Review by EdS25
"The best animated, most fluidly controlled character ever created."
I would be lying if I said that the reason I was excited for this game was its predecessors. I haven't played more than a few levels of the originals. However, that doesn't mean I am unaware of the impact they had on gaming. Fifteen years ago, the Prince of Persia series really advanced the genre with its combination of incredible rotoscoped character animation, unique environments, action and puzzle-solving. At the risk of sounding cheesy, Jordan Mechner, the man behind it all, has absolutely done it again.
You are the Prince, an amazingly agile young fellow who was tricked into releasing the Sands of Time. Once unleashed, the sands transform all the inhabitants of the large castle where the game takes place into hideous monsters you will have to destroy. Man, I wish the Prince had done this on a Saturday. More on that later.
Thus begins the tale of the Prince. Through it, he will traverse the numerous traps of the castle, meet the mysterious damsel Farah, and learn to control the flow of time itself.
The majority of Prince of Persia (PoP) is spent getting from Point A to Point B. This is an oversimplification, because between A and B are a thousand spikes, saw blades and impossible jumps to try and prevent you from doing so. Luckily, as mentioned above, the Prince has the moves to pull this off brilliantly. He can run along walls, is an expert gymnast on the high bar, and has no fear of heights.
While playing PoP, I showed the game off to a few casual/non-gamers. Their first reaction was to look down at my hands, then at the screen and ask ''Are you controlling that?'' Yup. The point being that the animation is so stellar, so fluid, and the incredible feats you can pull off by stringing moves together so convincing, they thought they were watching pre-rendered animated sequences.
PoP manages, in my opinion, to achieve the ultimate goal of playing a videogame : eliminating the controller. Sort of like cutting out the middle-man. My brain is connected to the character, to the moves, to what I am actually doing in the game, not on what buttons to press. It is bliss. For example, a typical sequence in PoP would go something like this : run up a column and grab a ledge near the top. Pull yourself up, then shimmy around to the other side. Make a flying leap to a small balance beam and carefully walk across as pieces of it crumble under your weight. Jump up to grab a high bar, do a few giants to build momentum, and let fly to land safely on the next impossibly small ledge.
Amazingly, you will find that you can pull off this sequence every time. No matter how dangerous it LOOKS, it is a very precise set of maneuvers. The ''puzzle'' of finding and getting to the exit of each room, is fun to figure out and an absolute joy to execute. If PoP had been a hundred rooms of just you, alone in the castle, figuring out where to go next, a perfect ''10'' would still not describe how good it would be.
However, there is one major flaw in the game: the combat. The sheer number of battles, and how many foes you must defeat in each of them borders on ridiculous. In the first few hours of the game, I also found these fights rather difficult. The Prince has a few really nice moves during combat, such as vaulting over the heads of enemies and slicing them in the back. The battles look great, with the camera swinging around and zooming in for the kills. They are even ''fun'' for the first few enemies. But these battles are mandatory, and have a set number of enemies you must kill to advance. By the time it gets to 10, you feel pretty much ''done.'' You turn around, and another wave of 5-6 show up. Then another 5 after that. I really question the designers, sitting at their computers, trying to decide how many enemies you should fight at this moment. Twenty or thirty just seems extreme to me.
When the rest of the game is as brilliant as it is, the battles serve as nothing but interruptions. That said, any trouble you do have with the enemies will only enhance the feeling of pure glee you will feel upon retrieving the Prince's ultimate weapon.
I wasn't sure if the stunning animation of the Prince would belong in the Gameplay or Graphics sections. Really, it's both. The talented team who designed the animation did so mainly so that it would LOOK great, but it also becomes a major factor in why it PLAYS great too. They have said they designed about 750 motions for the Prince. Not all ''moves'' per se; a lot of these are in-between motions to connect the moves and make it all flow. Their work paid off, because the Prince moves/controls as well as any videogame character I have ever seen.
This incredible animation and flow is not limited to your standard running, jumping, and sword thrust moves. The Prince is a gymnast of sorts, doing backflips and unbelievable high bar routines. I was blown away the first time I was swinging over and over a bar (giants) and decided to change directions midswing at the top of the rotation. The Prince hopped up a little off the bar, crossed his hands over, and swung down in the opposite direction. The little details like that give the Prince his life and character.
Similar to the Prince's animation, the environments themselves are not only beautiful but enhance gameplay as well. For the most part, I found it very easy to ''judge distances'', i.e. can I make it to that flag pole from this ledge? Of course! PoP has been compared to ICO graphically, and I can say it is easily as beautiful, if not moreso. The inside environments are rich with details and spectacular lighting, and the outside environments have an unbelievable sense of scale. Try not to stare in awe traversing an outside ledge, the view of the castle filling the screen, with the sunset, mountains and wisping tops of sand dunes in the distance.
Sound and Music
PoP has terrific voice acting, mainly through the Prince ''telling'' the story. During some of the quiet moments, he will reflect on what's happening, i.e. ''talk to himself.'' Some of his comments, particularly once he meets Farah, are actually pretty damn funny. There are a couple of nice Arabian tunes during the battle sequences, even if they are a bit cliché. The rest of the game favors eery silence.
PoP has one other drawback along with the incessant battles : its length. It takes barely 10 hours to complete. For this reason, it is an incredible rental but a little pricey for full purchase. (Not that I regret it.) If I had to choose between the game the way it is and a longer game with less frequent jaw dropping moments and more ''filler'' I would choose the current version.
In longer games, I usually try to have a ''save game'' at cool moments; sort of like a highlight reel. In PoP, practically every save point is right before or after something drool-worthy. By the 10th save in the first hour, I decided to give up and just accept the fact that the entire game is a highlight : to enjoy all my favorite parts I can just play the whole darn thing again. In that sense, I do believe it has strong replayability. The XBOX version also comes with both Prince of Persia 1 and 2, although . . . . these games have not aged well.
PoP is an absolutely incredible game. It features some of the best character control seen yet and gorgeous environments. It takes some of my favorite aspects of other games, such has the high bar swinging in Jak and Daxter, the incredible sense of scale, height, and flying leaps of faith in Tomb Raider, and the cleverly hidden 2D elements in a 3D game of Metroid Prime and mishmashes them together into a near-perfect game.
Final Score : 9/10. -1 for too much combat and sadly too little content.
For the sequel, I know I am beating a dead horse but I would love to see less fighting (not eliminating it ENTIRELY - just don't make me sick of it during each fight), and as many incredibly designed levels as they will give me.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 12/10/03
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