Review by Fallen Horseman

Reviewed: 12/09/08

The Prince is back! And He's Brought a Friend...

If anyone has read my Tom Clancy’s EndWar review, they would know that I’m not Ubisoft’s greatest fan. However, because of the great work they did with EndWar, I eventually capitulated to my impulses on the morning of the release of Prince of Persia and decided to buy the game anyway. Never been a fan of the Prince of Persia series, or action-adventure/hack & slash games in general, I braced myself for what I thought would be a major disappointment. Was I right with my caution, or did Prince of Persia struck gold?

In Prince of Persia you play the Prince. Well, not really. In the beginning you are just a regular adventurer caught in a middle of a sandstorm looking for your lost donkey. His vision blinded, the prince falls into a chasm only for a beautiful woman to fall on his lap. Elika, a priestess-princess, is running away from her father and a group of guards to prevent the release of the god of darkness, named Ahriman. Events transpire that allowed for the “emancipation” of Ahriman and the partnership of Elika and an initially reluctant Prince must now battle their way to liberate the lands from Ahriman’s darkness to save the land from being totally engulfed and annihilated.

It’s a good story. Not one that is entirely captivating, but it provides enough narrative to prevent the game from being too boring and it serves as a purpose for you to play. As you play the game, you’ll be introduced to four different bosses and four distinct landscapes each with a story to tell. The best story, I found, came from the interactions between the Prince and Elika as it provides an interesting way to further the story and acts as a comedic relief in a seemingly darker-themed game.

Prince of Persia garnered many awards for possessing a unique cell-shading look instead of a more realistic art-style. Those awards were well deserved as the world looks absolutely exquisite. The characters and animations are well-done, though I’ve encountered some clipping and stuck animations in my playthrough. Outside of the minor graphical glitches, and sometimes jumpy camera, the animations of the Prince and Elika are plain magnificent and breathtaking. The tag-team combos look exceptionally done while just seeing the Prince effortlessly maneuver through the obstacles is a sight to behold all by itself.

The world has a sort of Jekyll and Hyde look, though it’s to be expected. Before purging or liberating an area, it will look like a barren wasteland, almost devoid of colour with shades dominating landscape. Once the darkness has been rid of the single area, the player is treated to a transformation where the land gets infused with life and with colour, a representation of the land prior to the release of the darkness of Ahriman. The result is a vibrant landscape and a treat to one’s eyes. In short, this game looks brilliant, even in the menu screen.

The great production values do not stop there. The voice acting in this game is spectacular. Each character has a unique and distinctive voice that’s not too overly powerful, and the writing is delivered with such grace and professionalism. You get a sense that the voice actors really do care about the characters they are portraying, especially in the quips and interactions Elika and the Prince have throughout the game.
The best part of the audio hands down is the choice of having Nolan North voice the Prince. For those who do not know, Nolan North is the excellent actor who played Nathan Drake in Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune (and its upcoming sequel, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves) and is a personal favourite. His presence in this game makes the audio THAT much better and instantly makes the Prince a very likeable character.

The music in the game all fit the overall theme of the game. There is nothing out of the ordinary and nothing too overbearing and they switch according to the situation you are on flawlessly so you won’t have peaceful, calming music while you are in a heated duel. The sound effects, like when you are using Elika’s magic attacks, using the Prince’s gauntlets, or deflecting attacks are fantastic. It’s really hard to say anything bad about the game’s audio.

Anyone who’s ever played a Prince of Persia game before knows that there is a fair bit of platforming in the games, with an about the same amount of combat mixed in. This game, however, has placed platforming in a higher regard in comparison to the combat. Though, that isn’t to say that the combat is a slouch, but that is a topic to be mentioned later. To begin with, the game utilizes a heavily modified Assassin’s Creed engine. This means that the platforming has a very high pedigree, and it shows throughout the game.

The Prince is very acrobatic and nimble and can make his way through any of the obstacles with relative ease. He can run on walls and even crawl on ceilings (albeit for a short time). However, unlike Assassin’s Creed where you can theoretically grab onto anything, they only have a small amount of variety when it comes to things you can grab hold to, such as rings and pillars. There are times when you need to use Elika’s assistance to reach an area out of reach, in addition to some required powers you get during the game to progress to a new area.

