The world of games is abuzz with lines and statements for the new Prince of Persia like "a painting come to life" or "a 3D illustration," and while there's definitely a unique look to the game in the form of textures ripped right from the sketchpad of the title's artist, for the most part, it's not the new art style that is going to grab you.
Prince of Persia (stripped of any sub-heads) is going to grab you on a seesaw of different ideas; a combination of concepts and innovations that both work and fail with equal divide. There's an ambitious product here, in as much as Assassin's Creed was an ambitious product. What's fitting then is both games use the same, more than competent technology to realise the foundation of said ambition, but equally fall short for not fully realising the absolute potential of power they have.
The difference between both Assassin's Creed and Prince of Persia though, is that while AC failed to deliver enough variety and compelling reasons to play in their massive world, Prince of Persia's attempt at streamlining the play experience undermines the vastness of what we were all hoping for - one game took a giant leap, while the other takes a tiny step.
It doesn't mean Prince of Persia is by any measure a bad game, but it means its full potential has fallen short because its older brother took too big a jump in the deep-end. Thankfully there's a tried and tested formula backing up everything else here, and while it isn't necessarily strong enough to carry the game alone (especially with a lot of what holds it back), it's still a worthy element to checking the game out thanks to some clever concepts, original (and unoriginal
) design ideas and plenty of eye-melting beauty.
For the uninitiated, this new Prince of Persia is a complete reimagining of the series. There're no sands of time, no warring states, and you're not necessarily
playing the role of a prince. In fact, the unnamed hero in this journey is more akin to a whiny Hollywood action hero (think Sean William Scott).
While out looking for his donkey (which was loaded up with presumably stolen treasures), our protagonist comes across a young girl being pursued.
Whiny or not, he's at least gallant and offers the young lady a hand in getting rid of her pursuers. Within minutes of playing good Samaritan, however, his whole world is turned upside down as he finds himself not only in the middle of a family feud, but also the recipient of the task of resealing up the "Corruption", a dark energy that apparently comes packaged with the once imprisoned Ahriman, an evil deity who, until just moments ago, made his home at the base of the Tree of Life.
There's not a great deal explained within the first portion of the game, and it's fitting in this way because everything else delivered throughout Prince of Persia is also of the 99% Fat Free 'Lite' variety. You can chat to Elika, the Princess you rescued earlier, whenever you please with a tap of the LB or LT, and you'll get minor scraps of the game explained to you, but ultimately the only thing you need to care about is you have to be over there
, and getting over there requires a bit of videogame knowledge.
Prince of Persia suffers from a similar fate to Assassin's Creed, in that it has no idea how to be organic or truly free
, instead serving up traditional gaming rules as its driving mechanic. There's nothing wrong with traditional gaming rules, unless of course they're as plain as day, and set you back about 10 years.
Prince of Persia feels like the boss level of a Mario title. You have a series of platforms or puzzles to progress through (in short order), before reaching a "Corrupted" boss, where everything is whisked into a lesser Soul Claibur-style battle. Defeat said boss, cleanse the land and you're left with not only greener pastures but a collection of glowing blue treasures to snap up.
Grabbing said treasures means you can then unlock a new power for Elika, opening up more paths of progression, newer lines in completed levels (to collect even more glowing blue orbs) and feel like you're actually getting somewhere.
I say that because gameplay throughout PoP is so wooden and one-dimensional, you'll begin wondering why you're bothering to play through at all (especially because the key gameplay element is repeated over and over again). Even Elika's new powers you unlock don't necessarily change
your interaction with the game. In fact, apart from battle and lining up most of your jumps on the bigger platforms, Prince of Persia is essentially one massive quicktime event.
While you're constantly performing death-defying leaps, wall-runs and ring-grabs
, you're doing all of it with single button presses related to the impending action or task. You can get an awesome flow happening and timing your button presses relays some seriously cool animations on-screen, but it also feels disengaging and arbitrary. You might as well have hit a series of buttons before each line so you could at least sit back and watch without dealing with interacting with the game. Anyone watching you play from afar would easily be fooled into thinking you're playing with a serious level of skill, but they'd be completely mistaken.
Whereas a game like Mario gives you a series of moves you can then link together to create equally impressive death-defying platform progression with ultimate freedom, Prince holds your hand and never once lets go. The frustrating thing about this is after a few hours with the game, you know what to expect and how to do it. Skill is completely removed from the experience, and you're instead left to just recon the playground before you to see if you can find a hidden line to grab that ever-so-elusive glowing blue orb just around the corner.
You can progress through the game using different paths and you're not necessarily told to unlock any one particular level, you can also come back and revisit areas to seek out more orbs, but beyond the inevitable Trophy or Achievement attached, there's no real reason to keep collecting after you've unlocked all of Elika's powers.
Speaking of Elika, design lead, Ben Mattes, mentioned she's essentially a part of the game to make you look cool
. And while her assistance here and there does indeed do that, she's an otherwise super annoying character. Being saved by her is as superfluous as the bantering heard throughout the game (the speech and scripting is just plain bad), while half of her actions just don't make sense.
She can save you and climb almost anything you can, yet she can't climb vines. She moves out of your way when you approach her, but will oftentimes screw up your timing by landing right next to you on a beam forcing you to pick her up and move her out of the way, despite the fact you - the player - might have already started to perform an action (meaning you're likely going to fall or screw up). It almost feels like you're waiting for the game to catch up because every action is so easy to be a part of, yet this in itself causes problems because you need to be precisely on target or facing a specific way to actually successfully perform most actions.
Again, all of this takes away any chance of an organic, free gaming experience and for the most part, leaves you feeling like you're just going through the motions.
The real strength here then is the "illustration come to life" aspect, and even that isn't enough to carry Prince of Persia higher than its previously perched peak (with The Sands of Time). It's a stunning game, to be sure, but touted art style really does just look like a highly detailed cel-shading, and to be honest, the game the engine is based off, Assassin's Creed, is a far prettier and digestible visual feast (though they're clearly different games with different goals in visual achievement).
Prince of Persia is still a fun game, it's just wrought with simple gameplay ideas and rigid mechanics. Every part of its foundation is barely realised, and you get the idea it was put together more to show off the Assassin's engine once again as well as that new art style. It's a cool game to look at, but suffers from offering far too little in terms of gameplay and will ultimately leave you frustrated and wanting of more challenge and diversity.