Prince of Persia (2008) – “Thief of Persia”

new-pop_page1-1

The story of “Prince of Persia” would now seem to be as old as the medium itself. Born out of the brilliant mind of Jordan Mechner, the original masterpiece ended up serving as the proud pillar for a whole genre, probably even for an entire current of videogames. Since then, the “Prince of Persia” name has become associated with the best and worst the interactive craft can offer. When it was announced that an entirely new Prince would appear, instead of an attempt at fixing the broken “Sands of Time” formula, there was hope it could reinvent the genre as its notorious forebears did. Sadly, like its main character, the new “Prince of Persia” is not of royal descent, but a mere pauper.

945943_20081009_screen008

In an attempt at recapturing the elegance of Mechner’s original masterpiece, while simultaneously framing it in the light of modern design philosophies, the new Prince’s gameplay presents itself as an exercise of eloquent simplicity. Flying above the abyss, running through walls, sword fighting with enemies – what was once a task of deft skill and trying patience (which matched the on-screen action) is now a matter of simple chaining of rhythmic actions. For each action to ensue, a button must be pressed as the associated visual cue demands it: see a cliff, jump button; see a flashing light, double jump button; a monster attacks with magic, counterattack with magic attack button, and so on. Level progress becomes a succession of automated movements, that without the need for much reflection or observation, lead the Prince from one point to the next. Because of that, complex, three dimensional scenarios are rendered into spatially twisted, yet linearly explorable corridors, and fights are molded into simple mini-games of action-reaction. The end experience is that of a slow stream of steps to which you must mindlessly oblige, in QTE style, as the prince shows off his flurry of incredibly animated acrobatic movements and attacks. And because the game does not let you die in any way (you simply restart from a very near checkpoint), your actions are seldom interrupted from that particular flow. In the rare instances that “Prince of Persia” presents challenge, it does it in the most disastrous of ways (like “Assassin’s Creed”), by introducing a pseudo-non linear game structure that forces you to traverse levels several times, and an obligatory fetch quest that mandates you to squander levels in search of hundreds of flashy orbs (hardly original).

945943_20081009_screen001

The shun of challenge oriented gameplay, and the simplification of the gameplay dimension, don’t stand as ill-choices by themselves. However, having gameplay reduced to that of a series of mind numbing actions should invite to a greater, more dense aesthetic experience, that could fill in the void left by the extreme simplicity of the interactive counterpart; many games have shown ways on how this type of experience can be pulled off with extraordinary results (“flOw”, for instance). But for that to be achieved, the game must have a strong artistic identity, one that translates some sort of emotional experience that transcends gameplay – something which the new Prince unfortunately lacks. Dazzled by the daunting beauty of aesthetic masterpieces such as “ICO”, “Shadow of the Colossus” or “Ôkami“, the new “Prince of Persia” creates a world that borrows many of these games’ elements: the use of a white-laden princess as companion; the dreamy landscape; the healing of the land, bringing color and nature to darkness and corruption, etc. I have already discussed how these exercises of malformed inspiration can bring about poor results (the recent “Dead Space“, for example), and the Prince represents another bad example of this practice. Firstly, because it ends up creating a world, that despite gorgeous, bares no concrete relationship either with the series’ background (Persia), or with its many sources of inspiration – it’s just a mishmash of aesthetic details molded into soulless pretty images. Secondly, because the game’s authors did not translate any of the artistic potential of their sources into the game itself – most of the gameplay sections develop in dull-colored corridors and walls that do not show off the intrinsic graphical detail of the art design. There are some stunning vistas (which the screen-shots obviously focus on), but these aren’t contemplated by the player’s eye during a significant majority of the game.

945943_20080528_screen001

The narrative, instead of adding some compensatory value to the game, further mars the experience. Not only are its characters simplistic and cartoon-y, as their dialogues are filled with cheesy jokes that seem straight out of some romantic comedy featuring Matthew McConaughey, as opposed to a mystic tale about Persia (the game is called “Prince of Persia”, is it not?). When the game does opt for drama it does so by completely ripping-off “Shadow of the Colossus”, and not in a good way. And because game progress is pseudo non-linear, there’s an absurd amount of filler that doesn’t go anywhere with the plot until the very end of the game. In fact, for all intents and purposes, there are only two plot points: beginning and end (someone clearly missed the writing class when they got to the “middle” part).

