Naming the latest game in the series “The Prince of Persia” was a bold move by Ubisoft. The lack of subtitle implies that this is the definitive PoP game, which is quite a claim when you consider its predecessors. While the Warrior Within and the Two Thrones weren’t exactly the hardest of acts to follow, Sands of Time essentially reinvented the franchise and was highly acclaimed by critics and gamers alike. So, does Prince of Persia reach the same heights as its esteemed cousin?
We are introduced to the ‘Prince’ as he searches for his beloved companion Farah, a gold-laden donkey filled with the spoils of his latest findings. Leaping on to our screen is the exotic Elika, a mysterious ‘love interest’, the Princess of the city fleeing from the city guards. The Prince takes it upon himself to help Elika escape the guards in a tutorial-esque prologue set in the canyons heading towards the temple of Ormazd (the goodie god). After a trip to the temple to discover why its seals are weakening, you meet Elika’s father, head of the Ahura (an ancient tribe entrusted to keep the seals of the temple intact). He uncharacteristically destroys an ancient tree inside the temple, breaking the final seal that keeps the dark god Ahriman (the bad guy god) imprisoned, flooding the land with Ahriman’s ‘corruption’ transforming the lush green environment into scorched wasteland. It is Elika’s quest to cleanse the lands of the corruption by using her powers of light at special areas known as fertile grounds. Of course, the Prince wouldn’t leave a beautiful damsel in distress and therefore aids her in this quest.
It’s here that you take full control of the Prince, the main playable character in the story, as you choose your first destination. Getting from A to B in Prince of Persia involves running up and along walls, jumping from one to the next, clinging to vines, sliding, falling (yes, LOTS of falling) all in the Prince’s unique style. Controls are simplistic and easy to follow and yet manage to feel sluggish when compared to the Sands of Time. Originally when running along a wall, you could leap from it to an adjacent pillar, catch it, and then leap from that pillar to a ledge, all in one flowing movement. But in this newest adventure, the game engine seems to animate each sequence with a brutal pause in between, breaking the flow of the game-play. Don’t get me wrong, the game is still very fast paced, and will catch you off-guard if you aren’t paying attention, but it doesn’t have the same fluid feel as its more esteemed predecessors. For example, all too often the Prince stumbles to a halt when having to help Elika cross walls or vines, which is incredibly odd considering the woman flies down and saves you from VERY nasty falls and misjudged leaps subsequently guiding you back to your most recent safe footing. She can FLY, so why do you have to carry her on your back when climbing vines?
Speaking of Elika and her magical powers, you will discover that it is nigh impossible to actually die in the game. The duals with boss characters are straight forward and easy, complete with QTEs, but even if you miss one of them, you either take tiny amounts of damage, or are saved by Elika. I personally never lost a dual, never died against a boss and even trying to leap as far as I can to my own death, I still failed to meet my demise. Elika is always on hand (literally) to save you from certain death. In Sands of Time, even if you did misjudge a jump, you could still hit the floor and die and if you didn’t have enough sand in your dagger, you become dead dead. In this new adventure, you simply cannot die.
A new introduction to this series is the use of magical plates that appear as coloured circular designs fashioned to particular walls. When running along the surface of a wall, and landing on one of the aforementioned plates, hitting the correct button will activate the plate allowing you to harness its power. There are four types of plates, each activated by a particular power. The powers themselves are granted at the temple after you have collected the required amount of light seeds (which appear once you have cleansed a fertile ground of the corruption). The powers are the Breath of Ormazd (allowing you to run unhindered along a surface), Hand of Ormazd (granting you a larger jump allowing you to better negotiate corners), Step of Ormazd (bouncing you from one plate to another over a great distance), and Wings of Ormazd (granting you flight). Each power gives you access to a new area with a new fertile ground to cleanse and more light seeds to collect. Although these new plates and powers add a whole new dynamic to the flow of the game, they can be very fiddly at times, especially the flight ability. This is slow and cumbersome, hard to navigate, and offers no peripheral vision as the outside of the screen is bombarded with some crazy white visuals.
And speaking of the game’s visual appearance, Ubisoft Montreal has opted for a stylized cel-shading approach with PoP. The scenery is basic but colourful, characters are outlined and clear, and the movements and actions exhibit a cartoon realism that makes the game shine.. The animation is incredibly well done as your scarf and cloak flow with the wind, and your movements when running, jumping, climbing and falling are beautifully realistic.
With a grand total of three main story characters and five enemy characters, there isn’t much in the way of voice acting or character interaction. The charcters themselves are entirely predictable – the Prince is his usual cocky self-righteous self and Elika plays a powerful and dedicated woman. There’s always an element of flirting involved, the Prince making passes at Elika and Elika shooting him down. I will warn you though, if you are looking for the ultimate in Persian experience, you won’t find it with these characters (they are both more American than the cheesburger) but their comical interactions will definitely put a smile on your face.You’ll also encounter some interesting boss characters: the Hunter (the silent type who prefers to hunt and kill silently), the Alchemist (psychotic and VERY creepy), the Warrior King (constantly harping on about honour and valour), and the seductive Concubine.
With the game clocking in at about 10-15 hours long, and a trophy list that will keep the playability of the game intact, Prince of Persia offers a reasonable amount of gameplay. Even though the game flow is somewhat slowed with the introduction of Elika, and the sluggishness of the controls sometimes means you’ll be leaping in to a gaping chasm, it will still keep you interested and entertained throughout the entire adventure. The collection of light seeds, and the unlocking of new character skins on completion of the game, add some replayability to the game.