Ever since Ubisoft received the rights to Prince of Persia in 2003, the series has seen more thematic makeovers than the Batman franchise.
The Prince has gone from light fantasy in Sands of Time, to the gritty Goth inspired adventure that was Warrior Within.
Once again, the series has been reinvented, this time from the ground up. The prince finally makes his debut appearance on current generation consoles. In the latest title, now simply known as Prince of Persia, Ubisoft decided to opt for a highly stylized cell shaded aesthetic.
In terms of the core gameplay structure, they decided to do away with dying. This decision was made in an effort to make the game less frustrating for casual gamers. While I had my reservations about the direction Ubisoft was taking with Prince of Persia, having completed it, I now agree with most of the changes that were made to the core gameplay.
The story starts out simply enough. The Prince is looking for his lost donkey Farah, when he runs into Princess Elika who is being pursued by unknown assailants. This early encounter serves as a tutorial, allowing the player to learn the basics of combat. Eventually the main bad guy is revealed as an imprisoned god of darkness called Ahriman, who has corrupted Elika’s kingdom. The core plot line guides the player through a quest to restore the land to its former standing.
While the story is charming, it is not exactly deep, and anyone looking for an epic adventure with lots of twists and character development should look elsewhere. The story is presented through in-game cut-scenes and features superb voice acting all around. The banter between the Prince and Elika is very entertaining and may elicit a laugh or two.
The gameplay has been simplified somewhat since the Prince’s last outing. For example, you no longer have to hold in a button to wall run. Instead, you may now simply jump onto an appropriate piece of wall and the Prince will do the rest. The environments have been designed in such a way that you hardly ever have to guess whether or not that next platform is reachable and should you fall there are no sands to call to anymore, instead Elika will automatically save you and place you on the nearest level ground.
While this sounds like a bad idea it’s actually quite a good one, because all it basically does is eliminate the archaic ‘GAME OVER’ screen and keeps the game moving. This decision ultimately makes for a game that is far less frustrating that its predecessors, and the lessening of said frustration is evident throughout the rest of the game as well.
Fighting is generally a one-on-one affair (two-on-one actually, counting Elika), similar to boss battles and it does not interrupt the platforming too much, making for a fun and entertaining experience rather than one filled with annoying hindrances. When fighting, you have five options to choose from; sword attack, gauntlet throw, block, Elika magic and jump. You are able to combine these in order to form combo’s which look spectacular and are relatively easy to execute as well as satisfying to watch.
Players need not worry about Elika getting in the way or hampering progress. She is only ever helpful and not once did I find myself getting annoyed with her.
Visually, the game is amazing. Using the Scimitar engine, the stylized painted look of the environments is simply astounding and when the lands are healed the reward of colour is something to behold. Players will find themselves standing around just admiring the tapestries of different colours being rendered.
The Prince and Elika are both well detailed and animated, proving that Ubisoft Montreal are still the leaders in the field of animation. Perhaps the only visual weakness present in Prince of Persia, is that shadows can look a little ugly up close, but this is hardly ever an issue.
Audio is about what you’d expect from this type of game and can’t be faulted; the music is fairly good and matches the tone of the game superbly.
Prince of Persia takes clear inspiration from Fumito Ueda’s Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, and while it comes close at times, it just doesn’t quite match up to these masterpieces. That said this latest title proves that Ubisoft is the right developer for the Prince of Persia franchise, and I will be looking forward to what they do on the Prince’s next outing.