Sunday, November 4, 2012

Review: Prince Of Persia (2008)

Fresh off their success with Assassin's Creed, Ubisoft decided to give the Prince Of Persia another stab. Given the immense popularity of the Sands Of Time trilogy (Forgotten Sands didn't exist then and if you ask me, it still doesn't exist, *bleep* that game), a Prince Of Persia label would help this new project fly off shelves. Well, 1.95 million people have found themselves the victim of a crazy new experiment in video gaming, to see if Ubisoft can rival Quantic Dreams's Indigo Prophecy in terms of a movie-like experience, only instead of flashing buttons you have to press on the top of the screen, you'll need to associate ascension with the actions involving the pressing of the A button and then the Y button if the gap is too wide.

Yeah, I'm on the fence with this one, kids. There are plenty of good ideas but the execution ranges from passable to *bleep*ing weak. Holy shit, I wanted to love this game and while it's one of the few games in this generation that I've completed more than once, it's no dream come true as... well, the reason for the second playthrough is to try and figure out why I'm playing this game a second time. It's strange, isn't it? Maybe with age (things change in 3 years - for one thing, I've graduated from high school since then), a developed sense of taste and maybe a dash of cynicism, I found myself wanting to play this again just to see if this would still be good for me. Is it? Eh to put it simple, it's a big game with sky high towers and a thunderous soundtrack, but as they say, the bigger they are, the harder they fall. The fact that I'm able to type this review assures you that it didn't necessarily fall down too hard, but I don't know, I haven't been able to walk right for the past few years and the pain has come back in full force since replaying this game.

An unnamed bandit-looking guy (let's just call him the Prince) is out in the desert, looking for his donkey who is carrying a king's ransom in gold. One day, he bumps into the princess of a nearby kingdom, Elika. She's on the run from the guards, so he takes down a few guards and they retreat to a temple... which just so happens to have the main bad guy sealed within it. Good thing he's sealed, right? Well, her father happens to be in the temple, and he cuts the tree of life, which sets Ahriman free and purges the land around the temple in a sort of icy darkness. From there, the Prince and Elika will have to purge the land of corruption by healing the fertile grounds and collecting light seeds to power up Elika's magical Ahura powers. Throughout the game, you'll learn more about the land around you, how the kingdom ran before everyone ran away and the buildings became all raggedy and shit, and most importantly, why Elika's father did what he did, and to say the least, it's something that'll actually take you by surprise, even if you listen to what Elika says throughout.

Part of it is because there isn't heaps of exposition strewn throughout but most of it is because the writing is actually pretty damn good. The Prince and Elika talk... like human *bleep*ing beings! They say stuff in ways that humans talk, and they've got pretty good chemistry together as they dish out some banter. Mind you, the Prince might as well be Nathan Drake because they have similar mannerisms (see: complete smartass with a heart of gold) and are both voiced by Nolan North, but whatever, his personality in tandem with Elika's more serious personality (though she's not above cracking jokes) manages to work well enough to keep you engaged into a fairly good story. You can also talk to Elika during gameplay by pressing the left bumper or left trigger, but it completely stops gameplay, which actually discouraged me from doing it too often. Come on, it wouldn't hurt that much to let you play while they talk like that, right? But ah well, little things like that aren't the end of the world...

The game boasts a hell of a artistic visual style. It's all cel shaded and quite frankly, it's very effective as the environments either look calm and peaceful with serene colors when on healed grounds, or dark and dreary when treading on corrupted grounds. But I have to say, the most impressive thing I can say about the graphics is the scale. Each of the lands are big, making it feel like you're on this epic pilgrimage to purge the land of all corruption. Hell, when you're climbing the buildings, it really does feel like you ARE climbing a building as it looks huge when necessary. The draw distance is also incredible, as things look beautiful from afar, and again with the scale of things, when you look further out, there's still a lot down there and around you. Things are still aesthetically presentable even when they're far away. That's something a lot of sandbox games have trouble with as things pop up or look kind of crummy until you get closer to them and they start looking halfway decent and although Prince Of Persia 08 is not a sandbox game, it does pretty much take place in one big level with maybe a few sub levels. Oh, and did I mention how smooth the animation is? Holy hell, not a single frame looks stiff, too fluid or out of place. The animation flows ever so seamlessly. It's just a joy to look at, really.

The sound design is just as impressive. The soundtrack ranges from loud and dramatic to intensify the journey to the boss and then when fighting the boss, to a calmer track when you've healed that fertile ground and you're out collecting light seeds. The songs manage to convey the right moods pretty damn well. They may seem like your typical Hollywood bombastic symphonic affair, but there are some middle eastern influences in there to help separate it from everything else. The voice acting is also pretty good. I mean, the Prince does sound a bit out of place as he sounds more American than Persian, but given that Nolan does the whole "smartass with a heart of gold" thing justice, I'll let it slide. Same for Elika and her father. They sound more middle eastern, but still a bit American too. Ahriman has like five hundred different voices and they all sound deliciously evil. Well, one just sounds cheesy, but the rest gave me the feeling that maybe Elika's father wasn't quite there in the head when he decided to break the seal.

