A New Direction Alienates Fans of the Sands of Time
Due to constantly disrupting time in the first game, the Prince has gained the attention of Dahaka. Dahaka, for all intents and purposes, is the god of time. The Prince was supposed to die in the last game, and since he didn't, Dahaka is out to set things straight. You cannot kill Dahaka, so you are going to die...there's no getting around it. The Prince's only option is to sail to the Island of Time and go back in time to destroy the Sands of Time before they were even made. Confused? Well it's like Back to the Future, but with swords and acrobatics.
The art design is still gorgeous. The architecture throughout the game is worthy of just stopping to look around in first person view. The cutscenes are done very well, but they don't mesh with the in-game models very well. There's no question as to whether a scene is prerendered or if it's the in-game models. The lighting is still good and although the game isn't the epitome of great graphics on the Xbox, it's one of the most beautiful games available on the system.
Addictive and a blast to play. That's how I would describe Sands of Time. The sequel is more of the same for the most part. The new combat system is the main difference, and a good one. You start out with just a right-hand weapon, but you can pick up off-hand weapons throughout the game. Not only can you pick them up off the ground, but you can steal them right out of enemy's hands and use it against them. The combos that you can perform are dependent upon which type of weapons you're wielding. There are some elaborate combinations as you get further in the game, but you won't really use them much since the harder enemies and bosses block or reverse them. So you end up sticking with the 3 and 4-hit combos to wittle away at the baddies. Your off-hand weapon degrades as you use it, so you're always on the lookout for a replacement, which isn't hard to find given the amount of baddies that charge you. You can also throw your off-hand weapon in an attempt to instantly kill an enemy from a distance. The only down side is that getting the perfect angle to a wall to do what you want (run up it or along side it) is still a little cumbersome. The plus to that is that the Prince is so acrobatic that even if you mess up, he usually hangs on to a ledge, and if he doesn't, you can just rewind time and start over. Overall the acrobatic gameplay and puzzle design are still as good as last year, and with the new combat system it only adds more depth to the gameplay.
This is where the sequel fails. In Ubisoft's attempt to make the game more appealing to random Maddenite type gamers, Warrior Within now features licensed rock music. The music is integrated fairly well into the highs and lows of the action, but it just doesn't fit the environment. Another downer is the Prince himself. He seems to have become an asshole. He now randomly shouts absurd taunts at enemies for no apparent reason other than to sound like a hardass. He's definitely not the same unfortunate nobleman of the first game. I can understand why he'd be pissed off and grittier than before, but they went too far with it. Honestly he's not even a likable character anymore. The only great thing about the sound is the voice acting in the cutscenes which is excellent.
One of the only complaints about Sands of Time was its length. Well, get happy because Warrior Within is considerably longer. It's probably around 15-20 hours depending on your skill level and if you want to find all the hidden stuff. The Xbox version also has a couple Xbox Live features that are worth mentioning, although they don't add too much to the lasting appeal. There's an arena combat mode and a time attack mode that you can play in and post your high scores. Other than that, the Replay Value is what you would expect from an action adventure game.
The change in direction to a darker theme was a good idea but Ubisoft has gone overboard with it. Despite that, the game is still a blast to play. The acrobatic style of the Prince combined with the incredible level design make for one of the best games this season (even if the average score doesn't show it). When Sands of Time came out, no one had any expectations for the game and it shocked everyone. I think that people, including myself, may have expected too much from Warrior Within and even though it's a good game, the freshness has worn off a bit since last year. Again, even with Ubisoft's best attempt to ruin it, Warrior Within is still one of the most enjoyable games this holiday season and definitely worth picking up.
*** This review was written for Flamevault.com shortly after the release of the game. ***