How exactly did the white man take over if Native Americans never die?
What everyone wants to know, first and foremost, is how the game looks like. To say the least, the game is exceedingly awesome graphically. The Doom 3 engine is used perfectly here to convey the grotesque innards of this biotech environment. There’s a whole lot of slimy surfaces to be seen, and more than a few will move ominously, undulating to an unseen beat. As a tradeoff for that detail, however, the number of different enemy types in the game is rather lacking. In total, there are maybe 10 non-boss enemy types you’ll find when plowing through Prey, not counting bosses that are later toned down for use as non-boss enemies. This isn’t to say you’re not going to be busy. Be prepared to face tens of enemies at the same time, even if they seem like they were freshly pressed from a cookie cutter. The organic weapon shtick really gives the weapons a slick, otherworldly feel, as if you were really holding a living thing in your hand. It’s just too bad they act like your standard guns.
Prey is the story of a down on his luck Cherokee named Tommy, who wants to escape his reservation and leave his heritage behind. Standing in the way of that is his girlfriend, Jen, who is proud of her tribe and unwilling to leave. As they both seem to be from Oklahoma, one has to wonder if the Cherokee in Oklahoma really feel “bound” to land that they were basically forced to go to at the end of the Trail of Tears (any Cherokee gamers out there, feel free to enlighten me). However, there isn’t much time for this to be contemplated before everything just goes crazy. An alien ship rips off the roof of the bar Tommy and Jen are in before kidnapping them and their grandfather. So starts the story of Prey. There are just enough twists and turns in the story to keep people interested, even if the whole thing seems rather strange.
The one thing that messes the story up is that there’s no real urgency to the proceedings. Relatively early in the game, Tommy gains the ability to “spirit walk,” allowing him to go outside of his body to reach places where he can’t get to normally, usually through a force field or a bridge that is only accessible in the spirit realm. Along with this ability, he is able to “death walk.” After he dies, his spirit is sent to what can be best described as a shooting gallery, where he has 15 seconds to regain health and spirit by shooting at red or blue wraiths before he is dropped back into the game, usually right where he died. This takes the basic need to survive right out of the game, as you’re basically in god mode the whole time.
Even with this flaw, the game’s got some interesting design concepts. For one, there are the portals, which will lead you to entirely different areas of the ship. Most of the time they’ll open up before you like a wormhole on a Star Trek episode, but sometimes you’ll notice a box that leads somewhere entirely different.
The other trick up Prey’s sleeve is the gravity. You’re not always on the floor. Sometimes you’ll be walking up walls, sometimes even on the ceiling. This makes for what would have been incredible battles in another game, where enemies are literally shooting at you from the ceiling, floor and walls. There are even a few interesting puzzles involving wall walk panels.
It’s just a shame that these tricks aren’t used to make things seem a bit more nonlinear. You’re never at a loss as to where to go, and the game feels more linear than it should be.
Multiplayer is perhaps the most disappointing thing of all. There are only eight maps to choose from, and only two game play types (deathmatch and team deathmatch). While those eight maps are pretty imaginative and make for some incredible cat and mouse game play – they’re certainly more imaginative in using portals and wall walk than the single-player game – There’s simply not enough there to keep you going for long.
The long and the short of it is that Prey is a game that, while good, could have been so, so much better. Lack of real challenge and linear design both conspire against interesting design concepts and story to hold back what could have been one of the most awesome shooters since Half-Life 2. This isn’t the best way to honor the Cherokee.