Review: Prince of Persia

POP0_PS3_BXSHT_RETAIL copy.jpg Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is one of my favorite games from all of last console generation, but the subsequent sequels – Warrior Within and The Two Thrones – though technically superior in terms of pure gameplay content, didn’t resonate with me nearly as much. Warrior Within because of its unnecessary change to a gritty, hard-rockin’ atmosphere, and The Two Thrones mainly because it didn’t seem like a finished product in terms of polish. So after a disappointing close to the Sands of Time trilogy I wasn’t just ready for Ubisoft’s next Prince of Persia reboot, I was craving it…ravenously.

So now after a few years of anxious waiting, the new era in the Prince of Persia franchise has finally dawned. But did it live up to all the hype? In a word: absolutely!

The new Prince of Persia is ultimately carried by the relationship between the Prince and his new partner, the elegant and beautiful heroine, Elika. While reasonably compelling on its own, the base storyline is a fairly cliché good versus evil tale: desperate king releases evil god (Ahriman). Evil god plunges the land into darkness with his Corruption. Good guys set out to heal the land and defeat the evil god. Yadda yadda yadda. There’s actually more depth behind these events as revealed in the closing moments, but in general the story covers familiar territory.

What sets this familiar plotline apart, though, is the relationship development between the Prince and Elika, which is up to the player to explore in full via optional dialogue scenes. The two start out as forced partners, as the Prince is not a willing hero in this tale, but over the course of the game they slowly but surely forge an unbreakable bond with each other.

A lot has been made about the new Prince’s roguish, wise-cracking persona akin in attitude to famous Harrison Ford characters Han Solo and Indiana Jones and suitably performed by Nolan North, who you should know as the voice of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune hero Nathan Drake. From what I’ve read, most critics seem to despise the new Prince, but I for one couldn’t disagree with their disapproval more. At first, the Prince is a very unlikable guy and his affection for his lost donkey borderlines on disturbing. I fully admit that I wasn’t too fond of him initially either. However, as the story progresses and he bonds with Elika the depth of his character begins to shine through, and by the end of the game I grew to love how his character was portrayed. Their relationship is very similar to that of Ico and Yorda in ICO in that the emotional bond between the characters in the game is so strong that you as a player form a similar emotional attachment to the characters. I can’t wait to see how these characters develop further in the inevitable sequel(s).

Also much like ICO, the Prince and Elika’s relationship is strengthened by their gameplay interactions. Elika is like a co-op AI buddy in a way. She follows the Prince’s every move and never gets in the way or drags you down, latching onto the Prince’s back when he’s climbing up a wall of vines, holding his hand while dangling from ledges, and fluidly swapping positions with him while tight roping narrow rails. As always in the Prince of Persia series, the animations and controls are smooth as silk.

Elika also serves as a key component in augmenting the Prince’s usual acrobatic feats — he runs up and along walls, swings from poles, shimmies ledges, and now even has the ability to roof-run (run upside down on ceilings for a short time) and slide down walls thanks to his handy new clawed gauntlet. Through all of this, Elika is right by his side to lend a hand. She can provide a catapulting mid-air boost to launch him over longer jumps, shoot out a compass trail lighting the way to the next destination, and automatically rescue him from death should he fall.

Now, this last part has come under heavy scrutiny, many folks complaining that the game is too easy because you never technically “die”. To me this is an absurd argument. You do “die”, it’s just that Elika’s rescuing ability — which perfectly ties into the context of the storyline, by the way – serves as the most streamlined checkpoint system ever created. Should you fall, Elika simply brings you back to the nearest platform and from there you then retry the jumping or wall running sequence you messed up on. You don’t have to wait for a game over screen and then sit through a loading screen before getting back to the action. All of those fragmenting steps were removed, and thusly all unnecessary trial-and-error frustrations are gone, the pacing is constant and your immersion within the game world is never interrupted. Though subtle, this is such a brilliant innovation, one that Ubisoft is getting blasted for when they should be getting showered with praise.

I must say, though, one area of the game that doesn’t work quite as well because of this rescue system is the combat. While breathtakingly cinematic to behold and generally fun to control, the battles are pretty shallow and never particularly difficult. It’s great that Elika can seamlessly bring you back to the nearest checkpoint during platforming sequences, but not being able to “die” during combat does make this part of the game a bit too simple. I also found it extremely disappointing that the boss battles are recycled so heavily throughout the game. I can’t recall exactly how many times you have to confront each boss, but it felt like at least four or five times apiece. I wouldn’t care too much if they mixed up attack patterns or grew more powerful with each battle, but they never do. They are the same every time.

Another major change this new Prince of Persia brings to the franchise is an open-world structure – and what a beautiful world it is by the way, brought to life by an intricately detailed new “illustrative” graphics style and an expansive draw distance that generates a grand sense of visual scale. It’s not a sandbox world like a Grand Theft Auto, mind you, but more of an open map with node points that you can travel to and revitalize in the order of your choosing. Early on this structure leads to tedious moments backtracking through previously visited areas, but as you reach each node you can then instantly transport back to them anytime, anywhere from the map screen, so ultimately this is a non issue.

At this point there really isn’t much more to say. The guys and gals at Ubisoft Montreal truly outdid themselves here and deserve so much more appreciation for their work than they’ve received thus far — I swear if I hear one more person complain about this game being “too easy” I’m going to explode.

Though not without a few quirks, the new Prince of Persia is a memorable narrative experience and in my eyes an all-around masterful achievement in gaming that dethrones The Sands of Time as the best game in the series. Don’t miss it!

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Pros:
+ Engaging relationship between Prince and Elika
+ Seamless checkpoint system is an under-appreciated innovation
+ Elika’s AI design is quite impressive
+ Silky smooth controls and animations
+ Grand, beautifully rendered game world
+ Excellent music and voice acting

Cons:
– Shallow combat
– Recycled boss battles

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS3, also available for PC and Xbox 360
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: 12/2/08
Genre: Action/Adventure
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!