Prince of Persia

Prince of Persia is a franchise that has achieved a great deal of success on Playstation consoles (particularly the PS2), though the series was criticized (around the release of Warrior Within) for taking the predictable route towards a dark hero, with the focus of the games swiftly becoming combat, as opposed to acrobatic exploration. For many, the most enjoyable Prince of Persia game on PS2 was The Sands of Time, a beautiful game with wonderful platform adventuring and a truly moving story. Thankfully, Prince of Persia arrives on PS3 in an adventure that shares a great deal with Sands of Time. The focus here is on traversing a magnificent world with breath-taking landscapes and jaw-dropping vistas, using only quick reactions and the agility of the main character.

Prince of Persia

The Prince, in this game, is actually an adventurer, treasure hunter and scoundrel; free, thankfully, from the dark and moody personalities featured in Warrior Within and The Two Thrones. Having mislaid his donkey, named Farah (undoubtedly to raise a smile with players of previous games, familiar with Farah who is usually a Princess) loaded with gold, the main character finds himself slightly lost in the desert, where he encounters Elika, a young Princess who is one of the last remaining Ahura. The Ahura once lived peacefully under the wings of two great powers: Armazd and Ahriman. After Ahriman had taken evil to new extremes (in the usual way for games and films), the Ahura had been forced to trap Ahriman, using special trees and the life force of the land. Of course, it isn't long before the threat of Ahriman's release is present. With the temple tree holding Ahriman damaged, corruption spreads across the entire landscape, and Elika - with the assistance of the Prince - is forced to heal the land and once again trap the evil Ahriman. Being a heroic kind of guy, inspired by the beauty of a young princess, the main character naturally does everything he can to help out, and so it's time for another grand adventure.

The game allows you to explore in multiple directions, with new powers gradually being unlocked that grant access to new areas further into the game. Embarking on this journey into the unknown is, with no exaggeration, brilliant, largely because the movement in Prince of Persia invokes and indescribable feeling of excitement. The sensation of power, speed and grace is one of the most liberating experiences in a videogame. If you reach the edge of a platform, with no other flat surfaces in immediate view, you'd normally expect to be turning around and going backwards in most games, but in Prince of Persia, you are encouraged to leap and grab what few surfaces are available and use pure momentum to get you to the next distant platform. At its most simple, you jump from one platform to another. If the gap is large, but next to a vertical wall, you can extend your jump by first scrambling along the wall on one side, then leaping the remaining distance. If the gap is larger still, you may end up scuttling along a wall, jumping to a pillar, swooping to another wall, swivelling around a pole, leaping once more into the air and landing gracefully on a platform thirty meters away from the last flat ground you saw. The game enables you to build momentum and take part in an exhilarating free-running experience across carefully constructed levels, and simply makes you want to go "Wooooooh!" as you go. It's perhaps true that you can look pretty cool, thanks to the game, without knowing too much, but if you want to avoid falling flat on your face too often, you'll need to know what to look for, gauging the right jumps, levers, handles and other objects correctly to facilitate your run.

Prince of Persia

Movement isn't limited solely to the main character's acrobatic ability though. Elika, possessing magical power that grows during the game, is able to assist you when the jump becomes too large. If a gap simply cannot be traversed, a quick button tap at the right moment will cause Elika to swoop in and give you a boost to the next platform. It's a seamless transition that blends perfectly with the gameplay. Elika provides far more though. Firstly, when new powers are unlocked, she is able to activate special plates placed in particular locations across each area, which lead you to new areas by flying through the air for short stretches, or sprinting for long sections along walls. Some of the new areas to explore will be the home of new enemies, guarding corrupted lands that you seek to heal, while others are simply secret areas that you can investigate later in the game. Elika's most important ability though, is her power to heal the land and eradicate corruption. This can only be achieved from certain locations, which you must reach by climbing awesome temples, towers and other impressive structures, usually guarded by one of the game's boss characters.

Bounding around levels and healing corrupted regions is the focus of the game, but where the game truly becomes great is the interaction of the two main characters. Elika's help in guiding you through levels, assisting your jumps and protecting you from enemies doesn't feel like a last-minute addition. Instead, everything is blended seamlessly, with both characters playing an essential role and working together beautifully. Small touches like Elika's giggle when she and the Prince are forced to trade places in confined space (swapping sides on a pole, for example) and the fact that she takes up a piggyback position on the Prince's back when clambering up vines really make the game feel like a fleshed-out, complete experience. As the game progresses, the relationship between the pair develops brilliantly, and it's really worth taking the time to let the characters chat. The variety in conversation topic is superb, with some personal favourites including a game of I Spy, and any interlude in which Elika makes fun of the Prince. Both characters are extremely likeable; Elika for her caring, sincere attitude and the Prince for his Indiana Jones-style cavalier attitude. By the end of the game, it's difficult not to care strongly for both of them. Each time Elika heals a land, you can see the drain the process exerts physically, and the Prince is there to care for her as she recovers, and in return, Elika's growing concern for the Prince as he risks more and more is truly touching.

Prince of Persia

The fact that the main character cannot die may give the illusion that the game is too easy, or holds your hand too tightly, but in truth, it's every bit as difficult as most modern games, it's just packaged differently. Being caught by Elika, or having her fend off a boss character in a desperate moment is no different to a checkpoint system (like that of Resistance 2) and is arguably stricter than the save-anywhere setups of games like Bioshock and Fallout 3. Freezing the exact situation in a game can allow you to fail as many times as you wish, with a simple reload returning you to the exact moment you require. In Prince of Persia, you might be saved in battle, but your opponent will use the time to recover energy. Similarly, if you miss a jump, you are returned to the previous platform. There is a trophy in the game for requiring Elika's assistance less than 100 times in a complete play through the game. I confess that I did not achieve this trophy on my first play which, to me, suggests it is every bit as difficult as other current games like Resistance 2.

