XBOX REVIEW: PRINCE OF PERSIA 2: WARRIOR WITHIN

The sleeper hit of 2003 is officially now the sleeper of 2004. Almost everything you loved about the first game has been altered beyond recognition which results in Warrior Within falling way behind the coveted "Better than the original!" marketing cry. Inexplicably the aspects of The Sands Of Time that most players complained about, namely the endless battling of foes has returned in spades and it's not only repetitive beyond all reason, it's also a lot less forgiving this time around. You also won't find the dreamy storybook facade that permeated the first game; instead you'll be faced with a dark, violent and gory tale which would be more at home if Vin Diesel was shooting and slicing his way through it. All I can say is: Ubi Soft Montreal - "Wha' Happen?" Sands of Time wasn't broken to the point of needing this much reconstructive surgery! Maybe a nick and tuck here, but who the hell told you to do this?

The story picks up where the Prince left off in the original. The result of unleashing the Sands Of Time has created an evil entity known as The Dahaka, and it's coming for the Prince. There is no way to stop this unstoppable force so with time on his side, our hero decides to go back in time and kill the Empress of Time so that the Sands of Time won't be created. Terminator anyone? Your adventure begins on the Island of Time and will continue here until you beat the game 12-20 hours later depending on your skill level and utter confusion as to where to go and what to do later in the game compliments of the non-linear nature of the game. Much like children, certain games need boundaries and allowing our protagonist to free roam through the environments as well as through time itself - in effect doubling the possibility as to where to go - causes too much confusion, backtracking and frustration later on. The non-linear aspect is an admirable attempt at realism but WW needed to be roped in far more than it is. If you disagree with me, chances are you either haven't played this game or you haven't gotten that far into it to know what I'm talking about. But you will. Cue maniacal laughter....

Since borrowing the plot from Terminator wasn't below them, Ubi Soft Montreal decided to incorporate a little bit of Soul Reaver and Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time gameplay into the mix as well. The Prince will have to traverse the islands many dangers in the past and present, which depending on when you are, the structural integrity of the islands architecture may be suspect. This mechanic translates into lots of backtracking through the same environments (past and present) and unfortunately it gets a little old.

The beauty and simplicity of Sands of Time lay directly at the feet of the level design. Each area was either a puzzle in which the gamer had to discern the safest way to get from point A to point B by completing a handful of brilliantly executed platfom challenges or a battleground, infested with any number of enemies which had to be slain before continuing. As mentioned, most of us loved the platforming elements but felt the repetitive battles with ever increasing enemies was too much. Warrior Within builds on the platforming aspects somewhat while maintaining realistic environments to flip, wall run and swing in and only the chase scenes with Dahaka gum up the smooth freeflowing aspect of this area in the game. While the chase scenes are new to the series and a welcome addition, the camera angles chosen for them are undeniably cosmetic and will result in some of the most infuriating passages you'll encounter.

Certainly the Prince was no slouch in the combat department when we last saw him and he's now even more prepared to battle undead sand creatures thanks to his new dual wielding ability. Ubi Soft spent a lot of time increasing the Prince's already impressive repertoire of moves and attacks by adding violent combos which must be performed with two weapons. There are a vast array of secondary weapons located around the island which you can find lying around or confiscate from fallen enemies, but the catch is that they won't last very long. One move you might exploit later on is the ability to throw enemies off the sides of ledges so that they won't bother you any longer, making large scale battles much easier to control. The combat execution is fantastic and it's a real gas to be able to flip around enemies with such flair and style, thanks to the outstanding animation of The Prince. The fighting eventually gets to be too much and bogs down the flow of the game in later levels which was disappointing for me. As they say, "Too much of a good thing...."

As in the last game you'll have to rely heavily on your time powers. You can still rewind time if you buy the farm during a battle or a platform challenge and you can also slow down and speed up time to help in these areas as well.

Boss battles were few and far between in the original so Ubi Soft Montreal decided to up the ante and place boss battles in wherever they would fit into WW. No amount of combos or dual wielding will help. Blocking, patience and taking the odd swipe is all you'll get to do. It's as if the developers are forcing you to hear the repartee between the boss and the Prince and it ain't over until the talkings done. At least that's how I felt. If the King from Amadeus were reviewing this he'd say "Too many fights." Damn straight, King.

