Thursday, August 6, 2015

Prey: Needs More Cowbell

Blaugust Day 6

A few days ago I had the day off and decided to get around to playing one of the many games I've put off. On my desk I had some games my mom bought me for my birthday. She always asks "what do you want for your birthday?" I tell her I want games she doesn't think I have played or heard of. I don't know what she tells the people at the game store, but I always end up with a few games I've never heard of and one really popular game. It cracks me up every time. This year she got me Prey (Xbox 360), Genji: Days of the Blade (PS3), and one of the Xenosaga games (PS2). I've knew absolutely nothing about the first two, but Prey caught my eye. I settled in with Prey at some point in the morning and before I knew it my girlfriend was home. We ate dinner and I started the game up again and suddenly it was midnight.


The plot is a familiar one. You climb the tower to fight god and rescue your girlfriend. What makes the story unique is that you aren't playing as a knight or a space marine, you're playing as unsuspecting Domasi Tawodi (former soldier of the U.S. Army). Domasior Tommy, as he prefers to be calledrefuses to accept his Cherokee heritage. He is hanging out with his girlfriend Jen and grandfather Enisi at a small bar in a small town in Oklahoma. Enisi tells Tommy to embrace his heritage and Tommy shrugs it off. Tommy tries to convince Jen to move away from the tribe with him. Suddenly the lights go out. Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper" starts playing on the jukebox. Tractor beams shoot down and pull Tommy, Jen, and Enisi up into their vessel. You wake up strapped into something that resembles a meat processing center, and you're the meat! Fortunately, a loose wanderer uses some explosives to knock you off the conveyer line. Unfortunately, your family is still locked in. Folks, I'm gonna level with you: this game is brutal from start to finish. You watch Tommy lose time after time. Even when he wins, he loses. It's heartwrenching. Other abductees are losing their sanity and their lives. Things you will see and be powerless to stop include: a soldier having a nervous breakdown, someone getting harvested by a machine, a child killing another child, and worse.

But with despair comes hope. Enisi communicates with you to teach you how to use spirit powers. In the living world Tommy can move his spirit outside of his body to pass through force fields and walk across hidden paths. Paired with the mysterious portals that appear to be built into the space ship, this makes for some interesting physics puzzles. Oh, did I mention Tommy has a spirit animal and it's a hawk named Talon? He does and it is. When you run out of health you do a "Death Walk" and shoot evil spirits with a bow to regain Tommy's health and spirit. After a short time you are pulled back into the living world to continue where you left off. Prey is great at keeping the player immersed. In lieu of a traditional popup dialog boxes there are computer terminals and even arcade cabinets and casino machines that you directly interact with. Even the story is told through in game radios. You overhear a DJ talking to callers from the midwest reporting UFOs, and eventually they've moved through the south to the southwest. The closest thing I have to a home town is Topeka, Kansas and whenever I hear about it in media...well, it's fucking embarrassing. When I heard a character in Prey mention abductions in Topeka it made me giggle a bit.

Hey look, the developer's logo is on the cards!

Eventually you make it far enough into the space ship that you start getting everyone's attention. The Keeper, who seems to be controlling the ship, starts to notice you. A mysterious female voice sends you telepathic messages and toys with you. And you manage to find Space Native Americans...Space Indians...ancestors in space? Thousands of years ago Native Americans were abducted by the same ship. A few managed to break away just like you. They have secretly been living on the ship, slowly mastering the alien's portals. Their leader, Elhuit, asks you to help defeat The Keeper. You board a space shuttle and race to the top of the tower to save your girlfriend and destroy the ship. There are some twists but I won't spoil them. The game is impressive, emotional, and atmospheric. I wouldn't say it's scary, but the environment is definitely unnerving. This is contrasted by the spirit world with its warm red mountains and the death world with its cold blue plateau.

If I had to fault the game it would be for its game crashing glitches. Human Head Studios worked so hard to make the game immersive, and yet I had the game lock up on me at least four times in my playthrough. I wasn't too pleased to discover that the auto-save feature doesn't always automatically save. I got into the habit of saving constantly and this really slowed down the flow of the game. I can't say if this is a problem in other versions of the game or if it only plagued Venom Games' Xbox 360 version. Aside from those issues, it's a mesmerizing game. Prey is definitely a Buried Treasure. I had a fever, and the only prescription was more Prey.
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