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Certainly, first person shooters can be more boring than watching reruns of The Simple Life. But when it comes to Prey, the creepy, long-delayed game from developer Venom Games, the action comes fast and furious.
And like your mother's fanciest birthday cake, the level of detail and care here is impressive. In fact, in the first hours of the game, you'll be awed. You'll even get a War of the Worlds panic attack as you listen to real-life radio talk show loon Art Bell as he takes calls from freaked-out Americans.
The premise? Everyone has been sucked up into a mammoth, living spacecraft, the blue whale of UFOs, bigger than anything you've ever seen.
That's not so different. So, why was Prey worth the decade-long wait? For me, it was the promise of a complex story. Yes, Prey conjures up thoughts of the Alien movie series since it takes place in a spaceship filled with monsters. But there's a spiritual tale here, too. Tommy, the Native American garage mechanic you play, is an anti-hero with a mystical side. As Tommy, you'll be armed with a Hunter Rifle, the first weapon you'll use. The rifle has long range ability and, with your sniper scope, you'll aim with the precision of Jesse James. Other weapons are, well, alive. Grenades are actually crabs, for instance. Strange, but the idea works.
Tommy has a Spirit Walk mode which allows him to separate from his body and move along the environs in a way that enemies won't notice. But stay away too long and your flesh and blood body will be attacked. At times, you'll need the help of Tommy's grandfather, a wise teacher named Enisi. You'll have to give up the ways of the new and be open to the ways of the ancients in order to learn from Enisi.
You'll manipulate computer-like consoles to solve puzzles. And you'll eventually have a kind of space shuttle at your disposal, too. The hazards in the game are occasionally, well, disgusting. Growing in the ship are Vomiters which spew nasty acidic waste. Stay away: these things will diminish your health. The monsters, too, are gross and mutated. Meekly dubbed Hounds look like vicious skeletons with oversized brains, sharpened fangs and long, thick tails.
In some ways, Prey borrows its sci-fi innovation from Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Where Alice went through mirrors and fell down rabbit holes to enter her worlds, Prey takes you through different environs via portals that sometimes look like black holes. Portals aren't there only for your game play. Monsters use them, too, so step lively. If you think you have a good grip on reality, think again. Not only are the monsters in "Prey" occasionally terrifying, the environment often throws you for a loop. And not only do you need quick reflexes to protect yourself, you'll need to think on your feet. Otherwise, you'll die. But dying is a kind of sweet sorrow. You'll be transported to a spirit world where you'll play a mini game with a bow. Kill the enemies and you'll be taken right back to where you left off in the game. What a smart twist.
While you wish there was even more story, you'll get a treat toward the end of the game. Here, the levels are packed with surprises and you'll be taken out of the usual maze-like passageways into some unusual, dreamlike gameplay.
One word of warning before you play: if you're prone to a feeling of motion sickness during a game, this one is going to make you pretty ill. If Doom is the roller coaster in the kiddie section of the amusement park, Prey is the scream-inducing, legendary "Cyclone" at Coney Island with a little of the turn-you-upside-down "Enterprise" ride thrown in, too. That's because in Prey you'll be walking on walls and ceilings. There are times when gravity seems all twisted or non-existent.
When you think about it, the game makers were wry and ironic when they chose the title. Prey is the perfect name for a first person shooter in which there's gore and a Mature rating. But, by introducing the spiritual element, the homonym 'pray' comes into play. You'll not only get into the mysticism and religion of Native American culture. You'll be praying you'll survive all the eerie things that come at you during the game.
Prey surely has some flaws, especially in its online multiplayer version on the Xbox 360. But at its best, it's like what Leary described in his 1964 The Psychedelic Experience. It "is a journey to new realms of consciousness. The scope and content of the experience is limitless, but its characteristic features are the transcendence of verbal concepts, of space-time dimensions, and of the ego or identity."
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