Review: Prince of Persia (PS3)
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Ah, is it that time again? The holidays are almost here, so it feels almost natural that the new Prince of Persia game has been released. Why I can remember it like it was yesterday, the first time I picked up Sands of Time. The setting instantly piqued my interest, and the story telling was like nothing I’d played before. The time travel gameplay mechanic allowed the player to experiment without fear of losing all progress, and that allowed the developer to challenge the player with ever more difficult and interesting puzzles. The combat was a bit tiresome after a while, but that was the price you paid. Except apparently very few of you actually paid it, and Ubisoft decided the game wasn’t mass market enough. So Warrior Within was released. After that was panned by many they tried to right the ship one more time with the Two Thrones. I can’t even tell you how that one was, I’d sort of lost interest in that Prince.
Ubisoft agreed, it seems, as the new Prince of Persia takes the franchise in an entirely new direction. Gone is the old Prince, replaced by a glorified “adventurer”Â as he likes to coin himself and he brings a new sidekick with him. Shall we see what kind of trouble these two can get themselves into?
The new spin on the Prince is that he is a man who could lose his ass in a sandstorm. In fact that’s actually what happens to our man, as you are first introduced to him as he is calling out the name of his donkey. He fails to find that donkey, but in its place he does manage to find trouble. A young woman is being chased by armed men, and it appeals to your roguish nature to save her. Slowly you begin to work your magic on her and discover that she is trying to stop her father from releasing a Dark God. Also, she somehow has magical powers.
In truth the story isn’t that interesting. At least not the story they give you. If you put the work into it however, the game rewards you. As you progress in the game you may at anytime stop and talk to the young lady, the Princess Elika, and it is this interaction which fills in the story. Her father is not a bad man, just driven by grief and despair. Her people are charged with guarding the prison of a dark god, but they have all but ceased to exist, and those that remain have been corrupted by the dark god Ahriman, including her father. These and many other details are brought to your attention, all of them interesting. It’s just unfortunate that the developers choose to force you to dig into it yourself rather than present it in a way which would allow more people to get it right away.
This new edition version of the Prince has been given new surroundings. In other words this isn’t your father’s Prince of Persia. The graphics have been given an upgrade over the previous generation, obviously, but they have also been shaded differently. More specifically the world and the characters in it use cell shading. This was a bit jarring to me at first, as I quite liked the way the Sands of Time looked, and when combined with all the other gameplay changes, it felt almost unnatural. The farther into the game I got however the less it bothered me. Perhaps this was due to my enjoying the story of the game more, or perhaps I just realized that the new style fit the new game like the old style fit the old game.
Beyond the in your face upgrade to the graphics is the not so noticeable (at first anyway) things, like the draw distance. It’s virtually non existent. At least I couldn’t see any. Trust me when I say there are times when you’ll get a magnificent view of the game world.
Despite that praise the game isn’t perfect graphically. There are times when the camera can be a bit jumpy (Though nowhere near as bad as certain other glorified action games I’ve reviewed recently) and the PS3 seemed to choke a bit on the floating corruption areas in the game. Which is ironic, since that’s where your character IS supposed to be choking.
The characters look interesting. There are no more metal thongs, lets put it that way. Instead the hero looks like a refugee from a Squaresoft game, and the heroine looks angelic, which is probably what they were going for on her at least. The enemies are all possessed and powered by the dark god, and so they can look as outlandish as the developers can dream, and they tend to do just that.
One of the things Ubisoft got so perfect the first time and so horridly wrong the second time was the sound. The music, for example, went from appropriate sounding period stuff to a looping guitar beat that did nothing to encourage enjoyment in the game.
The voice of the Prince too, was excellent in the first game and whiney in the second.
So with the new Prince I was concerned, to put it mildly. Once burned twice shy, as it were. Well, I should not have worried. Somebody figured it out it seems. The music in game is outstanding. It’s a tiny bit repetitive but that’s really not so bad. There are worse things than having repetitive good music. Like the aforementioned repetitive BAD music.
The voice acting too is once again of stand out quality. The Prince this time is voiced by Nolan North (Sorry ladies, those Prince Jake Gyllenhaal fantasies will have to wait), who previously did the voice of Nate in the Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. The characters are similar, and voiced exactly the same, so in some ways the game felt like Uncharted: Prince of Persia while playing. But I can’t stay mad at that character, either Nate or this Prince, so I forgive. The rest of the voice cast is stellar as well, be it your companion Elika, her father the King, or the dark god Ahriman and his many minions.
It was a pleasure to listen to this game, honestly. While “skiing”Â down a wall, I heard echoes while going through a tunnel. Beautiful. Nothing else I can really say about the audio, so I’ll leave it there.
Now we come to the Achilles Heel of this, the current incarnation of Iran’s most popular royal family member. To put it bluntly, it’s a boring fetch quest. A boring fetch quest where you cannot die. In order to cure the city you and Elika must together run, jump and swing your way across vast landscapes which could never exist for long in the real world. But I don’t care about reality. I play to have fun. And there is not enough fun to be had here. Here is the issue. You are paired with Elika, meaning she is always with you in an Ico handcuffed to you sense. That’s ok, it’s worked before right? Except that she has magic powers. One of these powers is to replace the time travel mechanic found in the old games. Now if you fall, she rescues you. All the time. ALL the time. Even if she is incapacitated by a boss character. Somehow she’ll break those unbreakable bonds and save you and then go back to being in those unbreakable bonds. It’s like she is your own personal bungee cord. Another power she possesses is the ability to save you from being killed in combat. She does this by hitting your enemy with a powerful blast of magic which sends them reeling across the stage while you recover. Yet strangely she chooses not to do this when I’m not injured, instead relying on me to fight yet another pointless battle. It’s sort of like the old Voltron problem. If you’ve got the Flaming Sword, why the hell would you waste your time by NOT using it all the time.
