Ubisoft’s Prince of Persia has been re-envisioned for this generation of consoles. Gone are the time mechanics from the last game Sands of Time, being replaced with a more traditional platforming adventure game. Prince of Persia tells a love story between an unlikely hero and an even more unusual companion, who from the offset, is determined to put an end to the imposing doom brought about by an unleashed and angry god. You take on the role of a vagabond, chancer character who has no name, but is ultimately drawn into the struggles of princess Elika and the corrupted lands that need cleansing. The experience offers a composition of part platforming, part story, with some combat thrown in for good measure. Is this latest game worthy of the Prince of Persia name?
The game begins by introducing the two main characters whose paths are seemingly intertwined by fate. Your character, who shall be named the Prince (although this is never really mentioned throughout the story) begins the story looking for his donkey Farah. Laden with a kings ransom of gold, Farah is obviously well worth tracking down, however and quite literally, he stumbles into a mysterious woman named Elika who is being pursued by the king’s guards. Being an inquisitive sort and perhaps one with a keen eye for the more refined woman, the Prince decides to offer some assistance. This intervention spirals way out of control, and before you know it he’s having a sword fight with Elika’s father – the king.
It’s certainly an action packed introduction to the game’s characters and also serves as a tutorial for the basic moves. There’s three elements to this game with one being navigation using platforming elements, another being one on one sword fighting, and lastly the telling of a story. The three culminate into a sprawling adventure across the kingdom as the bond between Elika and the Prince grows, as does the intensity of their goal. In a nutshell, your job is to reach various “fertile grounds” to purge the land from an evil presence which has turned the land into a dark and oppressive place. Using Elika’s magic, she is able to restore the fertile grounds to their former glory. Once all of the grounds have been restored in one of the four main regions, you’re then able to tackle the residing boss of that area. There are four bosses to overcome, alongside several minions who stand in your way.
The game’s structure allows you to tackle four subsidiary areas which link the main areas together. You’re able to choose whatever path you wish, meaning there’s no real set order to how you approach the game. Naturally there are points where you’ll gain more insight into the characters and the overall progression of the story, but again this has an almost free-form feel to it. At any time on your travels you’ll be able to press the Left Trigger to initiate further conversation between the Prince and Elika. You’ll find that the game is a very solitary experience in terms of characters and outside influences (bar the boss characters). There’s no one else around other than the corrupted enemies that you’ll have to encounter to progress. I guess there’s a very good reason for this, and that is to enforce the underlying love theme fused into the story. Adding more characters would have impeded this mechanic and caused perhaps a little too much distraction. In this respect, the fact that it’s just The Prince and Elika, gives you a greater incentive to inquire about Elika’s past, present and future, also learning a little more about the Prince in the process. There’s some light-hearted dialogue that provides a backdrop of humor to what is essentially a tale of two very different people coming together for the greater good. It’s not the most original of stories, but in context of the game and the players on the stage, works well for all intense and purposes.
Once you’re able to draw yourself away from the complexities of the man/woman relationship, you’ll find some very solid gameplay. The navigation in particular offers some excellent level design that accommodates the athleticism of the two characters. This isn’t really explained, which I found a little bewildering, but the concept is such that you merely go with the flow alongside the characters who do the same. You’ll be able to run along walls, perform combined leaps, cling onto vines at great heights, slide along surfaces and even climb across ceilings. It’s very far fetched, but also has a splattering of realism in terms of the animation. The general gameplay can be easily dissected. You head to an area, navigate to the “fertile ground”, fight a sub boss character, cleanse the area, collect some orbs to help Elika’s power, and then move on to the next location. This is pretty much the entirety of the game and although on paper it might sound quite unfulfilling, in practice there’s some compelling gameplay moments just from having to get from A to B. The collecting of Orbs is paramount to your story progression, and hunting these items is a game in its own right.
A lot has been mentioned of the game’s unorthodox approach to death in that the Prince is unable to actually be killed for the entire game. This translates to removing loading screens, game over messages and checkpoints. When talking about it, you can obviously find some objections to this approach, yet when playing; it makes perfect sense and fits snugly into the rest of the gameplay. This means your playtime isn’t hindered by the aforementioned usual suspects, and allows you to continue flowing effortlessly through the game world. I like it, and although you can somewhat take more risks than you would normally, the pacing really does inherit a tangible benefit.
