Game: Prince of Persia
Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft
Year: 2008
Reviewed: 2009
Platform: PC
Genre: Platform
Game Version: Unpatched
Reviewer: ValkyrDeath

The seventh Prince of Persia game has finally arrived. It’s another one of those games without any number or subtitle, trying to ignore the fact that it’s a sequel by calling itself simply Prince of Persia. Sorry Ubisoft, that game came out in 1989. I haven’t forgotten.

Thankfully, unlike the similarly subtitle-devoid Alone in the Dark, Prince of Persia is actually a good game. Not everyone believes so, of course. Many have criticised it for being too easy. Poppycock, I say! Well, actually, I don’t think I’ve ever said poppycock in my life, although I’ve just typed it twice. But still, what other people refer to as “too easy”, I refer to as “not bloody frustrating like the previous Prince of Persia games were”. Admittedly, my version isn’t quite as concise, but it makes up for it in accuracy.

Prince of Persia View
Wow! What a view! Now how the hell do I get back down?

Most of the complaints stem from the fact that you can’t die. And the reason you can’t die is your companion, Elika. The latest games equivalent to Sands of Time’s Farah is possibly the most unusual NPC ever, for one reason. She’s incredibly helpful and useful, rather than getting in the way all the time like nearly every other NPC, ever. You quickly discover that every time you begin to plummet to your doom, or whenever an enemy is about to land the killing blow against you, she’ll leap to your rescue, pulling you back to safety and letting you have another go. It’s like the Sands of Time in the last trilogy, but you don’t have to activate it yourself. It defeats the problem where you would try to rewind time, only for it to go back to just after the point of no return, where death is inevitable anyway. And you don’t have the annoying limited use. On the other hand, it’s not quite as satisfying as feeling like you’re in control of time yourself. It still works well though.

Elika is interesting in other ways too. She’s one of the most efficiently implemented NPCs I’ve ever seen. Along with the Prince himself (who isn’t actually a prince… I guess it must have made sense to someone) the animation is incredibly smooth and every situation seems to have been thought of. At one point, Elika was in front of the Prince on a narrow ledge, and I needed to pass her. I assumed it would be awkward like in most other games with NPCs and would involve running backwards and forwards trying to get her to move away from the ledge. Instead, as I reached her, she grabbed the Prince’s arms and they swung each other around, swapping positions. That was the point when I realised just how lacking most games are when it comes to details like this, and how much care had gone into creating the characters for this game. There are lots of little details along the way too, with the characters helping each other in climbing and the like.

The controls work very well, making it very easy to perform smooth acrobatic moves. The game uses the same engine as Assassin’s Creed, and while the jumping controls aren’t as simplified as they were in that game, they’re still more forgiving than the standard platform game. You don’t have to worry too much about aiming your jump to precisely land on a tiny ledge, leading to constant retries. All you need to do is be pointing is the right general direction when you jump, and the Prince will sort out the landing himself. All of this keeps the game moving along at a good pace. The level design is good and you’ll visit a variety of different locations throughout the game. The types of obstacles you’ll be navigating your way around don’t change so much though, so there is a certain level of repetition involved in the game, although the controls are so intuitive that it doesn’t get too tedious, and none of the individual segments of the game is too long.

Prince of Persia Repeat
The game even provides its own criticism.

Combat was always one of the failings of the previous Prince of Persia games. In Sands of Time, the game would regularly come to a halt as it forced you to fight a seemingly endless horde of monsters before you could continue your journey. Things improved a bit after that, but combat was never the series’ strong point. It’s not one of the best aspects here either, but at least it’s stripped back a bit now, allowing the game to focus on the acrobatics and story. In this game, the fights are always one on one, and for each location in the game there’s usually just one normal enemy and one boss fight at the end of it. The game world is split into four separate sections, with about five locations in each, and the fight at the end of each of the five locations is with the same boss for that region, only finally being defeated for good in the last bit. The combat itself is simply a matter of choosing the correct attack at the right time. You get a normal attack, a leaping attack, a grabbing attack, a block and a magical attack performed by Elika, and depending on the state of the enemy, you need to use a particular attack. Use of the wrong attack will usually knock you back. Like a glorified version of Rock Paper Scissors. There are a few additional features, like combo moves and a chance to counter attacks when you block at the right time. It’s an easy system to use, although it can become challenging later on in the game, but it never gets overly difficult.

In terms of storyline, it’s fairly structured and doesn’t do anything out of the ordinary. It’s your standard defeat the evil god plot. More interesting is the characterisation along the way. Regularly while exploring the levels you can stop to talk with Elika. Many of the conversations involve their opposing personalities and learning about Elika’s past. It’s nothing too unusual, but it’s done well and the characters become quite likable. The best part is the ending though. It genuinely does something I don’t think I’ve seen done in any other game, and it ranks as one of the best endings ever in a game. I know that’s not saying much, since the end of the majority of games is rubbish, but Prince of Persia has an incredibly powerful ending. Unfortunately, I can’t really say much about it without spoiling it completely, but it made an otherwise good but standard game into something a bit more special.