The visual presentation of Warrior Within is much darker in tone than SoT and you might be a little taken aback when the first head lops off and rolls by you. Equally as dark and foreboding is the environments and enemies you'll face. The cavalier atmosphere in the SoT gives way to despair in WW and you'll notice the shift in ambience the moment the game starts. Visually the game is excellent. The animation of the Prince is on par with Team Ninja's incredibly detailed Dead Or Alive characters and the surroundings are realistic, gritty and finely detailed right down to the most insignificant blade of grass. The framerate is consistent as well throughout the game although you might find it bog down here and there when too many enemies appear onscreen at once.

The audio portion of WW is an unexpected kick in the arse. The Prince is now voiced by a Sam Fisher/Wolverine soundalike, instead of the softspoken accented hero of SoT and its presence is most jarring. What you have here is a Canadian development team trying to appeal to middle America by "Americanizing" the hero and it's a down and dirty shame, not to mention ludicrous and quite unnecessary. However it's right in line with changing everything that wasn't broken in the first game to arrive at something less than expected. In case it was overlooked....he's the Prince of Persia...you know, Iran? Now he has more in common with Disney's Alladin, another westernized eastern hero. God forbid we should be forced to play as another ethnic group, I mean, San Andreas was bad enough! </sarcasm> Maybe next years: The Fresh Prince of Persia will be voiced by Snoop Dogg. "Hey Sand mother ******, put this dagger in yo fo-shizzle de nizzle, baby!"

Players will also encounter drops of audio here and there throughout the game and I'm not sure if this occurs in the other console versions as well. The voices of the female characters were a little out of the ordinary as well. I've never had bosses come on to me before....interesting. The soundtrack fits right along side the low talking hero cliche. Heavy metal guitar, bass and drum riffs "compliment" the action and again, you'll be looking for Vin Diesel.

Gamers disappointed with the short adventure of SoT will delight in knowing that WW goes on much longer. Unfortunately as I've heard (and possibly from some of the female bosses in this game) longer isn't necessarily better. If WW had wrapped up a few dozen brawls and numerous backtracking episodes earlier, I wouldn't have minded a bit. As it is, the length just seems to be tacked on anyway due to the brawls and backtracking so since nothing really new is happening, just end it already.

As far as extras, nothing as cool is unlocked as compared to last years hidden versions of PoP, PoP 2 and a 3D remake of the first level of the original game developed by Jordan Mechler (all extras were console specific). Many development teams are opting for unlockable art galleries which doesn't seem like much of a reward when you consider what you'll have to endure to locate all of the items (which then in turn unlocks various art). It's a current trend with game developers who want to give their audience something, but for some reason isn't sure what that something should be. It's as if they're completely unaware of the value placed on game altering codes by the people who purchase their games. Many companies have yet to figure out that instead of shortening the playability of the game (simply allow codes to be unlocked at the end of the game, thus giving gamers an incentive to finish), cool codes give the game a surge in interest, which keeps the game on the tip of gamers tongues.

If you've made it this far you'll know I'm disappointed in Warrior Within. Too many redeeming aspects of SoT were altered to accomodate more frustration and more repetition and that's never a welcome change. Warrior Within looks great, plays well and features some excellent platforming and devious puzzles and yet even though each of these aspects succeed seperately, when put together they don't form a cohesive gaming experience. I don't think I've met anyone who was a bigger proponent for the Prince's first adventure on the next gen consoles than I was, but Warrior Within just strays too far off the beaten path for me to recommend it as a blind purchase. That's not to say it's not worth playing - Warrior Within is an entertaining game with some critical flaws in its foundation, just know that going in.

