Review by icmboy2
A glitchy butchering of some great games. And Warrior Within.
Yahtzee really wasn't kidding when he called Prince of Persia: Sands of Time trilogy one of the best game series of the last generation. The series brought a classic character back from the grave into the 3D age with a degree of success to rival even Mario or Zelda. More so, in many ways, since POP's platforming has formed the basis of modern bestsellers like Tomb Raider and Uncharted. Still, time moves on and the HD-gen POP games have been lacking something, either being flavourless re-imaginings or soulless copies. So, in what must be the final act of trying to replicate the glory of the first game, Ubisoft are simple dumping the original back into your laps in shiny HD. This is a series dear to my heart, and I was hugely excited about having the whole collection on a single disk. So how is it?...
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Widely regarded as a masterpiece, this is the game that set the standard the rest of the series has tried (and failed) to meet . A hugely inventive approach to 3D platforming which has since become industry standard, and the ingenious rewind function meaning the game could be crucifyingly challenging without being frustrating. The gameplays only main flaw was the combat- while it was as slick as the rest of the game it got repetitive and frustrating long before the end, and the game is split into clear 'fight' and 'platforming' sections.
What really set SOT apart though, was the story. The wonderful Arabian nights design and colourful storybook setting hiding a truly moving story of loss and redemption played almost entirely through two characters, the Prince and Farah. Not only were both genuinely original and deep characters (in a market filled with testosterone fuelled action men and scantily clad girls, here come a pompous but loveable Hugh Grant/Tony Jaa hybrid and a girl who actually pulls of scared and feisty at the same time, and the character arc from defensive headstrong daddy's boy to mature warrior who realises his responsibility for events is hugely compelling) The two really are the Han and Leia of videogames, and are much loved even today. This was the human heart of what made SOT such an enduring epic.
So, the port. The HD hits it hard. Every single graphic wrinkle and flaw exposed. The game is simply too blocky and dated for this kind of treatment and it is very distracting. You can see the background through a crack in Farah's head in every cutscene, and when she closes her eyes they clip through her eyelids. It's inexcusable that the graphics weren't changed to accommodate this, and it sucks a lot of the drama out of the cutscenes. All the FMV's have been left as a very muddy SD, too, which is very disorienting. Other things simply haven't been dealt with, like textures. Many just haven't been updated to HD, and are made of jerky pixelated squares. At one point I noticed that even a layer of cloud was completely angular. Upon reaching the hourglass,surrounded by glistening gold treasures which wowed me back in the day, it just looked like the room was full of mud smears. It was very disappointing. Updating a game to HD means more than just enhancing the resolution, even a basic port needs texture work (see XBLA's Perfect Dark for how to do it). This just hasn't had any attention. To make matters worse, there are a tonne of new glitches that weren't there in the original game. Twice the Prince's hair disappeared, leaving him with half a head for a while. Monsters fade away then flicker in and out again. It looks like an unfinished game- but it WAS finished, the best part of a decade ago! I really don't understand it.
Yet, the game pulls through. The sheer charm of the two leads and the wonderful story keep you coming back. I would easily say this game has the best voice acting ever, the Prince and Farah bringing two lively yet natural voices and genuine chemistry the their roles which are worth all the Solid Snakes in the world. The audio does it's best to ruin it, though. All the dialogue (ALL of it) has an echo-ey effect on it. Fine for the cavernous interiors, but it persists when you're outside, which sounds bizarre. The effect goes up and down too, sometimes making the dialogue impossible to make out, sometimes it skips out entirely. A lot of the Prince's inner monologue seems to get keyed to bits of scenery- the closer you get to a chair, say, the louder your thoughts, as if the chair is speaking to you in your own voice.
SOT is still a great game, but this is about the biggest effort you'll find to ruin it. Still, it's worth playing all the same because it really is that great, just only play this version if you have no other choice.
Prince of Persia: Warrior Within
So, you've got a huge hit with a wonderful fairytale aesthetic, two beautifully realised leads and a solid gameplay engine. What next? Well, you make the whole game black and brown, rewrite the Prince to be a generic American action man, give all the girls borderline pornographically revealing outfits and fill the whole thing with blood, heavy metal music and dirty words of course!
WW is such a childish attempt at being "adult" it's cringeworthy. Widely regarded as the low point of the series, the game still has the same great platforming and much improved combat at it's base, it just disgusts where it once charmed. The fighting is again overdone and way to difficult and frustrating, and the whole experience is best left alone.
