Review by Golden__Sun

"A return to form for the Prince of Persia series"

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time brought the 1989 classic to a new era and genre. The subsequent sequels, Warrior Within and The Two Thrones retained the excellent mechanics of their predecessor but lost much of the charm that helped make the series reboot so loved. Ubisoft chose to make the Prince a much darker character and in turn alienated many fans. Now, almost four years after the last game in the series, Ubisoft has brought back the charm and wonder of the Prince's world ten-fold.

This new Prince isn't even really a prince at all. Just a witty tomb-robber making his way through the desert, the new Prince is thrust into a battle against the dark god Ahriman after losing his donkey Farah (a nod to The Sands of Time) in a sandstorm. The magical lands preventing Ahriman from escaping his prison have been corrupted by his influence, turning a once vibrant world into a wasteland. The Prince must traverse the open world to revitalize the mystical Fertile Grounds and force back Ahriman's corruption.

The Prince doesn't have to face this challenge alone. After the introductory sequence the player is introduced to Elika, the princess charged with protecting the world from Ahriman. The player is quickly thrust into combat and taught the basics of fighting. Similar to Fable 2, Prince of Persia utilizes a one-button combat system. The controller's four face-buttons are each assigned a specific action: sword, acrobatics, the Prince's gauntlet, or Elika's magic. The focus of the system is creating attack chains by stringing together the different moves. The various moves lead into different attack chains that vary depending on enemy and ally position. Grabbing an enemy with the Prince's gauntlet gives the player the ability to use the acrobatic button to throw the enemy in the air. Once airborne the player can toss Elika into the air to use or magic or continue the onslaught with their sword. Combined with the ability to block/deflect attacks and dodge the attack moves create a rather stylish combat system.

While the combat looks great it isn't particularly difficult. Other than the game's bosses there is only one standard enemy. The regular encounters can all be tackled the same way except for some later fights were attack chains must be started with a certain move to deal damage. There's also the option to use the environment to damage the enemy. Unfortunately, other than knocking an enemy into a pit these opportunities are rare.

One aspect that does add a bit of variety into the combat is the inclusion of quick-time events. Many gamers now look down on QTEs due to the sheer number of games they've been shoehorned into in recent years. Thankfully in Prince of Persia they're worked into the game rather well. They pop up in combat mainly as either a button press to dodge a special enemy attack or repeated button presses to force back a foe during a sword clash. While they don't add a lot to combat the QTEs are a nice change of pace when they pop up.

Of course you won't be spending much of your time fighting. In true Prince of Persia fashion you will be running, jumping, sliding, and shimmying your way through the world. Altiar, Ubisoft's other acrobatic swordsman, wishes he could move with the Prince's grace. Not only do you have the normal staple of parkour-style moves, you can also perform a long jump with the help of Elika's magic. You can press a button mid-jump to have Elika send you further along your way. Another well implemented feature is the use of the Prince's gauntlet to slide down walls. The sharp fingers dig into the surface and give you control of your speed and angle of descent.

The team at Ubisoft Montreal has given the Prince incredible paths on which he flows effortlessly from surface to surface. Whoever decided that when leaping onto a poll, the Prince's momentum would swing him around to the opposite side, ready to continue, deserves a medal. This little detail has a huge impact on how the game plays. Unlike other platfomers where the player must land, shimmy around a pole, and then leap off, in Prince of Persia the flow is never interrupted. And that's what Prince of Persia is really all about. The ability to move from wall-run to pole jump to pole swing in an incredibly smooth fashion is one of the joys of the game.

The Prince has more than making the next jump to worry about as he makes his way through the world. In areas tainted by Ahriman's corruption various traps appear to impede the Prince's progress. Slithering pools of Corruption slide across the walls waiting to pull the Prince and black tendrils shoot out of surfaces to trap him. The traps make the platforming more thrilling but they don't increase the challenge very much. They are all timed so if you avoid the first trap in a sequence and keep a steady pace you'll have no problem with the others.

Elika's magic also comes into play when traversing the world. Each of her four powers corresponds with a specific color wall plate. While some of them are as simple as pressing a button when you reach it, the standout is the Breath of Ormazd. With this power the Prince runs on whatever surface the plate is on. As you run from plate to plate gravity essentially shifts and you must dodge obstacles or risk falling. It can induce vertigo as the walls and ceilings become the floor but it does add a nice thrill to the game.

With all of the running and jumping the player must do there are sure to be times when the Prince doesn't quick make it and is sent plummeting to his death; or at least you would think so. Every time the Prince falls Elika is there to save him with her magic. Instead of reverting to the last time the player saved or relying on a numbered ‘life' system the player is simply returned to the last piece of flat ground the Prince stood on. When the Prince falls in combat Elika revives him and the enemy being fought regains some of its health.

