Prince of Persia

Kombo’s Review Policy: Our reviews are written for you. Our goal is to write honest, to-the-point reviews that don’t waste your time. This is why we’ve split our reviews into four sections: What the Game’s About, What’s Hot, What’s Not and Final Word, so that you can easily find the information you want from our reviews.

What the Game’s About
Forget everything you thought you knew about the Prince of Persia. The Artist Formerly Known as The Prince of Persia might be a better title for Ubisoft’s latest Babylonian adventure, which eschews almost everything from the series’ past, up to and including the main character’s royal stature. The linear, environmental puzzles have opened up into a free-form world to explore, the crushing demands for timing and reflexes have been softened so that players might slow down and ponder their next move. The enemy legions have been cut down to but a few formidable opponents and combat has been focused and reframed to maximize the drama of every encounter. Most brazen of all, the game does away with the concept of death entirely, thumbing its eye at the franchise’s notoriously difficult past. Yet for all the changes, the game retains the sense of adventure and feeling of fairytale wonder that set Sands of Time and Jordan Mitchell’s original masterpiece apart from the rest. Prince of Persia looks and feels different than any game you’ve ever played.

What’s Hot
The awesome platforming that made Sands of Time such a critical darling is back in the new Prince of Persia, but it’s presented from a slightly different angle this time around. The straight-forward but challenging obstacle courses of the previous games have been replaced by more open, free-form areas that players can navigate via several different routes. Whereas the challenge in previous games was to race through the platforming sections as quickly and skillfully as possible under the pressure of time limits and traps, the challenge this time out is determining how to get from point A to point B amid huge environments. It’s a more thoughtful approach to the franchise’s calling card, one that puts logical thinking ahead of reflexes since the actual platforming mechanics are generally more forgiving this time around. Much of the Prince’s more interesting acrobatics are scripted animations, which can make some of the more interesting platforming sections feel as though they’re running on auto-pilot at times. Were the game set up in the same linear, rollercoaster fashion as Sands of Time this would be a huge problem, but since more emphasis is placed on thinking your way through the environments, the decrease in direct control over the physical platforming doesn’t feel like such a slap in the face.

Like the platforming, Ubisoft has completely rethought the nature of combat in the Prince of Persia franchise. Gone are the hordes of peon enemies that interrupt sequences of jumps for little reason other than artificial “gameplay variety.” Like the climactic scene of an action movie, combat is really only meaningful when you care about the context and the players involved. All of the combat in Prince of Persia is one-on-one, all of the enemies are significant, so combat is less common but more satisfying. The loose, button-mashing combat from the previous Prince of Persia titles has been replaced with dramatic and surprisingly deep combat that calls on players to combine an assortment of attack types into long, exquisite combos. This game boasts some of the coolest-looking attacks I’ve ever seen: huge aerial combos, elegant parries, and downright spectacular final attacks. The combat is insanely cinematic in its presentation, with a shifting camera that zooms into and pans around the action but rarely obscures the view. On those rare occurrences the camera does cause you to take some damage, it’s not a big deal since the Prince can always call on his new buddy for help.

By the far the most controversial design change Ubisoft has made to the new Prince of Persia is the addition of the Prince’s new pal, Elika. In of herself, she’s not particularly divisive; she’s well designed, her character is likable and, in what can only be described as the AI equivalent to an act of god, she never, ever gets in your way. Ever. I tried to screw around as randomly as possible to confuse the AI coding and animation scripting and it just couldn’t be done. As the Prince is bounding through the environment, Elika follows behind. If the Prince stops dead and Elika is right behind him, or if the Prince needs to go back the other way and Elika is hogging the ledge, then the two of them will interact in a quick-but-awesome context-sensitive animation where the Prince and Elika grab each other’s arm and he tosses her behind him. She functions as the Prince’s double jump and one of his attack buttons as well, and her forays into and out of the action are animated so smoothly that it feels completely natural. It’s impossible not to care for her after she’s saved your ass a few times.

