Prince of Persia; the last ‘must-have’ of 2008?
Those three little words immediately bring back memories of one of gaming’s best loved characters. As with any new game in a well-loved franchise, there are also feelings of concern and trepidation as you load the latest in the long line of sequels; ‘have they done the series justice?’, you ask yourself.
Having now completed my first playthrough of the latest Prince of Persia title, I can answer that question most emphatically…
Straight away you know this is going to be a little different to the other recent incarnations of the Prince. None of the characters from the other games appear in this, so everything has a ‘brand-new’ feel to it. This is aided by the incredible art direction that has been chosen for this chapter in the continuing story.
A graphical cross between Okami and Ico (and I can’t think of a better compliment than that), the new Prince of Persia is sumptuous, stunning and seriously good looking. The cel-shaded graphics flow with apparent ease throughout the game, and the Prince and his new cohort, Elika, are animated beautifully.
The story begins with our trusty, yet incredibly sarcastic, Prince looking for his donkey after a recent adventure that had apparently scored him quite a horde. Lost in a sandstorm, our protagonist finds himself in a new landscape sans his gold-laden donkey.
Here he meets Elika who the Prince takes to straight away. In fact the ‘tutorial’ in the first part of PoP is nicely interwoven with the act of following Elika, in order to find out more about her and the plight she finds herself in.
Before long, Elika and the Prince are thrown into an almighty mess due to the actions of her power-crazed father, who wittingly brings about the return of a dark force – Ahriman. Ahriman corrupts the land and it is down to our two new partners to bring about the cleansing of the land.
The game world in Prince of Persia is suitably large. As you trot from place to place you can scan the extensive skyline and see far off into the distance, with key landmarks clearly pointing out the various challenges ahead of you. That sheer depth of view brings home quickly the scale of the task at hand.
What is nice about this PoP game is the free-roaming aspect. You can start to cleanse the land anywhere you like, go in any direction and complete the game in any order. If you ever get lost, a quick press of the Select button will bring up a map. From the map view you can set a waypoint, after which Elika can use her ‘compass’ power to send a glowing orb on a flight that shows you where to go. A quick press of the Triangle after having set a waypoint is all you need to help you traverse the land quickly.
The Prince has a number of acrobatics available to help him get around, but they never feel clunky or too complex. In fact, most actions can be carried out with a simple press of the Cross or Circle buttons.
Indeed, you have to train yourself ‘not’ to press the button. After years of platformers and adventure games that have the ubiquitous ‘double jump’ feature implemented, it is natural to press the buttons too many times. In Prince of Persia, less is more, and timing is everything.
Once you get used to it (after your first 5-10 minutes) you’ll find yourself leaping, jumping, climbing, traversing and even walking on the ceiling with consummate ease. Every move flows beautifully into the next and your new friend, Elika, plays an important and natural part in every move.
If there is a gap that is too far to jump by yourself, Elika can use here powers to give you a boost. If you should happen to fall to your apparent doom, it is Elika that will grab you and put you back on high ground. This is by far a better ‘time rewind’ mechanism than any that have come in the series before it, and the game flows wonderfully because of it.
There are several nods towards the Broderbund-published original Prince of Persia from Jordan Mechner, including a couple of subtle cut-scene animations that hint at the ‘stumble’ that was made so famous by that game. There is one element that has completely returned to its roots, and that is the combat. Just like the first PoP, you fight one-on-one with your foes.
You do get a chance to stop the fight early if you can move through the scenery quickly, since you are able to vanquish your enemy before they even appear. If you can’t manage that, you are treated to a wide range of battles with varied enemies that all have their own special skills. During the battles, some foes even change their state so that only certain attacks (which range from sword strikes to grabs and Elika’s magic) will do any damage, forcing you to think about what you’re doing.
Button-bashing won’t help you here at all. As with the rest of the game, single button presses will win the day, and timing is everything. The one move that does take some getting used to is the block. Holding down the R2 will block every move the opponent makes. You can make a breakthrough by pressing R2 at just the right moment to stun the enemy, and then follow it up with a sword strike, grab or magik attack. The timing of this block and parry move needs a lot of practise, but it is rewarding when you pull it off.
It is also possible to end the attacks prematurely by using the scenery to your advantage. Fighting the enemy to the edge of a cliff or up against a wall will enable you to end the battle quickly – my fastest so far is to vanquish one enemy in five button presses. Chaining combinations of sword, grab and magik with acrobatics allows you to build long combos that leave your opponents helpless.
When you arrive at a location your job is to find the centre (the fertile ground) so that Elika can use her magic to cleanse it. Doing so triggers an Okami-like beautification of the landscape around you, which is immediately followed by the appearance of glowing orbs of light that Elika requires to increase her magic.
This leads to a shift in the game as you move around the area with a Pokemon mentality where you have to, absolutely, catch them all. Some orbs require you to perform normally suicidal jumps, only to have Elika rescue you after the orb has been collected. Once you have healed the landscape, you are free to teleport between ‘clean’ regions, which does help take away the possible monotony of travelling to catch the final orbs on each level.
Collecting these orbs allows Elika to unlock four new magical powers, which in turn allow you to reach formerly unreachable areas of the landscape.
In Prince of Persia, you’ll find yourself shifting the balance of play from discovery through to fighting, boss battles through to collecting orbs. As you progress, the developers at Ubisoft Montreal have thrown in various puzzles and additional traps that continue to enhance and adjust the experience as you play.
My hat goes off to the level designers who have clearly poured a lot of thought and hard work into the various zones the Prince and Elika have to traverse. There are some real stand-out moments as you move across the landscape, and the challenge presented by every step keeps the game fresh throughout.
Yes there are some issues with the game. Every now and then you’ll meet an enemy that just can’t hit you (‘and that’s an issue?’, I hear you cry), or you will move into and back out of a wall which ruins the graphical beauty and flow slightly. Occasionally you’ll forget about the single-button gameplay and you will end up leaping to your doom, which in later levels can put you back quite some way. But none of these issues ever ruin the sheer joy of playing Prince of Persia.
Simply put, and by way of conclusion, Prince of Persia is the last must-have title of 2008, and a fitting way to continue the franchise. I hope Ubisoft Montreal are already working on the next in this particular series, because it is an absolute winner.
We have two exclusive Prince of Persia wallpapers for you to download and use on your PS3 and PC to celebrate the launch of this awesome title. Grab yours now.
You can order Prince of Persia using the links below. Remember, all revenue from game sales go directly to our charity fund, so if you are going to order Prince of Persia, please do it through PS3 Attitude.