Review: Prince of Persia (2008)

“Alright, I’ll help you save your kingdom! Just try not to stare at my ass…”

Let’s go back to 2003, when Ubisoft released Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and changed platformers forever. The fantastic design, the excellent controls, the exciting combat, and the fairy-tale story all came together to create one of my favorite games of all time. Two sequels then followed: Warrior Within, with redefined Sands of Times’ gameplay, but unfortunately added in…Godsmack and an emo/generic Prince. Finally, the Two Thrones brought back the fairy-tale story and made the Prince likable again, but failed to redefine the gameplay much and threw in some hit-or-miss chariot races to boot. Even the Dark Prince segments felt like Castlevania rip-offs. Still, Two Thrones ended the trilogy on a high note, and it seemed the Prince had retired for good. Well, while that Prince is still retired, Ubisoft’s first next-gen Prince Of Persia introduces us to a new Prince with an all-new storyline and an all-new beautiful sidekick! Is the magic still there?

PRINCELY STORY

The game opens up with the Prince (which is a nick-name only as this Prince is actually a wandering fortune hunter with no real home) blindly walking through a desert during a sandstorm looking for his donkey Farah (in-joke FTW). While searching, the Prince stumbles into a city hidden in the desert, where a beautiful girl is being chased around by some armed men. Of course, the Prince helps out the poor girl by fending off her attackers. After the dust clears, the girl’s name is revealed to be Elika and she is the princess of this city, and the men chasing her were ordered by the king, her father, to capture her. Seems that an ancient evil has been unleashed in the city, corrupting the once beautiful kingdom in darkness, and that includes his majesty the king. The corruption also seems to be tied to the powers of light that Elika seems to be in possession of, as these powers can cleanse the darkness from the land. However, Elika can‘t do it alone, and pleads with the Prince to help her restore her city. The Prince, seeing a chance to find fortune and continue to look for his donkey, agrees and the adventure begins.

While the basic premise in pretty generic, the story is actually quite entertaining thanks to the chemistry between the Prince and Elika. During the game, pressing L1 or L2 will cause the Prince to initiate a conversation with Elika, and these conversations will reveal backstory on both characters, as well as provide some comic relief and hints to solve the games puzzles. The dialogue is sharply written, and the exchanges between the two help make a rather mundane premise very entertaining, and you’ll find yourself caring about how their story will end. The only real qualm I have, if you can call it that, is that the Prince’s character is basically Nathan Drake from Uncharted. Fortune hunter who throws out one-liners and is generally a likable guy…yep, that’s Drake all right (it also doesn‘t help that they share the same voice actor). Not technically a bad thing, since I liked Drake a lot, but it make’s the Prince a less original and memorable character than the last trilogy’s Prince. Elika, on the other hand, you will probably love to death…

PRINCELY GAMEPLAY

Although the character may have changed, the gameplay for the most part hasn’t. PoP is still a platforming game with some combat mixed in. However, with this new PoP, it seems like you’ll be doing much more platforming than fighting, as I would say the ratio would be 85% platforming, 10% fighting. Of course, that’s a good thing because the platforming is better than ever here. Controls are just as smooth as responsive, and as easy as ever. The prince can still jump, run on walls, run up walls, climb on poles, swing on poles, and anything else you might remember from the past PoP trilogy. Even if you’ve never played any PoP game, don’t worry, it’s very easy to get used to and the game uses many visual cues to help you decide what acrobatics you’ll need to perform (scratches on walls mean you have to wall run, for example). As for any new maneuvers this Prince can do, the one that springs to mind the most is the ability to grip-fall down walls using the clawed gauntlet he has on his left hand. Pressing the R2 button while hanging on a wall will cause him to do this, and in some of the cooler parts of the game you’ll be grip-falling down a couple of tall structures, moving the Prince along the way so he doesn’t run into any obstacles. Also here to help the Prince is the wall-rings that are attached to many structures in the environment. These allow him to climb up walls faster and even climb on ceilings like an Arabian Spider-Man!

However, the biggest change to the Prince’s platforming is Elika herself. Elika will always be by the Prince’s side for the whole game, using her powers to help the Prince out. Elika is controlled by some very good AI, and she follows you very closely and hardly ever gets in the way while you’re busy being death-defying. Triangle is your “Elika” button, with it Elika will perform co-op jumps with the Prince to get him across large gaps, and she can also call forth a ball of light that acts as a compass leading them to their next objectives, similar to the mechanic in Dead Space. However, Elika’s biggest contribution, and the one some people may feel sour about, is that she will always save the Prince from certain death. Miss a jump, and Elika will pull the Prince back up and drop him at the last platform he was on. If an enemy is about to kill the Prince, then Elika stops them at the cost of some life being given back to the enemy. A similar complaint can be made about Bioshock and it’s vita-chambers, however you can’t turn Elika’s help “off” here. You can see being saved from platforming sort of as dying and going back to the last checkpoint without any loading, but the knowledge that you will never be killed by the enemy does make combat less exciting.