The game’s combat is very simplistic in its design and has been developed to accommodate more methodical button presses. Pounding the face buttons, isn’t going to get you very far, and so you’re encouraged to caress them allowing your attack moves to string together in a more elegant manner. The combination of the two characters works very well here, and with quite a number of different moves available, means you’ll be able to exhibit some individual flair. This isn’t restricted to the combat either as you’ll also exercise your flamboyancy through navigating the terrain with swiftness. Encounters are like the rest of the game, quite solitary experiences, and so you’ll fight enemies that are well spaced apart from each other. There are no massive battles to fight and you’ll have a more personal engagement with your foes. The game uses a lot of QTE moments where you’ll have to rapidly tap a button or press the right button at the correct time during a fight. This works well and isn’t overbearing in terms of difficulty, however it does detract from the basic flow of your input.
Ubisoft Montreal (the development team behind the game) has opted to bring a more artistic hand drawn aesthetic to the characters and the world they inhabit. Those of you looking for semi-realism might be somewhat disappointed. The graphics certainly shy away from cute, offering a gritty yet muted colour palette. The kingdom is mostly in ruins, and this is reflected well in the scenery before and after it has been purged of the residing evil. As mentioned already, the animations are silky smooth, yet balance on a razors edge with reality and fantasy on either side. There’s some finely crafted level design, and the sense of scale is impressive to say the least, more so when climbing the barren yet great heights within certain areas.
I did not notice any graphical hiccups, and with little movement bar the main characters, there was no point of entry for framerate dips and other issues. This means, the game runs very smoothly and remains uninterrupted throughout. This also extends to loading screens which are only present when you teleport from one area to the next, which is entirely optional.
Well established and respected Kari Wahlgren provides the voice of Elika alongside an equally well-known Nolan North who voices the Prince. Their excellent performances are sustained and complimented by a script that provides enough diversity to remain engaging and entertaining. I could not find any discrepancies against their efforts and was suitably drawn into their realization of the characters. You’ll glean a lot more about the game world by taking the time to listen to their often whimsical exchanges. Some moments might cause the odd groan, but in general both characters come across as being believable and fleshed out enough for you to care about them.
The game also features an impressive and grandiose orchestral score to add more colour to the ambient sound effects. The theme of the Middle East is certainly prevalent within its tones and lends itself to great adventure and a beckoning of intrigue. It’s obvious some large part of the game’s budget was spent on crafting a loving soundtrack that has been born to felicitate the rest of the audio. And it’s this servitude to the more visual parts of the game that provides such an endearing aural picture for the ears, as everything falls into place rather effortlessly.
As a single player game only, Prince of Persia offers an experience lasting around 10 – 15 hours depending on how thorough you are. If you want to gain all of the Achievements then expect to play through at least twice, although a second play-through will undoubtedly shorten the initial completion time quite considerably. When you have exhausted everything on offer, you’ll find that there’s little else to do regardless of how appealing getting the 100% was. I think for most gamers, there’s enough hours of entertainment to warrant keeping the game in ones collection, although a severe lack of difficulty means that most hardcore gamers will literally breeze through like a desert wind and might feel less compelled to hold on to. The additional costumes on offer aren’t really going to increase the game’s longevity, but the cliffhanger ending does leave you gasping for more – although this does point to the fact that the game has been developed as a trilogy. Let’s hope that some downloadable content, such as more time challenges fills the void between now and the next game.
I’ve enjoyed playing Prince of Persia as it offers a much uncomplicated gaming experience. There’s very little cause for any frustration, and in some respects for a game, is kind of surreal. The telling of a love story is remarkably adaptive, and provides enough depth of character to envelope the gamer into its underlying message. This is a highly accessible game by any stretch of the imagination, and should be enjoyed by all gamers despite lacking perhaps in the challenge area for some. It might be a departure from what fans of past games expect, but I think after playing for a few hours, most will develop an acute fondness deep down. If you’re looking for a game that provides elements shrouded in a mystery, desert sands, scorching heat, and passionate characters, alongside a heady sense of adventure, then you would do well to invest in this game. It’s got all the right ingredients to make it well worth playing and remembering once the game disc is placed fondly back into its case after completion.