Prince of Persia
4th Dec 2008 | 15:09
Prince of Persia is its own worst enemy. On one hand the team at Ubisoft Montreal has created an absolutely stunning game world and possibly the most useful AI character in years. On the other, it's streamlined the series' trademark platforming so much it might as well be on rails, left combat mainly pointless and made it actually impossible for you to die. Plus we want to punch the new American Prince in the face.
But before we go off on one, the new Prince of Persia does get some things right. Elika, your new right hand magical princess, achieves everything the developer promised she would. Rare for an AI partner.
She hardly ever gets in your way and unlike the dodgy computer characters of the past, Elika's clever head makes sure she doesn't get stuck in the scenery or stupidly walk into a fight and die. Most of the time, you hardly notice she's there, which is a good thing.
She's an aid rather than a liability; fall down in combat and she'll revive you, tap Y (or triangle) and she'll jump in for some monster-blasting tag-team moves. It's an impressive achievement that Elika doesn't feel like a hindrance in both platforming and combat, but in creating this one triumph Ubisoft sacrificed a lot of what makes Prince of Persia so great.
Platforming, the heart and sole of Prince of Persia, feels dumb-ed down. For the first few sections of the Prince's adventure you'll sprint up walls and swing from vines, and you'll enjoy it.
The acrobatic spectacle is fast, fluid brilliantly animated. Unfortunately, you'll quickly figure out that it's almost as on-rails as a Time Crisis gun fight.
You can't go anywhere the game doesn't want you to go; the entire world is basically designed like a Tony Hawk's skate route through the level, with (admittedly gorgeous) stretches of jumps, chasms, walls vines and wall hoops to swing from. Where platforming's concerned you can't go off route, at all.
Once you've initiated a string of platforming moves, it all feels like a big, disguised QTE sequence. A wall means pressing A/X, a hoop means pressing circle/B and magic double-jumps means pressing triangle/Y. It looks great, but feels totally safe and disconnected, which is a shame.
Unless you're actually touching the analogue stick - which isn't a good idea at all in Prince of Persia's platforming - it's almost impossible to fail. And even if you do, Elika's magic hand will simply hoist you to where you started.
To be fair, having an instant checkpoint on hand does reduce some of the frustration of running all the way back to your point of death, but in the process the tension and risk generated from taking that one giant leap of faith is eliminated.
The satisfaction of nailing a timed wall jump, and the thrill of swinging from post to post and gracefully ascending to your destination is dead when the whole spectacle has been turned into essentially a big exercise of timed button presses. Oh, and did we mention you can't die either.
Combat, suffers from the same problem. For the new game Ubisoft's taken a focus on one-on-one duels, similar to Assassin's Creed. The rock-paper-scissors set-up is similar to platforming really; X/square swings your sword, B/circle is for grapples, A/X is for acrobatics and Y/triangle calls in Elika to perform some magic mischief.
Using these commands you can chain ups combos. For example, B will grapple and lob a monster in the air, followed by A to jump up with them, and finally X to smack them in the face.
Admittedly, the new system does feel a bit more fresh than the button-mashing, respawn-fest that was the last game's combat, but we're still massively put off by the fact that you literally cannot die.
If you fall down Elika will pick you up and blast the baddie back, your only punishment an energy top up for your opponent. Because of this, not matter what, you always win. Eventually. Skilful combat isn't encouraged at all.
While backtracking isn't the most fun thing in the world, at least it would've provided some form of punishment for lazy combat. As it is, Prince of Persia almost encourages you to lay back and let the game play itself - until a timed button press is needed, at least.
Later on various enemies, invulnerable to magic or even sword attacks, appear and you can only dispatch them by pushing them off of ledges. Because you can't die or avoid combat encounters this can quickly become frustrating and it wouldn't be the first time we've yelled four-letter words at the television screen.
Ahhh... deep breath. Criticisms out of the way, there's still some enjoyment to be had in Prince of Persia. The plot and narrative - if you can look past the whiny, annoying American Prince - is fairly rich and worth seeing through to the (sadly swift arriving) conclusion.
Plus the visuals are obviously frickin' gorgeous. The environments are a joy to look at and varied throughout, even if you're essentially doing the same on-rails platforming moves off of different shaped columns.
PS3 and Xbox 360 owners who've never played any of the older Persia games might even wonder where all this negativity has come from, but for those who know the joy of the last-gen classics the Fresh Prince is quite simply a great big step, swing and hop, or button press, in the wrong direction for us.