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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Prey (2K Games for Xbox 360)

By Michael Palisano

3D Realms' much-anticipated title Prey takes players on a dizzying and dark journey through a living ship filled with gruesome enemies. The game implements several unique features that give the FPS genre a unique spin such as portals that transport you from one area to another, spirit walking which allows you to leave your body and other gravity defying elements. This makes Prey one of the more original and innovative shooting titles on the market and a solid purchase for fans of the genre looking for something different.

Prey begins simply enough as we meet a young Cherokee Indian named Tommy. He's not having the best time, and rejects much of his heritage and wants to leave the Reservation. On this night, however, strange forces interfere with his life and he suddenly finds himself transported to an alien ship. Suddenly, he's thrust into another dimension, and must call on the very things, his heritage, that he rejects in order to survive. This makes for a storyline and gameplay structure that's far more unique and engrossing than players have come to expect. While all of Prey's elements aren't quite up to its ambition, it's still one of the more innovative and challenging games on the market. Once you enter the ship, you'll yourself trapped, not in the usual faceless corridors but inside a dizzying series of mind-altering, gravity pushing puzzles that will challenge even the best players. The use of gravity definitely lends Prey an unpredictability that makes for an immediately refreshing change of pace. It's a bit disorienting at times, but once you get used to this approach, you should find that it adds to the game's feel, enhancing your sense of being in an otherworldly environment. Players can walk up walls and on ceilings using special walkways, which leads to some interesting levels. In addition, the game lets players shoot at terminals, which change the orientation of the room, causing the center to reverse itself. It makes for some dizzying, unpredictable levels where the biggest challenge isn't shooting, but keeping aware of your surroundings. As if this wasn't enough, players will also have to be on the lookout for portals, which can instantaneously transport them from one area to another, with multiple portals chaining together to create an even more complex world to explore. This is a really cool feature, however the enemies can also use these to attack you and literally seem to come out of thin air. All of this is quite impressive and is implemented effectively enough to make Prey feel very different from other games on the market, but there are even more elements to the game that further define its uniqueness.

As you progress through his journey, you'll learn even more spiritual skills that allow you to perform some unique tasks. During the course of the game, players will have a faithful companion called the Spirit Hawk, who flies around and guides the player through the levels. The hawk can also decipher the alien language and be used to attack enemies. Players should always pay attention to the Hawk's location, since he can give you important clues in some of the puzzle levels. In addition, Tommy has several special abilities that gradually come into play as he learns to use and accept his Cherokee heritage. The first of these is called Spirit Walking, where you can leave your physical body and walk through the levels. This has two functions, you can use this to evade or sneak up on enemies, since they can't see you when you are in this form. Instead of the usual weapons, here you can use your spirit bow to shoot arrows at them. This technique is also useful in solving puzzles throughout the game, where you have to move your spirit body or pass through an area where you can't physically break through. Since you can switch between these modes instantly, it allows you to perform tasks that you couldn't in other FPS titles. Another significant feature of the game comes when your character takes damage and dies. Instead of respawning as you would in other games, you are instead transported to another dimension between life and death, and can reclaim you place in the world by shooting your spirit arrows at phantom spirits you'll find floating around in the other world. It's a unique approach that ties in nicely to the Cherokee mythology, but it does have the drawback of giving the player what amounts to infinite lives. All of the above features serve to give Prey a distinctive, innovative style of play that gives it a unique feel that stands out from other games in the genre.

As you can tell from the outline above, the game's structure and approach are radically different from most FPS titles, though there are some familiar elements. Most of the levels retain a linear approach with a defined beginning and end, and players will find a decent array of weapons scattered throughout the levels. The enemies you encounter are typically gruesome and dark, with a few mutated human characters, boss creatures and other slimy denizens thrown in for good measure. The alien ship itself is crawling with danger, with aliens seeming to ooze from every crevice including gross unsettling hatches that spit out acidic waste, disjointed tentacles and strange mutant balls which explode when shot. Many of the levels feature the usual blasting and shooting, but others feature complex, multi-tiered puzzles. Some of the puzzles in Prey are relatively easy to understand, while others seem impossibly vague, stopping the game momentum cold while you search out the solution to these problems. There's actually a fairly good balance between these two elements, which gives Prey a more cerebral approach than most other FPS titles on the market, though there's still plenty of action.

Prey's slightly slower, more contemplative pace is appropriate to its approach, since the game's storyline is much more challenging and deeper than you've come to expect. Unlike the faceless heroes in most game's, players will be able to identify with Tommy in a number of areas as he struggles to find his place in the world, while trying to save it. This evolution unfolds somewhat slowly at first, but the story picks up momentum, but this backstory is worth sitting through since it makes the game more interesting. This is especially true with some unexpected plot twists

The developers at 3D Realms deserve a lot of credit for what they have accomplished with Prey's single player game. It's richly developed plot and storyline is both interesting and moving, with a believably flawed hero battling his own internal demons along with the ones outside. The game's mix of traditional FPS shooting and puzzle oriented levels gives it a distinctive feel that's only enhanced by the numerous innovative play mechanics. Some of these elements, such as the gravity switches and spirit walking are fantastic ideas that are smartly implemented. Others, such as the Hawk and the ability to shoot your way back to life, feel either gimmicky or seem to become annoying distractions later on. The game's overall look and feel of Prey is superb. It uses the Xbox 360 hardware effectively to create a believably eerie space ship. While some of the puzzles are excessively difficult, making things slow down to a crawl, the innovative gameplay mechanics and an interesting storyline that makes Prey a solidly entertaining FPS title.

Grade: A-

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