Review by Exodist
Prince of Persia excels in presentation, proving that games can be an artform...
...but what if that is all traded for game play? Prince of Perisa, simply put, is breathtaking. No, not the game play, but everything else. The graphics are wonderful, the music is good, and the voice acting, well, it works well to say the least. Okay, I lied, only the graphics make PoP breathtaking, but well, they're that good its worth a mention, isn't it? So why the 6/10? Well, as I said, "what if that is all traded for game play?", and in this case? It has been.
The story of Prince of Persia is a simple, yet subtle and very clever one. Now we're on the next generation of consoles, we have a brand new PoP trilogy (I'd assume so, I don't know if Ubisoft have actually stated if its going to be a trilogy or not, but I'd guess so) on our hands, the connection to the Sands of Time trilogy? As far as I am aware, nothing. The intro to PoP introduces us rather nicely to the story, and in a rather comic way too (I do wonder, what DID happen to the Prince's donkey?). Either way, the Prince is wandering the deserts, when he comes across Elika, a princess, on the run to a temple. When you finally reach the temple, you find her efforts are to stop an evil god, Ahriman, from being unleashed, which Elikas father is trying to commit. Since there wouldn't really be much to the game if Ahriman didn't get released, he is released and... Oh wait, no, he isn't released. Rather, he is in the process of being released after Elika's father (the idiot) destroys the Tree of Life. In order to stop Ahriman from fully escaping, who is corrupting the land, Elika must be taken to the multiple 'fertile grounds', where she must restore that particular ground from Ahriman's corruption, thus making it safe to travel. The rest of the game is essentially doing this to roughly 26 or so areas (I honestly can't remember at time of writing), and then confronting Ahriman at the end of the game, as expected. The ending has a good twist to it though, and the back-story is told using some rather subtle - but not completely unnoticeable - cut-scenes here and there. However, the story was, for the most part, rather pleasing, and at the time of writing, an extra 'Epilogue' has been released as DLC, allowing players to see what happens just after the events of the game, probably setting the scene for the next game (I haven't played it, I only rented the game).
So, game play... well, its not great, I'll tell you that. Well, I'll tell you more, obviously. Anyway, the game is, once again, in traditional PoP fashion, a plat former, however this time we have an emphasis on the plat forming, rather than combat. Lets start with the whole plat forming aspect first. Okay, PoP mainly plays out like a big context-sensitive mini-game, using visual objects to tell you what to press, rather than just popping up with PRESS X TO NOT DIE or something to that effect. That probably sounds complicated, or just not clear, so let me break it down to you. Okay, I'm running along, oh no, a big gap. No problem, run to it, press A to jump over it, sorted. A bigger gap than before? Run to it, press A, mid jump press Y to clear the whole thing. A wall to run across, clearly marked usually by a lighter shade? Run to it, press A to run along it, and if the wall is especially long, with little rings across it, press B when you reach the ring to extend. The rest is shown in other ways, such as jumping up walls, falling down walls with the B button and 'grinding' (you have a metal gauntlet, which the Prince uses to 'grind' down walls at a slower speed) down them to the next ledge to grab onto, or crawling on a ceiling to the next post to grab onto it. The problem with, its all too simple, and when you start a small plat forming sequence, it all feels like a mini-game of sorts.
At the most taxing all you'll be doing is running at the correct time to avoid dark creatures that plague the walls, jumping to another wall opposite the Prince (press A here too), then pressing A again at the end of that jump, pressing B at the ring, and pressing A again to jump, well, you get the idea. The plat forming sequences are never tricky, nor are they difficulty, for me personally, there was one thing that always caught me off guard: the 'queuing system'. PoP is one of those games that queue's your buttons, in the sense that, if you accidently pressed A when the prince was running up the wall, when he reaches his destination, you can bet he's going to go ahead and jump. I'm the sort of guy who, with a game like Tomb Raider, likes to press buttons over and over again, just for the satisfaction of doing so, but also for security. PoP likes to take thinks to the most basic, when you see a wall; simply press A once to run across, anymore and you'll jump straight off the wall and die.
