It’s a crying shame when a game falls into that lonely category of unjustifiably overlooked games. For some unknown reason they drift beneath the hype radar like unappreciated stealth craft with a one-way ticket to the bargain bin.
Thankfully there’s an upside, as this means we can usually pick them up for less than the price of the bus journey home. Though it was critically (but quietly) acclaimed, Prey certainly doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
This was the first game I bought for my 360 and, boy, what a benchmark it set for future first-person shooters to enter my console. For those of you who are not familiar with the game (which is probably a lot of you), it’s a bit like a cross between Portal and Doom 3, but with a gut-wrenching twist. You see, it’s through its use of portals, dimensions and its quirky manipulation of gravity that makes Prey truly unique – I’ll never forget the first time I crawled into a box no bigger than a dishwasher to find, stored within, an immense and desolate landscape or a crashed jumbo jet!
Initially, you find yourself in the shoes of Cherokee garage mechanic Domasi Tawodi (thankfully named “Tommy” for short). Armed with nothing but your trusty wrench and gritty determination, your home and family are suddenly abducted by aliens, along with much of the world around you. After escaping from a bizarre conveyor belt leading to a horrifically probe-driven death, your quest to find your beloved and escape from the clutches of the unknown begins here, aboard an immense and futuristic ship.
Prey’s game engine is truly remarkable, as the laws of physics are audaciously cast aside. Walls become ceilings at the flick of a switch and portals visible from only certain angles lead the way to places that will amaze and amuse you through to the end, like some relentless acid trip. One such moment occurs when you enter a room containing a glass cube with a tiny sphere inside. After climbing into a small box, you find yourself on that very sphere, like a miniature planet that you can walk around with its personal gravity. You manage to escape before an enormous alien appears in the room you just left behind, peering menacingly into your little world, leaving you feeling more than a bit vulnerable.
Prey adopts the intriguing infusion of Native American and futuristic themes, which works surprisingly well. This is reflected in much of the scenery of the game, such as the oddly beautiful blend of organic and technological surroundings. Screens are held aloft by muscular fibres, pipes throb like veins and round doors close behind you like the contracting orifice of an immense and ominous beast. This techno-organic mix also applies to your formidable enemies, many of which are cybernetically enhanced, rather like the “Sligs” from Oddworld. Even the vast array of weapons you come across is, in part, living. For example, there is a rifle that connects directly to the nerves in your eye and there are crab-like creatures you throw as grenades, pulling a leg out instead of the pin.
The aforementioned Native American theme is manifest in the game’s use of spirituality. As well as the physical world, Tommy has the ability to enter the Spirit Walk. Whilst leaving his physical body floating and vulnerable to attack, this allows him to enter otherwise inaccessible areas, which makes up much of the game’s puzzle element. As well as the Spirit Walk, there is also the Death Walk, which you automatically enter when you die. During these segments, you must use your spirit bow to shoot enough wraiths before you are granted your physical body once more. This means the pace and continuity of the game is never broken.
As well as being visually outstanding (especially considering its early 360 release), the game has some superb ambient sounds. Droplets of slime, distant mutterings and the echoes of the cavernous ship all serve to envelope you in the experience. It does have a good musical score, although the developers chose to stick to the realistic ambient sounds for most of your travels. In fact, the only music you experience is when it comes from abducted radios and bars.
The game is huge, with an immense 22 levels of mind-melting madness. However, the real longevity lies in its online playability, which runs really well within a number of fabulous maps. Those of you who are prone to acid flashbacks or sufferers of vertigo should definitely avoid Prey. Its frankly magnificently thought-out landscape will leave your mind sincerely blown at its impossibility. I wasn’t aware that game engines were at the stage where it is possible to pull such trickery, but they have managed to create a game of Escher-like proportions.
Reviewer’s note: The Xbox 360 version was tested for this review
The unique techno-organic blend is beautiful
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Gameplay stays fresh throughout, with shrewdly designed puzzles
Ambient sounds are adequate, though a great musical score seems a little wasted
Even the main story will take at least 10-15 hours, but online play gives it immense replayability
Superb gameplay and a uniquely trippy experience make this a must have value title