Happily, a contributing factor to the difficulty of the game is the beauty of the landscape. The views from some of the highest points in the game are incredible, with some of the most spectacular scenery I've ever seen in a game. It's very easy to get distracted by some of the more impressive sights and end up missing a jump. The art style combines some cell shading for the characters in the game, though the levels themselves are rendered more traditionally. The combination is very effective, making the game almost impossible to fault visually. It perhaps doesn't try to achieve as much as, say, Metal Gear Solid 4, but it's certainly one of the best-looking games around. It's clear that the developers were aware of the visual prowess of the game, with two trophies that are awarded for finding particular viewpoints in the game that are especially beautiful. One particular point to note is that each land has two forms: a dark, twisted nightmarish form, infested with corruption, and a healed form with grass, trees, tranquil waterfalls, butterflies and other happy things. It actually gives the illusion that you're in two entirely different places, so effective is the combination of lighting and texture. It is slightly reminiscent of Okami (for those unfamiliar with the title, I highly recommend looking it up), and pushes that beauty into the high-definition age.

Prince of Persia

The visual success of the game is matched by the audio, with a terrific combination of music and sound effects. The original score has some truly stirring moments, with certain pieces of music often triggered at appropriate moments. For example, after navigating a threatening canyon, the Prince and Elika emerge into a huge open area, dominated by a colossal temple. As you see the massive landscape unveiled in front of you, the music begins, lifting your wonderment to new levels. My particular favourite is a very short piece that accompanies the sequences following Elika's acquisition of a new power. The various areas of the Prince of Persia world are each brought to life fantastically by sound effects, with the creaks of wooden platforms, gentle rustle of leaves, subtle gusts of air and numerous other ambient effects. Equally impressive is the voicework, with both the Prince and Elika possessing huge amounts of interesting and entertaining dialogue. The Prince's voice will also be familiar to fans of another awesome PS3 title, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, and he does a good job of keeping the Prince just on the likeable side, avoiding making the guy too arrogant or uncaring.

The length of the game is reasonable, as modern titles go, with some replay value depending on your success first time. Thanks to the inclusion of trophies, there is motivation for repeat play with a faster completion time or less accidents, but the more interesting draw, particularly since it encourages full exploration of the wonderful setting, is to find all 1001 light seeds. There are a few craftily hidden ones and several that are tricky to reach, but a good balance is maintained between frustration and ease (though a good number are simply on the main path the characters will follow). There's no online play, but the style of the game doesn't lend itself to competitive gaming. However, a co-op mode would be nice in future games. Controlling Elika in this title may not have worked (due to her impressive power), but a special co-op mode with two free-running characters, featuring co-operative jumps, lifts and pushes would be highly desirable in the future. In this game though, Elika is so perfectly integrated that it's as if you're alredy playing co-op with another human.

Prince of Persia

Gliding across walls, swooping onto the tops of pillars and arcing through the air in Prince of Persia is so exhilarating that I'd love to give the game a perfect score, but sadly there are a few minor niggles that prevent it from being a flawless gaming experience. Perhaps the only true frustration is the lack of variety in enemies. I'm sincerely glad that the developers have taken a Sands of Time approach to this game (keeping the focus on exploration and acrobatics, rather than combat), but there is a daunting amount of repetition in the enemies you encounter. It is no spoiler to say that boss characters will not be met once. On the contrary, you'll swiftly figure out that you're likely to meet major foe a total of six times each. The battles certainly increase in drama, severity and difficulty, but the variety is limited to a change of scenery (it's spectacular, but it doesn't change the boss). The differing environments may contribute to the combat method (or potentially the threat that the Prince faces if, for example, the arena is surrounded by corrupted material), but similar moves and strategies are likely to be required each time. Boss repetition aside, there is almost nothing to criticize. I encountered one minor graphical glitch that soon disappeared, and was initially caught out by the fact that button pushes are often remembered (so that, for example, if you keep tapping jump to get up a cliff, you can expect the main character to merrily jump off into thin air), but the game is brilliant, with no real room for major criticism.

Prince of Persia is a rare experience, and one that I highly recommend. There are very few games that manage to succeed in so many ways. Listening to the stirring musical themes and leaping from ledge to ledge is an unrivalled joy, which is beautifully complemented by a tremendous story featuring likeable characters. Playstation 3 has had a good year for games in 2008, and Prince of Persia is a brilliant way to finish. The challenge now for Ubisoft is to find some way to improve their formula for a future sequel to this awesome game.

Game details

Game logo

Publisher:

Ubisoft

Developer:

Ubisoft Montreal

Players:

1

Online:

Downloads

Release:

2008-12-05

Trophies:

61

Review summary

Gameplay:

Joyful, exhilarating and brilliant, if a little easy

Graphics:

An absolutely beautiful fantasy world

Sound:

Awesome music and top-notch voicework

Lastability:

To find all lightseeds, it'll take some time

9.6

Meteoric

Post a comment

Comment:

characters remaining.

User comments

MeteorStorm

18:15:40, May 12 2009

Thanks for the testing Tony! Much appreciated! Feel free to add any of your own Prince of Persia experiences any time!

Anthony

13:05:43, May 12 2009

So, pretty groovy, I'm impressed with it in principle and its not like people are going to do this deliberately to break it, what sort of people are you trying to attract?!

MeteorStorm Random Quote Picker

QuoterQuoter

Elena Fisher

So let me get this straight - you're competing with a psychopathic war criminal for a mythological gemstone?

Jeff

When you put it that way, it does sound pretty stupid.

Nathan Drake

Thanks for the input, Jeff.