pinkelephant's Prince of Persia: Warrior Within (Xbox) review

Warrior Within could've—no, should've—been so much better

Ubisoft proved that it was serious about bringing the Prince of Persia series back in full force when it released The Sands of Time in 2003. The game had inventive level design, solid combat mechanics, and best of all a genuine storybook feel that made it something really special. For the first time in a long time, here was an action game that not only had great action, but a story and characters that gamers actually cared about. A year later Ubisoft released the sequel, Warrior Within, and gamers couldn't wait to jump back into the boots of the nimble and soft-spoken Prince. But Ubisoft had other plans. Instead of expanding upon the peaceful Middle Eastern setting of the first game, they tried to make Warrior Within appeal to a more "hardcore" demographic. Unfortunately, they went overboard. But that's not to say that Warrior Within isn't a worthy action game with some great moments. Although there's a lot to like in the level design and combat, Warrior Within's truly tragic flaw is its forced "bad ass" theme.

As soon as you start up the game, it's clear that Ubisoft is trying too hard. A sea of red slowly forms into the blood-drenched letters of "Prince of Persia: Warrior Within". Wait, what happened to the Prince I once knew? Well, he's gone. Long gone. And in his place we have an overhauled Prince with a new attitude that bites. You'll notice right away that his voice has changed entirely. Instead of hearing the Prince narrate his story via his thoughts like in the Sands of Time, you'll now hear him yell profanity and corny one-liners like "Why do you even bother?" during combat. The Prince's enemies have some choice words to say as well. For example, when you strike one of the female enemies she'll sometimes say in her most vulnerable and over-dramatic voice, "There's so much pleasure in pain" or "Hit me harder, Prince!" And the music? Look forward to obstreperous heavy metal guitar comprising most of the soundtrack. The music plays the loudest during combat, but also has the annoying habit of coming in full force even when the Prince is alone.

The Prince's new attitude and the heavy metal music only comprise of some of the edginess. The Prince's elegant love interest of the first game, Farah, has been replaced with the much bustier and morally challenged Empress wearing noticeably less clothing. Warrior Within tries to make the Empress interesting by giving her a distinctly foreign voice, but the ridiculousness of her lack of any sort of armor or protection in the circumstances and her sexually promiscuous demeanor in general keep you from caring. Unfortunately, in the Xbox version of the game, the sound in a good portion of the cut scenes won't play at all so you won't be able to hear what the characters are saying even if you want to. In addition, the Prince looks like he's forgotten entirely about hygiene and focused much more on killing shit. Each blow from his sword will cause splatters of blood to come gushing out of his enemies. It's definitely excessive...especially when heads start flying off of your enemies' shoulders for no apparent reason. Aside from the characters, the environments are very dark and gritty.They fit the (poorly selected) mood during combat, but they feel out of out of place during the more peaceful segments when you're performing graceful acrobatics. Setting stylistic choices aside, the graphics look decent for an Xbox game, but aren't a dramatic improvement over the previous game's.

The concept behind the story is actually pretty interesting. Warrior Within takes place within the same world during two different time periods much like the The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. As the Prince, you'll need to travel through both past and present to try and destroy the creation of the evil Sands of Time and cheat your fate of death. This mechanic works well, because it's interesting seeing how the same environments look and play completely differently in both past and present. In the past, you'll make your way through a majestic castle. But in the present, the castle has been left to corrode and as a result is a set of more or less dilapidated ruins. So a wall that may have been keeping you from a certain area in the past might not be there anymore in the present. It's a cool idea that works most of time, even if it occasionally seems like a cheap way to lengthen the game.

All thematic elements aside, Warrior Within actually plays just as well as its predecessor. One of the few complaints that people had with The Sands of Time was that its combat was too simplistic and repetitive. Warrior Within has tried to mend that by adding the ability to wield two different swords at once. Each of the two weapons is assigned to a different button. Basically, instead of mashing just one button, you now have to mash two. Just like in The Sands of Time, you'll have the unique ability to control time with sands. You start off with a small sand tank which you refill by acquiring sands from downed enemies, but as you progress, your tank's capacity continues to grow. You'll use the power to rewind time most often (to undo your mistakes), but the ability to slow down time also helps a great deal during combat. You'll acquire some other abilities along the way that look pretty special, but take up multiple sands and as a result aren't very efficient. You'll most likely end up using them once to see what they look like, and then return to using the tried and true slow down technique to take out your enemies. So while Warrior Within tries to make the combat more interesting by adding new abilities, you don't end up using most of them. The combat is still fun, but you just can't shake the feeling that it's almost like filler for the platforming parts of the game.

The real highlights of Warrior Within are all the acrobatic stunts you'll employ to get around the expertly designed levels. Now that Warrior Within takes place within two different time periods, the levels are even more intricate than those of The Sands of Time. The Prince's most entertaining technique is undoubtedly his ability to run along walls. You'll be put into all sorts of situations where you'll need to string together wall running, ledge jumping, rope swinging, and somersaulting all while trying to avoid various saw blades and spikes put in place to hinder your progress. To spice things up, Warrior Within has added a new character called The Dahaka that looks much like Venom from Spider-Man, but ten feet tall with a lot of slimy tentacles. Every once in a while the Dahaka will make a violent entrance and attempt to chase after you a lá Crash Bandicoot. You must run as fast as you can to avoid his deadly grip until you eventually lose him and can relax. This serves mostly as a decent change of pace. These segments without combat make up the funnest part of Warrior Within, and (not so) coincidentally the places where the Prince's "baddittude" gets in the way the least. But these sequences also have a way of making you wish the rest of the game could follow suit and and drop all the crappy characters and music filler.

Warrior Within could've—no, should've—been so much better. All of the fundamental elements that made the first game so great are here, but without the charm. You'll too often find yourself trying to finish off a group of enemies as quickly as possible so you don't have to listen to the overly dramatic voice acting and trashy music. Although the acrobatic segments are the best part of the game, they make Warrior Within all the more disappointing. You'll realize that the core mechanics of Prince of Persia are something really special, but unfortunately this package is marred by an atmosphere that doesn't cut it. If only we could've continued the story in the same world that we left off with in The Sands of Time. Here's hoping for a true sequel to the original game.
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