Flaws are to be overlooked in order to enjoy Prince of Persia
With Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Jordan Mechner's highly successful and revolutionary game series was reborn, and people liked it. Even if the stylistic changes in the sequel were not appreciated by everyone, the Sands of Time trilogy was still a resounding success. With this new Prince of Persia, the series receives its second reboot in a very short period of time, which is signified by its lack of a subtitle. The game has one big thing in common with its predecessors: the focus on extremely over-the-top acrobatics and parkour. However, even if you liked the previous trilogy of games, that does not necessarily mean that you'd like this one, as it's different in quite a few respects.
One somewhat odd difference is that this time around, you don't play as a prince at all. The protagonist of this tale is basically a Han Solo of the desert. As he is groping his way through a sandstorm in search of his donkey--humorously called Farah--he gets knocked down by a random woman, who's running from some soldiers. Marvelling at the achievement pop-up that thanks you for starting the game, you spring away in pursuit. After running across a few walls with the ease we're accustomed to in the Prince of Persia series and dispatching a few guards, the pseudo-prince catches up to the enigmatic woman who introduces herself as Elika and finds himself at the base of a temple that has a rather humongous tree sitting on top of it. After a delicate series of unfortunate events, Elika's father does some dumb stuff, the God of Darkness, Ahriman, is set free, and you find yourself forced to lock the Evil up again. In order to do so, the prince must travel through different regions and heal the fertile grounds in each and every one of them.
And that's basically it. Prince of Persia makes little use of cutscenes, instead making 90% of the interaction between the prince (let's just call him that for the sake of laziness) and Elika optional. By pressing the left trigger, you can talk to Elika and comment on the situation. These mini-conversations are actually quite good, as they tend to be funny and allow you to get to know Elika a bit better. Still, at the end of the game, I still found myself not caring at all for either character. I can't quite put my finger on why, but for some reason, this game's story just didn't catch on with me. Maybe it was because there's very little to it. Between the opening of the game, which I've just described and the ending, there's not much in terms of actual story. Sure, talking to Elika gives you some insight into the world and her own psyche, but that's pretty much it. There's one twist that was obviously meant to be huge, but I could predict it after the second flashback out of five. So that was hardly a big surprise. To top off my list of complaints with the story, I'll say that the ending is feces. Nothing more, nothing less. After realising what I had to do in order to finish the last sequence of the game, I seriously felt like screaming. All that hard work, and it amounts to this?! What the hell Ubisoft?! They brought out an epilogue in the form of DLC, but the fact that you have to pay to get the ending to this game is a perfect example of terrible Downloadable Content. The story is average at best, and definitely not one of the main selling points of this game.
But of course, a less-than-great story can be made up for by great gameplay. Sadly, the gameplay mechanics in Prince of Persia are flawed in more ways than one. Staple of the series is, of course, the platforming, so I'll start with that. The Sands of Time and its follow-ups featured a highly agile and athletic Prince that could do all kinds of crazy stuff. However, aside from the sideways wall-run,and the wall-jumping in small alcoves, none of that stuff was completely impossible for a human being. However, when Ubisoft was making the reboot of the reboot, they decided that they ought to take the platforming to another level, into the realm of the physically impossible. The result is platforming that's fueled by Elika's magic. When you're not vaulting from conveniently-placed poles and columns or running on walls, Elika's magic comes into play in three situations. The first application is essentially a double-jump. By pressing Y whilst flying through the air, Elika will teleport herself above you and throw you further, resulting in double the jumping distance. The second manifestation of her magic comes in the form of plates on walls. They somewhat reminded me of the clappers in Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones. However, the results here are much more impressive. Plates come in four colour-coded flavours, and they all need to be unlocked at the temple. In practice, however, they are all the same. Two of them simply send you flying to another place, while the other two require you to navigate the prince through obstacle courses. They're touted as being four different powers, but they are essentially the exact same thing. One simply shows an animation of the prince running upside-down, and one goes all the way and allows him and Elika to fly freely. Hitting an obstacle during the pseudo-controllable rides leads to instant failure though, which is where the third power of Elika's comes in.
That somewhat controversial power is pretty much the game's checkpoint system. Basically, every time you hit a safe, stable surface, you get a checkpoint. If you mess up somewhere along the line inbetween that platform and the next, Elika will swoop down and put you back onto the original platform, which is handy, to say the least. This system, that makes you immortal, in essence, has caused quite a few gamers to pull up their noses. I, however, think that the system is a god-send. The platforming in this game is insanely complicated mechanically, and as such a normal checkpoint system would've been a source for great frustration. Elika saved me at least 150 times over the course of the game, and while this is in part because the forgiving rescue system made me careless. Having the regular checkpoints would've made some parts of the game very, very annoying.You'll be glad it's there to hold your hand when you need it to.
