Review by Nightslyr

Reviewed: 01/23/09

Beautiful graphics, but an overall shallow game

Prince of Persia is, in short, a beautiful, but shallow, game. Ubisoft's attempt to refine the franchise by taking a minimalist approach yields a forgettable game that all but plays itself. The end result is a step back for the franchise, which seems to be in danger of becoming irrelevant as other, more polished, more interesting games loom on the horizon.

Graphics: It's only fair to start off with what the game gets right. Prince of Persia is a gorgeous game. Its style is essentially cell-shaded, but with an almost parchment-like quality to everything. The result is a storybook feel that attempts to capture the magic of the Arabian Nights.

The Prince and his companion, Elika, have decent character models. The Prince's most notable features are his longsword, which he tends to place a hand on out of habit, and his long, flowing scarf, which gives him a real sense of movement as it flows behind him. Elika is less interesting - barefoot, and with a white blouse that seems to be in the process of falling off of her body, her look doesn't scream either princess or Persia.

The scenery is what shines, though. Every area is absolutely breathtaking to see. From the Hunter's windmills to the Alchemist's balloons, the environments skillfully blend the magical with the mundane, creating a world that seems possible if not plausible.

Sound: The sound is something of a mixed bag. The sound effects are all strong. Things sound like they should - the Prince grunts occasionally while performing his acrobatics, his sword strikes sound appropriately metallic, and when the lands are healed, the birds chirp in appreciation.

The voice acting is another matter. Try as the actors might, there's no way to make the incredibly cheesy dialogue sound good. Part of this no doubt stems from the storybook feel the game is supposed to invoke. Even with that, though, it's a bit jarring to hear such calm voices during what is, for all intents and purposes, the apocalypse. There's not a lot of panic, or sadness, or anything other than a few lines of witty banter and vanilla lines about duty and saving the world. And, as much as I loved Nolan North in Uncharted: Drake's Fortune his very American voice doesn't really fit in with this world, nor do the other actors' voices. Still, at least everyone gives a decent effort.

Story: Without spoiling the entire plot, let me just say that the story is very simplistic. There's not much going on within the game itself. The dark god Ahriman was released from his prison, for somewhat selfish reasons, and it's up to Elika and the Prince - a thief who was in the wrong place at the wrong time - to fix things by traveling to each Corrupted Fertile Ground and magically healing them. That's about it.

This, in itself, isn't bad, it's just not a lot to base an entire game on. Unfortunately, the plot's delivery leaves a lot to be desired. Most of it is given to the player by Elika when the player presses either L1 or L2. Rather than give the whole scene at once, it's broken up into chunks, so the player will have to continually press one of the lefthand shoulder buttons until Elika decides she's said enough. This creates a noticeable lull in the game's overall flow, especially since Elika and the Prince tend to repeat themselves, no doubt an artifact from Ubisoft's decision to go with an 'open' world.

Gameplay: And this is where things fall apart. Prince of Persia is essentially a rhythm game in the trappings of an adventure platformer. It's been said before, but there's no way to die/lose the game. Elika serves as an infinite continue - if you 'die', she'll save you, every time, by bringing the Prince back to the last stable platform he was on. With the danger out of the way, one would think that the acrobatic platforming that the franchise is known for would take center stage. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Platforming has been tuned to be incredibly easy and obvious. First, despite the game world being open, each stage is painfully linear. There's but one path to a stage's Fertile Ground, and one path to other stages. Second, there aren't many off-the-path areas to explore, and, once again, most are fairly trivial to reach. Third, as if being locked into linearity wasn't enough, there are clues in the environment itself that tell you how to proceed. Scrapes along the wall, rings, poles, and other environmental hazards all give the player an easy to read guide on how to complete each stage. Finally, as if all that wasn't enough, Elika can summon a globe of light that will actually traverse the stage, so the player can see exactly how to move through the level.

The mechanics of the Prince's Platforming performance (alliteration intentional) dumb the experience down even further. Unlike the previous Prince of Persia games, there's no real need to time your actions. The Prince's movements are all more or less automatic. Press X while running towards a wall with scratches on its surface, and he'll automatically run along the wall until the scratches disappear or a ring appears. Want to climb up a wall to a ledge? Simply run towards it and press X. The Prince will automatically scamper up the face of the wall. Note that I did not write hold X. Merely one button press is all it takes.

Ubisoft did add one new element to the platforming - power plates. Scattered throughout each stage are round plates, each associated with a power Elika can unlock by capturing light seeds. Light seeds are scattered in every stage, visible only after the Fertile Ground has been healed*. When the appropriate power is unlocked, the power plates linked to that power will glow, announcing to the player that they can be activated. These plates whisk the player to different parts of the level.

Two of the plates are essentially identical - they merely launch the player to another plate or stable platform. The other two begin mini-games. The green plate makes the Prince run up vertical surfaces, while the yellow plate allows Elika and the Prince to fly. Unfortunately, if the Prince touches anything during these journeys, he has to start over. Both mini-games are marred by bad camera angles and, in the case of the yellow plate, illogical routes, so its not uncommon to retry these segments over and over until you memorize the proper route to take.

The final punch to the gut is juxtaposing the confined, linear routes through each stage with the sheer size of the environment. The world is vast, and gorgeous, and just jaw-dropping. It's a shame that the player only gets to visit a tiny fraction of it. This is the most frustrating when the Prince is falling/wall sliding to what appears to be reachable ground, only to have Elika 'save' him and place him back on the platform above.

Combat is pretty lackluster. It has two components - quick time events, and combos.

The QTEs in combat serve as what can best be described as cinematic defense moves. The enemy will attempt a certain move, and a button will appear on the screen. Press the button that's displayed on the screen, and the Prince will successfully block the move with flair. Fail, and the Prince will get hurt. Worry not, however, as Elika, as always, is there to save the Prince. Instead of dying, the enemy will merely get some of their health restored.

The combos are mostly self-explanatory. There are four categories of moves that can be chained together - the Prince's sword (the [ ] button), acrobatic/jumping moves (the X button), the Prince's gauntlet/throws (the O button), and Elika's magic (the /\ button). During combat, the enemy will enter a defensive shell that is only vulnerable to one kind of move, so things tend to devolve into a rock-paper-scissors engagement. Thankfully, the enemies glow a different color depending on the shell they're encased in, and Elika will often say what attack is necessary to break through, so there's no guesswork involved. After the initial move breaks through the enemy's defense, you can mix and match other moves to your heart's content.

The bosses themselves all follow a pattern. Typically, they launch a series of quick time moves that the player must defend themselves against, then they encase themselves in a defensive shell that the player must break through. Boss fights tend to only happen at the Fertile Ground themselves, and, occasionally, in wide, circular areas in certain stages. So, no, there are no chase stages/scenes, nor any other mix of platforming and combat.

With all that said, amazingly the overall gameplay can be reduced simply to:

Platform to Fertile Ground -> fight boss -> heal Fertile Ground -> collect light seeds -> move to next stage.

*A note about light seeds: as I wrote above, Elika requires light seeds to unlock powers that, in turn, unlock certain stages in the world. Despite there being 1001 light seeds in the game, Elika only needs 540 to unlock the four powers necessary to turn on the four power plates. The rest are there only for trophy hunters and completionists.

Conclusion: When all is said and done, no one can deny that Prince of Persia is a pretty game. Unfortunately, the rest isn't up to snuff. Between a lackluster plot, laughable dialogue, and severe gameplay flaws, the game just can't match the first impression the visuals deliver. It's a shame, too, because the game world is just crying out for more interaction, more exploration, more adventure, and more fun.

Rating:   1.5 - Bad

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

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