There aren’t a whole lot of battles in the game, to be fair. It’s certainly not Warrior Within or even Sands of Time in terms of the enemies you’ll fight. Instead you fight maybe 16 enemies at most. This is amusingly, a shame, because they finally got the fighting right. The single one on one combat found in PoP here is excellent. You have a sword attack, a gauntlet attack and you can command Elika whenever you need a magical attack. Or at least you can whenever you are in range. Otherwise she will complain about not being in range instead of getting into range. If they had fixed that one problem I might have called the fighting engine perfect. You can block and parry with the same button, and the game allows for some interesting looking combos if you can successfully chain them together.
Anyway, getting back to the problem of little to no fun. The whole point of the Prince games was navigating the rooms, avoiding the traps and getting to the next area alive. Yes you had a little help with the time travel mechanic, but that was limited, and you could very easily die even if you screwed up. Here, dying is some sort of strange myth. Elika requires white energy orbs to raise her level of magic enough to access the entire game map, and these orbs are scattered all over the world, to be found once you and Elika have cured a level. So thus you have reason to go back through that level you just cleared and obtain as many orbs as possible. There were times I felt like I was playing a Mario game, not a Prince of Persia game. You have to collect 540 of these orbs to complete the game. It’s a chore, and it’s a boring chore.
It’s difficult to fairly judge this game on its balance. After all you can’t die. But there is a certain amount of progression in the difficulty as you move from one sub boss to another. The boss fights get more and more difficult, taking longer and longer to finish. If you can’t beat an enemy just keep at it, you’ll get it eventually, and yet, you can’t die. In fac,t not only can you not die, you are seemingly invulnerable. You can be hit any number of times by sword swinging enemies and not lose any real amount of mobility or attacking power. Elika will continue to throw your opponent far enough away to save you but not far enough to throw them off the side of the precarious platform you are usually fighting on.
I don’t think I’ve ever played a game where I couldn’t die, where I had nothing to lose by doing whatever I pleased. At least no game where I wasn’t cheating. So that’s original. Everything else in the game I’ve seen before. Companion chained to you, check. Collecting large number of items to progress in the game, check.
About the only truly original thing is the ending, which I can’t tell you about because it’s colossal spoiler. I thought it was an intriguing way to end a game at the very least.
OK I guess you could try to get all of the orbs to finish that fetch quest. And there are a few different skins for the Prince and Elika, including Altair from Assassins Creed and Jade from Beyond Good & Evil, so if you need to get your Altair on, this here’s your game. Sorta.
About the only really addicting thing in this game is the interaction between Elika and the Prince. The story is very enjoyable. Nothing else made me sit there and filled me with the desire to finish the game. It wasn’t the puzzle solving, and it wasn’t the combat, however improved I felt that was.
This is not a game that will appeal to Prince fans who loved the traps and the death defying of previous games. There is nothing approaching the joy that was found in escaping the Dahaka in Warrior Within (the ONLY good thing about that game). Instead what you have is what seems to be the perfect game to introduce your children to the world of big boy games. The combat isn’t very gruesome, though it’s still bad enough that you don’t want 5 year olds playing it. Combine that with the fact that you are all but immortal in the game and you could easily play the game with your child and allow them to find there way at their own pace. Yes that’s what I’m saying, it’s a grown up Mario, minus all the joy.
I’ve saved a portion of the gameplay for this section, as I felt it warranted the attention. There are sections of the game map, usually the boss towers, that are only accessible by using power plates. These plates are the reason you are on the fetch quest, as each of the four power plate types requires a certain amount of orbs to grant you access to the ability. One type makes you run around the world in a very Sonic the Hedgehog like fashion, though not as quickly. A second fires you around the world from one plate to another like the cannon barrels in Donkey Kong Country. A third has you flying from one point to another like you were Harry Potter waving your wand, and lastly the fourth power has you riding Elika like Supergirl’s cape while she flies across the map.
These powers, used for good, could have made the game play more enjoyable. Instead they were used for evil, and thus they like collecting the orbs which grant you these powers, are a chore to endure rather than a thrill to be enjoyed. All of them require you to complete long sequences of bouncing from one plate to the next with few if any respites. The final one in the game is absurdly long, taking what seemed like hours to complete even if it was really only a few minutes. The fourth power, flying around with Elika like Supergirl, is incredibly frustrating. The controls are too touchy, and while she’s doing the flying you are apparently doing the steering. I guess your hands are covering her eyes, because she consistently flies towards objects she should avoid. And again, it takes too long. Often I saw my objective as I flew past it, probably while doing some needless loop instead of landing to get the job done. The game is in love with itself, and really needed to get over itself.
Graphics: Very Good
Gameplay: Pretty Poor
Originality: Pretty Poor
Addictiveness: Very Bad
Final Score: Below Average Game
Short Attention Span Summary:
If you take your water plain and your bread un-buttered, this here is the game for you.