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The Game Formerly Known as Prince of Persia

December 1st, 2004 · No Comments · Gaming, Reviews

Prince of Persia: Sands of Time came close to being a perfect game experience for me, and I’m not the only one. Oddly, this title, while critically well received, wasn’t a huge hit. But it was this title, and the quirky Beyond Good and Evil that gave me great respect for Ubisoft. It certainly didn’t hurt that Ubisoft also makes the Ghost Recon, Rainbow Six and Splinter Cell series either.

I’ll confess that Beyond Good and Evil is the only game to ever manage to get me teary eyed. It was brief. It involved a cute dog. I’ll leave it at that.

One thing that Beyond Good and Evil and Prince of Persia: Sands of Time had in common were lush, distinctive visuals, entertaining characters, good dialog and humor, and excellent voice acting. They also were both great games, with very few moments of frustration, and many moments of surprise and delight.

The narrative ending of Sands of Time was brilliant. I won’t reveal any spoilers, but it was clever and satisfying in way unlike any game I’ve played. At the end of the game, I felt like I had really been part of a wonderful, exciting story.

Seeing as they can seem unable to do no wrong, the moment the Prince of Persia sequel came out, Prince of Persia: Warrior Within, I bought it immediately.

Well, Ubisoft, in my mind you broke your hot streak.

Sands of Time introduced the Prince character as well as teaching you basics of movement and combat both at the same time, in an unforced and well designed introduction level. Warrior Within, on the other hand, has a very bad introduction level, where you are told to push certain button combinations, but not why. For instance, a message will display “Combat Tutorial. Push X Y”. The message remains until you press that combination at the right time. At which point the Prince executes some move, and you are supposed to now understand that the X button followed by the Y button does something. What that something may be is often unclear.

Perhaps the tutorial is bad because the combat system has gone from simple and elegant to Mortal Kombat combo craziness. At the start of the game you have access to several screens full of button combos, some of which involve five six button presses. Admittedly the combat in Sands of Time was somewhat simplistic (and by the end of the game, it gets a little tedious), this seems to be adding complexity for complexity’s sake.

On the intro level, you conclude with a non-trivial boss fight. By non-trivial I mean I had to do about twenty times (restarting from a checkpoint about 3 minutes before, and fast forwarding through the same cut scenes between actions) to beat it. Twenty very frustrating times.

Plus the charming and graceful Prince from Sands of Time is now the hard-rocking tough guy Prince who “quips” while he fights. By quips, I mean he (and sometimes the enemies he fights) say various random things that are supposed to be amusing or cool. Here’s a word of advice to game developers: any time a character/entity speaks from a random list of things, you must insure the same line is never spoken more than once every fifteen minutes, tops. That means it should happen rarely, because it gets old fast.

When the Prince said to the boss on the intro level “I grow tired of this,” for this fifth time, I knew exactly what he meant.

Sands of Time environments were exotic and storybook-like. Sometimes spooky, other times ethereal and lush, they looks like a unique world. Warrior Within, on the other hand, is clearly going for a darker, more gothic experience. Like every other frickin’ game does. I’m saddened that Ubisoft forgot why people loved Sands of Time: it was different. Instead of giving us a new chapter, they’ve taken the Prince and made a not-so-distinctive jump-and-run hack-and-slash.

I think Warrior Within may contain a decent game for those coming to it with no expectations. But I don’t think you will find much more than that. For those of us who loved the first title and were looking for more, you’d be best off dusting off the original and playing it again.

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