A greatly enjoyable game that is probably best rented not bought
Another re-boot of the classic platforming Prince of Persia series, once again courtesy of Ubisoft, this iteration is in many ways similar to Ubisoft Montreal's 2007 release Assassin's Creed, and not just because it runs on effectively the same engine. Both games feature linear levels within sprawling open worlds, both are extremely well presented with jaw-dropping locations and beautiful scenery, and both suffer from flaws which prevent it from reaching it's full potential.
The conversion from the sands of time mechanic in the series of the same name for the last console generation to this generation's feature of having your trusty sidekick Elika save you constantly is handled fairly smoothly. You will work together almost constantly, and she can be very handy to have around, especially in combat, where her magical attacks are some of the most useful. Unfortunately Elika isn't particularly well realised as a character, and her personality is erratic and interchangeable, which can make it hard to empathise with her. While you may not come to hate her during your adventures through the game world, she can get on your nerves from time to time, especially when she refuses to attack an enemy in combat because she is too far away.
The Prince's personality is much better formed and executed; using the same voice actor who portrayed Nathan Drake in the 2007 release Uncharted: Drake's Fortune helps give the character a cheeky sarcastic tone, and his dialogue re-enforces this well. With his sands of time taken away, your character does have some new tools, including the claw which helps him grind down buildings, a useful mechanic. He is the one guiding the duo through the worlds, and he is the one leading the way into combat, which can sometimes make Elika feel a little unnecessary.
As for the game world that you and Elika will be exploring, the lands of what one can only presume to be Persia are divided into four main sections, and the player can choose which path they would prefer to take. This is a neat feature, even if it does mean the levels are a little similar, and at each level you are introduced to a new mechanic for shooting around the worlds at great speed. It helps the cause of the game world that it looks stunning; Ubisoft Montreal have really mastered the art of crafting beautiful worlds for your characters to jump around in.
The central parkour gameplay is as effective as ever, if a little easy at times. Although Elika will often be called into action to rescue you, and there is some trial-and-error, the game is pretty generous with the timing of button presses, making Prince of Persia a nice relaxing game to play after you've had a marathon session of Street Fighter IV. In fact, on many levels, Prince of Persia is a relaxing and enjoyable experience. What with the open world parkour movement, gorgeous scenery, relatively simple gameplay and forgiving difficulty, it makes a nice change from the intensity of a Call of Duty 4 or Gears of War 2. On the other hand if those two games are among your favourites, you may find Prince of Persia a little too forgiving.
However the game can quickly turn from enjoyable open-world roaming to frustration, most notably when you come into combat. This is ultimately the game's great weakness. The combat relies far too heavily on quick-time events and button mashing, and can quickly become repetitive. It can be quite punishing towards the later levels, although if you can master some powerful combos you can make your combat time more manageable. In that respect the combat in Prince of Persia feels like it came straight out of a really bad fighting game.
The game's boss battles, of which there are five, one for each major game world, and one final boss, do help break up the monotony of the regular battles. Each of the bosses - the Concubine, the Warrior, the Hunter and, my personal favourite, the Alchemist - all use different techniques to try and outwit the Prince and Elika, and different techniques will need to be utilised to beat them. The clearest example is the Warrior, who cannot be killed by conventional means, and instead you must use the environment around you to damage the massively powerful brute. It's a very neat idea, but in execution it results in a tedious exchange where you try to get him to a specific location and execute one action. You could spend up to 10 minutes trying to lure him into the right place, although on one occasion I managed to beat him in less than one minute.
Aside from the combat, the game does have other weaknesses. The story isn't particularly well crafted; the dialogue is generally good, but the core story is such a throwaway element of the game, and the ending does seem a little contrived and dumb. Also your mileage may vary, but I breezed through the game in about 10-12 hours, which is fairly short, especially since I did a lot of chatting with Elika and exploring. However since the central gaming experience is built on the navigation of the open-worlds with the parkour platforming, the flaws aren't so crippling that they make the game unbearable. In fact the parkour platforming is so rewarding and engaging that it becomes easy to forgive the game's flaws. The game's length almost helps it as an experience, as any more time would just make the game feel more monotonous and repetitive.
Prince of Persia is a game that you can have a lot of fun playing. If you loved the previous Prince of Persia games, the core of this new installment isn't so far removed from the last generation games, meaning that you should enjoy the experience, as should fans of Assassin's Creed. As a platformer it is an excellent experience, with some tremendous strengths and some key weaknesses. I certainly enjoyed my time with the game, and the occasional moments of frustration with the combat and apathy with the game's story didn't ruin what was generally a great experience. However, much like Assassin's Creed, it isn't a game with a huge amount of replay value. Once you've jumped around the worlds for 10 hours you've pretty much seen everything. In that respect Prince of Persia is perhaps a game best recommended as a rental rather than a purchase, and as far as rental games though, this is among the best.