Prince of Persia
There is something quite disheartening having watched our beloved Prince grow up over the last few years. He was once a young, clean, plucky go-getter that you really rooted for – with time bending abilities. Two sequels and a lot of jet-black hair dye later, the Prince transformed himself into an angst-ridden teen in an equally dark world – with time bending abilities. Fans of the series longed for the day that another Prince of Persia would swing on by and capture the magic that Sands of Time had in excess. Stand up and be counted new Prince: a young, clean(ish), plucky go-getter that you can really root for if you try hard enough – sans time bending abilities.
The removal of time manipulation is all part of the ‘back to basics’ mantra Ubisoft has taken, in attempt to simplify the impossible and to get even the most unapprised casual gamer to jump around with the Prince, which for a while has been a pastime reserved only for the twitchy-thumbed ‘hardcore’ gamer. As with every Prince of Persia, the major allure comes from the platforming and being able to jump and swing about like a ditzy boy. This instalment has stripped all the challenge, giving players a seemingly cavernous timing window in which to make your move from one platform to another. A simple press of the jump button will see the Prince fling himself forward and direction is barely an issue here, because it’s a nigh on certainty that he’ll make it unscathed.
“Despite a solid story, nothing can stop Prince of Persia running out of steam alarmingly fast”Being tied to the proverbial rope and tether can be at first quite liberating. There’s a real sense of accomplishment and almost… relaxation in being able to hurl the Prince with sheer reckless abandon and absolutely no concern for the consequences. Not only can it feel good, it looks fantastic; the animation is another step up from last year’s Assassin’s Creed and the transition between frames and different manoeuvres is completely seamless. If you should miss-time a step or jump and find yourself plummeting to your death, then even that’s OK thanks to Prince of Persia’s biggest new addition, Elika: a princess with a good hand for the mystical and paranormal. Any time the Prince falls to his doom she’ll swoop down and catch him, bringing players back to the last piece of solid ground they were on. Not only that, but she acts as a double jump helping players get to platforms that are just out of reach by conventional means.
She’s a welcome inclusion to the game. Not only proving useful and important for gameplay matters, she’s also pivotal to the story and probably the only reason you’ll grow to tolerate the new Prince, (if Elika thinks he’s nice, then I suppose we can come round to her way of thinking. Eventually.) Her introduction is immediate as is the game’s story, which spares no time throwing you head first into the pressing matter at hand. Our spirited lead man has lost his donkey (called Farah don’t you know), and in a freak sandstorm finds himself caught up in Elika’s complicated affairs. Her kingdom is under threat by the once imprisoned God, Ahriman, and now it’s up to the player with her help to restore light through the numerous fertile grounds scattered across the open game world, and to put Ahriman back where he belongs.
It’s not going to win any awards for excellence in writing, but Prince of Persia’s narrative is strangely compelling. How much you care for the two protagonists will depend largely on how often you get them to interact through the conversation button. Usually, it entails the Prince asking questions about the area they’re in and the Kingdom’s rich history. But there are also a number of light-hearted encounters that while high on the cheese, do well to endear you towards them both – especially Elika. There’s something quite touching about seeing Elika grab onto the Prince’s neck as he hangs from a cliff edge, or watching him catch her as she lets go of a fissure. It’s a chemistry that resembles the one of a certain Ico and Yorda.
“If though, games were entirely about presentation and polish, then Prince of Persia would be the best game of the last few years”But despite a solid story, nothing can stop Prince of Persia running out of steam alarmingly fast. The game throws everything it has at you from the get-go, and the severe lack of challenge is only highlighted through no sense of progression whatsoever. You start and finish with the same weapon, the combat is a rubbish intermission before yet more platforming, and even that novelty soon wears thin as it starts to resemble more a collection of glorified QTEs with bells and whistles attached, than an actual videogame. This cruise control approach just isn’t compelling enough to keep up the intensity for around the twelve hours it take to complete. It does try to mix things up through things called Power Plates. There are four of them to collect and they’re all needed in order to gain access to certain parts of the world, which is achieved by finding as many light seeds as possible, which in turn, act as the incentive to explore your surroundings.
Unfortunately, most of these power plates are too heavily relied on which wouldn’t be an issue if they weren’t so awkward to use. The Step and Hand of Ormazd are ostensibly same; throwing the Prince and Elika through the air to other plates and platforms. Breath of Ormazd on the other hand, messes with the perspective, putting the Prince on all fours in a Sonic-esque dash across the floor where you must make sure to dodge obstacles along the way. This particular plate is a nuisance thanks to the erratic hit detection, and this problem makes the next power plate: the Wings of Ormazd, a bloody nightmare. Using this plate sends the player flying on rails, and you must be careful not to crash into anything by carefully moving upwards, downwards, left, and right, but there’s a strict limit as to how far you can move so it’s incredibly difficult working out what direction you need to move towards until it’s too late. Coupled with the aforementioned dodgy hit detection and these sections sully the experience.
If though, games were entirely about presentation and polish, then Prince of Persia would be the best game of the last few years. Visually, it is stunning. The game has found a very comfortable spot in between Okami and Crackdown, and what you end up with is a title rich in colour, awe-inspiring in scale, and impressive from a design standpoint. Those seconds after healing a dark, corrupted land are fantastic, and standing on the edge of a cliff looking off into the never-ending distance, is a glorious sight. The music chips in with rousing orchestral scores reminiscent of a desert based epic, giving Prince of Persia a convincing sense of grandeur. But it is when there is no music playing, when you find yourself shimmying around a ledge to the natural sounds of the birds chirping, oceans humming, and wind blowing, that the game is at its most breathtaking.
And it’s because of how well presented Prince of Persia is, that makes it such a huge let-down. It starts off in autopilot and never lets the players touch the gears or controls for fear of messing things up. Never does it come close to touching Sands of Time in terms of majesty, and what you’re left with is a beautiful looking piece of art, masking a depressingly above average adventure.