Speaking of combat, it’s handled pretty differently as well. All fights in PoP are one-on-one duels against the corrupted enemies of darkness you’ll be coming across. These fights can be against regular fodder or against any of the main bosses of an area of the kingdom. The Prince’s only weapon throughout the game will be his trusty sword, but he will also be able to use his gauntlet to throw enemies, his acrobatics to confuse and get around them, and finally, Elika and her magic. Square does the Prince’s sword combos, while circle will control grab attacks, X controls the acrobatic actions, and triangle will cause Elika to step in and use her magic. Pressing R2 will cause the Prince to block, and with good timing you can deflect enemy attacks and leave them wide open. PoP features a pretty awesome combo system where all these buttons can be stringed together to create some very long and cool-looking attacks. The game has a combo list of all available combos, but the fun to be had here is creating your own custom combos. Don’t think the enemies will be pushovers either, because as the game progresses enemies get tougher, more aggressive, and will block and deflect you more often. They will even enter states where only certain attacks will harm them. A couple of bosses even require more than just regular attacks to take down. Once again, however, the knowledge that you will never die in combat takes some of the edge off of the whole thing. There is also the fact that there will be a LOT of quick-time button pressing events during combat, which I’m sure some people are sick off. Still, I found combat to be responsive, flashy, and cool.

The final way this new PoP differs from the old trilogy is that it can be completed in a non-linear fashion. In a very Shadow Of the Colossus-like move, the game’s main hub is the temple that sits at the bottom of the world map. The world is divided into four areas each with 5 sub-areas that house fertile grounds that need to be healed from the darkness corruption. Once you heal all 5 fertile grounds in the area, a sixth area opens up where the Prince and Elika must defeat that area’s main boss once and for all to completely heal that area. You can complete the areas and sub-areas in any order you like, and you can open the world map with the select button and set your destination to any of the areas on it. Elika’s compass power will then lead you to the destination you selected. Of course, you actual have to platform and puzzle-solve your ass to get the fertile grounds, but like I stated before the platforming is as well-designed and smooth as ever and the puzzles you have to solve ar
e fairly clever, if not a little simple. Once you reach a fertile ground, you have Elika heal it with her powers, which causes the darkness in the area to be dissolved by the light, and more importantly it cause the light seeds to appear. You then need to traverse the area again to collect the light seeds, as these unlock powers for Elika that are used to reach new areas. You basically collect a set number of light seeds, and use them to unlock four powers at the temple. These powers are then activated by reaching special color-coded plates in the environment and pressing triangle. A couple of these powers basically have the Prince and Elika rebounding about to reach a new area, with one power causing the Prince to run on walls at light-speed dodging obstacles to reach the end, and the other following the same premise except with flying instead of wall-running. I liked the wall-running bits, but some of the flying ones seemed like they were put in to pad the time of the game. You have to collect about 540 light-seeds to actually beat the game, but the completists (and trophy lovers) will have some fun collecting all 1001.

If I had one other complaint about the game, it would be that while the camera is great and fully controllable for most of the game, in certain areas the camera will stay locked at an angle, specifically while jumping in-between walls. It was here that control direction kind of went nuts and Elika would actually get in the way, sometimes causing me to jump in the wrong direction. These instances didn’t happen that often, but they did happen.

PRINCELY TECH

PoP is downright beautiful, and takes cell-shading in games to a whole new level. Character models for main characters and creatures are highly detailed, and the environment and backrounds all look like an oil painting come to life (yeah, I know you’ve heard that one before, but it’s true). For some reason, it reminds me of the music video for Fleetwood Mac’s “Little Lies”. When you first witness a fertile ground healing, you’ll be floored. Animations, like the original trilogy, are phenomenal, and makes you actually believe that the Prince can do all the things that he does. I found myself standing still on a platform more than once, just admiring the incredible views that the game presents you. PoP is probably the greatest achievement in artistic design since Shadow Of The Colossus. However, there are still some wrinkles, in the form of some slight screen tearing and framerate drops in certain areas. The game runs fine for the most part though in 720p. One of the best looking games this year.

Sound holds up just as well. The Arabian music is good, the voice acting is great, and the sound effects get the job done. There were a couple times when the music would cut-out for a second or two, but they didn’t happen that often. Not exactly a workout for surround systems, but great nonetheless.

FIT FOR A PRINCE!

The game will take most people between 10-15 hours to complete (took me about 11), and features unlockable skins for both the Prince and Elika and trophy support. That’s about it however, but the game is so fun I see most people going through it multiple times just for the experience.

Prince Of Persia might not be the achievement Sands Of Time was, but it’s still a great addition to the franchise and features some of the best graphics and gameplay of any game this generation, despite some minor gripes. Highly recommended.

PROS
+Fantastic gameplay with fantastic controls and fantastically designed areas and puzzles
+Fun combat
+Phenomenal graphics
+Excellent sound and voice acting
+A familiar premise for a story, but the characters make it entertaining
+Trophy support and unlockable skins make for good replay value for some people
+Just plain fun!

CONS
-The knowledge that you’ll never die may make the game too easy for some people
-Static camera angles can cause some problems
-Some screen tearing and framerate issues
-Some people may also find little replay value with minimal unlockables

Score: 9 out of 10

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