The only other unusual thing to note about the gameplay is that after you’ve defeated the boss for an area, Elika removes the corruption and the region is restored a bit. She apparently does it by floating over a platform in a big beam of light while moaning, but it works, so who am I to argue with her? After this, you get to explore the region more thoroughly, collecting light seeds that will eventually unlock new powers for Elika to use. Exploring the areas collecting these can be quite enjoyable, but several of the light seeds appear along the path you used through the level first time round, meaning if you wanted to collect them all, you’d have to go through all the moves again. Thanks to the effortlessness of the controls, this isn’t too big a deal, but it seems a bit of a lazy design choice really.

The powers that are unlocked can’t be used just anywhere, but only on certain coloured plates that conveniently lines the walls of the levels, allowing access to new areas once they’re acquired. They come in four different flavours, as described in the box below.

Power Plates
Prince of Persia Red Power Plate
Red Power Plate, aka Step of Ormazd – Activating one of these basically shoots you off to another part of the level. It’s like a huge jump, but you don’t have any control over where you land, you’re just taken to wherever the plate directs you.
Prince of Persia Blue Power Plate
Blue Power Plate, aka Hand of Ormazd – A sort of weird magic grappling hook effect that lets you access a new location. It’s a different animation, but the result is the same as the red power plate. I think they just needed four types of power plates and could only think of three effects.
Prince of Persia Yellow Power Plate
Yellow Power Plate, aka Wings of Ormazd – Activating this plate sends Elika and the Prince flying around the level. The path of the flight is automatic and can’t be changed, so again, it’s basically just sending you to a new location. This time you have to avoid obstacles along the way by dodging up, down, left or right. This is the most frustrating of the power plates to use, since the flight path twists and turns all over the place and it can be hard to tell which way to dodge, occasionally leading to some annoying trial and error gameplay.
Prince of Persia Green Power Plate
Green Power Plate, aka Breath of Ormazd – This power plate activates a continuous wall run. The direction of the run is predetermined, but you can move from side to side along the way. And you have to, to dodge various obstacles along the route. This is probably the hardest of the power plates to use, but it’s fair, unlike the yellow plate. Usually these sequences are fairly lengthy, involving running along walls until you reach another green plate to change your direction. I actually enjoyed these sequences, as they’re probably the most challenging in the game, but they’re not so hard as to become too frustrating.

I’ve mentioned before about how well made this game is, but it isn’t absolutely perfect. I thought the implementation was completely bug free for most of the game, but I did encounter one bug somewhere in the last half of the game. When going round collecting light seeds, the Prince suddenly started running straight through them instead of collecting them. Quitting the game and reloading fixed the issue, but it was rather annoying having to do that. Still, it’s the only bug I encountered in the entire game, which is pretty good going compared to most games these days.

Prince of Persia Hammock
Saving the world is tiring. Good thing we found this convenient giant hammock to sleep on.

Graphically, the game has its own style which makes the whole thing look like you’re playing a painting. And it looks wonderful, especially with the smoothness of the animations when in motion. It’s nice to see a game trying a different style amongst all the muddy browns and greys of the majority of modern games. It seems to be a bit of a love it or hate it style, but if you’re happy to accept something a bit different, then this is very well done.

Prince of Persia is ultimately a very good game, but it does fall just short of greatness. The structure of the levels in four major areas featuring five smaller locations seems like very old-style game design that doesn’t really fit with the more modern exploration based gameplay that this seems to be going for. It pretty much screams its gamey-ness at you, which isn’t too big a deal, but it does reduce immersion slightly. (And gamey-ness is a great term we should all be using.) There’s also the problem of the gameplay getting repetitive after a while. I still enjoyed it all the way through without getting bored of it, but it could have used a bit more variety. The game is still well worth playing, and the ending was definitely worth playing the game for. I give it my unofficial cyber-stamp of approval.

Save System Review: You can save anywhere, but it basically takes you back to the closest checkpoint. This is never too far away though, and it only affects when you’re loading the game up, since you can’t die while playing so never have to reload.
Graphics: Highly stylised graphics that make the game look like a painting has come to life. The visuals are beautiful and unique.
Sound: Sound effects are fine, the music is very good, but best of all, the voice acting is of a high standard too.
Bugs: Just the one light seed bug which was fixed by a quick restart.
Gameplay: Incredibly smooth flowing platforming action at a pace that makes other platform games seem sluggish make sure this game is a joy to play most of the time, despite the rather average combat element. The platforming does get a bit repetitive after a few hours, but it’s so good that it didn’t really matter too much.
Storyline: The actual plot is quite generic, but the characterisation is good, and the ending alone makes it worthwhile.

Arbitrary Final Score: 4 stars

If you like this, you might also like: The other Prince of Persia games, Tomb Raider, Asssassin’s Creed, Shadow of the Colossus

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