‘Prey’ demo: mad icky

The long-awaited 360 demo of “Prey” emerged on Xbox Live yesterday, but today was the first time I was able to truly enjoy it on my own. No designers talking, no noise in the background — just the game. Outstanding.

The game’s tone is set from the opening scene in a reservation dive, when Tommy is having a conversation with himself in the mirror. Stuff about how he wants to get off the reservation and take his girlfriend Jen with him. He’s also no fan of his Cherokee heritage, as evidenced by the nasty tone he takes with his venerable grandfather. Classic reluctant hero, our Tommy.

Anyone’s whose seen trailers and the PC demo knows what happens next. You walk around the bar, grab a wrench, play some of the dinky casino-style games there and eventually hand out a what’s-my-name beating to two scumbags trying to hit on your girl.

After that, the bar gets sucked up by an alien ship. It’s a chilling sequence, with green light pouring down from the freshly torn-off ceiling. You see Jen and her grandfather get pulled up, as well as some other pieces of the bar. This is all best experieced in the dark, with headphones on (or the volume cranked up, which I’m sure the neighbors enjoyed).

Once you get sucked into the ship, it’s all about ratcheting up the “horrible alien” atmosphere. You spend a few minutes strapped to a hanging platform that’s part of an automated conveyor track. You glide this way and that, getting a good look at the innards of the ship and hearing a lot of terrified screams, no doubt from other poor folks pulled in by the ship. Aside from the standard “oh my God!!!” stuff, you’ll also hear some people creepily screaming out the occasional “Our Father” prayer. Jen starts praying to a Cherokee spirit, and Tommy comes up with a great line that sums up the horror of the situation — “If there IS a great spirit, he’s not here.” The whole sequence reminded me of a bloodier version of “Transformers: The Movie,” where you’ll see screaming robots on a similar track system getting dropped into vats of chemicals that “digested” them.

A stranger manages to damage the track and set Tommy free, and this is when you start seeing how truly gross this ship (and the game) is. Organic doors that “peel” back, throbbing spouts that spew out streams of blood and body parts — this is NOT a game for those with weak stomachs. I’m serious.

Two of the freakiest things you’ll see in the demo:

1) The impaler machine: A strapped-down person’s stops in front of some kind of opening, green mist flows from the opening, and then several collapsible spikes fire out and spear the victim in various spots — there’s also one massive spike that hits the person smack in the chest. Blood everywhere. The “spike” end of the machine then closes on the platform, you hear something that sounds like a food processor, and when the machine opens back up, the body is gone. Then you can see it again. It’s at this point where you probably decide these aliens need to get kicked off the universe.

2) Evil children: In a glass-enclosed room, you’ll see young boy and girl scared out of their minds. They’re afraid of something (one of them screams, “It’s right behind us!”). What “it” is is some sort of odd-looking ghost-like creature that floating throught the walls. This thing ends up annihilating the girl and then takes her form (so now there’s a ghost-like girl in the room). Ghost Girl is evil and insane, so she attacks the boy, picks him up and hurls him into a large protruding spike on a machine, killing him instantly. Then Ghost Girl screams and flies out of the room.

I should probably have mentioned somewhere along the way that this game is rated M for Mature. This is not for your 11-year-old son, daughter, grandson, or whatever. Repeat M for Mature — you have been warned.

Besides, the game’s about being taken by aliens — you think you’re not going to see something screwed up?