Monday, January 12, 2009

Review: Prince of Persia (PS3)

Time for another video game review! So I finished Fable 2 and in the midst of my disappointment, decided to pick up a game that I would almost certainly thoroughly enjoy: Prince of Persia. I loved the Sands of Time trilogy for the PS2 and the new style and direction of this new installment and the beginning of a new story interested me immediately. Boy was I let down. My first clue that it would be a stinker should have been the fact that it was produced by UbiSoft Montreal, the same studio that produced Assassin's Creed, which was OK, but not great. Here is my review of the latest installment of the flagship franchise that is now ruined in my eyes:

Ok, story first. Prince of Persia games are always based mainly on the immersing storyline that develops throughout the game. This game was no different, however, I was quite disappointed with the overall story. The opening scene finds Prince in the desert with his donkey, Farah (funny reference to the useless female character from the Sands of Time trilogy), and a crapload of gold. He is heading home, apparently. From where, I don't know. I don't know if this is the same prince from the Sands of Time games or not, because the game never actually tells us. And I can't remember whether Prince rides off into the sunset with a donkey and bunch of gold at the end of the Sands of Time trilogy because it's been so long since I played The Two Thrones. However, he finds himself seemingly in the middle of a desert in a sandstorm when he falls through a hole and an attractive woman jumps down said hole to hide from some bad guys who are chasing her. She starts running again and he follow because he's an IDIOT. The bad guys catch up to her a little while down and think that Prince is trying to kidnap her and all of a sudden he is pulled into her rather fucked-up world.

That's it. That's how Prince get involved in the storyline. It's sad, really. The previous three PoP games all had a deep storyline that featured Prince as the main character, fighting against corruption and evil. In this one, he happens upon a pretty woman and seems kind of like a sidekick the entire game. To be honest, he could have not been in the game at all and you may not even notice. But more on that later. Finally, pretty woman's (Elika's) dad shows up and tells her that there is no going back or some such nonsense. Elika tells Prince to follow her to a temple, which is built into a tree. Prince thinks it's funny that her people worship a tree, but more on that later as well. So Prince follows her to the temple where they sneak in a find a small glowing tree. Apparently, there is an evil demon trapped under the temple and the tree is what is keeping him locked up. Elika's father and guards catch up and after fighting him, he breaks the tree with his sword and all hell breaks loose. The entire world is now filled with corruption. Here is where I would like to scold UbiSoft for inserting their world views into their video games.

There are some people who may not have seen through this, but I did. When Elika's dad breaks the tree, corruption is released into the world. It's literally called corruption. The corruption is this slimy black stuff that covers the walls of caves and other surfaces. The only way to get rid of the corruption is by defeating bosses and healing the fertile grounds within the broken-down city. To perform the healing, Elika must stand inside a glowing circle and she splooges seeds that grow grass and make the city alive again. Let's take a step back here: there is slimy black stuff called corruption covering everything. It looks a lot like oil to me though. When you heal the fertile grounds, grass and trees grow and the sky becomes bright and sunny again. Hmm. Elika's people worship a tree. A freakin' tree! Elika's people are tree huggers that are against the pollution of corruption, which is clearly an allusion to present-day. Oil companies are corrupt and are ruining our environment. Get rid of the oil, heal the environment. It's subtle at first, but once you see all the little things behind it as the story progresses, you get the point. Nice try Ubi, but I see through it. Or maybe I'm totally off base. But I don't think so.

Anyhow, looking past that, the story is actually decent. There are 4 bosses that sold their souls to the dark lord Ahriman for various reasons. The mythology in this game is based on Indo-Iranian religious beliefs, so there is a parallel to the real world, which the PoP games always seem to do well. There isn't as much character development as I would have hoped, but I'm sure they are saving that for the 2nd and possibly 3rd installments in this new series. The ending was extremely disappointing, but I won't give it away here.
Score: 6/10

Prince of Persia games are known for their rich environments and stunning graphics. This game is no exception. The art team went in a different direction in this game, but it still works very well. The characters are cel-shaded, which is something I am never crazy about. However, the environments are done in a different style. It's not quite cel-shading, but it's not quite what you would have seen in the Sands of Time trilogy. It's pretty stunning nonetheless. The best part about the graphics is always climbing up onto a giant cliff somewhere and looking out over the world. And there's plenty of that in this game too. A trophy/achievement is awarded if you find the Assassin's Creed view in the one portion of the city (more blatant whoring out of their other PoP-like failed franchise) and another one if you find the highest point in the city.

