Review by Bill_Lange

Reviewed: 03/06/09

Definitely worth a rental, just not enough content to justify a purchase.

A Review by Bill Lange

BOTTOM LINE: The PoP series has come full circle, right back to the same problems that The Sands of Time had: Exploring is a blast, but combat sucks.

The Lion King had it right: the circle of life applies to everything, even video games. 2003's Prince of Persia series reboot The Sands of Time had a great gimmick and keen exploration sections, but faltered with its frustrating combat sequences. Here we are five years later, and though Ubisoft has found a new gimmick, the same issues rear their ugly heads with this most recent Prince of Persia.

This newest adventure waves goodbye to the Godsmack-fueled angsty Prince from the Sands of Time trilogy and introduces a new hero, one that thankfully has a much better attitude. Disarmingly cheerful, this Prince cracks wise while sliding down walls and fighting monsters, and is much less of a brooding pain in the ass. Strangely, even though he's supposed to be known as the Prince, he only vaguely identifies himself as such. I was expecting the issue to come up during the many optional side conversations during the game, but it doesn't happen.

Joining him on his quest is Elika, princess of the land that the Prince happens to find himself lost in. Thanks to her magical powers, she's a one-button dynamo; press Y in different situations, and Elika will point the way to your next objective, attack an enemy, or toss the Prince when his standard leap isn't long enough, acting as the game's double jump. She even automatically saves the Prince from a fatal plunge or misstep, taking the place of the Sands of Time as your mulligan this time around.

The two leads are thinly characterized with cliche after cliche, but something interesting happened after awhile: I genuinely started to like them. The Prince is an exuberant, sunny guy that never loses his mirth even after the misfortune heaped upon him continues to pile up. Elika takes their plight much more seriously than he, but still has a dry sense of humor. The sly, witty banter that develops between them is excellently written and almost never feels forced, a rarity among most games' hackneyed, stilted dialogue.

A quick rundown of the plot: The Prince is lost in a sandstorm and loses track of his donkey Farah (nice reference), just in time to save Elika from attacking soldiers. After witnessing severe damage inflicted on the ancient evil Ahriman's prison, the two are tasked with cleansing the land of Ahriman's influence and locking the dark god away once again. Got it? Okay great, since it doesn't really matter to the gameplay what your motivation is.

The swinging, climbing, and wall-running exploration sections are one of the highlights here. Your controls are well-organized and make it almost effortless to link a wall-run to a jump to a pillar grab to a ceiling ring swing. The Prince's agility comes in handy while collecting Light Seeds, glowing orbs floating around a healed section of the land that, when collected in the right amounts, unlock new abilities for Elika. It's impossible to make a mistake, since Elika will save you if the Prince makes a boneheaded leap, leading to freedom of exploration and experimentation.

Just like its predecessors, combat becomes the weak link in the otherwise strong chain of Prince of Persia. Combat always takes place on a small, enclosed area that is usually surrounded on all sides by evil black goo or a deadly drop, the latter of which can be used to your advantage. The exclusively two-on-one battles are deceptively deep at first; you can attack with a sword, grab with your gauntlet, use acrobatic moves, and order Elika to join the fray for a quick attack. Combos are simple to string together against lesser foes, and you'll make quick work of them, perhaps too quick. However, the holes in the fighting system become apparent when taking on the four boss characters, the Corrupted. These monsters have special abilities that make it a pain to attack them effectively, and you have to fight them six controller-smashing times each.

Much has been made of the Prince's relative invulerability, and whether it makes the game too easy. I prefer to look at the issue like this: the 30-60 second load time to bring up the Game Over screen and restart from the last checkpoint has been replaced by a two second cutscene of Elika saving the Prince from a fall or death blow. You're still somewhat penalized for your clumsiness by being sent back to the last platform on which you set foot or by having your enemy regain some of its health. This adds tremendously to the game's immersion and keeps from breaking flow.

Prince of Persia falls into a routine after the first hour of so: trek across the landscape to heal an area, fight one of Ahriman's generals when you get there, return color and life to the area, collect some Light Seeds to put toward gaining a new ability, and move on to the next area. It's initally very engaging, but after healing a dozen Fertile Grounds, the repetition begins to wear thin.

A major strength is having immense areas to explore, with almost dizzying heights to reach. HDTV owners may even feel a moment of vertigo when perched on a high cliffside, taking in the panoramic view of the landscape. The cel-shaded graphics add a terrific accent to the environment, making the game world (and our heroes) come alive.

By far the worst part of Prince of Persia is its ending. A good finale is like a satisfying goodbye that caps off the many hours you spent working though a game. On the other hand, Prince of Persia's finale takes the 15+ hours you spent with the Prince and Elika and throws them right back in your face, and ends on a downbeat, depressing cliffhanger even more infuriating than Halo 2's brick wall of a finish.

The amazing sense of scope presented by Prince of Persia, as well as the fluid, artful exploration mechanics and great writing, more than make up for missteps in combat and story. However, the terrible ending and lack of replay value make the latest adventure with the Prince strictly a rental.

Rating:   3.5 - Good

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

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