Hardy Plumbing
August 09, 2006

Game Dork


Heritage, Not Hate

A Native American Comes to the Rescue in "Prey"

Comedian Dane Cook jokes that the United States could get its comeuppance one day if UFOs invade Earth by sending down thousands of 100-foot-tall Native American Indians. The only thing people could say then is, "Hi giant Indians. We did some (stuff) and, uh . . . "

The fun new video game "Prey" tells a flipped version of that scenario. Space aliens begin sucking up Indians and other Earthlings into a continent-size UFO. It's up to one abducted Native American man to save us all from the gooey clutches of aliens who think people are tasty.

His name is Tommy. He used to work in a casino on a reservation, and he has reservations about the Indian spirit world. He thinks heritage is hokum until his grandfather becomes a ghostly Obi Wan Kenobi and teaches Tommy how to tap into ancient Indian superpowers to save the day.

It's an interesting choice for the game makers to create a reluctant superhero out of a Native American. Such action-horror-sci-fi games are usually helmed by beefy white guys and scantily clad white women.

Here, though, is a standard abduction plot turned on its head. If Tommy saves Planet Earth, he rescues his lineage but also the descendents of the people who tread on it. The situational irony is a killer.

Tommy is also a contemporized American. He curses like a sailor and makes the shocked observations of a regular person. He looks at grungy toilets in his casino and says, "Doesn't anyone ever clean this place? Aw, gross!" Later, violent aliens keep coming at Tommy and he exclaims, "Aw, what the (bleep) now?!"

Tommy's got a horde of aliens to slay, and they are inspired and disgusting. Some look like furless, slimy hounds. Others look like half-man half-spiders, or claw-handed mongrels, or naked zombies. The guns he steals from aliens have moving fingers on them. Even the walls of the UFO vomit acid.

"Prey" has been in the making for 11 years, but the feel of the action and shooting are basically just reminiscent of the recent "Doom 3."

It's creepier than "Doom 3." At one point, Tommy is swarmed by cute little girl ghosts singing, "You're it," and "Ring around the Rosie," while crawling at him and throwing bombs at his face. He (you) must shoot their squealing images to survive.

To spice things up, Tommy doesn't just kill, he also gets out of traps and other puzzling horrors by figuring out physics. He pushes certain UFO buttons in sequences in a way to make gravity turn sideways and upside-down; suddenly he's running on ceilings and walls. That is cool.

It's a very ambitious and entertaining game, although it's not quite the classic it could have been if the action weren't so repetitive.

But the saving grace of the standard UFO plot is Tommy's unique place in the world as a self-hating Indian who embraces the myths of his birthright. His grandpa says, "I sense great change on the winds," and Tommy replies, "Save it, grandfather. You know I don't go for that (stuff)."

He will definitely go for that stuff when he must shoot spirit arrows at aliens' heads or die. Apparently, there are no Native American atheists in alien foxholes.

("Prey" for Xbox 360 — Plays fun and long. Looks fantastic. Challenging. Rated "M" for blood, gore, intense violence, partial nudity, strong language. Three and one-half stars out of four.)

NEW TO YOU — USED GAME OF THE WEEK

"NBA Ballers: Phenom" is one of the scads of basketball games that take it to the streets, letting players pretend they have NBA skills on backyard courts.

It's not the best baller game ever, but it's pretty good and selling for a fair price of about $15 in used-game stores. It's available for Xbox, PS 2 and PSP. It's rated "E".

(Ratings: "E" for "Everyone;" "T" for "Teen;" "M" for "Mature 17+")

NEW AND COMING SOON

"Dead Rising" is a comically set action game where a photographer must kill zombies in a suburban, shopping mall. It's from Capcom, the makers of the much more serious "Resident Evil." The Aug. 8 release retails for $60 for Xbox 360. It's rated "M" for blood, gore, intense violence, language and use of alcohol.

(Ratings: "E" for "Everyone;" "T" for "Teen;" "M" for "Mature 17+")

Doug Elfman is an award-winning columnist who is also the TV critic at the Chicago Sun-Times.

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