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 Prey
Itís not unusual for games to take a little longer than planned to go from the brainstorming session to released product; Nintendo and Rare became infamous for numerous delays to some of their top titles during the N64 days, and ID Software had many problems with one of their most anticipated games, Daikatana. But there are some titles that dwarf the four, five or six years spent on these projects and unfortunately, two of the worst culprits come from the same developer.

To say 3D Realmsí output has been less than prolific in recent years is a bit like saying Saddam Hussein is a tad unpleasant. The development cycles of their two biggest titles now totals 22 years, probably older than most console owners. While the aptly named Duke Nukem Forever is still languishing in limbo Prey has finally been unleashed on the gaming world.

Though it may have been through at least three revisions, most of the story elements have remained throughout; you play as a Cherokee Indian called Tommy, who is whisked away from his Grandfatherís bar in Oklahoma onto an enormous living space vessel, when it decides to harvest Earthís population for sustenance. During the gameís impressive introduction, which is one of the most cinematic openings since HalfLife, Tommy manages to break free from capture and tries to rescue his Grandfather and Girlfriend, who have been taken into the bowels of the ship.

The opening levels give a good indication of what to expect from the game; the first section, the Old Manís bar, is packed with great little touches, including a working Jukebox and some playable Arcade Machines. The graphics are impressive right from the word go, employing IDís Doom 3 engine for maximum shininess, and things donít slacken off at all later on. The scale of the game is illustrated quite nicely during your on-rails jaunt through the ship shortly after your abduction, and thereís a lot going on around you, be sure to look out for some of your fellow prisoners. You will get to explore many of the locations you see along the way which look incredibly detailed even from a distance. And while there is little variety between sections, the mix of organic and new age technology in the level design creates quite an impressive yet uneasy and unpleasant atmosphere.

The extra development time has given the team the time to fill the levels with plenty of detail. It also has some great set-pieces which rival those in Halo and HalfLife. One such example (which shouldnít ruin things too much!) is when you come across a glass box with an ordinary looking sphere inside; a little later you enter a portal which transports you onto the sphere, from which you can see the entire room youíd just been in. Moments later a monster approaches the Glass box and joins you on the miniature planet. Itís just one of the many ways this game can surprise you, and most of them involve the groundbreaking portal technique which has been produced especially for this title.

Itís hard to believe that this technology has been in place since itís inception in 1995 and has hardly changed since. Your first experience with a portal will likely cause you to take a few amazed glances around it. When you approach one you can see your new destination before you, yet go to the back of the portal and you can only see your current room. Show it to your friends and watch their faces light up in a mixture of puzzlement and joy Ė itís one of the greatest magic tricks to appear in a game since the Tiny, Huge Island level in Super Mario 64.

It would have been easy for 3D Realms to use them as mere gimmicks but they actually play a big part in most of the puzzles youíll come across; couple this with some ingenious uses of gravity and intricate level design and you have quite a brain bending shooter that successfully distances itself from most competitors.

Unfortunately, some of the rudimentary features bring it down to Earth with a bump. The game canít escape from lazy enemy design and poor AI, and couple this with some uninspired gunplay (Itís just a matter of pointing and shooting, no specific tactics to be found here) and you could find yourself feeling a bit let down between each of the admittedly flashy (and fun) set-pieces.

The game also takes some inconvenient breaks from the Sci-fi setting, sending you to an ancient Indian Spirit world, where Tommy can learn some latent Paranormal skills. You can eventually use these in the real world, allowing you to depart your physical form in order to walk through force fields and activate switches. It looks pretty cool being able to run around your body, and the world takes on a ghostly appearance when you do so, but itís never used as effectively as the portals or gravity. You could ask why, if your ghost can interact with switches and pass through certain doors, you canít just simply fly to the control room and press the self-destruct button right from the start.

Despite these flaws, and the relatively short nature of the game, Prey is a great experience and certainly worth a look if you enjoy shooters. There are more than enough unique moments to warrant extra playthroughs and the multiplayer will provide many hours of fun, although donít expect anything too complex from it.

8 out of 10

Buy Prey now at Play.com
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