Elika is a contentious issue because she basically serves as an ever-present get-out-of-death-free card. If you miss a jump, Elika will be there to grab you, if you fall in battle, she’ll be there to heal you. Personally, I don’t think replacing a continue screen with a quick in-game cinematic of the character being saved is particularly offensive. Death and continues in video games have long been completely abstract, so why not skip the menu and keep the action flowing? Is it really better to have a game over screen come up, force players to load up the game from a checkpoint and try again? The baseline challenge required to complete the game admittedly drops due to Elika’s support, but the drive to explore every inch of the vast areas and complete sections of the game looking as badass as possible should keep many self-professed “hardcore” gamers coming back. And believe me, looking badass in Prince of Persia holds a hell of a lot more worth than looking badass in any other game.

This game is absolutely gorgeous. The screenshots you’ve seen don’t do justice to the game in motion. This is cel-shading for the next generation; incredibly stylish and insanely detailed, right down to facial expressions that are every bit as convincing and powerful, if not more so, than their bump-mapped counter-parts. Instead of pixelation and clipping, close-ups reveal even greater detail, patterns and texture on the Prince’s clothing, etchings in his weaponry, scruff on his chin. Pull the camera back and the details naturally fade out, bringing greater attention and appreciation for the color and form of the characters and the environment on-screen. Particle and lighting effects complete the picture, with rolling clouds of dust, explosions of sparks from colliding weapons and grinding rock, and soft glowing hues from magic. It’s when the game starts to move that the magic really starts though, the environment dynamically lit and shadowed in real-time, clothing flying in the wind, the Prince’s female compatriot Elika bounding behind him, grabbing onto him in context-sensitive animations, and the two of them pulling off the most insane, intricate combat maneuvers ever animated. You have never seen a game that looks like this.

What’s Not
There’s definitely an argument to be made that the choice to allow the player to continually push forward, even in death, has to be counter-balanced by increased length or significant supplemental material in order to make the game worth the $60 asking price – especially to those gamers that aren’t internally driven enough to draw satisfaction from the betterment of their performance. Make no mistake, if the idea of replaying a game simply to improve your skills and revel in the on-screen manifestations of your skills doesn’t sound powerful enough to motivate you through multiple play-throughs, then you’ll be able to walk away from Prince of Persia after one sitting.

Likewise, the heavy emphasis on scripted animations is going to turn some people off of the game. I bounced back and forth between camps on the issue – at some points I was too enthralled by the action on screen to care that most of it was being done with relatively simple and forgiving button inputs, and at other times I felt like I was playing one long chain of quick-time events minus the giant on-screen button prompts. I personally believe that there’s enough depth to the combat system and enough freedom in the exploration and platforming component to provide skilled players with the mental activity they require to keep from getting bored, but some people have different tolerances for that kind of issue.

Final Word
The latest Prince of Persia rewrites the rules for the franchise and openly challenges some of gaming’s most fundamental dogmatic thinking. Scored according to my own personal enjoyment of the experience, the game earns its way into the Superb category with ease. However, so much of my enjoyment was based on admittedly subjective design choices that I can’t give it an unconditional endorsement. As such, this is probably the highest score I will ever give alongside a strong recommendation to rent first.

Second Opinion
We rarely include “Second Opinion” bits at the end of our reviews, but I simply need to echo Sascha’s enjoyment of Prince of Persia.

This is an underappreciated but wonderful adventure. Admittedly, the game is on the easy side, but it’s so enjoyable, I can easily forgive its soft difficulty. Many have complained about how Elika saves Prince from every fall, so he never “dies,” but those complainers don’t realize that mechanically speaking, whether Elika grabs Prince before he falls to his death or Prince physically dies does not matter. Both mechanics function as a reset. Who cares if he dies or not? There are more serious problems with Prince of Persia, but even they happen to be negligible. But, for the record, having to press a button to progress the Prince and Elika’s conversations gets old fast. Further, it would have been nice if you could listen to the dialogue while moving, rather than having to stand still to engage in it. These conversations are better suited to play in the background. Also, considering the somewhat repetitive gameplay, a shorter length would have been the way to go. Cut things down by 10 to 15% and you’d have a much tighter experience.

That said, Prince of Persia’s enjoyable gameplay overpowers some unfortunate design choices here and there. Like Sascha said, give it a rent and enjoy.

— Phillip Levin