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Izzardius 12-30-2008 09:06 PM

Please rate this review: Prince of Persia
 
Sorry to post a review of this game so soon after the last one, but I had this 85% written when the first one was posted. As always, any feedback is appreciated.

“Any fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius–and a lot of courage–to move in the opposite direction.” -Albert Einstein

HIGH: Effortlessly running, jumping, and climbing across the entire game world.

LOW:
Lightseed collection gets extremely monotonous.

WTF: The final “battle” where your opponent is apparently a drunk Pokemon on steroids.

Since its resuscitation way back in 2003 with Sands of Time, the Prince of Persia series has been nothing short of brilliant, even counting The Prince’s unfortunate emo phase. Its smooth, acrobatic platforming along with scintillating aesthetics (again, minus the Godsmack driven Warrior Within) make it an absolute treat. With Prince of Persia, Ubisoft is again trying to reinvent The Prince, and without the help of any name changes or unpronounceable symbols. The results are a mixed bag; parts of the game are monotonous and severely lack challenge. However, they are outweighed by advancements that will ultimately make the series, and possibly games as a whole, better in the long run.

This installation of Prince of Persia features a brand-new story, completely separate from the Sands of Time trilogy. The player again takes on the role of The Prince, but a very different one. While walking through the desert searching for his lost donkey, he runs into Elika, who is in turn running from some guards, who…..well, if you want the details you’ll play the game, or at least look it up on Wikipedia. In a nutshell, the story is mostly acceptable although it doesn’t quite measure up to Sands of Time. In any case, Elika is your new best friend, and within her lays both the true marvel of Prince of Persia and one of its greatest flaws.

The trademark acrobatics that have made the series great make a return here. The Prince runs, jumps, climbs, and otherwise scales obstacles with ease. The control scheme is as intuitive and natural as the other games in the series, so I was wall-jumping with the best of them in no time. Elika always follows The Prince right behind him (curious, since The Prince has never been here before and she has) and provides hints, directional assistance through her compass ability, and generally enjoyable back-and-forth dialogue. Oh, and then there’s that whole life-saving thing. Anytime The Prince takes a bad step Elika will swoop in and save him, like your own personal super hero. A fall in any place results in being taken back to the last piece of solid ground before the current set of obstacles. In other words, Elika will save The Prince from any fall, anywhere, and at any time. At first, this was completely mind-boggling. Why on Earth would they make death literally impossible? As I played on, however, I began to understand what I was seeing-Elika’s role in platforming is absolutely brilliant.

Let’s take a step back for a second and ask a question-what is a death in a video game? In the simplest terms, a death is a failure. Failure always carries some kind of penalty, like being forced to go back to the beginning of a level, a loss of some kind of resource, or having to reload the game from the last save. With Elika, that annoying middle man is cut out of the process. When I fail, the penalty is to be taken back to the beginning of the obstacle set that I failed to get through, without any annoying reloading or being asked to continue. This removes a lot of unnecessary frustration while keeping the intended challenge intact. There were quite a few instances where I missed a jump or hit the wrong button during an obstacle sequence, and having to reload my game every time would have been maddening. In fact, in Ubisoft’s other Prince of Persia games, the time-reversal power gave me the ability to go straight back to the post or wall overhang that I jumped to my impending death from. Elika, on the other hand, takes me to the last piece of flat ground I stood on regardless of where I fell, so in some ways the penalty for failure is greater than the previous games. In any case, Elika is a welcome method of streamlining the failure process to minimize the player’s frustration.

While she is golden in platforming, Elika has to settle for a corroded bronze in combat. In fact, combat in general is an area where the game could have used a little more work. The controls work well, as I never had any problems using The Prince’s and Elika’s abilities; the problems lie in the nature of the battles themselves. One of Ubisoft’s stated goals during development was to make each battle a memorable event rather than just another encounter, and thus The Prince never faces more than one opponent at any given time. This is a great idea, but unfortunately the battles just aren’t all that memorable. There are four main enemies in the game, each of which you must defeat six times before you can face the final boss, and each battle with them is essentially the same. To top things off, they all have the same abilities and tactics with a few slight variations. Even the quicktime events that occur when fighting them are identical. Their connection to the plot is also minimal, as only one of them allows for any insight into The Prince’s and Elika’s characters.