945943_20081009_screen005

The narrative falling flat and the aesthetic being mostly derivative (even if filled with eye-candy), only invites more criticism to the subtle nature of the gameplay dimension. Because it does not serve as a background for some sort of emotional journey, the gameplay reduces the experience to an agonizing series of numbing actions, throughout numerous and repetitive levels, occasionally interrupted by a childish cutscene or a lush scenery for you to gaze upon. Though there is some commending to be done to the guys at Ubisoft, for at least trying to devise a new game based on a decade old franchise, the fact is that in the end, they produced a completely hollow and forgettable videogame. More so, one that bares the same name as one of the most important games ever designed… which should get people thinking that maybe a game named “Prince of Persia” should at least try to live up to the royal lineage of Mechner’s absolute masterpiece. But it doesn’t, and instead of a Prince we got a thief disguised in noble garments.

score: 2/5

Advertisements
  • Trackback are closed
  • Comments (8)
  1. All these game play issues would not have mattered if the game had any genius of its own, any sparkle. This is a common problem in Ubisoft video games; they don’t have any creative force, the only solution that could compensate their greater weaknesses. In spite of successful games and decent revenues, they don’t show any signs of actual evolution. Prince of Persia manages to be an even more despicable experience than its Canadian predecessors.

    I actually pity the person who calls this an enjoyable videogame, for he or she is truly an ignorant. Definitely a game I wish to see buried deep by the sands of time.

    • ruicraveirinha
    • January 9th, 2009

    Couldn’t agree more…
    Thanks for the comment sensei-kun!

    • Miguel Coelho
    • January 10th, 2009

    I completely agree with your review. Midway through the game I was wanting it to end. It’s so repetitive… Gets really tiring after a while. I think the lack of decent enemies and laughably bad combat contribute a great deal to this game’s mediocrity. I did finish the story, though (and did enjoy the ending, by the way. Unexpected.). Well, at least you get rewarded from time to time with some impressive sights.

    What really bugs me about this game isn’t the content itself. It’s the fact that super easy for morons isn’t a difficulty setting that we are able to choose from the options menu. Having it imposed and not being able to get any kind of decent challenge is really insulting to say the least. I can only hope this game and others like it sell like crap so that we stop being subjected to games that practically play themselves.

    Just one small suggestion. Could you insert some paragraphs in your reviews? Would make the text much easier to read.

    • ruicraveirinha
    • January 10th, 2009

    Once again, thanks for your comment Miguel.

    Even though I am not a challenge oriented games kind of guy, I can perfectly see your point. If “Prince of Persia” doesn’t have anything to say, and isn’t remotely fun to play, why bother with it? Like you, I finished it (for review purposes only, of course) and wasn’t entertained at all, save for the first few hours.

    However, I would stress out that a game design model where difficulty is completely set aside can work. In fact, many modern genres have been sustained by that same notion (e.g. adventure games and RPGs). And, whether we like it or not, as the videogame industry grows, and with it, the target audience of the medium, gameplay will continue to be simplified to become more accessible. The question is: how can a simple form of gameplay, that does not challenge most players, still be a part of a game that expresses something? That is the answer that Guillemot (“Prince of Persia’s” director) did not answer.

    As to your suggestion, thank you very much. I will see if I can make my texts more eligible from now on. Best regards.

    • Miguel Coelho
    • January 11th, 2009

    i’m writing this on my mobile phone, so i’m sorry for any typo in advance, lol. I hope you’re enjoying Fable 2, Rui. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Molineux does hype his games to hell, so it’s impossible for it to meet all expectations. Even so, what is there is great fun in my opinion. It’s also a good example of an easy game done right. Plus it has some great combat and art style. I don’t want to spoil the story for you, but let’s just say that the ending sequence falls short of what you might expect.

    • ruicraveirinha
    • January 11th, 2009

    I’ve already had the pleasure of finishing the game, and yes, I found it thoroughly enjoyable. Though I’ll explain my views with a bit more detail when the review hits (some time after releasing my 2008 year analysis). I can say there are a lot of good ideas in the game, some of which are really important to this particular discussion about difficulty, and the renouncing of challenge oriented videogames.

    Thanks for the comments. It’s great to hear from you.

  2. Yeah, Fable 2 is a FUN game. Really nice, good graphics. I liked the characters too. I had me lotsa laughs as well. Man Molyneux is sooo funny and he has got a sense of humor. Also the game is fresh, like no other game before. Really, really the best game I played in 2008. Sorry boys, gotta run. I just heard the bell ring and my teacher will be really mad at me if I don’t show up in time: I’m not skipping any classes on my 6th grade you know?

    • ruicraveirinha
    • January 12th, 2009

    Really, reeeeally clever, good sir. Outstanding, never seen anything like it. The subtle irony, the delicious sense of sarcasm, and the disdain… brutal! Your wit is as charming as your acting capabilities. What a smashing performance… for a moment there you really got me thinking you were a 6th grader. Superb work! Jolly good. Keep it up, and you might go far!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: