When Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was released in 2003, it was hailed as nothing short of a masterpiece. The modern-day retooling of one of the biggest franchises of gaming's golden age received immense critical acclaim, and game of the year awards for its inventive control scheme, stunning visuals and revolutionary gameplay controls. Naturally, the success of Sands of Time paved the way for two sequels; Prince of Persia: The Warrior Within and Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones. Sadly, the sequels were similar in name alone, and seemed to focus more on blood, gore and button mashing combat than any of the elements that made Sands of Time so special. So when Ubisoft Montreal decided to revamp the series completely, it took on an immense challenge -- create a new Prince of Persia title that went back to the series' roots, yet was good enough to make players forget about The Sands of Time.
They succeeded -- for the most part.
The newest chapter in the Prince of Persia series is a fun, innovative and rewarding experience that nods back to the franchises early days, yet takes a big step towards rewriting the rules of the entire platformer genre. Sadly though, a few slight hiccups in the design of the Prince's world will hinder its chances of joining the ranks of The Sands of Time.
More often than not when developers use cell shading for their titles, the ends result comes off as little more than a hokey gimmick, but in the case of PoP, it works, and it works well. From the start, the developers wanted to make players feel like they were in a storybook throughout the entire PoP experience, which the cell shading achieves tremendously. The incredibly detailed characters stand out well against the vibrant backgrounds. Incredibly, as you progress, the game's visuals only get more stunning -- playing through each completed area brings new life, and new color to an already vibrant landscape. Prince of Persia has every right to be considered along with Fallout 3 and Metal Gear Solid 4 as one of the year's best looking games.
Unlike the two most recent sequels, PoP is less about combat, and more about platforming, though it's unlike any platformer you've ever played. Though you'll be doing plenty of running and jumping, thanks to a few minor gameplay tweaks, it feels so different than anything you've played before. PoP is not about jumping to one ledge, slowing down and looking for your next platform, like Mirror's Edge earlier this year, you'll have a much more rewarding experience if you're able to keep the Prince in a constant state of motion. Each world is setup so players are able to string together lengthy combinations of acrobatic maneuvers (it doesn't hurt that most of the animations are simply phenomenal) to advance through them. There is a definite rhythm to PoP's gameplay, and when you actually take a step back, and allow yourself to move along with it, the feeling is incredibly rewarding.
This system of motion and rhythm seems to be meant for players to experiment with different techniques and play styles, but it falters in that aspect on occasion. While PoP can accurately be described as a "quasi-open world platformer", it's painstakingly obvious in certain spots that the developers have a path they'd like you to take. You'll see a ledge, but not be able to jump to it, or mysteriously overshoot it every time. This hinders one of the game's most novel aspects, and can make exploring and experimenting frustrating. Luckily, this doesn't happen often, and is more of an exception than a rule.
Of course, it doesn't hurt that you can't die in PoP. Early on, you'll meet Elika, who will be your constant companion, and yes, you're going to need her. When most games introduce a "sidekick" character it means you're in for a lot of the dreaded "accompany" and "protect" missions, but not in PoP. Elika is an integral and very welcome addition to the franchise. Miss that ledge or overshoot your jump? Elika will snag your arm just before you fall to your doom, placing you safely on your last checkpoint (and there's seemingly one every two feet). The same premise holds true with combat -- she'll move you out of the way just before your enemies deal the final blow. While some may think the absence of any real consequence would make the game feel less rewarding, it simply allows for more freedom for exploration and experimenting with the Prince's wide-range of motions.
Elika is more than just a last minute bailout though -- in fact, she's much more. The relationship between Elika and the Prince plays like an extension of what we know platformers to be, and enriches the experience immensely. Far from your average "helpless sidekick," Elika is an important part of many of PoP's integral gameplay mechanics. Need help scoping the area ahead for enemies? A simple button-press sends Elika out into the distance. Think of Elika as your virtual Swiss-army knife. Amazingly, with all the help Elika extends the prince, she never comes off as overbearing or pushy; throughout the entire game, Elika never once took center stage, allowing players the ability to move at their own pace, using Elika as they see fit and not how the developers do.
The game's simplistic control scheme doesn't stop with Elika -- many of the Prince's abilities follow the same one-button formula. Each of The Prince's actions is mapped to one button. There's one for acrobatic maneuvers, one for sword fighting (with a separate button for the gauntlet melee weapon) and another for magic. This button-scheme makes it easy for players to rely on their instincts rather than worry about combo systems, a problem with many modern-age platformers.
That's not to say that there are no combos in PoP, in fact, the combat system relies heavily on a mix of the rhythm based combat and combos. Every fight in PoP is one-on-one, and starts off relying on the rhythm system used elsewhere in the game. They key to being successful is learning how to use this system to string together long and powerful combo maneuvers. Learning the system can prove incredibly useful in later chapters of the game, as mastering this system proves essential to boss battles.
There’s no doubt that PoP is directed towards a more casual audience. Some of the puzzles found in past PoP games have become legendary, and you get very few of them here. Instead, the puzzles are very simple and user-friendly (save a few towards the middle of the game). Also, in certain points you can't help but feel you're being guided, a shame in such a beautiful world. With a major motion picture based on the franchise in the works, it's understandable that the developers would want the franchise to be played by a much wider audience, but it's a shame that they had to sacrifice one of the game's key elements to do it.
With incredible visuals, innovative gameplay and a deceivingly deep combat engine, this Prince of Persia reboot is a title that should be experienced by everyone. It's no Sands of Time, but it's something special in its own right.
CHEATS USED: Alternate Costumes, Trainer
There aren't many cheats available for Prince of Persia, and for good reason -- you absolutely cannot die. Before you encounter any major harm, your sidekick Elika whisks you back to your last save point. That being said, what good would an infinite health or unlimited lives cheat be? Using a trainer to be able to access later areas when I want also proved to be a moot point as the game lets you play the missions in any order you choose.
There is however cheats for alternate costumes for the Prince and Elika, including one for Altair's costume from the recent Assassin's Creed and a modern take on the costume from the original Prince of Persia. This may seem like a small cheat, but PoP is so astounding visually, it's interesting to see if these other costumes compliment the world as well as the original.
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