However, a big flaw the platforming possesses is that it's simply too automated. It's not quite as bad as Assassin's Creed's running and jumping, but it comes pretty damn close. One of my biggest annoyances is that the protagonist will automatically link any contact with a wall into a wall-run. Many were the times where I jumped onto a ledge, but accidentally hit a wall and overshot the damn thing because the prince happily ran past it and fell into the abyss when gravity started taking its toll. Times like these made me scream for a dedicated wall-run button. In fact, I thought that the old games had a fantastic control scheme, and I just can't for the life of me figure out why they changed it the way they did in this entry. That's not to say that there's no enjoyment to be gotten out of the playing the game. Or rather, watching the game. Even if controlling the prince is a bit of a chore, looking at him performing the extraordinary feats he does is very satisfying, thanks in no small part to the excellent animations and little touches, like when Elika and prince switch positions on a beam or ledge. Shimmying has also been streamlined, as it's much, much faster now, which is great, as it was way too slowly paced in the previous games. However, Ubisoft has added vines that you must regularly climb, and that mechanic is, for some reason, painfully slow, as though the developer wanted to spite me by fixing one of my complaints with the old games and then proceeding to put another thing in that's just as bad. So, all in all, the platforming in the new Prince of Persia, which should've been its main selling point, definitely is not perfect, and far inferior compared to the older games. Every second I spent playing, I was thinking to myself: “This is a series of QTEs, just without the buttons at the bottom of my screen...”
But there are two sides to this package: platforming and combat. Ubisoft has thrown the old system out of the window completely in favour of a new one-on-one system that's supposed to make each battle epic and fun. The combat in this game possesses neither quality. Much like with the environment navigation, I got the feeling that I was playing a glorified Quick-Time Event. In fact, the buttons do appear at the bottom of your screen at times, though even when they're not, you're still in a QTE, it's just not as blatantly obvious. Thankfully, combat is spread thinly throughout your adventure. Every region has 6 areas to it, and each of those regions has a single boss assigned to it, that you fight once on every fertile ground in the region. Other than that, you fight some fodder enemies, although that can thankfully be avoided by quickly running up to them as they are spawning and slashing at them, causing them to burst into smoke without putting up a fight. Even with the low quantity of battles, I was still got bored of the whole ordeal by the time I'd taken out the second boss in his fortress. It's seriously that boring. Each battle consists of you shuffling up to an enemy at two miles per hour, slashing at them a couple of times or making Elika torpedo into them two or three times and doing this until they block and counter. Then you counter their counter by pressing the block button at the right moment. At which point they block your counter of their counter with a counter. And so on. It's not unusual to suffer through a series of 15 of these counters' counters in row, before being able to slash at the enemy once. Two or three slashes later, however, they'll start blocking again and you do it all over. Some dudes require you to knock them over the edge of the arena by standing near the edge and then knocking them off of it, but that's basically the same process. All in all, I can only consider the combat to be a gigantic failure in every way. It's not fun, nor is it nice to look at. If they'd have left out the combat in favour of cutscenes, Prince of Persia would've probably been a better game for it.
One final branch of the gameplay is the collecting of lightseeds. These little blobs of light spawn after you've taken out an area's respective boss and healed the place. You must collect these things and buy the new powers with them in order to unlock new areas. Collecting them is actually quite fun in the same way that Crackdown's agility orbs are fun to try and grab. And there are 1001 of those seeds strewn across the gameworld, which makes it easy to get enough playing casually, as you only need 540 to unlock all the areas and beat the game.
One major strength Prince of Persia has is its graphical prowess. The environments look, in a single word, amazing. Even though I frequently found myself wondering how the country's inhabitants could navigate their way around the environment without the ability to fly, the art direction and draw distance are fantastic. It's one of those games where you stop on a ledge to admire the vistas that lie before you. Animations look, as mentioned before, fantastic, although that shouldn't come as a surprise. Mechner did practically invent motion capture for video games after all. Prince of Persia's looks basically save it from being below average. Voice work is good, though not special. Assuming the game actually takes place in Persia, which I'm not so sure of, the fact that the prince has a flat American accent weirded me out a bit, but you know, whatever.
You can unlock some costumes and five pieces of artwork, but that's it when it comes to unlockables or incentives to replay the game. There's an achievement called “Speed Demon” that you unlock when you beat the game in less than twelve hours, but I got it on my first time through, and I didn't exactly rush. I stopped frequently to take in the awe-inspiring sights. A game-ending glitch further ruined my desire to replay, as for some reason, the error disabled my ability to use Elika's magic, and her model kept starting to float around aimlessly in the sky. It was a funny though frustrating sight, as it meant that I had to replay the game in order to get some of the achievements.
I do not recommend you to buy this game. Rent it, or buy it at an extremely low price, like 5 bucks. It's not a mediocre game, and I did enjoy most of the time I spent with it, but it definitely wasn't great either. Prince of Persia comes off as a very average game overall.