Review by BloodGod65

"Run, Jump, Die, Repeat"

The previous Prince of Persia series could be said to have been a success, given that it spanned three games that appeared on all the major consoles. With that series long finished and the memory of it beginning to fade, Ubisoft has decided on another revival of the classic, this time taking the game in a new and not entirely likeable direction.

Within seconds of starting the game, players will find themselves caught up in a world altering struggle. The new Prince is a dorky, somewhat likeable fellow who is once again unwittingly caught up in events that are well out of his control. This time around he falls into a canyon during a sandstorm while looking for his lost donkey, which is apparently loaded down with treasure from a recent tomb raiding expedition. Soon after, he stumbles upon a woman named Elika, who just so happens to be in the process of running from a bunch of armed guards.

The two take flight and the Prince quickly learns that Elika is a princess on a mission to save the world. Upon their arrival at a temple, Elika's father catches up with the duo and releases the dark god Ahriman. Ahriman then takes over the surrounding land, strangling the power from it so that its link to the temple will break, allowing him to fully escape. It then becomes the Prince and Elika's mission to go around the land healing these power sources in order to thwart Ahriman.

Like all Prince of Persia games the new version is, at its core, a platformer - albeit one with a twist. The world in which the game takes place is entirely open, allowing players to go about healing the land any way they wish. And like any platformer, players will be spending large amounts of time jumping, swinging and generally performing death defying feats of acrobatics. Where the game really differentiates itself is with its simplified control scheme.

Much like Assassin's Creed, certain types of actions are mapped to certain buttons. X button uses the Prince's sword, the A button is for acrobatics and generally makes the Prince jump, and the B button is for his hands, which makes him grab onto things. Where Prince of Persia and Assassin's Creed differ is that the control scheme in Assassin's Creed was meant to simplify in order to achieve greater complexity, while the controls of PoP are simplified in order to achieve simplicity. Confused? Allow me to explain.

In previous Prince of Persia games, most complex actions required several button commands. For instance, jumping up two vertical services meant pressing directional buttons and face buttons in order to get the Prince to jump back and forth between the two. Now the Prince takes care of all the hard stuff on his own. Every action in the game requires but a single button press to accomplish, if that. When jumping to something such as a column suspended over a vast empty space, you don't even have to line it up. Just jump in the general direction and the Prince automatically snaps onto it. In the beginning of the game, this isn't so noticeable. However, as level design starts getting more complicated and platforming sequences more drawn out, you're likely to realize just how little you're actually doing. During one frenzied sequence, I had the Prince running across walls, jumping across vast chasms and sliding down vertical surfaces. Though the segment was about three minutes long and complicated as hell, I realized all I had done was press the A button a few times and the rest required absolutely zero input. The vast majority of the game feels as if it simply requires players to sit and watch as the action unfold, and press a button every now and then to keep things moving along. In that respect it's like one huge, drawn out quick-time event.

Combat crops up at regular intervals, with players fighting one of four bosses in each area they visit and random fights before entering corrupted areas. While the previous series focused on large multi-enemy fights, fighting is now more of a duel. The fighting is handled similarly to platforming, and the buttons handle the same sorts of commands. X is for the sword, A has the Prince jump over the enemy and B picks the enemy up. He can also defend and counterattack. Overall the combat is extremely tactical but not at all fun. Most of the time you'll be struggling just to get close enough to the enemy to hit it, due to the Prince's inhibited movement during combat, and then trying to land a blow on the enemy while they block nearly everything that is thrown at them.

Thus far I've avoided talking about the games one interesting mechanic; Elika. The princess will follow the Prince every step of the way and her presence is required to do anything. After players reach their objective in an area, Elika is required to purify a sort of “life font”, which banishes Ahriman's corruption from the area. For anyone who hasn't been paying attention the past few years, this is a remarkably similar concept to what was found in Okami. The game even goes so far as to show the area returning to life after banishing the inky corruption, complete with grass blooms and all.

Elika also has several powers at her disposal. Her most important is saving the Prince from death. If ever he should fall into the abyss or get the crap kicked out of him in a fight, she'll be right there to save him. This effectively means that there is no death in the new Prince of Persia and, by association, no challenge. The consequences for having Elika save the Prince are few. During a fight the opponent will also regain a bit of health and while platforming, you'll be transported back to the last stable area you were at before falling. She can also utilize a sort of throw to give the Prince extra distance on a jump. Elika can also access several new powers that allow players to venture into new areas. I use the phrase “several powers” loosely as they're all pretty much the same. Powers are used by jumping onto a glowing plate in the environment and pressing the Y button. Then you'll get a nifty animation that shows the Prince being whisked away to a new location in the area. To be fair, there are two powers that give the player some control but it really doesn't change things much.

But to access these powers, light seeds are required. After restoring an area, players can go around it gathering these light seeds, which basically function as currency to buy powers for Elika. And of course this is necessary as all areas must be healed to beat the game and powers are required to enter many areas. So, whenever it's time to buy a new power the game slows down and effectively turns into a collectathon.

There's plenty more to discuss about Elika. Aside from the obvious gameplay elements I've already mentioned, there are subtle things of note. First and foremost, unlike a good many other AI companions in other games, she is not a stupid hindrance. In fact, she's rarely any sort of burden whatsoever because she easily keeps up with the Prince's acrobatics. Then there are the joint animations between her and the Prince. Not since Assassin's Creed have I seen such impressive work done in this area. For instance, when standing on a thin pole sticking out over nothing, and you try to move past Elika, she and the Prince join hands and sort of swing around. When holding onto a ledge and the Prince tries to move to one side he will grab the Elika's hand and swing her over. And should you drop down from a ledge, and then stick around for a second, Elika will actually drop down into the Prince's arms.

The graphical style of the new Prince of Persia is also quite noteworthy. Like Afro Samurai or Rogue Galaxy, it's a look best described as a hybrid of cel-shading and CG. Unlike those two games, Prince of Persia is done on a much more impressive scale. The amount of detail on the Prince is impressive, and the whole world is done in the same style. In the end it combines to create a world that feels like a painting come to life.

Sound design is a few steps short of greatness, but the grandiose Middle-Eastern styled music is well done and fits the atmosphere and concept of the game well. Voice acting is well done, but it's hard to shake the fact of how goofy and American the Prince sounds. Who knew the Prince of Persia was from the US?

THE VERDICT
There's a lot about the new Prince of Persia that doesn't sit well with me. Lackluster story-telling and the stylistic and conceptual resemblance to Okami are just the start. The game is also too simple for its own good. At one point in the game, I heard the Prince quip “Run, jump, die, repeat. I'm starting to get the hang of this”. That sums up the new Prince of Persia perfectly. But the real deal breaker for me is how Ubisoft has stripped most of the control away from the player. Sure, it does away with a lot of the frustrations and cheap deaths that were present in the previous series. Unfortunately, it also takes away the feeling of actually playing the game and replaces it with a feeling of watching it. And that, of course, defeats the purpose of playing a game in the first place.


Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 06/12/09, Updated 07/07/10

Game Release: Prince of Persia (US, 12/02/08)


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