Getting back to Elika, her role in combat is the same as the rest of the game; to save The Prince if he is about to die. A death event occurs whenever The Prince fails to execute a certain quicktime event during the battle-“Press X To Not Die” quite literally. If Elika is forced to step in and save the day, The Prince and his opponent are moved to separate sides of the arena, and the enemy regains a small to moderate amount of health, thus there is virtually no penalty for failure. Missing a jump or failing to grab onto a ledge is appropriately punished by forcing the player to start that sequence of events over. Failing in battle however, incurs almost no punishment whatsoever. The enemy regaining their full health would have been ideal, as it would have been the same as being killed, reloading the game, and beginning the battle again.

However, even with the combat problems the most annoying part of the game by far is the collection of lightseeds. When an area is cleared, lightseeds appear in all manner of locations in the level. The Prince must collect lightseeds in order for Elika to acquire new powers, which are needed to access more parts of the world. This became extremely tedious, as I was forced to go back over the level I had just completed to find them; going back through the same obstacle set again and again looking for those last two or three that I missed was especially taxing. Fortunately I wasn't required to collect more than the minimum amount of lightseeds needed to gain new powers, and after I had enough to complete every area the experience became much smoother.

The game is not without its share of problems. Yes, collecting lightseeds gets incredibly boring after a while. Yes, Elika removes a lot of the challenge from combat, although this could have been tempered by simply giving the enemy their full health back in the event of being saved by her. In platforming, however, Elika is a godsend. With her, Ubisoft has revamped the failure process so that it is almost completely devoid of needless frustration and redefined the concept of death in games. The most common initial reaction to her (including my own) is shock at the apparent lack of difficulty she brings, but Elika's role is what makes Prince of Persia brilliant, and quite possibly transcendent.

8/10

Disclosures: This game was obtained through retail purchase and reviewed on the Playstation 3. Approximately 12 hours was dedicated to completing the game once.

Parents: The ESRB has given this game a T rating for violence, suggestive themes, mild language, and alcohol references. Young children might get the spooks from some of the monsters, but beyond that I didn't see anything to be concerned about.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing: All spoken lines are subtitled, and the audio is not a significant factor in gameplay.

Brad Gallaway 12-31-2008 12:50 AM

Re: Please rate this review: Prince of Persia
 
Hey Izz.

This is a pretty darn good review. Your tone and style overall is quite readable and pleasant, and i liked what you had to say. i especially liked the bit where you examined what it meant to "die" in a game.

things to edit: the lightseeds reference will leave players who haven't tried the game in the dark, so that would need a bit more explanation. it might work betterin another section, too.

also, i felt like the review ended too soon... it sort of stutters to a close. another paragraph or two before the end would be optimal just for pacing purposes.


i'd say this review is definitely worth putting through the rewrite process, i'd like to see a polished version, for sure. = )

Izzardius 12-31-2008 12:08 PM

Re: Please rate this review: Prince of Persia
 
Moved the lightseed comments into their own paragraph near the end.

Thanks.

Tera Kirk 12-31-2008 12:33 PM

Re: Please rate this review: Prince of Persia
 
Excellent work, Izzardius.

I first read the review after your rewrite, and what you said about lightseeds made sense to me. I haven't played the game.

As Brad said, the ending feels sudden. (Endings are a pain). I thought your comments about what it means to die in video games were the strongest part of this piece...maybe if you brought them into the ending somehow, like you did with Elkia's strengths and weaknesses.

You're 95% of the way there.

Izzardius 12-31-2008 04:37 PM

Re: Please rate this review: Prince of Persia
 
Rewrote the final paragraph to fit in a little more with the points on death. Let me know what you guys think.

Thanks.

Tera Kirk 12-31-2008 06:51 PM

Re: Please rate this review: Prince of Persia
 
Izzardius,

The ending feels much better paced now--and, man, you work fast! Thumbs up from me.

Brad Gallaway 12-31-2008 08:59 PM

Re: Please rate this review: Prince of Persia
 
Great rewrite, Izz.. thumbs up. You get an official green light from me.

Good work!

Jason Karney 01-01-2009 09:26 AM

Re: Please rate this review: Prince of Persia
 
That's the two staff approvals, so we can work on getting you to the homepage.

I notice that you've avoided second person, and the use of unnecessary quotes in the text. Great!

We'll work on getting you posted. The last thing you need for that to occur is some further description in the parent's guide; something about what parents should (or not) consider in buying this game for their children. Check any of our reviews for an example; it only needs to be a sentence or two, but something more than ESRB descriptors.

Nice job.

--Jason

Izzardius 01-01-2009 09:57 PM

Re: Please rate this review: Prince of Persia
 
Expanded the parent comments-let me know if you need anything else.


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