The characters are cel-shaded but they move very realistically. Every movement looks human and not robotic. Clothes and hair blow in the breeze and the lip sync is also done quite well. The animation of the bosses is also impressive for being cel-shaded. It changes my opinion about games with cel-shaded graphics.
Score: 9/10

Here is where the game fell off a cliff for me. Prince of Persia games are usually complex and challenging, but they are fun at the same time. You enter a room with a bunch of poles and cliffs and hanging shit and you have to figure out a way to get to the top or across the room. Well, this one is done primarily outdoors, but that portion of the gameplay is still there. However, the developers decided that previous PoP games were too damn hard, so they added an idiot button to this one. If you press the triangle button, Elika will point the way for Prince, so figuring out puzzles really isn't necessary. I tried to use the button as little as possible, but it's hard not to use it because the game is based on completing certain areas as they become unlocked and every region connects to each other. So you could be in one portion of the city and all of a sudden find yourself all the way on the other side, in a portion that is locked and cannot be beaten. Then you have to trek all the way back to the other side of the city to complete your task. I understand that they wanted to make the game less linear, but it doesn't exactly work all that well.

The most annoying part of the gameplay (other than the combat system, but more on that later), are the Ormazd (the polar opposite of Ahriman) "powers" that Elika unlocks when she gathers light seeds after healing a fertile ground (the light seeds help her heal after healing a fertile ground). Basically, there are four colors plates that you unlock through the game, once you have enough light seeds to do so. These plates appear throughout the city and when you activate them, they either spring you to another area or plate or let you perform some special action. Two types of plates spring or direct Prince and Elika to other plates or platforms, one makes you fly (yes, fly), and the fourth gives you the ability to extend your wall runs. The first two are fine with me. It's the flying one and the wall running one that piss me off. The flying one takes you on a set course (think magic carpet ride minus the carpet), but puts annoying obstacles in your way that you have to dodge as you are flying. It's often tough to tell which way to go to get around obstacles and if you hit something, you have to start at the beginning. The annoying part is that some of these things last 30 seconds or longer and you almost always have to do them more than once. It's just a useless waste of time. The wall running one isn't quite as bad, but it's still very touchy. You can control Prince, to a point. You still end up running into stuff and almost always have to them more than once, though. The game could have done without these.

That aside, the running and jumping and swinging works pretty well. On numerous occassions the Prince does something incredibly stupid, but that's kind of part of the frustration with PoP. I will say that this game makes the gamer press fewer buttons. There is more that is done for you. For example, if you want to run on a wall, all you have to do is press the jump button near a wall, whereas in previous game you actually had to direct Prince with the analog stick to run along the wall. Those things, however, are excusable. What's not excusable is the combat system.

The combat system is completely broken in this game. First off, there aren't really any regular enemies. You hardly do any fighting at all actually. Every now and then there will be a monster that pops up from the corruption, but they are always in contained areas and if you get to the platform fast enough, you can kill it before it even spawns. If it does spawn, that's when the fun begins. Combat consists mainly of blocking and then quick trying a combo before the enemy attacks again. And the enemy attacks are epic. Every enemy attack is a combo of at least 4 or 5 hits and sometimes can be up to 10 hits or more. The problem, of course, is that you are fighting all of these creatures on platforms and platforms have edges. So when you get close to the edge, the enemy performs some kind of special attack that either results in Prince getting through halfway across the platform or a quick-time event that requires the gamer to mash buttons until they stop. Prince can block attacks, but that usually just results in a counter attack that is also blocked by the enemy and then another quick button event to try and block the enemy's counter-counter-attack.

