We had the original
Prince of Persia, coded by one talented young man in 1989. It
spawned a couple decent 2D sequels and one failed attempt at 3D.
Then, in 2003, Ubisoft rebooted the series and released Prince of
Persia: The Sands of Time. This is highly regarded as one of the
greatest games ever released – and is almost certainly the greatest
platformer of all time. It had a fantastic story, told in a unique
and superb fashion that blended seamlessly with the gameplay. Its
sequels were passable, but not quite as perfect. Now, in 2009,
Ubisoft has rebooted the series a second time, and starting from
scratch they have some big shoes to fill. The question is – did
A new hero
emerges: Master the acrobatics, strategy and fighting tactics of
the most agile warrior of all time. Grip fall down the face of a
building, perform perfectly timed acrobatic combinations, swing
over canyons, buildings and anything that is reachable. This new
rogue warrior must utilize all of his new skills along with a
whole new combat system to battle Ahriman's corrupted
lieutenants to heal the land from the dark Corruption and
restore the light.
A new epic
journey begins: Escape to experience the new fantasy world of
ancient Persia. Masterful storytelling and sprawling
environments will deliver to action-adventure fans an experience
that rivals even the best Hollywood movies.
A new open world
structure: A first for the Prince of Persia franchise – now you
have the freedom to determine how the game evolves in this
non-linear adventure. Players will decide how they unfold the
storyline by choosing their path in the open-ended world.
Emergence of a
deadly new ally: History's greatest ally is revealed in the form
of Elika, a dynamic AI companion who joins the Prince in his
fight to save the world. Gifted with magical powers, she
interacts with the player in combat, acrobatics and
puzzle-solving enabling the Prince to reach new heights of
deadly high-flying artistry through special duo acrobatic moves
or devastating fighting combo attacks.
All new for
Next-Gen: The franchise's debut on next-generation consoles
utilizes Ubisoft's proprietary Anvil engine, the same engine
used to develop Assassins Creed.
This much can be
said of the 2009 Prince of Persia: It is a wonderful interactive
experience. Calling it a ‘game’ is perhaps a little too forgiving.
It has a passable storyline (an evil god escapes and it’s up to the
Prince to lock him back up) but it is told in a stunningly fantastic
manner. The voice-acting does a good job of selling the characters
in every way, and they are fully rounded people who you can
completely invest in. The city is simply stunning, granting vast
landscapes and towering heights all in two different shades:
“corrupted” and “fertile” – depending on whether you have cleaned
that particular part of the city up yet. Unfortunately, the gameplay
is severely lacking.
The animations are
absolutely top notch. They always have been in Prince of Persia
games – that’s been a staple since 1989 – but this time they have
thrown in a second character, Elika, the super cute princess with
the handy-dandy magic show. She follows the prince around wherever
he goes, able to follow all his manoeuvres with some stylish ones of
her own (well, to be fair, if she gets stuck she just flies) but
what is really impressive is when the two interact. If she drops
down on the prince, he’ll catch her. If they share a ledge and you
try to move past her, the prince will swing her past by her hand.
The prince can’t double-jump, but Elika can grab him half way and
hurl him for twice the distance. This sort of interplay flows
throughout the game.
The story is really a love story. The god escaping and all that
jazz; it’s a smoke screen. That stuff is stock standard issue – kill
a couple of bosses, chase the MacGuffin around until he’s locked
back up nice and snug. The interplay between the prince and
princess, this time of the social kind, is the real story. Every
step of the adventure is about furthering their relationship, and
with the prince’s sardonic, egotistical quips and Elika’s cute and
witty ripostes it’s an often amusing, and always entertaining,
interaction. The acting is perfect, the animations and facial
expressions great, and the dialogue is interesting and sometimes
funny. Whatever the action story is missing is made up for with the
story of a man and his lost donkey... and the princess he finds as a
The prince has a bunch of nearly-impossible parkour moves at his
disposal to get around the crumbling city. He can wall run and
climb, shimmy up poles, swing off rings, jump around and generally
carry on like a hyperactive monkey. The moves generally look
fantastic – although the metal glove that allows him to claw up
walls and scrape down any height is a bit silly. The problem with
the moves, and therefore the puzzles, is that they are very
limiting. There is almost no timing involved and there seems to be,
ultimately, only a handful of acrobatic dances that can be strung
Compare, for a second, jumping from columns in Prince of Persia and
Tomb Raider – a game that is many years the senior. In Prince of
Persia, you can only leap from a column in one of four directions.
In Tomb Raider, you can leap from nearly any angle. Just from that
quick example you can see the possible structures for the buildings
– the possible options available to you as you cling to a column –
are far more limited. Everything you interact with has this same
flaw. Sliding ramps always draw you to the middle and you can only
jump from the end. Rings simply extend wall and roof runs.