And yet all of this is a wasted effort. Prince Of Persia 08, for all its bells and whistles, has very underwhelming gameplay. The idea is that the Prince is able to jump across gaps, scale across walls and have Elika's Ahura power give the Prince an extra lift. Unfortunately, this is the kind of game that plays itself for you as the most interaction you ever really have is pressing A to jump, Y for an extra lift and B to swing across rings on the wall. Pardon me for sounding silly, maybe I'm just suffering from a mild form of dementia, but isn't the point of a game to INTERACT with your environment?? This is like the bare minimum for interaction! It's like a glorified quick time event!

Going through a lot of the levels becomes a chore as you'll find yourself... just doing that. The only thing resembling a challenge I've found is getting the right timing to pass these blobs of corruption that go up and down or side to side on some walls. It really feels like they just wanted to show off how great the game looks because in reality, you're not doing much if anything else except sometimes jumping from wall to wall and moving along a climbable surface. You could boil down any game to that simple formula, but most games at least try to make things engaging enough to make you want to pay attention to the gameplay and not the pretty *bleep*ing graphics.

Oh, there is something that may require something resembing cognitive activity, and they are in the form of two of the four Power Pads. One of them has you running across a surface, and you'll need to dodge some obstacles. Another one has you flying through the air... and you'll have to dodge obstacles. It is possible to bump into obstacles here, but it's nothing you can't conquer after one mistake. The other two Power Pads just have you jumping around to other Power Pads (often of the same color) and then onto another part of that segment of that region. But they're really just there so that you can admire the pretty graphics some more.

Look, I don't hate the fact that it's easy or not very punishing; I hate the fact that it's so *bleep*ing boring! At first, running and jumping around collecting Light Seeds and fighting the bosses is fun as shit! It's this brand new thing and it gets you excited to see what'll be next around the bend! But then you have to do it all over again with some differentiations – regions have segments with a high amount of “been there done that” placed every which way (oh man ANOTHER TOWER TO CLIMB!!??!?), and it's not just the level structures themselves. YOU HAVE TO FIGHT THE EXACT SAME BOSS AGAIN!!! Regions are looked after by four bosses that you have to fight a grand total of SIX TIMES EACH! By the third or fourth time, I was wishing for something else because they require the exact same method in each fight...

...then by the time I got a taste of each of the four bosses, I was disappointed to learn that they all fight roughly the same way. They have a quick attack, a mid-paced attack and a wind up attack. They knock you onto the ground and you have to press the on screen button to prevent them from getting health back (oh, you don't die, Elika saves you and restores your health). They CONSTANTLY parry your attacks and you need to press right trigger to deflect their attack and let me tell you something – this especially gets really *bleep*ing old! You can come up with some really cool combos and it's pretty much encouraged that you use your sword, Elika's magic, your gauntlet and acrobatic moves in tandem with one another in order to beat the bosses quicker.

But you're not beating them down quickly in a sort of adrenaline rush; you're beating them down quickly because you just want to move on. That's bad boss design 101 - especially this one boss who can only be defeated by knocking him off of the edge of the battlefield. I'll give it points for at least changing it up a little bit, but I'm taking them away and then some because this is even lamer and a lot more tedious, especially if he gets parry heavy (which is very likely because IT'S A CHALLENGE HURR). I could talk more about combat IF THERE WAS MORE COMBAT – there's bugger all, with the occasional enemy at specific points (usually between segments), and even that can be stopped by attacking before it fully materializes. Disgusting. This is that thing that could've been really cool too, because the combat does open itself up to being fun! If there was a bigger variety of bosses and a few more enemies, it could've turned my frown upside down.

Bottom line: I suppose if you're looking for a lazy man's game, this is fine as it almost practically plays itself for you, but if you crave something resembling interaction and requiring some brain activity beyond simple visual association, Prince Of Persia 08 is your mother*bleep*ing Kryptonite! It drives me insane when I have to rip on a game that had plenty of potential, especially ones that do manage to tick lots of boxes. Half Life 1, LA Noire and Prince Of Persia 08 had heaps going for them, but they all share one flaw in common – they're not all that engaging to play! While games have specific aims, one common goal is to be fun and this game fails so *bleep*ing badly in that department, it's like that one time when I twisted my knee. I'd say avoid this game like IGN avoids journalistic integrity, but there are plenty of people who liked this game a lot as well. It's really your decision at the end of the day, but if you do buy this and don't find it that appealing, eh, I'm always here to validate that.

5/10 (Average)

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