The battle system is a bit different from other action-adventure games. The majority of the fighting is done with the Prince and Elika fighting against one enemy, in a sort of quasi-duel. There is never a time where you will fight more than one enemy at a time, though there are some points where you do not have the support of Elika. The combat is simple, as there are only the face buttons to contend with, with each button mapped to a certain action. For example, the square button utilizes the Prince’s sword, the ‘x’ button utilizes his acrobatics, the circle his gauntlet, and triangle is for Elika’s magic. The only other button used for combat is the R2 button which is used for defensive purposes such as blocks and parries.

Combos are easy to pull together and successfully chaining them adds to the damage that they cause towards the enemy. In some scenarios, should you corner an opponent near a wall or a chasm, you will enter in a mini-game where you must continually press a button to either cause some extra damage or even kill a certain enemy. The Prince is also very frail, as two hits causes him susceptible to a kill strike. If that happens, a small quick-time event occurs where you must press the right button to make him escape his peril.

There is a bit of open-endedness in the game as you can choose the path you want to take in achieving your overall goal of preventing Ahriman from escaping. However, you are limited initially to what you can do in the start as you require certain powers to advance. The in-game map does a very good job of telling you what powers you need and how many light-seeds you need to progress through the game. Furthermore, there is a lengthy install when you start the game up, taking up from 5 to 10 minutes.

With that being said, there are some things that they could definitely improve on. For one, there is a bit of repetition in the gameplay. You will be fighting the same people, a lot, from bosses to soldiers. You basically have to beat the bosses five times before you can completely heal a territory (there are five areas that comprise a territory) of the map. Then there’s the fact that an essential part of the game, collecting light-seeds (light scattered across the game which is required for special abilities), is only available AFTER you beat the boss in the area. This means that you’ll have to backtrack a lot to collect the light-seeds in order to progress. However, once an area is cleared, you can use the game’s map to teleport you to that area, should you need to go back there. Then there’s the lack of character progression. The Prince and Elika won’t learn any new moves, get any new equipment, and you can’t customize them in any way. There are extra skins like an Altair skin and the Sands of Time Prince skin, but in no way does it affect gameplay.

In addition, while I personally don’t have a problem with this (in fact, I love these features), there will definitely be people who say that this game is too easy (especially with the lack of a difficulty option). It’s very hard to get lost in the game because the developers added as one of Elika’s powers, a compass which can direct you to the path you need to take to progress. Then there’s the issue of the very many visual cues in the game. For example, there are a lot of faded, scratched areas in walls which tell you that you are supposed to run at the wall in that certain area and when to jump. It makes the platforming a case of just figuring out how to use these cues properly.

Then there’s the fact that the Prince cannot “die”. This is the case because Elika saves you everytime you fall in combat or while jumping to the next platform. However, I personally see this as a misconception, rather than a lack of dieing. It’s a clever way of disguising the game’s many checkpoints and it takes away the frustration of seeing a continue screen should you die (and in some cases, additional loading). For example, if you fall in combat, Elika DOES save you, but all your progress in that battle up to that point disappears and the enemy has full health once again. If you fall on a jump, you get saved again, but (usually) back to the last major platform, which acts like a checkpoint. It was a great design decision to keep the Prince from “dieing” as it ensures that there is never a break in the action with a game over or continue screen.

This game was a very pleasant surprise for me. I didn’t expect to enjoy this game too much, but as you have seen, the majority of this review was spent praising this game. There is a problem with replayability as the game really doesn’t provide many incentives to do so (expect a play time of 7-10 hours), but it is still a great ride from start to finish. The production values are top notch and the game is easy to pick up and play. Furthermore, the addition of Elika gives the game another dimension of play. I recommend this game to anyone and everyone to at least give it a shot. For those who love trophies, they are also very easily attained. It’s another stellar Ubisoft game (in addition to Tom Clancy’s EndWar) which betters reputation of the company in my eyes.

Praises:
- Amazing cell-shaded graphics
- Great voice-acting
- The Prince and Elika tandem
- Solid platforming and combat
- Checkpoint system

Criticisms:
- Some graphical hiccups
- Repetition in gameplay
- A little on the easy side

Story: 8/10
Graphics: 10/10
Sound: 10/10
Gameplay: 9/10
Replayability: 6/10

Overall (Not an average): 9/10


Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Product Release: Prince of Persia (US, 12/02/08)

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