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Prince of Persia Review

October 14, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

By Kob Monney

Completing Prince of Persia (2008) recently left me a little unsatisfied. I recalled when I first played the game over a year or so ago. I played it on my flatmates PS3 and I remember asking him to have a go as he rarely ventured out of any JRPG or Star Wars licensed game. He prefers games where you could sink a lot of time into and he often says he plays games for the stories (to which I guffawed as I felt games rarely have stories worthy of your attention). Despite the game ticking these boxes he declined. I drew to him to the cell-shaded aesthetic in my best used car salesman voice. He would not budge. What about the acrobatic combat and parkour elements, they’re cool right? Again, he would not budge. The ease of playing the game, the fact that you don’t really die in the game, even the story is not so bad. He still would not budge. I asked him why he wouldn’t give it a try as he had seen me playing quite a bit and he said, “Well you can’t really die”.  I managed to get him into games like Ratchet and Clank and Uncharted 1 & 2 but couldn’t pique his interest in FIFA and Mirror’s Edge but this seemed different from the latter. He wouldn’t play those because he doesn’t like football and Mirror’s Edge looked to be too frustrating (he should know, I was constantly cursing the game for making me dizzy) but this game seemed to be everything he would like in a video game and yet there was no interest.

It was odd that the contentious point was the inability to die. Odd in the way that it was not much different from any other death scene we see in games. In fact it was probably better in that rather than be sent back to some loading screen, you were simply saved and transported to the last flat surface you were on. It was quick and most of all it reassured you that when you failed, your reset point was not far away. It helped to alleviate the sense of despondency we can get from games where death results in being set back to a far flung checkpoint, your last save or worst yet the beginning of the level. It seemed to be much less of a hassle to deal with and essentially that is what Prince of Persia strives for, to iron out the annoyances that plague our game experiences and make it free of hassle.

From the combat which is practically one button combat that resists button mashing (similar in a way to Fable 2’s combat system) or traversing many of the challenges with the environment (that actually made very little sense in the context of the world but this is a game after all), it was intuitive, easy to pick up and fast to gain mastery over. It sidestepped the need for levelling up, for gathering certain items to progress and gave you everything you needed from the outset. All Prince of Persia wanted is for your experience of the game to be pleasurable. In much the same way we label films and books that we know are trashy, uncomplicated pieces of entertainment as guilty pleasure, the same could be applied here. The gameplay is not taxing, the spectre of death (failure) is removed and momentum is achieved by gathering light seeds which will only appear once you’ve defeated a boss and serve as an incentive to gather more to open other areas for exploration.

However upon completing it for the second time I had to admit, I didn’t quite like it as much as I remembered it. Aesthetically the game is gorgeous to look at but the game suffers from a case of style over substance and I can see why my flatmate was not interested in the content. It is a pleasurable experience but ultimately it is also rather shallow and very repetitive. The interaction between Elika and the Prince (who rather confusingly is neither a prince at the beginning nor does he really become one at the end) disappoints.

Despite the voice of the now ubiquitous Nolan North it feels odd having such a modern American voice in a fictional, historical setting.  It shouldn’t grate yet it does regardless of the rugged, easy to like charm North brings to the ‘Prince’. The relationship between Elika and the Prince hinges on a sense of co-operation between them which in the more acrobatic and fighting sections is prevalent but when the action settles down to a slow trek and conversations are initiated (with a press of the left trigger/shoulder button) not much is really said or revealed and the responses so unsurprising you expect the dialogue to go through the motions before it stops at its expected end. The slight dislike of Prince’s more abrasive parts of his personality by Elika and then their blossoming partnership follows the template we’ve seen far too often in this type of story in other media for it to have much of an impact here. Finding light seeds can soon turn into a laborious trudge because like the rest of the game it is too simplistic and after a few hours can grow monotonous. Puzzles seek to complicate matters but can also be figured out easily or in some cases totally by accident. What disappoints the most is the lack of any sense of the world around you. It is not populated at all despite Elika referring back to some sort of splendour before the Corruption started, there is no evidence that anyone ever lived there and when you reflect on it how anyone could have lived there without falling to their deaths.

The game almost defeats itself by being gorgeous to look at but also empty to be in, having engaging combat/acrobatic sequences but repetitive bosses. It brings me back to my former flatmate’s point, the lack of death constitutes as a lack of failure which is translated towards other areas of the game. You’re not allowed to feel any real sense of danger and unfortunately any sense of true excitement. I realise now that without the sense of failure you become less involved and that for any player is the death knell for any source of enjoyment.

Copyright Kob Monney 2010

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