It Takes Two…
Ubisoft’s revival of the Prince of Persia series, starting with 2003’s The Sands of Time and culminating with 2005’s The Two Thrones, took the classic Prince of Persia story and transferred it to a 3D realm, with plenty of fast-paced combat and parkour-like acrobatics. The third game in the trilogy saw the end of the time-travelling storyline, and opened the way for 2008 standalone title, simply named Prince of Persia.
As a whole, Prince of Persia contains similar gameplay elements as its predecessors, but to a slightly lesser degree. It still has all the acrobatics that the modern Prince games have all shared, but scaled back a bit. The Prince still has the same cat-like grace he always had, and is able to routinely leap across precipices, run horizontally along walls, vault from poles, and shimmy sideways while hanging from ledges and overhangs. There is an added ability of the Prince using a steel claw attached to his glove at all times to slow down his descent along a sheer wall, effectively creating a drag while he is able to safely steer left of right instead of just plummeting to his death.
This time around, however, the Prince will not go on his adventure alone. Starting in the introduction, and until the very finale of the game, you are locked into an unbreakable tag team with Elika, a princess of the Ahura people, who once inhabited and ruled this kingdom. When you first meet Elika, she is on the run from the King’s guards, and, thinking she’s just another damsel in distress, he helps her out of her predicament. This sets in motion a long chain of events involving an abandoned kingdom, a clash between two opposing gods, a human sacrifice, and a grief-stricken ruler’s fall from grace.
Even though Elika is by the Prince’s side each step of the way, players never control her directly; she is more than adepts at mimicking and matching the Prince’s acrobatics, and can go wherever he does. If he scales a wall, she will be right behind. Not once did I encounter a problem with Elika getting lost on the way up a wall or during a complicated jumping sequence. In fact, she is an integral part in some of the game’s platforming segments (I hesitate to call them puzzles, as there is very little of that in the game). By using her magical powers, Elika can vault the Prince across large gaps by activating a sort of “partner jump” while already in mid-air; she’ll grasp the Prince’s hands and throw him forward some more, letting him reach otherwise unreachable ledges. Her greatest ability, however, is in saving the Prince’s sorry hide should he miscalculate the length of a jump or miss a handhold at a crucial moment; Elika will literally pull him out of whatever situation he’s gotten into, and restore him to the last spot of firm footing he had prior to the fatal fall. Should the Prince fall to an opponent in battle, Elika will again save him, at the cost of his adversary regaining a large chunk of his life.
More of a Lover, Less of a Fighter
There is much less of a focus on combat this time around; there are scattered evil minions, and a few boss fights, but as a general rule, the biggest challenge to your survival lies in your successfully traversing the obstacles and environments around you. There are very few characters in the game, but this is far from a bad thing – it allows the tainted and corrupted generals you will face to be better fleshed out, with more of a backstory than just your average run-of-the-mill boss. As a result, boss battles become much more personal – you will face the game’s four main bosses again and again, as they continue to escape at the last possible instance, coaxing you further into their domains until you’ve ultimately cornered and annihilated them utterly.
Sights and Sounds of the Orient
In the presentation department, Prince of Persia does not disappoint. Character graphics have a cel-shaded look to them, although in more subdued colors versus the overused popping-neon many other cel-shaded games use. The game world is expansive and open, and for the most part you can go anywhere you can see. While the vistas look great graphically speaking, they’re a bit depressing to look at in their initial, dried-out state. Elika does restore a bit of color and life back into the world as you find Fertile Grounds, but you’re constantly aware that you and Elika are the only living, breathing beings for miles around. It makes for quite a desolate gaming experience, perhaps more so than the developers intended.
The game’s score has a very Lawrence of Arabia epic middle-Eastern feel to it, and is gorgeous in its capacity to transport you to this fantastic world of wonder. There is also very little dialog of any kind in this game, due to there being very few characters. The Prince and Elika will engage in sometimes helpful, sometimes playful back-and-forth banter, much of which is optional. It doesn’t do much in terms of adding to the story – your goal always remains to make it to the next Fertile Ground and, occasionally, back to the temple – but it adds a bit of optional depth to the two main characters. Nonetheless, it is difficult to invest very much into the story emotionally, and eventually it becomes more about fetching and collecting powerful light orbs strewn all around the game to unlock new powers and advance to the next area. To those that stick it out to the end, there is an unexpected twist waiting in store, though.
The Final Verdict
Overall, Prince of Persia draws you in with the promise of high-flying acrobatics and combat, but may turn some gamers off due to its scaled-back combat and somewhat desolate plot. For those who prefer actual platforming, and don’t mind a bit of item-collecting along the way, this game will manage to hold your attention for a while longer. Recommended for gamers who like to retrace their steps until they’ve collected every single hidden object in a zone.