Except you can't, because it's a vital part of the story, and once get past the horrible emo-teen presentation WW actually has a very good story that really takes the Prince to now places and feeds well off the original game. It's not patch on SOT, of course, there are no characters here with more depth than a teaspoon, but it ticks over well. The game also takes a stab at non-linearity, and it's the only game that lets you pick where you want to go rather than having a clear, single path through. Since the nature of the platforming IS linear, though (you jump from this, to that, to this ect) It all just comes down to a confusing mess of linear paths that tangle around each other and mess you up. There is a map, but in a spectacularly stupid move it only shows the castle you're in from OUTSIDE, and is obviously useless. Also, if you deviate from the main path you'll probably trigger a glitch that means you get to the end of the game and can't progress.
Yes, the thing WW is famous for, even more so that it's horrible design choices, is that it's blatantly unfinished. The amount of unavoidable glitches that leave you with no option other than to start the whole game again is staggering. The first time I played I got right to the end only to find a platform had moved a few feet too high and I could never continue. I've played the game four times and been glitched out of completion twice right at the end (and WW is nearly twice as long as SOT), and one of those was in this version. It's one thing to do a lazy port like SOT, but to re-release an unfinished game from 5 years ago? Unforgivable. As of writing, I've not finished this in the HD trilogy and probably never will.
One thing that should be mentioned is the games punishingly unfair difficulty. It's a nasty little game. And the life upgrades you were gently guided to in SOT are ridiculously hidden here, and you have no hope of finding them all without a guide. And you HAVE to find them all, not only for the game to be anywhere near possible, but to even see the ending. If you go through with as much as one missing you get a bad, non-canonical ending. This is downright evil, and since most people left the series forever about an hour into this, there's no excuse for not changing it. Also, the echoey audio and graphical glitches from SOT are still here. Since the game was never completed, there has never been a version of this game with proper audio syncing in the cutscenes. This minor improvement has not been made here.
WW is a horribly pitched, horribly unfair, unfinished mess. But the core of what made SOT great is still there, and the combat is much improved. If it worked, it'd be tolerable, but still the weakest entry.
Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones
Credit where due, Ubisoft realised what a mess WW was and fixed a lot for T2T. The original Prince's voice actor, Yuri Lowenthal, reprises the roles, the linear gameplay is back and so are many other surprises which I won't spoil. The story is very good, bravely picking up after WW and, rather than dismissing it, actually using the Prince's return to character as the basis of the story. The Prince is now spilt between himself and a Dark Prince, whom he transforms into at key points for some timed action (the Dark Prince must keep collecting sand to stay alive, and has much bigger combat moves and fight scenes) It mixes the gameplay up nicely and some new moves added to the solid platform actually bring something new to the table this time, although some finnickey chariot sections fall flat. Also returning is Farah, but is disasterously recast as a generic American action chick and the two have absolutely no chemistry whatsoever. This was the biggest disappointment, but the sweeping score, epic-movie style setting of the ruined Babylon, and great climax to the story serve it well, as much as the smart character-focused plot and the fact that the Prince now has two warring inner monologues. It's not SOT, but a lot of the charm and scale is recaptured. It's also a rare game that actually ENDS, on an unmistakable conclusion with no loose ends, cliffhangers or get outs for futher franchise farming (not that it didn't happen, but to date no game has tried to extend T2T's ending).
It also gets by far the best port. The more modern graphics actually benefit from the HD, and subtle details like the Prince's growing tattoo are now visible. The audio issues from the first two games are also gone, apart from a few lingering graphical glitches (whenever the main villain appears in a cutscene, his head remains floating in space when the game resumes). Other than that this is the only game on this disc that feels like a complete product.
T2T doesn't quite live up to SOT, mainly because it looks like it's trying so hard, but it's a great addition and fitting end to a wonderful series.
Overall, the games are great (even WW kept me going to the end, it just kicked me in the crotch when I got there), and are a masterclass in integrating gameplay and story, fully rounded characters and developing sequel writing (including writing yourself out of a hole) backed up but tremendously fun gameplay.
This port, however, is a rushed, unreleasable butchering that fixes no problems and brings many more. Only the strength of the original games qualifies it, and if you think you might be interested it's well worth picking up an old console and the original versions somewhere cheap. This is a rushed, cynical cash in. Buy only if you have no other choice.
Rating: 1.0 - Terrible
Product Release: Prince of Persia Trilogy (EU, 11/19/10)
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