Ubisoft takes a page from Hollywood by rebooting its Prince of Persia franchise. In their second attempt to give the Prince a face lift (remember Warrior Within), Ubisoft Montreal decides to undertake a major franchise operation. Like any real operation, it can be a risky step to take, however Prince of Persia has come out of the operation room healthy, feeling better than ever. In Prince of Persia's next-generation debut we witness the metamorphosis of a classic. The Prince has been reborn.
It’s almost hard to believe Ubisoft’s latest version of Prince of Persia is still the same game that started out back on the Apple in 1989. Things have certainly changed since then, and I don’t mean the jump to 3D. The Prince has become his own character flushed out, rewritten and reworked several times in the past, mainly when Ubisoft took control of the series in 2003. Now in 2008, Ubisoft Montreal has decided it was time to give the Prince another make-over focusing on another, dare I say, softer Prince then before. In Prince of Persia you will guide the new Prince across a desert wasteland of magic and mystery, accompanying a magical Princess as she saves her land from an awakened evil.
The Prince and the Princess
The “new” Prince of Persia showcases a more athletic Prince who swings from the environment like a monkey in the jungle. Attached to the Prince is the apprehensive Elika, a princess who despite her father’s wishes is trying to save the land from an oncoming evil force. Slammed together through fate, and one missing donkey, the Prince and Elika team up to the save the land from a spreading corruption. With the Prince’s steady sword and the Princess’s magical attributes they both lean on each other to make it through these times of peril.
The Prince’s personality is more on trail in Prince of Persia with his playful attitude that comically clashes with the more up-tight and serious Princess. Pieces of dialog from the two main characters are set up every so often, but by the press of the button you can engage in some lengthy conversations. These conversations can happen any time which is good for a laugh. I would purposely start start asking Elika questions in dangerous situations, just to juxtapose the seriousness of the in game plot direction. Interesting enough the A.I. rightfully gets tired of talking and carefully tries to doge the motor mouthed Prince. Being able to regulate how much information, or story you get is a thoughtful idea. Not everyone wants the extra drama injected into every scene, but when you want it, it is there. Prince of Persia can be a straight up combat adventure game, or you can indulge the drama a bit more and drag out the adventure giving it a interactive multimedia feel.
Assassin's in Persia
For the inner workings Ubisoft Montreal reuses the very capable Assassin’s Creed game engine. Prince of Persia is the closes game Ubisoft has to Assassin’s so gamers who are familiar with Assassin's Creed will instantly feel a little Altair seeping into the Prince’s world. Actually, via a code off of the Ubisoft website, you will be able to play a little Altair dress-up. With Prince of Persia running on the Assassin’s engine the next-generation possibilities seem endless. The first major overhaul Ubisoft took on was recreating the look of the game. Prince of Persia is an animated take on painted cell-shading mixed in fluid and life like animations. The result is a picture book turned to life. Actually, it’s very similar to the PS3 exclusive Valkyria Chronicles. Once you see Prince of Persia in fluid motion you will see why people are making a fuss about the Prince's new art direction. I’m sure some Prince faithful are trying hard to not like the new direction, however Prince of Persia is so beautiful, it’s almost impossible not to fall into the new groove and style of Prince of Persia.
The most notable difference with using the new graphics engine is the amount of colour that has been added into the world. In the past Prince games have always stuck to one general tone without straying too much from one certain formula. Sure, we had some epic looking scenery in the past, but it’s not like this Prince. Each level in the “new” Prince of Persia is a twisting, intricate masterpiece in level design, colour and shading and overall feel. When you step into a new area in the game you will get that instant wow factor making you anticipate your first footstep into the new area. By the end of the adventure things might start to blend in and not seem so impressive, until you take a break from the game and return to it at a later time. Then the luster returns and you will once again be caught up in its wonderful splendour.
Platforming has returned
The core gameplay in Prince of Persia is reminiscent of the old games, except the pace has been diverted away from combat. You will do the usually platforming hijinks which include some new killer moves, however the random attacks and knifing through dozens of guards is over. Prince of Persia infrequent encounters makes you treat each one with a little more care. The combat isn’t a wild button fest either; the Prince will need to think about his attacks in this more structured, rhythmic based combat. The animations in the combat are impressive and the whole dance of death between the Prince and his adversary is a sight to behold. Erika can even jump into combat, or become a liability if you are not careful. Fighting feels a little more like Assassin’s Creed then any other game that comes to memory with a nice combination of defensive stances mixed in with opportunistic attacking flurries. This new and slower combat might not be for everyone, but personality I felt having the combat toned down let a whole new realm of realism and wonder come into the prince’s world. Not only is the Prince a master with the blade, but he also has some substance behind his means.
More than a pretty face
Another important feature in the game is Erika. She is the Prince’s saving grace, literately. In Prince of Persia you can not die because Erika will extend her hand and save the prince from almost any situation. This bumps you back to the last stable ground you where on and you commence the adventure. During battles if you die, she will still save you, and the penalty for your death is that your enemy will regain its health. This makes Prince of Persia a lot more user friendly, but not over simplified because of this interaction. Erika also has the ability to heal the land which is an important concept as you progress through the storyline. After Erika heals the land the gameplay slightly shifts gears into more a collection theme while keeping a focus on the adventure. You might wonder if she ever gets in the way, and like a perfectly created digital apparition, she is the perfect Princess and never halts the gameplay.
An easy epic
One complaint towards the new direction in the game is that it isn’t overly difficult to shoot through the adventure without much trouble. Everything down to almost every jump is laid out for the player via little clues like scratch marks on the wall where you can run along. Erika also helps the prince by shooting a 'able like stardust stream of light in the direction of your objective. The only real challenge in the game is timing your moves in the platforming aspects, but even that isn’t too hard. An easier Prince doesn’t mean any less of an experience, however it would have been nice to have multiple difficulties for those who don’t want to breeze through their games.
Prince of Persia has pulled away from its previous trappings to become its own true game. Borrowing the core elements from the past, Ubisoft Montreal has crafted this new Prince into an experience like no other. The combination of the beauty in the graphics, merged with the more delicate and interesting storyline, proves you can have it all in your action games. The new art direction and slowed down combat sequences might astray some hardcore fans initially, however once you put the controller in your hands, I’ll guarantee you won’t want to put it down. Prince of Persia is a triumph of a game, and a promising new direction from one gaming most premier series.
Reviewed by Downtown Jimmy | 12.11.08