Prince of Persia Xbox 360, PS3
When you watch programs on Dave they never quite feel the same as they did on BBC. They are edited, shorted, stuffed with adverts, a few months late, and you really feel absolutely terrible for being at home at 4pm, watching that same Top Gear re-run for the 53rd time. Playing Prince of Persia is relatively similar to this, as you are playing a dumbed down re-imaging of what came before. The game is not terrible though, it’s just different from the trilogy of last-gen, and change, just for change’s sake, is not always good.
In those older games you always felt you were adventuring around real vivacious locales, that, for the most part, felt lived in. This version of the game has a different feel right from the get go, with layouts more akin to a playground full of objects placed to entertain you, rather that something more organic. Because of this everything about the game feels uber-safe, and you’d think some crazed health and safety executive had a look around the environment a few days before the Prince arrived to make sure no possible harm could come to him.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with a game being easy to control, but POP seems to have taken it to the extreme. You only ever have to use three buttons over the course of the platforming portion of the game – one to jump, one to use magic plates, and one to use wall rings. In addition to that, wall running is completely automatic, and you are always told exactly where to do it due to a scrape on the wall. Also, if you jump on a pole the game automatically swings you around to position you in the correct direction to jump to the next object. Furthermore, if you jump in the relative direction towards any object you’ll always land or grab onto it, as the game magnetically pulls you towards it.
Ultimately, this simplifies everything to such an extent that you get no satisfaction when you reach the highest room of the tallest tower, as you basically learn no skills as you play the game. Sure, if you look all the way back down to see where you started from it may look a long way away, but due to the way the game literally and figuratively holds your hand at ever turn, you never feel like you’ve accomplished anything by getting to that height.
However, the new cel-shaded graphical look of the game is fantastic, so even though you repeatedly perform the same three moves until you reach the endgame, there is a lot to look at. The game does a great job of showcasing its beautiful looks as well, as you have to heal each area from dark morbid force that has engulfed it – which the game describes as corrupted – by fighting a guardian of each area. Once you beat the boss the area then blooms to life with bright vivid colours. The ‘healed’ areas are then populated with set number of orbs, inviting you to collect them to gain access to more locations in the game, which otherwise remain off limits. Speaking of fighting, this is another area of the game that has changed from the previous instalments, as battles are now solely one on one, focusing on four simple attacks that you use to build up combos.
In terms of storytelling Ubi do a rather good job as well. For the most part, this is because the Prince, who is actually nameless, and not really much of a Prince anymore, and Princess Elika, who is actually a Princess, and your companion for vast majority of the game, are a rather appealing duo. Throughout the game they develop an interesting camaraderie, tossing one-liners back and forth to each other in a droll relationship quite similar to that Nathan and Elena in Uncharted. I am sure some will have issues with the story, as it is more modern and unexpectedly wisecracky than you’d expect, but it still manages to come across as interesting, and most importantly endearing, which is what matters most. Furthermore, it all cumulates in what I thought was a rather awesome ending, wrapped up in a beautiful last 10 minutes which is rather unexpected, but very fitting to the overall story.
Harking back to Elika for a second, I have to admit she is a fantastic addition to the series, and as gimmicks go she is significantly better than The Sands of Time. She is hardly ever a hindrance, only causing the smallest bit of annoyance when you are manoeuvring on some beams. Everywhere else she is a great help, and a great foil to push the story forward. All in all, she is right up there with the likes of Alex Vance in Half Life 2 in the ranks of useful and likeable companions. You could argue that she helps you out a bit too much, as she’s always there to save you make a misstep; another facet that makes the game seem excessively easy – but the nature of her character is entertaining nonetheless.
The POP series has always been impressive, especially back in its 1989 debut. I don’t remember much about that game, as I was only around six year old when I played it, but I did have a small inkling in my head at the time that told me I was looking at something special. This was mostly due to way it was fluidly animated, which was highly impressive for the time. Years from now, this version of Prince of Persia, just like the original, will probably be applauded for the way it looked and moved, as its visuals, at times, border on spectacular. Crucially though, the limited gameplay offerings seen in this reboot for the series will most likely be forgotten as soon as we begin to march through 2009.