Prince of Persia Review: Pretty Vacant

December 16, 2008 § Leave a comment

It’s often the thought of developers that with a new generation should come a great change in their work. Grand Theft Auto 4 has it’s new realistic direction, Uncharted left the Jak series well behind developer Naughty Dog, and the Burnout series went completely open world. Ubisoft Montreal have taken a similar view with their fourth Prince of Persia game (with no subtitle this time around), but rather than add to the features of Two Thrones they’ve stripped the game right down, simplifying gameplay in what can only be seen as an effort to take in a new audience. Newcomers to the series won’t therefore be disappointed, but long standing fan’s might start feeling a touch of nostalgia for the last generation’s trilogy.
Perhaps surprisingly Prince of Persia reverses the importance of character and story. Previous game’s emphasis on a nation torn apart by evil is still present, but the nation is never shown in its former glory, and we never meet any of it’s occupants. In this way whilst you’ll always be working to banish the evil from an area by reaching the ‘fertile earth’ and healing it, locations transformation is purely aesthetic. Characters however, see much meaningful development over the course of the story – even though there are so few – and the Prince’s relationship with his companion Elika is believable, if a little Hollywood. Players will find themselves caring much more for the characters themselves rather than this land they’re saving, whether that’s a good or bad thing is up to you to decide. The story revolves essentially around you healing the land by reaching the fertile ground in each of the areas in the game. It’s by no means complex, but provides an exiting climax nevertheless.

A passive observer of the game may be fooled into thinking it plays like any other POP game, but picking up the controller destroys this view instantly. The game has a very automated feel to it, you no longer, for instance, need to hold a button to wall run, and so after setting the prince on his way by jumping off a platform the game takes on what is in effect quick time event style gameplay. You watch the prince’s movement’s and are then given visual cues of what button to press, your reward being the avoidance of death and a visual feast of acrobatic movement. Any time when you miss a jump and fall to your death your companion Elika will teleport you to the last bit of safe ground. This ensures you never have to repeat large sections of the game due to a mistake, but crucially doesn’t make the game too easy, towards the latter half of the game you spend large amounts of time off the ground, meaning that when you ‘die’ you’ll be dropped back more than a mere couple of meters.

Elika’s powers aren’t just limited to providing a handy checkpoint system though. At some points you’re required to use ‘power plates’ handily placed around levels, usually to reach some far off platform. Each of the four colours – red, green, blue and yellow – carries with it a different method of transportation. Red and blue are fundamentally the same, simply throwing you across the world, green is the most enjoyable of the four, placing you in a wall running minigame in which you must avoid obstacles and yellow is the worst of the bunch, a flying minigame in which you must also dodge obstacles. The problem with this is that you have no power over the direction of your movement, and so if when heading towards a pillar you try and pass it on the left when the game wants to take you by the right you’ll fall to your death. It makes some levels incredibly frustrating whilst adding nothing to the overall experience.

Combat is even less enjoyable. It’s always one on one, filled with quick time events – this time proper ones, with screen prompts and everything – and either far too short or far too long. You have a combination of sword, magic, and gauntlet attacks, which you can use interchangeably to unleash some amazing looking combo’s. On its own this might prove to be a satisfactory form of combat but at any point the enemy can drag you in to a quick time event, in which even if you win you inflict no damage. Additionally the game makes enemies harder by simply allowing them to block your attacks seemingly at random, giving you no way to increase your chances of success with a hit. The combination of these two leads to some much elongated battles in which time you’ll be frantically button mashing trying to score a hit before the next quick time event. Alternatively at times if you manage to score a hit whilst the enemy if on the edge of the platform you’ll instantly kill them, which can make some battles feel criminally cheap. It never manages to get this balance right, and overall feels bloated with useless ideas.

A major new feature of POP is the series’ first ever open world. From the game’s outset you’re able to explore the world’s areas in whichever order you choose, free from any loading screens in between them. You never have any significant choice as to what you want to do next, merely choosing to complete areas in whichever order you choose. Certain areas require you to posses a certain plate-power, and these are unlocked by collecting light-seeds, small balls of light which appear after you heal a level. As a result of this, frequent back tracking is required to collect enough light seeds to unlock the required powers, and this never becomes too much of a chore. Those who wish to collect all 1001 light seeds throughout the game will have a hard time doing so, but this is entirely optional, and on a normal run though their inclusion serves to lengthen the experience considerably, but never to a needless extent.

Considering what the series had become after three previous iterations, Prince of Persia’s simplicity isn’t entirely unexpected. Any additions the the gameplay of Two Thrones would have made the game nigh-on unplayable for newcomers and as such POP is a much more instantly accessible game. Many of the new additions aren’t as well implemented as they could have been, and the single player co-op gameplay doesn’t do much to distinguish the game from its contemporaries, but there’s enough at it’s core to make for an enjoyable experience, and if you can ignore some obvious blemishes it should prove most enjoyable.
By Jon.

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