Prey is fun, but comes out feeling average at best
2K Games' hand is very recognizable in Prey. If you can imagine a Rapture-like atmosphere coupled with decidedly Doom-like gameplay, you have a pretty good idea of Prey is. However, the game is brought down by shooting action that lacks a punch, and levels that aren't always fun.
Prey puts you in the head of a troubled Cherokee called Tommy. He lives with his grandfather and girlfriend in a reservation. Tommy doesn't really like it there, so he wants to leave the place, and spread his wings. As he is having a discussion with his girl on this subject, however, the roof of the bar they're in suddenly gets ripped off, and an alien spaceship picks them up. After a frightening tour through the facility, Tommy gets separated from his family, and finds himself having to fend strange extraterrestrial warriors and animals. Armed with the classic wrench and whatever kind of crazy weaponry he comes across, the search for the cause of all this and his woman ensues.
As is to be expected, stuff gets a bit more convoluted than this when you're traversing an evil flying saucer. It only takes an hour or two for Tommy to basically become humanity's only hope. The story is quite well told, especially with the sporadic radio broadcasts you pick up on the ship. Governed by a presenter named Art, callers can phone in to comment on what is happening around them. Hearing the messages become more sinister, and yet more clear on the true meaning of it all is quite exhilarating, and got me seek out these broadcasts whenever possible. The game also has a pretty satisfying conclusion, although a sneak peak after the credits does dictate that a sequel remains an option at all times.
Prey is a shooter, and Tommy quickly ditches the wrench in favor of some more exotic alien weaponry. You get your basic pea shooter (although it come equipped with a sniper mode) and spiders that act as grenades, just to name a few. Some of them, such as a shotgun that shoots highly corrosive acid at enemies are great, but overall, the guns seem to lack punch. The enemies, who are completely mindless, further drive home this point. They just stand there as you pump them full of whatever substance is in the chamber of your gun. Never have I seen an enemy take cover or make any kind of intelligent or self-preserving maneuver. Gunning down foes is something that you'll be doing a lot here, so the fact that it's honestly not as fun as it could be is quite disappointing.
To mix up the gameplay, Prey has some interesting locomotion techniques, such as portals and gravity pads. The portals work as you'd expect: you can walk into one and come out of the other. You can freely move through, look through and shoot through them. You can't place any at will, like you could in Portal, but it's still quite cool, especially when you can see yourself in a portal. Other objects, such as gravity walkways which Tommy can “stick” to, or the gravity pads which readjusts the center of gravity. All these different perspectives can make combat a bit more interesting as well, when you're shooting an enemy that's being held down by a different gravity-field. Shooting a dude as you're standing upside-down on a ceiling is always interesting.
Tommy wants to let go of his Cherokee heritage, but he still regains some connection with the spirit world of his ancestors. By pressing the Y button, you can enter “spirit form”, which allows you to leave Tommy's original body and move around independently. The pseudo-body can pass through force fields, use his bow to shoot dudes and and press buttons. This comes into play in many of the game's puzzles, though they never get hard or especially involved.
However, having a connection to the spirit world has another big benefit. As soon as this connection is established, Tommy is, for all intents and purposes invincible. When your health fully depletes, you'll be transported to this floating rock. Then, you must use the Spirit Bow to shoot blue and red birds that circle the place to regain health. After fifteen or so seconds, you'll be dragged back into the game and be able to carry on from the point where you died. Enemies won't regain any health, buttons that you pressed won't reset and you don't gain or lose any ammo. The fact that you're immortal makes Prey a pretty easy game, which may be bothersome to some players, but like Bioshock or The Darkness, Prey is more about experiencing what Tommy goes through, rather than facing awesome set-pieces.
That experience has already aged a bit, however. If you played either Bioshock or The Darkness, and are hoping to find a world that's just as deep and atmospheric, then you may come out slightly disappointed: Prey feels quite bare-bones compared to those heavy-weights. There are great moments, but some of the later levels focus on action, which is not to the game's benefit. The story starts off with a bang, but sort of stalls around the half-way point. And while the environment design is definitely not bad, it's not great in every area either. There are levels that make you feel like you truly are in an alien spaceship. Then, there are also levels that are plain bland. The voice-work is okay, but nothing more than that. Seeing as Tommy encounters some remarkable stuff, it seems odd that his voice remains subdued throughout.
Multiplayer is present, but it definitely isn't Prey's strong point. There are two multiplayer modes in here: Deatmatch and Team Deathmatch. The modes are very standard, and even if Prey had some very expansive multiplayer, the act of firing a weapon just isn't exciting or satisfying here. The singleplayer is redeemed somewhat by the atmosphere and story it tries to convey, but since multiplayer obviously doesn't have any such thing, so it might as well not be in there. The multiplayer feels like it was slapped on after they'd completed the game and felt bored because they had two weeks. If you're enjoy online multiplayer in first-person shooters, you can do much, much better than this.
Prey's age pretty guarantees that you'll find it in the bargain bin, and at a low price, you may get your money's worth here. The gunplay feels flat at best, but there are some cool moments attached to the “abducted by aliens” premise. First-person shooters have come a long way since Prey, so unless you desperately want something that feels similar to Doom, there's no harm in skipping out. It's one of those games that sits on your shelf, only to be put into your system when you've got nothing else to play. A very average 360 game overall.