Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

So why is the hero of Prey a modern-day Cherokee? Because Native Americans carry a mighty, mystical heritage, as your ultra-stereotypical drunk shaman grandfather is glad to tell you? Because it gives you an excuse to visit a spiritual desert plane, and break up the 10-hour slog through an oozy biomechanical space ship decorated with sphincters and vaginas? Or because your spiritual powers suit a game where you can walk through rips in space, or use gravity panels to walk straight up walls and onto the ceiling?

At heart, Prey is a straightforward first-person shooter—it's built on the Doom engine—and the gravity tricks and other gimmicks are meant to set it apart. Sadly, the teleportation and wall-walking feel like incidental obstacles: The path through the game is so linear that you never really explore the new experiences, such as staring at the back of your own head through a portal, or stalking up a giant wall while aliens shoot at you from the ceiling. Your "spirit form" doesn't make much sense—you can walk through force fields and across chasms, but bullets still hit you?—and the story is so thin that it resorts to a "save the helpless girlfriend" plot. Didn't we ditch the "Cherokee brave rescue squaw" thing a few decades ago?


Beyond the game: Though Prey steals atmosphere and plot devices from games like Doom and Half-Life 2, it gives back that "portal" concept, which will feature in an upcoming Valve title.

Worth playing for: The portal effects are clever—for example, when a confusing arrangement tricks you into crawling in circles, or when you get shrunk down and stuck in a glass case, pinned down by two aliens.

Frustration sets in when: You go through Prey not so much in god-mode as in "Jesus" mode: Every time you die, you spend half a minute in the afterlife before getting dragged right back to where you left off—you don't even lose any progress. This makes it easy to barrel through swarms of enemies or wear down a boss, and your invulnerability sucks the challenge—and satisfaction—out of the game.

Final judgment: It was 10 years in the making, but the best parts never get to shine.