July 29, 2008 – As a franchise, Prince of Persia has been around for quite a few years. The first title met with critical acclaim and rightfully became an instant classic. Its mix of sword fighting, acrobatics, and a unique setting set the stage for what fans could expect from the franchise in the future. After being reinvigorated by the Sands of Time trilogy from the last generation of consoles, Prince of Persia is once again looking to reestablish itself as one of the biggest names in video games.
Gone are the events, main character, story, and graphics from the Sands of Time trilogy, leaving the chance for a completely fresh start on the current generation of consoles. Prince of Persia will focus on an all new Prince character this time around. However, the biggest surprise is that he doesn’t actually start the game as royalty. Instead, the main character is just a wayward traveler who happens to stumble into the role of a hero, providing him with the chance to earn his princely status.
The game starts with the main character, Dastan, entering a forbidden mythical garden. At its center stands the enormous Tree of Life, which is actually functioning as a prison for Ahriman. This ancient god of darkness was sealed in the Tree of Life after a losing battle with his brother Ormazd. The Prince arrives just in time to see Ahriman break free from his imprisonment, spreading his corruption over the once beautiful garden. Players are then tasked with restoring this garden to its former state by helping to purge this corruption.
I specifically say helping because this time you won’t be going it alone. Very early in the game you will meet Elika, the last descendant of the Tree of Life guardians. Elika is an A.I. controlled character who will constantly follow the Prince and help him with everything from acrobatics to combat. Unlike many games where you have to worry about keeping characters like this alive, Elika is completely self-sufficient and will actually be saving you on many occasions. If you happen to fall into a pit or make contact with the corruption, she will stretch out her hand and rescue you from certain doom. Fortunately, this does seem balanced as she won’t drop you right where you were, instead taking you back to the beginning of whatever you were trying to accomplish. While this may sound somewhat similar to the “rewind” feature found in previous titles, Elika sets herself apart with her other abilities.
Sword fighting is once again the main focus of combat, though this time around you will square off against one enemy at a time instead of the groups of foes we’ve grown accustomed to. This allows for more personal and cinematic battles than were previously possible. Since you only have to focus on one enemy at a time expect these battles to be fairly challenging. This is also thanks in part to greatly improved enemy A.I. that continues to adapt to your attacks, forcing players to explore the combat’s variety. Players are given a grapple, sword, jump, and Elika button that can be used to perform several different attacks or even strung together to form combos. This is where Elika becomes an invaluable asset, as you will need to take full advantage of her added firepower during several of the game’s fighting sequences.
Aside from saving you after missteps and helping in combat, Elika makes her presence known while traversing the garden. She serves as both a double jump, extending the distance that you can leap, and as the key to a multitude of scattered magical plates. Once activated by Elika, these plates function similarly to those found in many Sonic the Hedgehog titles. You will jump onto one and grab hold, jumping again to be launched to the next plate in the series. These plates seem a little out of place, but they help you to cover a lot of ground and arrive at otherwise unreachable destinations.
Although the entirety of the game is confined to the garden, it is quite expansive and gives players a vast area to explore and save. Each part of the garden will need to be cleansed of the corruption, so it can be returned to its former beauty. Thankfully, with this game’s open-ended approach to ridding the world of corruption, players will find themselves dispelling the evil black goo in each area of the garden in almost any order they wish. While it isn’t a completely sandbox experience, there are many different paths available for restoring the garden one area at a time. If you are having troubles completing one segment of the game, you can just move on to another area and go back whenever you feel ready.
With all the other improvements that help set this game apart from its predecessors, perhaps the most drastic comes in its visuals. Being on more powerful consoles allows for more elaborate environments and characters, with the polygon count making up the new Prince’s hair actually surpassing those found in the previous titles’ entire Prince models. However, more astonishing is this game’s unique illustrated approach. It looks almost like cel-shading but retains much more detail than has ever been seen in a typical cel-shaded title. Landscapes and characters all appear as though they were hand drawn, with black outlines surrounding almost everything. These graphics look amazing in pictures but are even more impressive when witnessed in motion.
While the foundation of acrobatics, swordplay, a unique setting, and an interesting storyline remain, Prince of Persia builds solidly upon its previous outings. With its impressive visuals, more focused combat, and intriguing A.I. support character, this title looks like it will provide fans with a somewhat familiar and yet fresh experience. If you liked the previous Prince of Persia games, you should definitely keep your eyes on this title. If not, this may be a good starting point to try the series for the first time, as its storyline doesn’t tie into the previous games. Either way, look for Prince of Persia to possibly make a serious impact this holiday season.