Prince of Persia 3
12th Aug 2005 | 12:13
Okay, we're going to be brutally honest here. We didn't much like last year's Prince of Persia: The Warrior Within. Not because it wasn't a good game, as such, but because it did away with almost everything that made the original Sands of Time such a unique and magical title.
Gone were the unhurried puzzle solving elements, the immensely atmospheric sweeping Arabian vistas and exquisitely honed banter between the Prince and his feisty lady-friend, Farrah. In their place was relentless and intrusive combat, Generic Gothic Environments #3312-3324, horrible, horrible thrash-lite music that would make Linkin Park blush if they crimped it out in the morning and an angsty, angry, Americanised Prince.
Unsurprisingly, while the darker sequel still garnered respectable scores in the gaming press and introduced a whole new breed of gamers to the series, fans of the original were largely horrified by the franchise's mass market turn for the worst. For Prince of Persia 3, the final entry in Ubisoft's trilogy however, the company is keen to bring the series' split fan base together for one last big hurrah.
It takes two, baby
At first glance, Ubisoft Montreal's two-pronged solution might appear clumsy and unrefined: this time around, players control both the softly-spoken (although still frustratingly American) Prince from Sands of Time and the PMT-plagued Dark Prince from the second game, supposedly the personification of all our hero's negative traits. That'll be peeing on the toilet seat and wearing dirty underpants when he can't be arsed to work the washer then.
However, watching both characters in action, it's clear that there's more to the set-up than a cursory attempt to appease both sides of the audience. While the good Prince comes equipped with his usual acrobatic arsenal of moves, the Dark Prince, who becomes playable by stepping into flames, has an additional trick up his sleeve (well, actually, around his arm) in the form of a razor-edged chain. The advantages of the chain are twofold - firstly it introduces a new long-range, and surprisingly bloody, fighting style and increases the Prince's agility. By slinging his chain at various environmental protrusions, the Dark Prince can reach normally inaccessible areas - chuck your chain at a distant beam, for example, and you can cross seemingly impossible chasms. It all looks surprisingly slick and should add an extra layer of depth to the familiar action.
Back to Babylon
Other concessions have been made for fans of both earlier games too. Sands of Time stalwarts will rejoice to see the return of the Babylon, the Prince's homeland from the first title. Admittedly, time, and a horde of angry invaders, hasn't been kind to the city - leaving the original's recognisable landscape war-torn and slightly worse for wear. In fact, some might even describe the setting as 'dark' - do you see what Ubisoft has done there? However, with levels spanning city rooftops, urban streets, overgrown ruins and the infamous Gardens of Babylon, there's still plenty of scope for a return to the lush vistas of old. Kindred Spirits will also see the welcome return of slight, yet fiery, Babylonian beauty Farrah, whose gloriously layered characterisation was replaced almost wholesale by generically busty leather-clad videogame vixens last time around.
Fans on the other side of the PoP spectrum can rejoice at the new additions to The Warrior Within's already sophisticated combat engine. The most significant improvements come in the form of Speed Kills. Although it's difficult to gauge exactly how Speed Kills will work within the context of the game, it's obvious that they play a major part across a broad range of combat situations. Like the name suggests, Quick Kills are single-strike deaths and encompass everything from brutal beheadings-by-razor-chain during heated battle to throat slashing in the title's newly introduced stealth segments.
Subterfuge seems to play an important part in proceedings this time around, if the rooftop level we saw is anything to go by. Instead of enemies appearing once you've successfully completed an extensive acrobatic puzzle, as in the Sands of Time, opponents are liberally dotted around the environments, meaning you won't get much more than a jaunty leap and a flashy wall-run in before you encounter another bunch of ruffians. Unlike enemies from previous games though, many of your new opponents are simply too powerful to engage in a battle of brawn - you'll either die a horrible and messy death or end up chipping down their armour for a very long time. You'll need to employ plenty of sneakery in conjunction with your Speed Kills in order to make progress.
So that's old and new fans taken care of, so that just leaves one group to sort out. Yup, that's right - racing fans! Hm, yes. Somewhat inexplicably, Ubisoft has seen fit to shoehorn chariot racing elements into the existing gameplay mechanics. Apparently at the behest of fans, you'll now be able to hop into a glorified wagon and go all Ben Hur on your opponents. From what we've seen, these sections certainly look impressive, from a cinematic perspective, but seem a little too simplistic in their scope. You'll race along some curiously linear-looking tracks, attempting to bludgeon enemies who're hell-bent on your destruction while you steer through the streets. It's hard to tell how these sequences will play out at the moment, but their inclusion is certainly a little worrying for fans already disappointed by the series' brisk change of direction - particularly as Ubisoft are promising they'll play an important part in the new game.
While we're largely optimistic that Ubisoft Montreal can combine all these disparate elements successfully, adding significant depth to what is already an impressive and atmospheric series, we do still have a couple of significant concerns. Firstly, with every iteration, Prince of Persia seems to be moving further and further away from it's initial acrobatic puzzle focus and, from what we've seen so far of the new game, nothing seems to suggest a reverse in the trend. Secondly, as impressive as the chariot racing sections look, their inclusion still seems a bit arbitrary and we're worried that they'll merely end up diluting the franchise's core gameplay elements even further.
Still, with a release set for Christmas this year on PS2, Xbox, GC and PC, we don't have too long to wait before all is revealed.