Review: Prince of Persia (2008)

PC – Keyboard / Mouse – 2008
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
Playtime: 11 hours
Paid: $24.99US on Steam

Metacritic scores for Prince of Persia range from 81 to 85 across the three platforms.
Sales were recently estimated to be over 2.2 million worldwide.

Previous experience: I played the demo for The Sands of Time a few times and decided that I needed it. After buying the game for $100AU, I proceeded to play roughly a quarter of it. Sigh. Fortunately, this means I’m not attached to the “old Prince”.

The first thing you’ll probably notice about this game is the art style – 2D characters traversing a 3D world. Both are beautiful. The character outfits and textures are detailed and suitably designed. The world itself is nothing short of magnificent, and I occasionally took pause to rotate the camera and just have a look around. As you progress through the game, you clear the Corruption from each area, gradually cleaning the world and making it more beautiful – from polluted, dank, and dangerous to vibrant, healthy, and shining.

The game is repetitive, certainly, and this was the most frequent complaint about it.  I personally played in chunks of 4 areas, taking a lengthy break between each session. Some people may also be bothered by the mandatory collection aspects of the game (finding energy spheres scattered around healed lands), but if you take their time to collect, say, half from each area as you play, these barriers will not take much backtracking. The ability to teleport from one cleared land to another makes this process far less frustrating. Teleporting and loading the game are the only causes of loading screens – otherwise, the entire world is traversable with no interruptions.

Collecting the set number of spheres unlocks the ability to use one of four coloured power plates, which allow you access to new areas. The order in which these are taken is optional, and the process repeats until all powers are unlocked. Blue and red plates require no interaction other than activation, zipping you from plate to plate. Green and yellow are more involved – green plates are fun, allowing the Prince to stampede straight up a wall, or across a building (you lose track of gravity after a chain of these), while yellow plates require the player to avoid objects as they fly through the sky on a frequently over-long and unnecessarily winding path.

Traversing the world is natural for the series, as you jump from platform to platform, run up and around walls, swing from poles, and generally perform the Prince’s old tricks. The real addition here is Elika, the magical princess of the Ahura, the race who inhabited these lands. She is necessary for platforming, as she can be summoned to give the Prince an extra boost in mid-air, and also in combat, where she can perform magical attacks. In both arenas, Elika saves the Prince’s life with this magic, over and over again. You will die – a lot – either from just learning to platform smoothly, or from failing QTEs in combat. It is sometimes frustrating, but the interference with play is minimal (a couple of seconds), allowing immediate retries. Elika feels like more than just a sidekick, being that you control her in this manner – perhaps this adds to the feeling that the two characters are intertwined.

The relationship between the Prince and Elika is really the driving force of this game, as you try to discover the motives of each character. Excellent vocal work in both set pieces and incidental dialogue not only keeps the player in touch with the characters, but makes this relationship feel more natural. Also, the orchestral music fits the tone of the game perfectly, setting the mood of a grand quest in a sweeping land. From early on, I saw that the relationship had the potential to make a great romance. I feel as though I was right, as this becomes one of the greatest relationships written in a game. It helps that Elika is extremely lovable – perhaps the best female character since Half-Life 2’s Alyx Vance. The Prince’s light-hearted attitude and jokes bounce off the usually cheerful princess, who is frequently ready with a swift reply. These conversations add a lot of entertainment value to the game.

The game isn’t without fault – as mentioned, some will not be able to get past the repetition. Other flaws include (4-sided) column traversal, which lags greatly as you try to shift left or right – and occasionally, instead of immediately spinning to the opposite side of a column as one would expect, the Prince lands and shifts to a side with nothing to jump onto, breaking the fluidity of platforming. And, were it not for Elika, his neck. Controls were clearly designed for controllers (specifically the 360’s, it seems), which becomes most notable in combat, where coloured symbols are used to denote the commands for quick-time events, rather than keyboard letter names. This adds immersion, but increases learning time and deaths for PC gamers. As mentioned, powering up yellow plates is ridiculous.

Combat is extremely entertaining, but can be frustrating if one isn’t quick off the draw with QTEs. When you are rescued by Elika during combat, the enemy has time to recover and heal up – this is the only real downside to death. Battles will become drawn out given many deaths. Chaining attacks feels great, and the animations, as with the whole game, are smooth and flow well from one to the next. The Prince and Elika battle the 5 major enemies multiple times, as they push them back and finally destroy them. These characters are well-designed and all offer something unique to the combat experience.

The Warrior is essentially the tank, taking no damage, and who must be knocked back into a trap, or off a cliff. The Concubine is the Psycho Mantis, playing mind games and using tricks to deceive, even changing the Prince’s controls. The Hunter lays the occasional trap for you outside of combat, and during battle shoots Corruption at the screen, blinding you momentarily. The Alchemist rings each battle arena with Corruption, which must be avoided, and heals himself. The King starts off simple enough, but eventually becomes an amalgamation of all four sub-bosses. Over the repeated battles, one learns the enemy movesets to the point where eventually there is no need to look at the icon for most QTEs.

The ending was surprisingly ambiguous, although expectedly powerful and emotive. I would have preferred more closure, however. Ubisoft did add an Epilogue as DLC which apparently adds more storyline – an expansion, really – but chose not to release it for PC, due to “business reasons”. These reasons may include “hating money”. For one thing, Steam offers DLC support. At least offer it there – exclusivity on the option to spend extra for more story is stupid and self-defeating.

I really, truly enjoyed this game.

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