Review: Prince of Persia
Platform(s):Xbox 360, PS3, PC
The one thing most people associate with platform games is death. You die over and over trying to jump a chasm or reach a ledge. But what happens if you remove death from the equation? Does it screw up the formula? As it turns out, not really.
The title character of next-gen reboot of Prince of Persia is, like his predecessors in the series, a high-jumping, sword-swinging rogue. This time around, though, he's got a sidekick - a princess named Elika who will save your ass repeatedly throughout the game. She tails you and will catch you before you plummet to your death or pull an enemy off you before they can land a killing blow.
As a result of her help, you'll never die once in the game. That's a misleading way to put it, though - she saves you but she doesn't kill enemies or complete jumps for you. You'll still have to try these things over; a missed jump results in her depositing you on the last flat surface you walked on and getting saved in combat results in the enemy regenerating health. You will, however, be spared a loading screen. The "save" animations are really short, too - when you miss a jump, you'll see a brief shot of her hand grabbing yours and then you'll respawn before the jump. The point of including Elika isn't to pamper players so much as to maintain gameplay momentum and in that respect, the game succeeds.
Elika's not just a gameplay feature with curves, though - she's a fully realized character with plenty to say. With a simple press of a button, the Prince will talk to Elika. The numerous brief conversations between the two are a mixture of hints, background information, bickering and flirting. Because it's optional to chat her up, most players might miss the bulk of this dialogue and it's a shame because it's strongly written. Even though you've got a serious task ahead of you - healing the lands to stop a dark god from escaping - much of the dialogue is funny and light-hearted. The fact that you'll get a couple Achievements for being chatty with Elika is just icing on the cake.
The controls, like the no-death system, are designed to make the gameplay as streamlined as possible. Complex actions are reduced to a single button. In other platforming games, climbing up a ledge would normally require you to press a button to jump and grab the ledge, and then press it again to pull yourself up. Here, one press of a button will cause the Prince to scramble up the wall and then pull himself up. It takes a little getting used to and will result in some pretty stupid deaths. To continue the previous example, if you end up pressing the jump button again halfway through the climb animation, you'll end up jumping straight backwards off the wall. On the bright side, the animations for the Prince and Elika look great and, like Assassin's Creed (which uses the same basic game engine as Persia, the game manages to convince you that you're employing a lot more skill than you actually are. The camera, by the way, mostly behaves itself during your acrobatics and properly shifts to make jumps easier to see.
The Prince periodically has to face off against bosses or random shadow grunts and, unlike Creed, it's all one-on-one combat (well, two-on-one counting Elika). The basic trick is to block just as an enemy attacks and then launch a combination strike to inflict as much damage as possible. There's four buttons (sword slashes, gauntlet grabs/tosses, Elika's magical zaps, and flips/jumps) for you to string together and the results can be pretty spectacular. While you don't need to do combos, boss fights will take stupidly long without them so it's in your best interest to experiment and find at least a couple good combos.
To keep you on your toes, enemies will occasionally perform special attacks on you, which play out as - groan - Quick Time Events. For example, the Concubine (one of the bosses) will try to grab your head with her legs and fling you and the game will prompt you to press a button to avoid it. QTE's aren't awful in small doses (The Force Unleashed, for example, employed them for finishing moves) but Persia will often throw two or three of these at you in a row. You'll end up seeing the same moves numerous times in any given fight and it gets old fast. Countering the special moves often doesn't knock the slightest bit of health off so they just string out the fight unnecessarily. What's also annoying is the fact that after the QTE, the camera sometimes takes a second or two to reset back to the default combat view so you'll be staring at a wall or something while the enemy gets in a free hit.
The overall objective of the game is traverse sixteen different sections of the game map and cleanse them of the corruption of Ahriman, an evil god. The sixteen sections are divided up amongst four different bosses, who you'll have to fight at the end of each section to cleanse it. Once all four of a boss' sections are cleansed, you can travel to a boss' lair and finish them off. If you thought Far Cry 2 or Assassin's Creed were repetitive, you'll probably level the same criticism at Prince of Persia. While the game gradually introduces new obstacles to the platforming and new moves to the enemies' repertoire, not enough is done to differentiate separate encounters with the same boss or make one boss distinct from another. One boss, the Warrior, is a giant that you have to knock off ledges to defeat but the other three (the Courtesan, Hunter, and Alchemist) are straightforward fights, with the biggest differences being their animations. The final encounter after these bosses are dead against Ahriman himself is quite diferent but
The simple controls and your character's inability to die give the impression that this is a "casual" game. While it would've been nice if more experienced gamers had the option to crank up the difficulty, the problem with Persia isn't that it's too easy - it's that it's too simple. It's decently long (about 10-12 hours) but you're going through the same routine for most of that time. The game is smooth, visually appealing, and well-written but I wish the last few hours were more different from the first few. Ubisoft's objective for the inevitable (and deserved) sequel is to find a way to keep the game accessible but still have the gameplay grow more complicated over time. At the very least, a Hard mode would be appeciated.
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