Or not. Plat forming is made even easier with the introduction of new support character, Elika, who accompanies you on your whole trip. Every time the Prince is about to die, be it in combat, or just because of your accidental 'extra' button pressing (thats my excuse, I was blatantly too good for this game to have died because I simply didn't press the right button at the right part), Elika will jump out and save the Prince. This immediately reduces all challenge from the game, combat is not to be feared, and when you fail at plat forming sections, Elika transports you to the nearest solid ground (poles sticking out of the wall and the like will not suffice I'm afraid). This is where Ubisoft could have made the plat forming more complex, tricky, and larger scale (i.e., to penalise the player more by taking you back to the start of a particularly lengthy sequence), but they didn't. Apart from the fact I mentioned the plat forming sequences were incredibly easy to do, they're also very short, I managed to complete the game with less than 100 'deaths' (theres an achievement for it, whilst I did aim to get it with one play through I didn't go out of my way to get it), which, granted, also includes the combat, but I probably died from the combat more than plat forming. The plat forming in the game does work, I'll give it that, but not even the special 'power' plates that are unlocked during the course of your adventure add more.
They're simply like the rings, you reach a plate, press B to activate it, and two of them will take you to the next area automatically, and, god-forbid, two of the plates will make you control the Prince! One of them is an on-rails flying section, you merely move to either side of the screen to avoid obstacles, and thats it. Probably the most fun one, and, the biggest cause of platform related deaths was the Green pad. This made the Prince run along surfaces with some speed, and for these parts you really had to know where the obstacles were to manoeuvre around them in time. Thats pretty much it really. However I will say it now in that exploring some of the areas was truly fantastic. The simple plat forming does give you time to soak in the impressive environments, whether it be the depressing and dull corrupt areas, or the lush restored areas, there are some beautiful plat forming moments in the game that, on a few occasions, made me appreciate the simplistic design of it all. However, I'm still gonna criticise the game for it, so there.
So, the combat. Well, this is a difficult one. At times, it can be enjoyable, but through most of the game, it turns to be a chore. Combat this time around, is always a 1-on-1 affair, in an attempt to make each fight seem like an epic affair. As I mentioned earlier in the review, the emphasis in PoP is on the plat forming, and whilst a lot of attention has been put into the combat, you can see that it wasn't the top priority. Combat takes place in a 'circular' arena, in that you can't really escape, nor can you move freely, instead you take steps according to the enemy, either to the side, or toward and away from it. Pressing X will do the basic sword attack, and a lot of fights at the start can actually be won this way. However, pressing A will perform a jumping attack, and B will perform a throw attack, with Y giving you a little assistance from Elika. Whilst there are a lot of different combos on offer, its a system I never really used, and I got along fine with it. Combat was merely a matter of countering enemy attacks, jumping over them and slashing them. Most fights are pretty simple, and whilst not particularly often, got a bit boring and repetitive.
Fortunately, there are A LOT of boss fights, and when I say a lot, I mean a lot. The game world is split up into four different sections, and each section has its very own boss. Whenever you ventured into each ground in an area, you were tasked with fighting that same boss each time. Did it ever change? Nope, it was the exact same fight each time, albeit, a little harder than the last (well, it felt like it at least), and this is where the disappointment with the bosses sets in. Each boss is pretty much the same fight, every single time, throughout the whole game. You run up to them, attack them for a bit, and then they change colour. Yes, thats right, they change colour. Its not that bad though, this merely means you must attack accordingly, different colours represent different types of attacks (of which you have four, sword, jump, gauntlet and Elika), and which ever colour they are at the time, that is the only attack that they're currently vulnerable. This soon happens with the normal fights too, and whilst it varies the battles somewhat, when you're doing this for all 26 or so (I still can't remember the exact amount, I'm sure it was in the 20 region though) grounds it gets a bit old, and fast. The fights with the Warrior boss are a little more interesting though, since you're required to knock your opponent out of the 'ring', which is merely done by hitting your opponent to the edge of the battle area, and then tapping one of the buttons (probably X) as fast as possible to knock him off the edge, which can also be done with normal fights to win them extra fast. There are also a few quick time events, but we all know how much these are over-used, although they're not too bad in PoP. I'm sure I don't have to tell you what a quick time event is, but if I do, its essentially where you press buttons matching those on screen either once, or as fast as you can to achieve something, such as hurting someone, or saving yourself. That said, as repetitive and somewhat shallow the combat is (like I said, there are a lot of combos, but you never really need them), it can be fairly challenging (at points a dark goo fills up around you, meaning if you're hit back too far you'll be sucked up), and simply put, it works. Its functional, but its not a strong point of the game either.
