Game Reviews: Prince of Persia
Prince of Persia is a game that is riddled with strange design choices, repetitive elements, frustrating game play mechanics and American actors. Yet despite all its drawbacks, the game is a wonderful, fun and relaxing experience. I often get distracted when a game has obvious flaws, but Prince of Persia manages to rise above them and it proves to be a return to form for the series.
Ubisoft really nailed the aesthetic style of this game. The franchise needed reinvigorating after the Sands of time trilogy and they have created their own very recognizable feel that makes it stand out from its predecessors. Cel shading has been done many times before, but rarely so beautifully and effectively as this. The Prince and his female companion Elika are vibrantly portrayed in a way that completely complements their personalities in the game. The Prince, sporting a bright red and blue bandana, and a what appears to be a snakeskin waistcoat, grins and wisecracks throughout, but is scarred enough to hint at his checkered history. Elika’s white laced top highlights the ethereal nature of her character, but the tightly cut clothing also displays her playful and mischievous side. The designers should be commended for managing to create characters that reflect so much of themselves in their appearance. The levels look gorgeous, especially when you are staring out over the vistas from a vantage point, and the contrast between the purified and corrupted land is well depicted in the lush greens and the sinister darker tints. There is no escaping the fact that all the levels have a pretty similar look, despite being set in varying locations. You will be doing a lot of wall running, and there is only so much you can do with a wall I guess. The music compliments the visuals by soaring dramatically at the appropriate points without being especially memorable. Instead it just adds to the atmosphere created by the visuals and provides a pleasant backdrop as you look out over the beautiful world. It also evokes the Arabian theme of the game, which is admittedly something that I occasionally forgot, largely due to the banter of the two, very clearly American, protagonists.
It is strange that in an action game the dialogue and delivery should come under such scrutiny, but in Prince of Persia it will strongly influence how you feel about the game. The voice actor of The Prince, Nolan North, is also the voice of Nathan Drake from the Playstation 3 game Uncharted. It is very obvious. And the personality of The Prince is similar to Nathan Drake. Very similar. It is incredibly distracting, and I don’t remember another example of this that I have experienced previously. Most of the lines that The Prince says would sound equally natural coming from Drake. But those lines are delivered very well and it does add to the charm of the game. Likewise Kari Wahlgren as the voice of Elika turns in a great performance and adds a lot of depth to her character, but the two of them seem very incongruous to the situation. They are just so damn American, when the two characters are quite clearly not. Some of the banter feels like it has been transplanted from a sitcom. The light hearted banter also sits somewhat uncomfortably with the serious nature of the situation, and Elika in particular often juxtaposes a melancholy or dire assessment of the situation with a quip or sexually suggestive remark. Her character struggles to be believable as she schizophrenically jumps between being a strong heroine, chastising mother figure, playful vixen and pure temple maiden.
Despite this the exchanges between the two are loaded with wit, charm and a lively chemistry. If you can just go with it, you are likely to enjoy the game much more.
The game makes itself very easy to enjoy, actually. The wall running, pillar leaping, and pole swinging all flow together beautifully in the game and you are able to traverse large areas of the world smoothly, easily and with a lot of style. It really moves beautifully and as you put together longer chains of acrobatics your satisfaction and exhilaration grows. This game just doesn’t want you to stop. In fact, the criticism leveled at the game by many is that it is too easy. The animation is a little too canned, the progression is a little too smooth, the timing is a little too forgiving, and the whole process feels a little too automatic. Those points are all absolutely true, put it isn’t detrimental to the experience, and rather it enhances it. If you want to play a tough, gritty, game then play Gears of War. The Prince is all about elegance, the joy of traversing the environment and keeping you moving.
Until you get to the combat. This is one of the poor design decisions I mentioned earlier. Just why the developers felt the need to stop you dead in your tracks whenever you get into combat, in a game which is all about free flowing acrobatics, is a mystery. Why did they make The Prince feel like his is wading in treacle as soon as he has a sword in his hand when for the majority of the game he leaps imperiously across the landscape? Why limit the attacking options the player has depending on the state of the enemy? The combat is simply uninteresting, and the only positive note is that if you get to the standard enemies before they manage to form you don’t have to fight them at all. This is offset by the fact that you have to fight the same bloody bosses over and over again. In the same way as Assassin’s Creed it’s clear that they haven’t yet figured out how to merge the free-flowing running with the combat. We can only hope they stumble on the formula sooner rather than later.
The Prince of Persia is the perfect antidote to the slate of dark FPS games that crowd the games market. Light and airy with relaxing but genuinely enjoyable game play, it serves to remind you that games can be fun without feeling the need to punish your mistakes. But then it makes you collect five hundred light orbs in order for you to progress.
And that sums it up really. It’s a game fraught with paradoxes. Free-running with stifling combat; Arabian atmosphere with wise-cracking Americans; varied environments with repetitive game play.
Is it fun? Thankfully yes.