You can only roof run from the top of a column, and then only if
there is a ring strategically placed exactly a certain distance from
the column. A rough estimate brings the number of tricks to about a
dozen. Once you’ve done them all you just end up seeing them over,
and over again. They look stylish, but there is no variety.
Furthermore, the timing is much too easy. For example, you can
extend a wall run if there is a ring, again strategically placed at
exactly the right distance, embedded in the wall. You have to hit a
button to grab it and fling yourself. Not that hard in any game, but
in Prince of Persia it is positively boring. You can hit the button
at any stage before the ring and he will fling himself around. You
could mash it all the way to the ring if you really want. This
provides essentially zero challenge. All acrobatics is of this same
mould. Getting around the place looks great, but it’s nearly as much
fun as walking to a new zone in an MMO.
There has been much made of the death system in Prince of Persia.
Many people have cited it as the reason there is no challenge, but
this is a fallacy. When you die, generally by falling to your death,
Elika will always save you with a magical helping hand. This sounds
incredibly cheesy, but this is not the problem. The problem is the
lack of challenge, as described above. By falling to your death you
are still punished, albeit mildly, just the same as you would be in
a checkpoint game. The only difference is that the “checkpoint” is
the last flat surface you touched upon. This is mild, but certainly
it avoids the often highly frustrating system that checkpoints
otherwise force you through. No, the issue is that completing the
manoeuvres is of limited fun and grant next to no reward – in that
you don’t feel elated at when you successfully navigate a tricky
section, nor do you feel experienced in some way because through
hours of practice you can now effortlessly throw yourself about the
dizzying heights with reckless abandon.
A four year old could throw themselves about with reckless abandon
in this game and their gurgling would be the highest praise the game
designers will hear. Prince of Persia has a tiny, little stick and
no carrot. Well... the story is really the carrot, but to upgrade
from “interactive experience” to “game” it’s got to work harder.
Combat takes a page from the acrobatics book. Somehow I suspect the
same guys brought their “looks good, plays easy” philosophy to the
original combat development meeting. You have 4 basic moves – a
sword attack, and claw grapple, an acrobatic move and Elika’s magic.
You can then string them together into nearly any combination you
please. This looks fantastic, and it can be quite fun trying out all
the different moves – what happens if you grapple, then Elika blasts
them twice, then the prince finishes with a sword? The problem with
this system is a combination of the problem Prince of Persia has in
general – no carrot – and the problem most games with “combos” have.
There is absolutely no point is doing anything other than the “best”
combo. This has been a problem since at least the eighties – running
through the arcade version of Double Dragon with just headbutts
comes to mind – and here we are 20 years later suffering from the
same issue. Sure, play with the different combinations, but don’t
delude yourself into thinking it makes a rat’s difference.
Since combat is such a pointless affair, it is perhaps thankful
there is nearly none of it. The only enemies that exist in the game
are the 4 bosses who you will fight a total of 5 times each, and
about 1 minion in each area ... so a total of about 12. Oh, and the
minions can be killed without fighting them if you get to their
spawn location fast enough... and because doing acrobatics is so
easy, that’s basically all the time. Oh yeah! If you hit an enemy
with any attack when they’re near an edge or wall, you instantly
kill them. Don’t worry, it all looks great.
Boss fights take
longer – you can only sometimes finish them instantly. The “small
stick” makes an appearance in the guise of getting knocked down. You
can’t actually die, a cinematic will save you from any hazards and
you can get beat on as much as you want. Eventually, however, the
baddie will throw a quick-time event at you, and if you miss that
Elika is forced to blast them with light and this heals them a bit.
It’s actually a pretty good system, if you don’t mind small sticks
(I’m partial, myself) as you are still punished for being a failure
at basic hand-eye co-ordination, but it’s not the usual “you die –
Load?” It helps to keep the story flowing as well. After all, the
prince can’t actually die. In Sands of Time this was avoided by
rewinding time, or a retelling of that part of the story (as the
whole game was told in retrospect.) All in all, I didn’t mind the
boss fight system – so long as you take it for what it’s worth, and
don’t expect a robust combat system, but rather a mini game to
advance the story.
Prince of Persia has flashes of greatness. Its production values are
absolutely stunning – but the game designers need to take a long
hard look at themselves. Perhaps they were brought in after the
groundwork of the story has been laid, and were given a directive to
make it look great and blend with the story as top priorities.
Perhaps they were old hands at games development and wanted to try a
new philosophy. Whatever the motivation they lost the essence of
what makes a game, but seem to have discovered a new entertainment
medium: Hands-on-vision? Interact-o-movie? Hmm. Get those writers
back in here - they have a clue.