Some people will be put-off by the ‘no-death' mechanic as it robs the game of any real difficulty. Personally, I found it added to the fun of the title. Once the Prince and Elika revitalize one of the Fertile Grounds the game's dark landscape is pushed back to reveal the bright and colorful land it truly is. Once this happens the player is charged with collecting ‘Light Seeds' that are scattered throughout the land. Collecting the seeds allows the player to access more of Elika's magic which in turn gives the player access to more Fertile Grounds. The seeds are generally on paths you normally traverse but some are more difficult to get to. For those out of reach the ‘no-death' mechanic becomes a very useful tool. The game's lenient approach to fatal action lets you experiment more with the environment than a stricter system would. I know I'm more likely to try a risky leap if I'm not going to loose ten minutes of progress if it doesn't work out.

As more of the in-game world is explored the player can learn more about the setting and characters. I say ‘can' because much of the story and character development is completely optional. Very little is told through required cutscenes spread throughout the game. Instead, Ubisoft shoes to use optional conversations between the Prince and Elika to further the characters and story. At any time the player can walk next to Elika and with the press of a button trigger a conversation between the two characters. The conversations cover a wide variety of topics including the current situation, the history and lore of the game's world and the character's personal histories. Sometimes the characters just play a game of ‘I Spy'. These conversations sound very natural thanks to the game's great writing and voice performances. Nolan North and Khari Walgreen both deliver excellent turns as the Prince and Elika. Both performers bring their characters to life in a way too few games manage to do. Often games secure either high-profile voice talent or a great script; Prince of Persia has both. It's really refreshing to see two really likeable video game characters with such great chemistry.

The other audio aspect of the game that stands out is the score. Keeping in tone with the rest of the game, the score carries a middle-eastern quality throughout. In all the score in not very long. Pieces often repeat throughout the game but they are good enough that I didn't care. The music rarely takes center stage. If often plays quietly in the background, helping accent the situation at hand. In this regard the limited soundtrack works very effectively.

Complimenting the atmospheric soundtrack are the equally atmospheric graphics. The brush painting style of the game makes it unique among this generation's offerings of brown and grey. Not to say that the game doesn't have darkness to it; it most certainly does. In the lands filled with Ahriman's corruption the entire game is muted with blues and grey. It's a sterile look that exemplifies the death Ahriman has brought to the land.

Once the Prince and Elika have revitalized the Fertile Grounds in a given area the look of the game changes drastically. The corruption is driven back by Elika's magic revealing the vibrant landscape. Water and grass spring up and sunny blue skies return to the world. Bright greens and blues become the common color making the area completely different from a visual stand point. To say it's beautiful is an understatement. Prince of Persia has one of the most compelling visual styles seen in gaming since Okami.

The distinct character models also set the style of Prince of Persia apart from other recent titles. Enemies are a chaotic mash of blue and black outlined by broad brush strokes. They are completely twisted by Ahriman's influence yet still distinctly human. The Corrupted, the game's four major reoccurring bosses, are all very well designed. Each one was at one time human but they traded their souls to Ahriman in exchange for what they desired most. The Warrior is a former king that dealt with Ahriman to protect his subjects from his enemies. Ahriman's influence turned the great warrior into a hulking beast with impenetrable stone skin. Another, The Concubine, has the blue and black skin of the normal enemies but is still clad in the seductive clothing and jewels from her former life. It's undeniable that The Concubine was once a beautiful woman, she just happens to have a tail and claws now.

One of the downsides to the game is its length. Without rushing I completed the game in less than twelve hours. In that time I was able to collect all but 64 of the 1001 Light Seeds. Also, once you finish the game the only new features unlocked are alternate costumes. Downloadable content is planned, with one piece already being released, but it's at your own discretion if you want to spend the extra money on it. The piece that is already out, entitled ‘Epilogue' adds another few hours to the game and appropriately continues the story. Without going into spoilers I feel the need to express how impressed I was with the ending to the game. Ubisoft went a direction that few games take and I wholeheartedly applaud them for it. I'm actually unlikely to purchase the ‘Epilogue' pack because I don't want my perception of the ending to change.

The various elements of Prince of Persia come together to form one of the more outstanding efforts of the end of 2008. There will be those who are turned off by the lack of difficulty or the collection aspect of the Light Seeds. To others these aspects will provide simple joy. With so many games presenting war-torn locales and gruff, emotionally stunted characters, it's nice to have a game like this. Let yourself get wrapped up in the beauty and charm of the world Ubisoft has so lovingly crafted.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 03/30/09

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

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