Preview By Chris
Hands On: It's been almost a year since the release of Prince Of Persia, a game that was simply fantastic even with a few flaws in the controls. It also was a victim of the Christmas rush and had competition against its own makers in the way of Splinter Cell.
Members who were around last year for our annual Hoagy Awards know the game got our vote for being a great game. So when I got the demo in my hands, I was wondered if the game could be as good as the last one.
I popped the shiny disc into my Xbox and soon learned that the young Prince has gone through some major changes. First of all, the MC Hammer pants are gone and he has a dark look. He also certainly does not look like the underdog. The guy has been working out. The game takes place several years after the last game and things have changed for our Prince. In short he is pissed and knows how to use weapons like never before. He also has the use of the sands of time at his disposal. In short this is one guy you do not want to piss off!

At first glance, I was amazed at the graphics. They had a dark and eerie look to them although very detailed. This dark look was maintained throughout the game. The music and sound effects are also done very well and fit the game. The action started immediately. There was a small army awaiting the Prince and the first battle began. The battle system has been beefed up. Now the Prince can wield two weapons or keep a spare and do battle with just one. During my first battle, I also noticed that the Prince could now pull off combo attacks and chain them together. This comes in handy to fill up the 3-hour glasses he carries. I also soon learned this game was bloodier than the last one. I do not mean they went crazy with the blood. It fits the story, but I was shocked the first time I flipped over an enemy, grabbed his hair, completed a back-flip and was able to decapitate the nasty dude. I was a little surprised that the game is going to be rated "M", however, after seeing the fighting and the gore I know now why.

The battle action is intense. Even with the intense action, I noticed that while the level filled up with a ton of enemies, there was no slow down on the screen. You will get a few tutorial tips while the combat is going on. I have to say the action is that intense at times that I never got to read the tips. Now with all this action going on and blood splattering everywhere, the game's camera followed my every move in a great angle. This was something the last game at times had a little trouble with. The biggest difference in the battles in this game is that you can also use the Prince's agility and acrobatic skills to your advantage. In fact you will need to. If you just stand there and fight all the time, sooner or later the enemies will find away to trap you. It will mean a quick death. The controls handle great and after a little time of playing you will get use to them again. I even had a hard time remembering that I had to pull in the left trigger to turn back time. I liked the fact when I face one of the huge bosses, it required me to use my brain and not just my weapons. I do not want to spoil anything for those waiting for the game. Let's just say that the old saying "brains and brawn go hand in hand" fits perfectly here.

The game is not going to be a cakewalk by any means. I wish I could say I breezed through the demo and every enemy. I won't for a few reasons. The first reason is that it's not true. The second is the fact Vaughn would laugh at this point in my preview. After my time with the demo, I popped in the last game just to see the difference with the look of the game and the Prince himself. I was really amazed at the difference and how the demo was truly darker in its overall looks. I had a fun time with the demo and look forward to the full version that is on its way in December. It is interesting to hear that they are going to have downloads that will include new levels of the game. It looks like this one is going to live up to everyone's expectations. Do I think this one is worth buying? My answer is simply this if you liked the last game, you're going to be in for a huge surprise when you get your hands on this one.

Features:

  • The Game of the Year Returns: Prince of Persia 2 is the highly anticipated sequel to the universally acclaimed Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, the undisputed Console Game of the Year for 2003.
  • A Warrior Reborn: The Prince has matured immeasurably since his courageous fight in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. He returns here with deadlier skills, a darker heart and a craving for battle.
  • Free-Form Fighting System: An intricate new combat system lets you wage battles with no boundaries. Manipulate the environment and the enemies themselves to develop your own unique fighting style. Plus, an all-new projectile attack system allows for a variety of ranged combat tactics.
  • A Violent Underworld Revealed: Explore and conquer a cursed island underworld, breeding ground for the most brutal, unrelenting monsters to torment mankind.
  • Control the Ravages of Time: Ravage enemies with the devastating new combative powers of the Sands of Time, opening up astounding variations in fighting gameplay.
  • Fight Harder, Play Longer: Hours upon hours of action await in your fight for survival, including various bonus incentives for those who finish the game.
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System: Xbox
Dev: Ubi Soft
Pub: Ubi Soft
Release: Nov 2004
Players: 1
Review by Vaughn
RATING (OUT OF 5)
OVERALL
3.0
GRAPHICS
4.5
CONTROL
3.5
MUSIC/FX
2.0
VALUE
2.5