bshirk's Prince of Persia (Xbox 360) review

A fantastically re-imagined Persia.

I was eagerly awaiting the newest game in the Prince of Persia franchise, but I was skeptical that it could live up to the amazing Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.  This game is a brilliant creation that accomplishes some amazing feats, but it also has its fair share of drawbacks.  Prince of Persia has some controversial features, and as a result will garner varying degrees of praise and criticism.  While I agree with some of the faults that are often mentioned when discussing this game, they weren't bad enough to take away from the incredible things this game has done.

As you may have guessed, this new Prince of Persia takes us back to a mythical Persia that is filled with influences from mythology and Disney's Aladdin.  The Prince featured in this game on the other hand, is an entirely new creation.  Ubisoft decided to throw out the Prince from the past three games and start from square one.  I found this Prince to be a drastic improvement from the Sand of Time Prince, but I'll get to that later.

I'd first like to discuss Ubisoft's artistic accomplishments with Prince of Persia.  This game's art style was heavily inspired by the brilliant concept art of the game, as most games are.  Typically before a game is made, artists will draw or paint amazing landscapes and characters that are then modified via the computer.  The 3D graphics that are generated usually bear little resemblance to the original creation.  With Prince of Persia, the artists wanted to take a different route.  Instead of creating realistic 3D graphics as most other games are doing, they intended to make the new Prince of Persia look like a moving painting.  A cell-shading technique was implemented to give this quality, and the team succeeded in making this world come to life.  I have never seen cell-shading done so well in a video game.  Eternal Sonata comes close, but the environments in that game were compact; not sprawling worlds like Prince of Persia. 

The enormous towers of Price of Persia are a site to behold.  I have never seen sprawling environments look so splendid in a video game.  It is amazing how far you can see, and there isn't fog or texture pop-in to hide visual blemishes.  While playing, you will constantly stop and gaze at your beautiful surroundings.  You really feel like you're in the Persia of one's imagination.  While this Persia is vastly different from the historical one, it feels like an incredible fantasy world.  The environments are initially dark due to the Dark God Ahriman's corruption, but once you purify the lands, they go from dreary, bleak environments, to bastions of color.

While the game isn't bustling with life, you will encounter some fantastic looking characters and monsters along the way.  The Prince and the game's heroine Elika, both look incredible.  Their animations are fluid and realistic, and the voice acting for the two characters is excellent.  You'll either love or hate the sarcastic, roguish Prince; I personally loved playing as him.  He constantly brought much needed humor to a world that was on the brink of collapse.  Elika was more on the serious side, but she definitely breaks from the mold that is found too often in games, of a desperate female needing to be saved.  She is just as important as the Prince in this adventure.  Not only does she save you from dying numerous times, but her moves are also necessary to complete many battles.  In addition, her wit keeps the wisecracking Prince in check. 

One great feature of Prince of Persia is the fact that much of the dialog is optional.  To me, great dialog and interesting stories are important ingredients of a great game, but some people just want to play the game.  That's why I like the way the dialog was implemented.  There are certain cutscenes you must see, but to get additional back-story on the characters, you can simply press a button when prompted, and you'll be treated to some humorous, and sometimes serious dialog.  This is a great way to find out more about the world you're traversing, and the enemies you're up against.  Each of the game's characters has an interesting background, so I listened to all of the optional dialog.

Prince of Persia also has an amazing, ambient soundtrack.  It really fits the fantasy world the Prince inhabits, and reminds me of traditional Chinese and Japanese music.  The music is very serene and definitely enhances your gameplay experience.  I felt that there could have been more songs, as they're repeated too often, but at least they were great pieces, and never got annoying.

I think that most people will agree on pretty much everything that was said above, except for their opinions on the characters, but Prince of Persia has its fair share of faults as well.  Some of these faults may be enough to ruin your experience, depending on what you look for in games.  One of the most criticized aspects of Prince of Persia is its low level of difficulty, and I have to agree.  This game was clearly designed for a wide audience, which I think was a smart move on Ubisoft's part, seeing as this game didn't have much hype following it.  The reason this game is so easy, is because much of the control is automated, and it is impossible to die.  Much of the gameplay of Prince of Persia consists of performing amazing acrobatic feats such as running on walls and climbing up towers, while occasionally solving puzzles and fighting monsters.  There are often visual cues such as marks on walls, which let you know where a certain move can be performed.  I saw this as a good thing for the most part, since it avoids frustrations that could ensue from not knowing what to do, but it definitely makes the game predictable, and leaves little to be discovered.  There are a few puzzles, but those can mostly be solved from trial and error. 

Figuring out how to pass certain obstacles is usually simple, and mainly involves timing and keeping an eye out for places you can reach.  Since you don't really learn new moves over the course of the game, you can access most areas from the beginning.  There are a few colored plates to unlock which allow you to access new areas, but those are self-explanatory once you run into them and simply tap a button.  Climbing steep towers, riding on slippery slopes, repelling towers, and flying is all simple, due to the fact that you cannot die.  Elika will save you every time you fall, so you simply have to repeat a short area again.  I actually liked this, as it saves you from wasting time doing things over and over again, but some gamers will surely hate this feature.

Another feature I was a little disappointed with was the combat.  Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time had combat that was similar to God of War, with the player pressing button combinations in fast succession, but battles in this Prince are all about timing.  Ubisoft's inspiration for this battle system was gleaned from fighting games, but Prince is not nearly as complex.  You simply press a button to attack, a button to perform evasive maneuvers or jump, a button to block, a button to throw, and a button to use Elika's magic.  The strategy in this system lies in your timing, watching enemy movements, and combining moves in logical ways.  I found the timing difficult to get used to, and never completely perfected it, so I have to say I prefer the old Prince, but I know some people will love it.

Before concluding, I want to briefly comment on one more feature of Prince of Persia.  One of the great things about this Prince is the ability to traverse the world in non-linear fashion.  There are certain areas you can only unlock by collecting enough orbs, but most areas can be accessed in different orders, and there are multiple ways to get through an area.  Eventually, you'll go through all of the areas, but it is a nice feature being able to pick and choose the order in which you accomplish tasks.  There is one negative aspect of this system though, and that is all the back-tracking.  Thankfully you can teleport to areas you've purified, but it can get annoying going back through areas to collect orbs.  However, I didn't think it was all that bad due to the amazing scenery you get to witness after an environment has been purified.

Prince of Persia has accomplished amazing graphical feats, and the story and dialog are excellent as well, but much of your enjoyment of the game may be dependent on whether you like the gameplay features.  Some gamers will be turned off by the easy nature of the game, while others will welcome it for its ease of access, and the way in which it allows you to concentrate on the aesthetics of the game.  I recommend getting it at some point or another.  It might not be worth $60 to some, but the graphics, amazing acrobatics, and story make this an adventure to behold.  This is one of the games of 2008 that will likely be overlooked, but I recommend experiencing it at some point or another.

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