By Carlos Bergfeld
For a game that's been in various stages of development for more than 10 years, publisher 2K Games' Prey proves well worth the wait. The game was plagued by a series of woes, the worst of which was the departure of most of its original developers. Some jobs had to be filled more than once. Indeed, it appeared at times that Prey was destined to suffer the same fate as Duke Nukem Forever, another title dreamed up by the folks at the 3D Realms game studio. The sequel to Duke Nukem 3D was announced in the 1990s but has yet to see the light of day.
Thankfully, Prey has. Developed by Human Head Studios, produced by 3D Realms, and brought to the Xbox 360 by Venom Games, Prey is a fresh take on the now-familiar humans vs. aliens theme. You play as Tommy, a young man of Cherokee descent who's both dissatisfied with his life on the reservation and scornful of his heritage. You get a quick introduction to these themes as well as to Tommy and his grandfather in a bar that's run by Tommy's girlfriend. Before you know it, the bar and all its occupants are abducted by aliens and sucked aboard the alien craft. Armed with just his mechanic's wrench and his grandfather's spiritual insight, Tommy sets off to save his girlfriend.
As you'll quickly learn, the alien spacecraft isn't your typical flying saucer. The Sphere is actually a living organism that consumes organic material (such as humans) for energy— and sometimes incorporates the materials into its overall structure. Tommy's weapons have a similar makeup. Some have organic parts while others are organisms unto themselves.
NO RELOADING NECESSARY.
The Sphere sets the stage for an exciting combination of game-play elements that work together well. Since Tommy's weapons are alien technology, you'll never have to reload. The technology on the ship lets you manipulate gravity in many areas, such as walking on walls and ceilings or just turning everything upside down. The game makes great use of window-like portals, through which Tommy can not only travel but also see and fire at objects on the other side. The size of the craft is nearly immeasurable, and inside it you'll actually explore mini planetoids, each with its own gravity.
Then there are Tommy's spirit powers, which add depth to the game. Drawing on Native American lore, Tommy gains the ability to project his spirit outside his body, or "spirit walk." This lets him traverse force fields, sneak around without being seen, and shoot villains with a highly powered bow. Tommy's other power, "death walk," actually changes the whole game design: Tommy can't really die. Once he gains this ability, you never have to reload a saved game after apparently dying and repeat areas you've already played. You just play a quick mini-game to regain health and spirit power, and you're back where you left off.
Add these elements together, and Prey becomes a singular experience. Amid shooting hordes of enemies while flipping gravity and spirit walking, you solve puzzles that require you to draw on a combination of your abilities. And the overarching story is helped by great voice acting, a rousing original score, and the skillful incorporation of Native American mysticism.
While its fleeting 10 hours or so of game play are thrilling, Prey does make a few missteps. The biggest concern of mine was the multiplayer mode, which seems to have much wasted potential. The developers came up with some creative ideas for the single-player game, but ideas for multiplayer mode seemed more limited. There were only standard every-man-for-himself or team-based death-match modes. There's also no option for local offline multiplayer, so forget about having a Prey party unless you have multiple Xbox 360s. While it's fun to make use of spirit walk and the gravity stuff in multiplayer, it's not enough to keep you entertained for very long.
Even so, Prey's single-player mode is so exhilarating that I heartily recommend this game to all shooter fans. Venom Games did a great job porting this to the Xbox 360—not once during the intense firefights did I notice the frame-rate drop. If you're mainly focused on multiplayer, Prey might be a rental for you. But I could definitely see myself replaying this title down the road. You need to play Prey.