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Joystiq hands-on: Playing Prey on the 360

Joystiq Staff
06.29.06
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Out on July 11 for both the PC and Xbox 360, Prey is an FPS that is pretty much a mixed bag of every other shooter you've ever played and then some. As I took hold of the 360 version today, I found certain elements here and there that would hark back to another title in my gaming past.

But Prey is more than your standardized Quake or Doom rip-off. It has elements of what's worked in thinking man FPS offerings, like Half-Life 2. So, with 360 controller in hand, I dove into the deep end of Prey to see just what this American Indian/alien abduction twist of a game was all about.




Moments that make you go 'ew'

The majority of Prey takes place on an alien vessel which is not your standard cold-steel contraption. No, this thing has almost a life of its own with gooey-wet parts and shiny-pretty parts. It's just as much organic as it is technologically sound.

Controlling this behemoth of a ship is what's called the "Sphere," or "Mother" by its inhabitants. The beings living here range from zombie-like human drones to Fido-gone-bad pooches who look to have had their skin ripped off. All in all, the variety of enemies and spawn points keep the game very refreshing and random.

As you walk down corridors, everything is in constant play. There are tentacles that jet out, waiting to touch and harm you or sphincter-like protrusions that can spit a fluid to take down your health a smudge. There wasn't one moment in the game were there wasn't at least something I had to really pay attention to in the environment. One wrong step yielded a loss in life.

Big boy with living toys
There are seven different weapons in Prey, with the game allowing you to hold all seven at the same time. Besides a standard wrench, the rest of the weapons are alien-made. Each is just as unique and life-like as the world in which you are trapped in.

Flipping between weapons was an exercise in simplicity. Using the left or right bumper, you could easily cycle through your arsenal. There is even a mapping feature that allows you to select certain weapons on the fly with the directional pad.

Aiming and movement was solid. I didn't feel any Perfect Dark Zero-style looseness here. The controls were very smooth and natural. Something that is key for FPS games, but something not all can perfectly grasp -- especially on a console.

Smart as a button
Having relatively responsive A.I. is another hot topic with today's more advanced games. Prey looks to continue this as you'll see enemies dodge, use grenades -- which look like those annoying little scourge creatures from Halo -- and pop out anywhere with the use of portals. I came across some that were a bit lacking, though, but for the most part they did pose a bit of a challenge.

Maybe the most challenging of all the foes presented were the little ghost children that inhabit the ship. Lost souls from kids who were killed by the resident aliens aboard, these little tykes posed the greatest obstacle. They'd appear out of nowhere and if you got too close, kill you almost immediately.

Puzzling puzzles
Speaking of obstacles, the game also has a myriad of small puzzle-type challenges. To make sure that you utilize your spirit mode -- where you can leave your body at any time -- the developers make the player find non-standard ways of getting past certain areas.

Most are obvious, with switches and one-way portals lying about, but some were a wee bit more difficult. To help you, though, players will find little sun symbols in certain spots where it would be wise to go into spirit mode to see just what you have to do to progress.

Other obstacles I found were finding which way to take certain gravity-laced walkways that can have you striding along upside down or sideways. There are even spots that you can shoot to change the gravity of the entire room -- which more times than not is a necessity and not a luxury.

Immerse yourself in the randomness
The biggest thing I came away with after playing Prey was how random everything was -- and that's a good thing. I never felt bored, and if I didn't have to leave the room, I would have stayed to finish the whole game. Even the story is interesting and deep, something I normally don't care about in FPS games.

Usually, I just want to run and gun, killing all who cross my path. This one however, goes pretty deep with nods to 2001: A Space Oddity and just about every other cool sci-fi thinker.

Even dying is fun in Prey. Once you get the ability to spirit walk, when you die you are transported to what is called "death walking." In this mode, you basically are in a ghostly-like area where you shoot colored wraiths to either gain back more health or spirit once you return to your body.

Because of death walking, the game doesn't stall. I never had any downtime, which was actually pretty cool. I never wanted to check my watch to see what time it was because I just wanted to keep going and going like an Energizer bunny after a dozen or so Red Bulls.

Skimpy multiplayer madness
The producers of Prey were pretty psyched about this area of the game. They felt as if the multiplayer would really make this title stand out.

With a limit of 8 players per game, players are also limited to just deathmatch and team deathmatch modes at the moment. However, I was told that there were plans to implement more modes later on -- I'm guessing through downloadable updates and such, which better be free. Only having two options from the start in multiplayer seems like a big negative, but hopefully updates won't take long to implement.

Pretty much everything you can do in the single-player mode you can do in multiplayer with the exception of death walking, which would have no real place here. You can spirit walk, change gravity, everything. Making for what the producers assured me can be a very chaotic and fast-paced experience.

Put the controller down
So, after a couple hours of actually being able to play this game, I came away pretty satisfied. It was something I didn't want to put down, that I wanted to complete so I could try out everything it had to offer and see what kind of ending was in store for me when I was done.

While Prey at its heart is your standard FPS, it also isn't at the same time. Like I said, it sort of takes everything you've loved and wanted in a shooter and mashes it up in one big pot. I strongly encourage you to at least test out the demo when it finally hits Xbox Live and see for yourself. Either way, looks like we got another strong shooter for the 360 coming up.

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