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Prince of Persia
Score: 82%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Ubisoft Entertainment
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Platformer (3D)

Graphics & Sound:
Prince of Persia shares more in common with Prince of Persia: The Fallen King than a protagonist. Both games break the current confines of their particular genres and attempt to offer something different. At the same time, each also manages to hit a number of stumbling blocks that trip up their paths to innovation.

It's rare that a game manages to get my attention based solely on visuals, but Prince of Persia was able to do just that. Maybe I'm just as sucker for anything different, or tired of the march towards realism, but either way, the game's distinct visual look was enough get me hooked even before reading gameplay details.

Based on screenshots, it would be easy to write Prince of Persia off as another cel-shaded game. However, once you see the game in motion, it isn't long before you notice that the style offers a certain aesthetic that inches more towards a painting in motion than a cartoon. There's a lot of detail - such as the numerous adornments on the Prince's coat and sword - but at the same time there's enough of a "flatness" that it doesn't look "real." This is one of the few games I can recall in recent memory where the in-game artwork looks exactly like the concept work and the art team should get special recognition for pulling off the feat.

The overall musical style has a whimsical, middle-eastern beat that matches the game's look and feel perfectly. There's also a lot of spoken dialogue to comb though should you choose (more on that later), all of which is incredibly well acted. So what if the Prince looks and sounds like a surfer dude; unless you write for the New York Times or really hated Uncharted's hero Nathan Drake (who is also voiced by Matt Mullins), you'll probably enjoy it. If not, you can also just ignore the dialogue option (I'm getting to it... promise).

Although the Prince has already starred in his own trilogy, the current-gen version is something of a reboot for the series. The game opens with the Prince stuck in a blinding sandstorm searching for his lost donkey. Through a strange twist of fate, however, he ends up meeting a princess named Elika and becoming the muscle in a quest to keep a dark god from breaking from his eternal prison.

In general, Prince of Persia sticks to the series' platforming roots. During your quest, you'll do a lot of jumping, wall running and other acrobatic feats as you work your way around the open-ended environment. However, the game also makes several tweaks to the formula, so while it might feel like a Prince of Persia game, it goes a little beyond other series' offerings. While the development team deserves credit for breaking away from tradition, not all of the tweaks work in favor of the gameplay.

For me, one of the more successful tweaks is in how the story is told. Rather than force players to sit through hours of dialogue, they are instead given the option of talking to Elika or just using her as a mystical lifeline. At various times during the game, a prompt will pop-up indicating that Elika has something to say. You can ignore her or initiate a conversation. In addition to offering clues, Elika will also give background information on the area and her back-story. Over time she'll even get the Prince to open up about his background. This creates a narrative that works similar to Bioshock. If you just want to run through the game and not worry about the story, you can. At the same time, if you want a deep narrative you can also get that through conversation. This also creates a bit of a bond between the two that, if followed through, adds a little extra impact to the ending.

Compared to other sidekicks, Elika is a good fit for the gameplay. She isn't a burden like Ashley in Resident Evil 4 and she contributes to the gameplay in a positive way. She mostly serves as a lifeline, but her other abilities feel like a natural extension of the Prince's. She lends a powerful punch during combat and can also give the Prince an extra boost when jumping long distances.

The overall goal of the game is to travel between inter-connected areas in a temple and cleanse each area of Corruption. As you cleanse each section, the Corruption shrinks back to unclean areas, causing it to become more concentrated. Although the level design remains unchanged, they become more dangerous. Enemies become stronger and harder to defeat and "traps" like Venom-like tendrils begin to appear in your path, forcing you to time your acrobatic feats. This ensures a decent level of challenge throughout the game and offers some replay value since you can replay sections and get a slightly different feel.

At the top of the "doesn't work" list of tweaks is that the Prince can't die. Even if he takes a nosedive off a cliff, Elika will rush in like a magical safety net. In action, it isn't much different than that Dagger of Time, though with Elika there's no limit to her power - so dying is a no risk venture. The only things you're likely to lose are the time it takes to retrace your steps and the chance at a Trophy. Elika will also charge in for the save during boss fights, though all this manages to accomplish is make the fights longer and more frustrating than they already are.

As disappointing as the mechanic is, even more disappointing is that the developers could have limited Elika's power, or at least put some sort of restraints. After cleansing an area, you can collect Light Seeds that repower Elika, or at least that's what the story says. As far as the gameplay goes, the Light Seeds add a Rare-like collect-a-thon element and a mechanism for unlocking powers. However, of the 1001 Seeds in the game, you only need 540; there's no reward for going the extra distance unless you want Trophies. Giving players a need to keep collecting Seeds would have added an interesting level of challenge to the game and even added more of a risk/ reward element.

Game Mechanics:
While the open-ended levels and conversation mechanic offer players a lot of freedom when it comes to progression and story, the game also asks players to give up some of their control when it comes to gameplay. All of the platforming elements are handled by two button presses; (X) is your general, all-purpose action button while every now and again you'll have to press (O) to perform an additional action. In a sense, this really just leads to you pointing the Prince in the right direction and getting the timing right on button presses, the Prince does the rest. Call it a case of Heavenly Sword syndrome -- you don't have to do a lot, but the game makes you look damn good doing it. This doesn't mean that the game is a cakewalk - there's still a certain level of competency required to get the timings right - but you don't have to work nearly as hard as other games in the series to perform spectacular feats.

Even if you are able to get the button-timings down to near Jedi-like levels, you'll still have to deal with some technical glitches. Though it doesn't always happen, there are times when the button presses either won't register or suffer from a slight bit of lag. I'm willing to attribute the lag to my HDTV, but it doesn't happen frequently enough convince me that it wasn't an issue with the game. Regardless, the lag/ failure to read will cause unnecessary Elika saves and in some cases set you back a good 2 - 3 minutes worth of game time in certain sections.

Combat attempts to mimics the time-based style found in the earlier Jordan Mechner-led Prince of Persia games. Enemy encounters aren't frequent, but can last a good 5 - 10 minutes based on the level of Corruption in the area. Each of the face buttons launches a different style of attack. The idea is to read your enemy's attack and use the logical counter. This works, though it also tends to place cinematic style over flow.

I know quick-time events are the 2008 equivalent of bullet-time, but there needs to be a reasoning behind it. During fights, the game will randomly insert quick-time events that don't match up with what is happening in the battle. Not surprisingly, these usually happen whenever you have the enemy on the ropes. Sure it makes battles look cool, but it doesn't add anything to the gameplay. There's no reward for hitting the button press beyond not losing health, but if you miss the button press, there's a chance the enemy will get a huge chunk of health back. I'm all for cool battles, but not at the expense of functional gameplay.

While it doesn't have quite the impact of a Mirror's Edge, Prince of Persia deserves a lot of credit - it takes a lot of risks and really tries to bring something new to the series and genre. At the same time, it loses sight of some general gameplay sensibilities, which weaken the game's overall impact.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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