Point A to Point B in this game. The biggest thing about this game is the portal technology. Basically the game is filled with these gateway's that you can see straight through, shoot straight through, and even kill dudes on the other side of 'em. When you walk through one of these, you're all of the sudden in a whole other area. You could be going down a dark hallway and BAM! A portal pops in front of you, and this things leads you to a small moon. This game just throws you these random, jarring scenarios, and this always keeps the game fresh.
The next big gameplay twist in Prey is the wall walking. Forget everything Issac Newton ever told you about gravity, because Prey throws it all out the window. Basically all around this Alien spaceship are these blue strips that go up and down walls, sideways, upside down, and all lead to your next destination. Walk on one, and all of the sudden you're walking up a wall! This doesn't really change the gameplay much, but it's so cool walking up a wall onto the celing and start shooting the bad guys on the floor, and vice-versa. They can go up the strips too, and when you kill them they fall to the floor, and that is really satisfying shooting some alien 100 feet above of you and have him fall to your feet. It's deranged good fun.
The weapons are also unique. You have your standard assault rifle/sniper rifle combo, shotgun, heavy machine gun, plasma gun, rocket launcher, a wrench you got from the bar, Etc. Etc. What's the catch? Well, they're all alive. No joke. One weapon is the freaking arm of the bad guy that you cut off with a force field! Another weapon turns into a sniper rifle by putting a heat sensing scope ON YOUR EYEBALL. All these guns, like the environments, are slimy and pulsate constantly. Needless to say that these guns are rad, and a great twist on overdone weapons.
Lastly, the final twist the game throws at you is the spirit walking skill. A couple of times during the game, Tommy will go on a spirit journey with his Grandfather back on the reservation. You go to the "Spirit cave" and you are bestowed the power of the Spirit walk. Basically, by pressing the Y button, Tommy turns into a Ghost and can walk through force fields and shoot guys with the quite powerful Spirit Bow. Basically this is used for really, really easy puzzles. Seriously, most of the "puzzles" in the game involve tommy walking to a force field of some kind, going into Spirit walk mode, going through the force field and turning it off by using the switch that us usually about 3 feet away from the door. The only other kind of spirit mode puzzles involve tommy standing on a platform, and then sending your spirit to turn on the platform. Yeah, that's about as deep as it gets. This feels like a wasted opportunity, and something that really could've been expanded upon. The spirit mode also translates into the "Death Walk". You see, in this game, you never actually die. Basically when you run out of health, you are transported into the spirit realm, and you play this kind of shooting gallery where you shoot red and blue birds for 10 seconds. Red birds give you health and blue birds give you spirit energy. After the game, you are transported immediately back to where you were and you just keep on killing. This was just a bad idea, and all it does is make a game that was fairly easy into a very, VERY easy game. So even if you're terrible at shooters, you can beat this game no problem at the hardest difficulty because it's impossible to get stuck.
Now all these things help distinguish a fairly straightforward shooter, but most of the "innovations" in the game have actually been done before. The portals, while never done this well before, have been seen in numerous games before, the live weapons were seen in Oddworld: Strangers Wrath, the Wall walking has been done in every game that has ever had gravity boots, and the spirit walking elements were ripped straight out of Geist. Granted these features have never been put into one game before, but I was really expecting something revolutionary instead of just enhancing features seen in a bunch of games before. The stuff in there is good, but not really new.
However, any small complaints I have about this game do not compare at all to the truly terrible and miserable Multiplayer. The game supports up to 8 players via XBox live. The "Multiprey" (Stoopid name) only has two modes: Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch. Now, on it's own, this would be alright. It'd be somewhat fun, if forgettable, multiplayer. That WOULD be the case if it wasn't for the horrible connection errors, bad lag, and nasty bugs. Here's my entire multiprey experience: I logged on, picked a game, and it wouldn't connect. I then tried this process again, but wouldn't connect. 5 attempts later, I finally got in, and that's where the fun starts! Horribly lag-tastic gameplay. You skip all around the screen, and when you get in a firefight, the game slows to maybe 8 frames per second. After you die, you'll have no idea what happened. Then the game froze! So I restart my 360, and try it again with. Exact same process. This is unacceptable from a retail game I paid $70.00 for. I can only hope that they release a patch and fix this somehow, and maybe add a few notes. What most depressing is that this could actually be a ton of fun. Imagine going through portals and shooting your buddies online while running up walls. Wouldn't that be cool? But as it is right now, this multiprey is unpreyable (Sorry about the really bad pun).
So Is this game worth your $60.00 (Or $70.00 for the Limited Edition)? Not really. You get a 7 hour game that you'll plow through and a multiplayer that you'll play for 15 minutes before you throw your headset down in frustration. I paid full price for it, and while I won't lose any sleep over it, I do wish I would've waited until the game was around $40.00. If you like single player focused games with good stories and great production values, then I could see a justification for going ahead and buying this. If your only slightly interested in this title, either wait for a price drop or even just rent it.
It's also worth mentioning that other then the normal version of Prey for $60.00 (Or $50.00 for PC version), you can get the Limited Edition for $70.00 ($60.00 on PC) If you pick this up, you get a bunch of mediocre extras. You get a really cool tin case that is HUGE. Seriously, this sucker takes up a huge spot on my game rack. You can see it from across the room. It's not as big as the case for the LE of Marc Ecko's Getting Up that I have, but it's close. Anyway, if you get this, you also get 2 little D&D style metal figures that look like something straight out of a Paper style RPG (Future Prey products perhaps?). You also get a artbook called "The Art Of Prey". Pretty self explanatory. You also get a soundtrack download, but you have to register for this site and go through a bunch of steps. I haven't got this, and I don't really plan to, but the soundtrack is good, so I guess this is also good. But one stupid about it is that it's only Part 1 of the soundtrack. Once again, that's stupid. Lastly, as a special gift, you get the worst idea to ever grace a disc case! Seriously, who the h*ll thought this was a good idea!? For those of you who don't know, this case has the worst way of storing a disc I've ever seen. Inside the steel case and under the felt holder that holds all the extra stuff, there sits the Prey disc with no case around it whatsoever, and being held into place by a flimsy rubber nub which holds the disc way too tight. Seriously, I thought I was gonna snap the disc in two when I first bought it. Instead of dealing with it, I just ripped the rubber nub right off the case (not hard) and my Prey disc now sits in a nice slim jewel case. Overall all this stuff is not worth the extra $10.00, and this is for collectors only.
So, at the end of the day, Prey is a pretty darn good game that has a lot of great ideas and is well executed, but has too many problems that keep the game from being truly great. You gotta hand it to the guys who made this game, because of instead of just making another shooter really tried to do something different. Everything about the game (Except for the pathetic multiprey) just screams quality, and while it's not a game I'm gonna tell you to just run out and buy, it's a solid game that is definitely worth playing.
+ Great story
+ awesome sound design
+ disgusting, but in a good way
+ looks really good
+ fresh gameplay
+ Art Bell!
-seen most of these "innovations" before
-Limited Edition not worth it
-death walk was a bad idea altogether
8 Out Of 10
Bottom Line:If intrigued, give it a shot.