The combos are cool, if you actually get to use them, but I didn't use probably 50% of them. There is one combo that you learn early in the game that can be used over and over to defeat every single enemy if you get within range (I fought the one boss 4 times without taking a single hit by only using this combo). The cool thing about the combos is that you have Prince, who uses physical attacks, and Elika, who uses magic, at your disposal. Your best bet is to use combos that involve both of them, since these are the ones that really do the most damage. One problem with them is that Elika is very picky as to how close you are to the enemy before she will attack. Prince basically has to throw her at the enemy for her to perform magic and even if it looks like you are clearly within range, sometimes she gets bitchy and says "Not close enough!" or "Not ready yet!". Another problem with using combos is that the enemies are so damn fast that even if you start an attack before them, they can still block it or just override your attack and knock you to the deck, which usually leads to another quick-time event where you have to press a button to not die. But wait! It's ok because you cannot die. If you miss a quick button event or fall of a cliff or whatever, Elika will save you with her magical powers. So why, then, is the Prince actually needed in this game? Elika can perform all the same maneuvers that Prince can, saves him whenever he is about to die, and has magic so she can defend herself. It seems kind of like Prince is a burden, no? He is really just along for the ride and the game could go on just fine without him. Not only that, but if he wasn't in the game, the story could end at the end of the game. But Prince is the one who fucks things up again and sends the world into corruption once more. Oh, now I get it. We need Prince in this game so we can have a sequel and so Ubi can make more money. It's all starting to make sense to me now.

To sum up the combat system, it's horrible. It's insanely frustrating. I went 5-10 minutes in some boss battles without attacking, only performing quick button sequences that were disjointed and I always seemed to screw them up somehow. Prince takes damage in battle, but I'm not sure why, because Elika can just save him. The only punishment for (almost) dying is the enemy regains some health, which is really just an annoyance. Where is the challenge in games where your character can't die? Another problem I have with the gameplay is the fact they the whole light seed thing is basically abandoned midway through the game. Each area contains 45 light seeds that the user must collect to unlock another Ormazd power and another portion of the city. Once you hit 540 light seeds (almost exactly the midway point of the game), you don't need to collect any more. There are (I think) 1,000 possible light seeds to collect. However, once you hit 540, everything is unlocked. One advantage to this is that the game went much faster after I hit 540 light seeds because I didn't have to backtrack through entire areas to collect the damn things the second half of the game.
Score: 5/10

Now that that's out of my system, let's talk about sound. Prince of Persia games are all about the look and the sound, and this game has incredible sound, just like its predecessors. The music was beautiful and really set the mood of the game. The way the music changed from happy to melancholy as you moved from a healed land to a corrupted one is awesome. The voice acting is also good, as always, with only a few exceptions. Prince is snarky and witty as always, but Elika gives it right back to him in this one. The interaction between the two is great and the best part is that you can partially control how much of the interaction you want. You can press the L2 button to speak with Elika about the city and its history, their predicament, or whatever else. Or you can just play and only witness the interactions at the predetermined cut scenes. I personally struck a balance between the two, because it was amusing, but at the same time would have gotten on my nerves if I had spoken with her too much.
Score: 9/10

In conclusion, this definitely wasn't the best installment of the Prince of Persia series. Actually, tt was the worst one that I have played to date, but I didn't play the atrocities that came out before the Sands of Time trilogy. However, I must say that with the broken combat system and somewhat weak involvement of the Prince in the storyline, the next installment won't be a definite buy for me like I hoped it would be. I'll have to see vast improvements to various parts of the game for me to care about the next installment in this series. I think that Ubi should start by assigning this to a different Ubi team and taking it out of the hands of UbiSoft Montreal.

Overall Score (not an average): 6/10 (and that's generous)


  1. I'm going to refrain from commenting that the only reason this involved the Prince at all was because Ubisoft refused to make a game with a female lead.

    Oops, sorry.

  2. Nice spot on the oil/pollution thing. Glad I'm not the only one who thought that was lame.