Friday, August 05, 2011

Prey

And you thought that slaughtering alien hordes was supposed to be fun?

 This is an FPS with a Rubik’s Cube twist – an upside down, inside out spaghetti of portals and new, improved gravity that only Escher would feel comfortable in. Prey pulls in every trick in the 3D book, and laces it with every cliché in the gaming book. It is part Quake 4, with methodical slogging through a dark alien base, lit only by spinny plasma devices, extending bridges that go ‘zing’ and evil machines inflicting tortuous suffering upon captive screaming humans. It is part F.E.A.R, with sudden shocking appearances of ghostly children with evil intent and echoed laughter. It is part Matrix, with flying robotic tentacled hunters with multiple eyes, and endless arrays of evil machines harvesting humans in biomechanical pods. It is part Doom 3, with baddies spawning not just behind you, but above you, from portals that have opened expressly to drop a bad guy right where you’re not looking. And against this overdose of clichéd dark alien evil, it is part Turok, with an almost comically daft trailer park Indian, bestowed with the power of the spiritual ancients when all he wants to do is find his gal.
Prey often feels overwhelmingly inconsistent as a result. It’s not feature-rich, it’s element-overloaded. In trying to break into new brave design ground with Prey, the mish-mash end result is a game world that feels like it was designed by a committee that couldn’t agree on anything, and conceded to everything. I don’t think there was a strong leader on this team...

Prey starts strongly with a set piece in a desert bar. There are blackjack and poker machines that you can play, and there’s a jukebox with a healthy selection of trash metal you can put on. It’s cool. It’s very 3D Realms and offers a hint of what to expect with Duke Nukem Forever - i.e. cheap bars with blackjack and hookers.

The characters are well modeled and the voice acting and animation top notch, with the exception of your own voice. For an Indian warrior they for some reason hired someone weedy and excitable, in a Jimmy Olsen way. Then some spiritual spooky alien stuff happens, which I won’t spoil for you, apart from saying that the whole bar is sucked into an alien spaceship and pretty much everyone including you dies soon after. Then the journey into Preyworld begins, and you’re introduced to walkways that go up walls and across ceilings, floating portals that are doorways to other rooms, or perhaps other parts of the same room, but upside down, and to aliens that fall up when they die.

The action though is sparse and simple. Ultimately it’s a puzzle game, and a damn frustrating funless one at that. Combat is infrequent, and never dangerous, as you can never "die", you just keep respawning after an odd sequence in Trailer Park Indian Heaven each time. Once you clear a room of the three or four baddies you can expect in it, you’ll then spend the next few minutes (or much longer) trying to figure out how to get to the next room. For example: Imagine a room with a small panel on each of the six surfaces (Prey teaches you to think multi-dimensionally). Shooting a panel will make the room rotate once in a certain direction. Each panel makes the room rotate a certain way. The puzzle is to spin the room just-so so that you can reach the switch to open the portal to get out. But the room is full of pipes and you need to aim yourself as you fall at a narrow pipe, and the portal never appears on the same "floor" as you land on. Think of those small plastic cube puzzles with a couple of ball bearings and a flat surface with indents. You’re supposed to rotate the cube to make all the ball bearings stay in the holes. You know the ones. They shit you to tears and make you want to smash them. It’s diabolical, not at all fun and typical of a Prey room.
 
Some may praise Prey’s innovation and ‘outside the box’ thinking. I found it tiresome, devoid of action or excitement and just plain not fun. Perhaps Prey is disappointing because I expected a raw run and gun shooter, which it’s not. Perhaps I feel let down because the cool anti-gravity effects turned out to be ineffectual at best, hair-tearingly frustrating at worst. Maybe it’s because Prey invests so heavily in a storyline that just didn’t grab me in the least because I’d seen that movie and played that game before a hundred times. In the end what drove me on, night after night, playing Prey was the hope that maybe the next level would give me a tingle down my spine, make me smile or challenge me in ways that didn’t give me a headache. Prey though, is devoid of such moments.



NAME: PREY
SYSTEM: Linux, PX, XBOX 360, Zeebo)

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