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Platform

PC

 

Genre

First-Person Shooter

 

Publisher

2K Games

 

Developer

3D Realms

 

ESRB

M (Mature)

 

Released

July 2006

 

 

- Great graphics, great gameplay, great level design, great style

- Adaptive AI actually works

- Fun, fun and more fun

 

 

- Dubious depiction of Native American spirituality

- Freely pillages many other FPS titles (though who cares)

 

 

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Review: Doom 3 (PC)

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Prey

Score: 9.0 / 10

 

2K Games’ Prey is as good as everyone is saying and maybe even a little better in some respects.  As a FPS, it’s a tour de force, meticulously crafted, beautifully rendered and staged – and thoroughly fun.  It’s apparently been in development in various incarnations since the nineties, and the labor and polish shows.

 

prey          prey

 

The game’s story begins inauspiciously, as Tommy, a Cherokee mechanic, washes his face in the dingy sink of a dilapidated roadhouse bathroom and laments his inability to convince his girlfriend Jen to leave the reservation with him.  Tommy’s depressing night doesn’t get much better – a fracas with two rednecks leads to an argument with Jen.  Then something a little worse happens, and I won’t say much (you need to see it yourself) except that it involves Tommy, his grandfather, Jen and most of the surrounding countryside being swept up inside a huge alien vessel.  As Tommy begins his fight for survival aboard the alien craft, Prey hits its stride and starts doing what it does so well, taking its B-movie premise and bringing it to life with A-level production values, imagination and verve.

 

The fact that nearly every one of Prey’s best attributes and tricks are lifted from other games does nothing to detract from the experience – mainly because what’s taken has been so skillfully improved and integrated.  Bad games borrow and good games steal, to borrow a phrase from fiction writing, and Prey does its

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thieving very well because Prey’s developers have learned as much from past games’ failures as they have from their successes.  And so Prey has Doom 3’s sense of gloomy foreboding but steers away from the monotony that ruined that title (ie. the same monster suddenly bounding out of the same dark corner is scarier the first time 

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than the fortieth).  It mimics Half-Life 2’s sense of grandeur and mind-blowing spectacle but without the unwieldy plot.  It has F.E.A.R.’s frenetic combat and creepy little girl ghosts but leaves behind the chilly tone.

 

More than suspense and fear or exhilaration, Prey does a masterful job of creating pleasurable confusion.  There are so many moments of absolute, “which-end-is-up?” WTF disorientation that it becomes the norm.  Running on walls and ceilings, moving through extra-dimensional portals, ghost-walking apart from the corporeal body, even shooting spectral birds in the afterlife mini-game that replaces normal respawning – all combine in a kind of FPS tilt-a-whirl.  So much of the game’s enjoyment comes from learning the rules of this alien environment in which Tommy has been dropped and the equally alien Cherokee spiritual world he must rely on to survive.

 

Prey’s much-hyped adaptive difficulty system, where enemy AI adjusts to the player’s abilities, does actually seem to work – I rarely felt a particular combat was too easy or too impossible.  The game also does a better job than any recent FPS (besides Half-Life 2 or maybe Far Cry) of obscuring its linear structure.  There is a suggestion of open-endedness even when there is (as is always the case) only a single solution or route.  Many of the rooms and levels operate as 3D puzzles of surprising complexity.  While a few of the puzzles were more enjoyable than others, the puzzle / combat ratio felt right on the money.  And while the game’s tone is fairly somber, there were enough bits of levity here and there to lighten things – Aliens apparently enjoy Judas Priest (go figure) and the Art Bell radio show.

 

prey          prey

 

Though the bare bones story (boy wants to leave reservation, girl doesn’t, girl is kidnapped by aliens – that old chestnut) most often doesn’t pretend to be anything more than a pretext for slaughter, it is surprisingly affecting in places.  I found myself filled with righteous anger as I watched alien atrocities and even heard myself echoing some of Tommy’s horrified reactions.  Even Tommy’s relationship with his central casting Cherokee shaman grandfather made me a little misty.  And I found myself actually caring about Tommy’s main quest, rescuing Jen.  This is a nice change from many recent FPS’s where actions are performed by rote, where the character is ordered about on missions and sub-missions by NPC’s. (“Hurry, Gordon.  You’ve got to go to [technobabble] to turn off the [technobabble] so we can escape through the [technobabble]!”)   Prey’s action feels very much in Tommy’s hands and very much tied to a singular goal – allowing a sense of purpose, urgency and consequence that’s been missing from many recent FPS titles.

 

Maybe one questionable part of Prey is its depiction of Native American culture and spirituality, which while well-intentioned and respectful also feels a little quaint and insulting, heavy on the hocus pocus and light on nuance and understanding.  (Think Oliver Stone.)  As well, while there are certain obvious – and provocative – political ironies in a Native American character saving America from conquest and extermination, the game seems strangely oblivious to them except in small moments.  At the game’s ending, I kept waiting for Tommy to rise from the rubble with his plasma rifle and head out to settle another old score against another invader.  (But there is a sequel.

 

Overall, Prey is a fresh and exciting step forward in a market that always threatens to be staid and blinkered, and I hope future games will steal (not borrow) its innovation, its excitement and style.

 

- John Tait

(August 22, 2006)

 

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