July 27, 2006

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Prey (PC/360)
Human Head, 2006

Human Head turns the first-person shooter genre on its ear by doing just that; turning everything sideways. Yay, it’s annoying!

They say there is a fine line between genius and madness and Prey, striving for the former, edges a bit too close to the latter. Like the glut of FPS-Alien-Killing shooters that came before it Prey takes a hackneyed concept (lone soldier vs. Alien hordes), combines it with undergraduate art direction (oh, I know, H.R. Geiger meets M.C. Escher!) and jams it sideways into your DVD drive. Did you order a side of vaguely insulting Native American spirituality? Yes? Well, here it is.

See, protagonist Tommy, a brooding ex-military type — surprise, surprise — finds his family and bar zapped up into space by nefarious aliens. Said aliens thereafter receive severe wrench beatings and soon find their own “far-out” weaponry turned against them as you “fight to save humanity in a completely original and not at all stereotypical mod of Quake 3.”

Let’s put aside the schlock and groan-inducing tropes of run-and-gun games for a second and see what Prey really adds to the stew of the FPS genre.

Gravity-flipping craziness: Tommy shoots aliens while walking on the ceiling

Spirit world travel: Tommy shoots aliens from the astral plane, plus he can walk through forcefields

“Portal technology”: Doorways connect physically distant areas in defiance of the laws of physics. You can shoot aliens through these.

The Death Walk: When Tommy dies you don’t really die, you go into a shooting mini game that brings you back to life after a spot of Duck Hunt. The enemies here are not technically aliens but they aren’t human either.

Like every “revolutionary” shooter Prey is just clever enough to defibrillate the aging concept for another few hours but it is a far cry from the mind-shattering awesomeness that video game media would have you believe. In truth Prey, while slick and fun, is a mishmash of Metroid Prime, Half-Life, Descent and Turok the Dinosaur Hunter (another Native American beats on aliens game of questionable ethnic sensibility). Unfortunately Prey doesn’t merely crib the best from these titles, it sadly inherits the obnoxious disorentation, the back-tracking drudgery and the goofy Jedi shamanism as well. Blowing further holes in Prey’s hull are the stupidly limited deathmatch mode and the general ease of the single-player game (considering that with the Death Walk you are basically immortal). C

— Glenn Given