You will rarely catch me extolling the virtues of a videogame. I generally don’t get hooked on them. Sure they’re entertaining and fun sometimes but even when I find one that’s outrageously good, I don’t feel the need to take to the Internet to praise it.
But there’s a first time for everything:
Welcome to the beautiful experience of playing Prince of Persia (2008)
To those of you out there without a clue as to the heritage of the whole Persian Prince, let me introduce him. His adventures started off in the 1990’s where he had to rescue his princess from a good ol’ fashioned sidescroller. Done with that, he had a new adventure that was also side-scrolling and also about rescuing something. Then, just before the millennium broke on the Persian Desert, the Prince became born anew in 3D for the first time in Prince of Persia 3D. There ended the first trilogy.
THe next title of the franchise was Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time in 2003 which featured revolutionary gameplay mechanics, bloom effects and a really amazing story. After this critically acclaimed title, the Prince turned a shade dark and came out as Prince of Persia: The Warrior Within in the second installment of the Sands of Time trilogy. And finally, in the third instalment, the Prince battled with identity crisis in Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones.
But released in 2008, a mere year after Two Thrones, Prince of Persia (2008) is a radically different story.
Firstly, there is nothing in this story to tie this game to any that came before it. Not the prince, not his chief love interest, not the bad guy and it’s not even the same world. All the same it’s still about a lonely prince in a lonely desert-filled land, thrust into the middle of an adventure.
Now all previous titles in PoP series feature similar gameplay. Lots of platforming elements and a really solid combat system. A real time combat system I might add with real time consequences if you mess up. And as with all games that combined action-adventure with platforming, cameras tended to zip around to crazy angles and lead to a lot of blind jumps and runs that ended up frustrating the player.
Not to mention that the overall style of the games remained the same. Lot of old persian architecture, lot of flowing sand, lot of old architecture, lot of flowing sand. And the evil guys generally tended to be the same kind of old demon-god.
So what’s different about this Pop (2008)?
First of all, the gameplay. To play this, one must completely forget the experience of playing the older PoP games because in this, everything is all about instinct. In other games you see an edge looming and you pre-load a jump by judging the distance to the next surface. Here, you see the edge and then a quick button press and the Prince is flying to the next ledge. No pre-loading. In fact, keeping the button pressed registers as multiple consecutive jumps.
An unlike most platformers where there’s a general path that you must follow from one point to the next, this game is about breaking loose. While there are certain paths which are easier to negotiate, there’s nothing stopping you from trying to navigate from around the directed path.
Why would you do that?
FOR THE GRAPHICS
The graphic style in this game is radically different and so revolutionary that it will take your breath away. Moving through this game is like moving through a watercolor painting. Add to that the amazing, flowing moves of Prince as he vaults and catapults and performs all kinds of gravity-defying stunts, this is one BEAUTIFUL game. The characters and much of the foreground graphics are cel-shaded here and to those of you who just winced, let me just say this: IT WORKS.
But that’s not all that’s awesome about this.
Our sweet, darling companion who, at any given moment, is ready to jump in a rescue you from a mistimed jump, land a few hits on that evil demon or just provide some sardonic back-talk to you egotistic, narcissistic prince. Really. Elika’s AI is so good. She invariably follows a few steps behind you thus ensuring that she’s never in your way. And owing to her magical powers, she can always help you with a double jump or if you can’t find the button, do an instant save and land you back on solid ground.
Be it fighting off a monster or assisting with you acrobatic moves, Elika’s always there. But what makes this revolutionary is that all her actions are just mapped to a SINGLE button. Need a double jump? Tap E. Need a magically enhanced chain of punches while you catch your breath? Tap E. Need to use a power plate to fly across a chasm? Tap E. And she never makes the wrong move. Never.
And this is basically the same philosophy that’s gone into the Prince’s control scheme. Jumping is the same button as for an acrobatic attack on your enemy while the button used to grip-slide down a wall is the same for your gauntlet attack. Everything’s simple and intuitive, this is one game a where tutorial is redundant.
Now obviously, there are problems. For one thing, you never die here. Elika will always save you. Even when a demon’s about to pop your head off, she’ll do some magical hocus pocus and whisk you out of harm’s reach. So at times, it can get a little too easy here. There’s also no variable difficulty option so that even if enemy AI can change its attack style to mirror your own, the platforming will always be risk-free.
About combat though. Combat here is always one on one. Never hordes, never waves and if you move quick enough, you can even avoid battling monsters sometimes. But this is not a problem because excepting the first few Corrupted, the enemy AI is incredible sharp and WILL adapt to your fighting style. Landed a solid chain of incredible hits in a devastating combo? The enemy will get more defensive and try to effect more counters and evasive maneuvers. Got your butt handed to you? The enemy will relax, drop its guard and maybe give you an opening. Playing defensively and never going on the offense? Neither will the enemy.
Mindless button-mashing won’t help here. Strategy and quick thinking will do miracles.
The game is beautiful (if I haven’t mentioned that already). But its beauty also depends on your style of play. If you trust your instincts and keep moving, whether in platform elements or in combat, the prince will launch into chains of moves that look breathtaking and free. If you pause alot, trying to think too much about the puzzles (there are a few) and try to out-think your opponent too much, your Prince will stutter and stumble and will land occasional hits and more frequent misses. And trust me, with graphics this amazing, you’ll want your Prince jumping high into the sun and then decapitating your enemy in all its gratuitous shadow-gore.