Review by BloodGod65

"No Better Than the First, But Not For Lack of Trying"

Though I may have loved and loathed it in equal measure, from both a critical and commercial standpoint, Ubisoft's Prince of Persia revival was a resounding success. Superb storytelling, wondrous environments and some of the best platforming in recent memory all made the game a joy to play, despite an atrocious fighting system and an overreliance on combat.

Warrior Within continues with the story of Sands of Time and builds upon the gameplay in several important ways. The most important of these, as one might infer from the title's moniker, is a heavily revised combat engine. Unfortunately, Ubisoft was not content to fix only what was broken and has also changed many of Sands of Time's best aspects. Despite doing its best to iron out the problems of the original, Ubisoft's meddling has created a game that is no better than the original and, in some respects, even worse.

Several years have passed since the close of Sands of Time. The Prince, as a result of mucking around in the time stream, has become a fugitive from the forces of fate itself. A monstrous creature known as the Dahaka hunts him, making the Prince's every moment a fight for survival. After returning to Babylon, a mysterious sage tells the Prince that this beast exists for the sole purpose of killing the one who tampered with the time stream. Though his fate seems inescapable, the Prince decides to journey to the island where the Sands were created and ensure that they never come into existence, thus rewriting history and erasing the threat to his life.

Though the plot meshes cohesively with the original, it is nowhere near as compelling. One reason for this is that, beyond the introductory cutscene, the plot takes a backseat. There are intermittent plot twists, but they don't do much to reinvigorate the narrative. What's more, the Prince himself is no longer a likeable character.

Whereas the Prince was a cocky, but often playful, character in Sands of Time, he is now darker, more broody. While the story tries to make it appear as though the constant struggle to stay ahead of the Dahaka has taken its toll on him, it comes off as little more than a misguided attempt to make the Prince an edgy, mature character on par with the testosterone soaked leads of other blockbuster titles.

This seems even more accurate when the game's music is taken into consideration. Gone is the ethereal, Middle-Eastern music of the first game. What has taken its place is butt metal of the worst sort (Godsmack's “I Stand Alone” is the game's theme song). These wailing guitars and pounding drums are so out of place that they become a significant detractor to the game as a whole.

Beyond questionable character changes and an ill-conceived musical aesthetic, Warrior Within changes even more aspects of Sands of Time. As I've already mentioned, the biggest (and most needed) change is with the combat system. While it's hard to quantify the differences on paper, the time Ubisoft has spent reworking the whole mechanic is immediately obvious. What's less apparent is how it's any better.

The most obvious difference between this and the original version is the sheer number of options the new combat system provides to the player. Apart from slashing and jumping over the heads of enemies (which is the extent of what the first game allowed the player to do), the Prince now has more attack combos, along with several other acrobatic moves. He can jump into the wall and rebound while slashing with his sword, attack while wall-running, and swing around a pole while cutting down enemies.

Another new aspect of the combat is the Prince's ability to dual wield. While this was a part of Sands of Time to an extent, he no longer carries the Dagger of Time so the player can choose which weapon to use in the off hand. Slain enemies drop a variety of weapons, from swords and daggers to hammers and axes. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses, but they all break with use.

So, it may sound as if this extensively tweaked combat system is more complex and enjoyable than the original. Though it's certainly more complex, more enjoyable it is not. Just as in the first game, combat is used too often – almost twice as much as Sands of Time, in fact. No doubt Ubisoft believed their overhauled combat system justified the increased focus on combat. Even worse than the abundance of enemy encounters is how many enemies you'll face in each fight and how irritatingly difficult they are.

One of the things that makes the fights difficult is just how much damage enemies inflict. Even the most basic grunt can take off a serious chunk of health if a blow connects, and another common enemy has an attack that wipes out a quarter of the Prince's health bar. This forces a highly defensive play style that tends to turn fights into drawn-out, exhausting affairs when you're facing four and five enemies at a time.

But the best part of Sands of Time remains untouched in Warrior Within. I am, of course, speaking of the excellent platforming. Though the Prince hasn't learned any new tricks since his last outing, it remains as intense and exciting as ever. Platforming is clearly Ubisoft's strong suit. The action will have Prince leaping across chasms, running along walls, rolling beneath traps, swinging across bars, and creeping across rails. It's hard to describe just why these platforming sequences are so cool and fulfilling to play. However, a mix of brilliant level designs – which have paths that are sometimes puzzling at first but reveal themselves after a bit of thought – and the expert way that Ubisoft frames the action, both do wonders for making the player feel like an absolute hero after completing a tricky section.

Considering that this is the direct sequel to Sands of Time, it should come as no surprise that the time powers make a return as well. For the most part there are no surprises; the Prince gets his standard rewind and slow time moves, along with a few others that have limited usefulness. Once again, these powers (slow time and rewind in particular) come in handy when trying to get past the game's many environmental puzzles or deal with the never-ending monster hordes.

There's also an additional time changing mechanic built into the very design of the game. While on his journey to keep the Sands from being created, the Prince will move between the past and present at regular intervals. While this doesn't have much effect on the moment-to-moment gameplay, it has a drastic effect on the actual design of the game. The huge, sprawling fortress that the Prince must navigate changes significantly depending on what time period he is in, and an obstacle present in one time period may disappear in the other. While this time-shifting routine could have gotten old if players were forced to trek through identical paths numerous times, Ubisoft safely avoids this by making each time period distinct. For instance, in the past an area might be navigable by using a series of platforms and railings, while in the present the area is so overgrown with vegetation that the Prince can climb around in the tree branches.

The two time periods also have completely different visual styles. In the past, the castle is filled with dreamy, golden light reminiscent of Sands of Time, the stone is golden-brown and bright red banners hang from the walls. In the present, the castle is a decrepit, ruined shadow of itself. Huge roots have demolished the stonework, the lighting is dismal and everything lies broken.

As with the first game, the Prince's animations are excellent, as are those of the enemies. Most movements seem natural, and though they aren't always fluid, they are rarely jarring to watch. And though the enemies aren't as freakish as they were in Sands of Time, they still look good, even if their actual designs are on the unimaginative side. It's worth mentioning that this is a much more violent game than its predecessor. In keeping with his new, darker attitude, the Prince can cleave limbs from bodies and completely decapitate enemies.

One thing that presented a problem in Warrior Within that I can't remember from Sands of Time is the camera. For some reason, I often found myself fighting the camera so I could get a good view of a new environment or just to keep it from snagging on walls or getting stuck behind doors.

THE VERDICT
I'm not really sure what happened with Warrior Within. Like many other reviewers, my biggest issue with Sands of Time was the poor combat. Though Ubisoft obviously spent a lot of time reworking it, combat isn't any more enjoyable than it was before. However, they weren't content with just changing the combat; it seems like they wanted to change everything – even things that didn't need changing. The atmosphere from the first game is gone and the Prince is no longer a captivating storyteller, but a haggard, wannabe grunge rocker who is more grating than interesting.

The latter seems to be the prevailing theme of Ubisoft's changes. So many of the alterations haven't done anything other than try to make the game more “adult”. While Ubisoft has tackled the main problems of the first game, my complaints remain and they're joined by several new ones. Even so, I'd say I enjoyed and loathed Warrior Within in equal measure – just as I did with Sands of Time. But on a comparative scale, this is a little worse than the original. Too bad; I had high hopes for this Prince.


Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 01/07/11

Game Release: Prince of Persia: Warrior Within (US, 11/30/04)


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