Review by MSuskie

"Prince of Persia Xtreme."

It's a dark, stormy night. Your ship rocks and sways in the ocean, and the rain beats down upon your hooded head. As you near the enemy vessel, wood grinds and arrows fly. The shining eyes of dozens of enemy goblins burn holes in your mind. You board the enemy ship, and swords clash.

Your adversary is a woman. In a metal thong.

The Prince – now sporting longer hair, impressive stubble, a single grief-stricken facial expression and a deeper, raspier voice to give him a bit of Clint Eastwood-esque twang – charges across the deck, powering through his squeaky opposition with a set of reasonably graphic new battle maneuvers and ridiculous one-liners, all set to the beat of – wait for it – wait for it – heavy metal music. He reaches the ship's wheel, where his battle against the Thong Lady begins. After the Prince blocks the Thong Lady's notably cheap and repetitive attacks, he counters with a bit of button-mashing of his own. This goes on until we're interrupted by a scene of the Thong Lady slicing the Prince across the face, prompting him to lash back with: “You *****!”

And, not five minutes into Prince of Persia: Warrior Within, I sensed something was afoot.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was something of a flawed masterpiece – poorly paced and with undeveloped combat, but also beautiful, creative, and memorable. It had imagination, character and charm, all three of which are qualities that more games need. On the flipside, Within represents everything that's wrong with the gaming industry today: The relentless “punking up” of videogames, the desperation and urge to be all mature and edgy. This plague strikes in the most unexpected places, and allow Within to be my evidence.

And so we see a complete overhaul in the franchise's image. The Prince is no longer the friendly, charming hero that he was in Sands, but now a “battle-hardened outcast,” as the box describes him. His voice has dropped an octave. He's always snarling and making mean faces and telling people to GET OUT OF HIS WAY! MOVE! Part of what made Sands so great was the main character's connection with the player. Gone are the narrations that once structured the story and put us next to our dear Prince – a good thing, too, since this new guy wouldn't be very interesting to listen to. He's a completely different character, one that is generic and genuinely unlikable.

It is too much. All the personality of the first game is lost, and in its place is a fantasy adventure that reeks of twenty-first century emo stink. It's like Ubisoft is saying, “Hey, look how cool and edgy this game is! Look, we've got ROCK MUSIC! And now there's BLOOD ON THE GAME OVER SCREEN! And the Prince can now DUAL-WIELD WEAPONS!” It's truly a sad affair. I mourn for my old Prince, for surely he is dead.

The story isn't exactly a masterwork either, with Prince being chased by some sort of sand monster, the Dahaka, and aiming to go back in time and change his fate by means of a peculiar island. (Hint: Everything ends with “of Time.” Dagger of Time, Sands of Time, Guardian of Time, Island of Time, Empress of Time, it never ends.) It's the kind of plot that has you climbing separate towers and solving egregiously elaborate mechanisms to unlock a friggin' door. I have my limits.

In my review of Sands, I mentioned several positive attributes, with which I think you'll agree: (a) The game looked fabulous, with one of the most intricately designed examples of decaying beauty this side of Metroid Prime; (b) it featured an intriguing story with characters you could relate to and get to know; and (c) the things you could do in that game, the acrobatics you could pull off, were astounding, and the ease and which you could perform them ever more so.

The part about story and characters I believe I've already mentioned. Graphics, thankfully, have been kept intact, as the Island of Time is quite a beautiful place to explore. The game has the Prince jumping back and forth between two time periods, and the differences in age are illustrated quite wonderfully. This is one area I cannot complain about.

The platforming is still fun and, thanks to a mercifully simple base control scheme, easy to pull off. Watching a video of one of these games in motion without knowing how the thing is played would probably cause the viewer to wonder how a player is expected to run along a wall, leap onto an opposite ledge, spin off of a pole, dangle from a crack in the wall and jump onto a curtain, sliding down with your dagger, in one single, continuous motion. These are the best and most satisfying segments of Within.

But they're also frequently plagued with bad camera angles. In a game in which you've got to be carefully studying your environments and meticulously planning something as simple as a jump, fixed camera angles just don't work. Ditto the Dahaka chase sequences, which force the player to be rushed and cautious at the same time. Such flaws are meant to add theatricality but just work to damage an already disappointing title. The ability to reverse time to correct a mistake is back, but this time it seems more like a compensation for cruddy design.

My biggest complaint about Sands was that it moved in fits and starts, with the platforming/puzzle-solving segments stretching for long periods of time while the enemy battles were awkwardly clumped together in between. Ubisoft's solution, it seems, is to jam-pack the sequel with action, so that there's no time for inconsistency. The platforming has been toned down a notch, while the combat has been cranked up. And I think anyone that played Sands and experienced its underwhelming battle system will agree that this was a mistake.

I commend Ubisoft for improving the combat to include combos, multiple weapons and special moves (like the pillar twirl, which NEVER gets old). But it's still not deep enough to justify this much action, especially when the enemies are so cheap and annoying to fight. And especially when we're forced to withstand a plethora of lame one-liner exchanges. And ESPECIALLY when we must endure some cheesy guitar riff in the process.

All this, AND the game is glitchy. Okay, enough is enough.

My point is that I wanted to like Within. But every time I was given a gorgeous piece of scenery or an inspired platforming segment, there was some irritating camera angle, aggravating fight sequence, or awful bit of dialog to turn the tables. Within is a twisted, perverted shell of the Prince of Persia we once loved. Let's just try to forget about this one.


Reviewer's Score: 3/10 | Originally Posted: 05/25/07


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