So now I've got the game mechanics down, how is the game played? After the introduction, you're given a massive game world to explore, and its fairly non-linear. Simply put, there are four main areas, each with a load of smaller grounds in each. You must traverse each of these areas, which are all corrupt, in the attempt to cleanse them. This is achieved by entering the area, and then finding the 'fertile ground' located within it, once this has been reached, Elika can cleanse that area, freeing it from any dark goo and monsters that may lurk the area. It also massively boosts the appearance of each area, which makes the game look so wonderful, but more on that later. Either way, whilst traversing these areas, a number of Light Seeds will appear once the area has been cleansed. There are 1001 of these in the game, with roughly 600 or so of them being required to actually finish the game. Their purpose? To unlock new plate abilities. Whilst the game is fairly free-roam, its more or less you deciding which area you want to explore next. When you start you're rather restricted, and you'll be searching each ground for every last seed you can get your grubby mitts on. However, when it comes to selecting a plate, well, you can choose. Different plates let you access different areas, and when one plate has been 'bought', the next requires an even higher number of seeds. There is no right or wrong choice in which plate you should get next, you merely run around each area, cleanse it if you can, get more seeds, unlock a new plate and explore those new areas. Its a very clever system, and simply put, it works. I really enjoyed this approach to the game since it promoted exploration, and like I've said many times over, the scenery in this game is simply breath-taking.
So, onto the graphics, and theyre superb. PoP uses good ol' cel-shading, fusing some fairly realistic environments and character models, with that cartoon look, which is never strong. We're not talking on the levels of Wind Waker, rather, black outlines, and not so much detailed environments. The end result however is a joy to behold. Playing this game on my HDTV blew me away. Granted, on a technical level the graphics aren't the best, but who cares when the graphics are so aesthetically pleasing? The environments to the different areas are all rather unique, and whilst the dark corrupt areas all look rather depressing (we're talking in the good sense, in that you really get the feel of the area and the extent of Ahrimans power from it, not depressing as in, "oh this area is drab and dull how depressing"), when you cleanse the areas they look even more impressive. Its hard to say a lot, but PoP is a see-to-believe experience. When you actually sit down with this game and play it on a HDTV, you'll see why everyone raves about the graphics. This game, in terms of its graphic presentation, truly is an artistic piece. Disagree? Fair enough, but PoP is probably one of the most impressive, if not the most, game I have ever seen.
As for the music? Well, I don't really remember that, from what I remember though there was a sort of ambience to it all, rather than loud dramatic pieces playing in the background. Voice acting though, was... odd. We have the Prince and Elika, both with American accents, with personalities like American teenagers. Its a rather fun experience, and whilst some may want to consider this as story and characters, I'm just gonna talk about it here. The Prince is a rather reluctant hero, but in the guise of probably wanting to appear as a gentleman, he seems inclined to help out Elika stop Ahriman. Or perhaps he just doesn't want to fear the wrath of Ahriman. Both characters progress so much through the game though, they become accustomed to each other, the dialogue is written well, for the most part (I dunno, perhaps the whole 'teenager' sort of approach is a bit, odd for the game setting, but I didn't mind it), and the characters are two you'll grow to love. The voice acting was done very well, and whilst it didn't quite match the characters (American accents for Persian characters, but, well, you'd complain if they talked in a different language), you could still imagine the character sounding and acting like that.
Oh, and by the way, the Prince is voiced by the one and only Nolan North, voice actor for Nathan Drake in Uncharted. I thought I recognised his voice for the entirety of the game...
My main qualms with PoP are in its game play. As I've said, the story is fine (with a very good ending, I have to admit), the graphics are absolutely beautiful, and the characters are also pretty good. I also like the whole free-roam approach, but simply put, its all too, I dunno, simplistic? Combat is incredibly simple, repetitive, with each fight being exactly the same, and the bosses don't account for much. As for the plat forming, its all too easy, whilst it does vary in ways, there just isn't much to it, and again, it feels like you're doing the same thing for most of the game. The game play in PoP works, its just too damn repetitive and simple. As a whole we have an odd package, presentation wise I can't stress enough that the game excels, but as for game play, well, its up to you whether or not you like it. PoP is definitely worth checking out, if only for a rent due to its fairly short length, clocking in at around 10 hours.
However, as much as I can say about what the game play did wrong, I'll definitely be picking up the sequel. Why? The story, the characters and the graphics pleased me so much; I almost didn't notice the repetitive game play. Personally, I think it depends on how you see this game. If you're after the game play, you'll be disappointed with the weak but functional plat forming and combat. On the other hand, if you're after a game that is enjoyable, but at the same time something special to play, you should like this game. In ways, its very similar to Assassins Creed (unsurprisingly, PoP is made by the same people). Its got incredibly flawed game play, but the rest of the game is just so damn cool you didn't care. And that is essentially what PoP is like, so its up to you whether you let the game play bug you, or if you just sit back, relax, play the game for what it is, and enjoy the rest of it, which is simply brilliant. Its just a shame that the game play really is that weak.
Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Product Release: Prince of Persia (EU, 12/05/08)
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