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Prince of Persia XBox 360 Review - -

Gameplay 4.5
Graphics 9.5
Sound 9.0
Value 5.0
Distributor: UbiSoft
Review Date:
April 2009
Mark Arnold


Prince of Persia

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 they?


  • 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 result.

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 together.

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.


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