Prince of Persia
2008's Prince of Persia is yet another reboot for the franchise and it does for the most recent trilogy what that arc did to the original. It takes what was learned from the past and changes the scope of things to create a fresh take on a familiar genre. The title has been rather polarizing for gamers and there's much debate raging about the fact that you can't die, but through thick and thin Prince of Persia remains a beautiful game that is fun to experience and in my opinion it's the perfect starting point for a new trilogy.
The game starts out with the Prince (we never get his name) walking through a storm in the middle of a desert. He's crying out for his donkey Farah, who happens to be transporting all of the gold from a recent looting, but before he finds his faithful ass he falls into a chasm. Before he can collect his bearings a beautiful woman, Elika, crashes down on him and soon enough the Prince is swept up in a chase as Elika is being pursued by guards. As it turns out Elika is trying to prevent the reemergence of a dark god, Ahriman, the decay of her homeland, and the death of the Ahura people. Naturally those are pretty hefty things for a traveling rogue to deal with, but the Prince gets swept up in events quite quickly and he can't exactly turn his back on such a pretty girl.
From start to finish the plot in Prince of Persia offers little in terms of real development. You basically travel around the land and destroy some followers of Ahriman. Beyond some exposition towards the beginning and the end, the game's story is mainly about the Prince and Elika getting to know each other. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as it really does create a bond between the two, but if you're hoping for a sweeping narrative or some fascinating story you're going to be left wanting.
As far as the characters are concerned Elika is a relatively involved, yet mysterious, character. Her background is revealed through optional conversations and basically she's torn between the life she knew, the one she's clinging on to, and the future. The Prince on the other hand is a complete enigma. Apart from his charming rogue stereotype there's not a lot to learn about him. He doesn't clue you in on who he is or where he's from and the only thing that seems to motivate him are fortune, women, and cheap thrills. He's palatable as a main character and is sarcastically optimistic the whole way through. To say Elika and the Prince break stereotypes wouldn't be entirely accurate, but they are refreshing and they play off each other well enough to make the game enjoyable.
As is the case with any game though, story will only take you so far. You need to have solid gameplay in order to keep gamers flocking to your title. Thankfully the new Prince of Persia has the exploration aspect absolutely mastered. Flipping, sliding, bouncing, and jumping all over the environment will leave you breathless and awe-struck. Pulling off the slickest of moves is easy and making your way through the terrain is gratifying especially when you see where you want to go and figure out exactly how to get there.
If leaping over thousand-mile falls and running along four inch wide beams seems like it would be challenging to you, don't worry, the prince controls perfectly and he never falls. Executing death defying maneuvers is as easy as pressing the A button to jump and using the left analog to move. As you progress into the game you'll also be required to clamor across ceilings, swing on rings, run across walls, and slide down the sides of buildings. If you happen to miss something or goof along the way Elika is there to use her magical Ormazd powers to save you.
The fact that Elika saves you from being a Persian pancake is the source of much debate surrounding this game. I mean, for all intents and purposes you cannot die no matter how hard you try. Does it remove some of the difficulty from the experience? Sure. Personally I look at this little feature as a stress reliever. Think about it. In most games when you die you have to restart the stage or go back to your last checkpoint. In Prince of Persia if you goof Elika simply drops you off at the last piece of solid ground you touched. It saves you from agonizing amounts of backtracking and allows you to attempt some trial and error without the frustration. This is a great thing in my opinion and it certainly gave the game the feeling of constant forward motion. Helping the flow of the game is an easy to use map system which allows you to select a new destination and ask Elika for directions by pressing Y. This prompts her to unleash a magical beam of light that shows you the way which is very similar to Fable 2's direction system.
While I do feel that Elika's powers to save you aid the game in terms of the exploration elements, they hinder the combat something awful. You cannot die from falling and you cannot be killed by enemies. If you get to a point where you're knocked down you'll be prompted with a timed-button pressing event. Proper timing will allow you to deflect the attack and get back up, but if you fail to do so Elika will save you anyways which gives your foe some more health. This adds to the game's ease and makes Prince of Persia a game you simply cannot lose in no matter how hard you try or suck. Again, I appreciate Ubisoft's direction in this matter with regards to exploration, but the combat just doesn't gel.
Apart from being saved fighting in this game is a chore with a complex combo tree, constant blocking, counter attacks, and random button pressing (aside from the ones where Elika saves you). Battles mainly come in the form of boss encounters though there are enemies scattered around the world at key points. In order to be really successful you have to be able to pull of multi-hit combos and have a method to your sword swinging madness. It's not as refined as the exploration component and it feels very restrictive compared to prior Prince of Persia games. It's not necessarily broken and it doesn't ruin the game, but I have to say that it's a bit of a letdown and is easily the title's weakest element.
Overall the gameplay in Prince of Persia is very good and it's definitely unique when compared to everything else on the market. Exploration is this game's biggest perk and traveling through these massive, stark environments will invoke feelings similar to what we saw with Shadow of the Colossus and Ico. Combat becomes dreadfully tiresome and the fact that Elika constantly saves you at every turn does remove some of the challenge from the game (there is still a lot of brainwork left). However, if you're looking for an original title with a lot of personality and experimentation with regards to gameplay you'll find a lot to love with Prince of Persia.
The achievements in Prince of Persia vary greatly in terms of amount of dedication and ease of finding. As you progress through the title the game will reward you with points simply for starting the adventure, learning a couple of moves, and beating bosses. Harder to achieve points come from collecting all 1001 Light Seeds, beating the game whilst being saved less than 100 times, finishing it in under 12 hours, and performing every combo in the game. There's enough diversity here to please hardcore and casual players alike.
Prince of Persia is one of the greatest examples of cel-shading being pushed to the limits. This game is a piece of art brought to life and every nook and cranny of this title screams painstaking attention to detail. There were so many moments where I just made the Prince stand still so I could pan the camera around and examine each breathtaking location. The world is vibrant, yet bleak at the same time and there's simply so much to take in all at once. In particular, the first time you release an area from Corruption you're treated to a spectacle as life springs up all around you and greenery encompasses all that you see.
The character and enemy models received equally impressive amounts of detail and attention. The Prince and Elika are animated well and there are only few moments in between where clipping ruins the illusion. Running along walls, climbing ceilings, jumping over chasms, and scaling vines all looks realistic enough to make you believe it's almost possible. Also while fights are often disappointing you can't knock enemy animations and design since they are right up there with the Prince's.
Prince of Persia is not only a visual masterpiece, but it's an audible one as well. From a sweeping score that inspires with dramatic highlights to quality voice acting, this game is a feast for the ears. The sound effects do a fine job of creating ambiance and there's a nice sense of immersion as you run around from one platform to the next. This game is a beauty from start to finish and there's nary a dull moment in between. Simply put this game is a work of art all around and it must be seen and heard to be appreciated.
Prince of Persia is a big success in my opinion. I had a great time with the game from start to finish and even during a repeat play through I rarely found myself getting bored with it. The design is stellar the whole way through with regards to the graphics, sound, and gameplay. Sure there are weak elements such as the fact that Elika constantly saves you and making your way through the environments can feel a little "play by numbers" at times, but through and through this is a creative and imaginative title that takes chances and has some major successes. If you're looking for a solid and unique adventure game you won't go wrong with this latest Prince. Don't let some of the flaws in this game keep you from playing it. This is a highly polished hit that deserves to be checked out. Consider it Highly Recommended.