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There’s a lot of hype about Prince of Persia’s new undying gameplay. If you haven’t heard– in the new Prince of Persia you apparently always have a magical friend who will pull you out of fatal situations to let you keep playing without downtime. I was interested from the point of game design, but as I read my memory began to recall the many recommendations over the years to try the Prince of Persia games. Up until now I never had.

So I finally grabbed a copy of Sands of Time (for those not in the know, that’s the PS2-era Prince games). What transpired was a veritably executed bait and switch maneuver by Ubisoft to first steal my heart, and then repeatedly drop it off cliffs into ground spikes.

Let me start by saying that Prince of Persia: Sands of Time is a tour de force of beautiful gameplay, capturing story, and intriguing presentation. The game starts out with the Persian king’s siege on the palace of it’s enemy the Maharajah, facilitated by the betrayal of the Maharajah’s corrupt Vizier Jaffa. The Prince plays a minor role in this, but manages to find his own unique keepsake: the Dagger of Time. This all goes well and the Persian’s have their way with the belongings (and apparently maidens) of the Maharajah’s palace. They also find a huge hourglass (the Hourglass of Time of course) which they cart off to their friend’s palace.

Persuaded by the treacherous Vizier (who for some unknown reason seems to be treated as some sort of trusted advisor to the Persian king??), the Prince stabs the dagger into the Hourglass of Time which manages to release the sands within, ravaging the people and palace in it’s wake. The people are turned into what amounts to Zombies, and your goal throughout the game is to get to the hourglass so you can somehow reverse this mess.

The gameplay is phenomenal, consisting of a brilliant blend of fast paced action, intelligent puzzles, excellent plot line, and extraordinary attention to detail. In many parts of the game I was surprised to see how well they had anticipated the character’s actions when scripting the voice work, and they even managed to make Farah, your female sidekick, not suck at fighting. There are many times when Farah is in the fight and needs help and no, you don’t always have to help her (at least to me, these parts never seemed too much like escort missions). Over the course of the game the Prince and Farah hit it off (surprise, surprise) and the romantic nuances are neither overwhelming nor poorly done.

I finished the game in two days of solid frenzied playing to experience an end which made me happy to have spent the time. I immediately started looking for it’s sequel, Warrior Within.

Here’s where shit hits the fan. I don’t want to say that Warrior Within isn’t a decent game in some respects… actually fuck it yeah that’s what I’m saying the game sucked. I spent more time on this one than Sands of Time but the reason I spent more time isn’t because the game was longer, or I was inspired to keep playing because of it’s excellent replay value. No. The reason is because it is so uncompromisingly brutal to it’s players.

For those who haven’t seen or played it, Warrior Within is the dark sequel. It’s the sequel you can be pretty sure was handed over by the Devil when Ubisoft Montreal sold their soul to keep the Prince of Persia franchise alive. Warrior Within couldn’t have been the first name they picked: I’m betting on Prince Of War, but alas there was already a popular ultra-violent racy demonic action/adventure game series for the PS2 that sounded like that. But in the end they picked a good name: it’s a name which embodies the plot of the game: fighting. What you say? Fighting isn’t a plot, but a gameplay element? Tell that to these sell out fucks, the only thing that qualifies as an actual plot point in the game is at the end when the plan doesn’t work and you decide to find the Sandwraith mask. And by that point in the game you just don’t care, you’d rather skewer yourself in the eye than get involved in anything this game throws you.

Mostly gone are the puzzles from Sands of Time, replaced by neverending sand enemies and mostly crappy rock music. Oh, I won’t forget mindlessly repetitive acrobatics, because unlike it’s predecessor, all the monkey work in this game revolves primarily about six possible paths, meaning by the end of the game you will fucking hate the world you are in. They didn’t have to drain all color from the game. They didn’t have to turn the Prince into a God of War wannabe with some unexplained pissed offness about the whole Sands of Time thing (psst: at the end of Sands of Time, everything returns to normal and none of it happened). The only justification for the game (and the journey it entails) is that the Prince is being chased by a big ass beast for fucking with the Sands of Time and not dying. So wait, this Empress of Time bitch makes these sands of time which are supposed to sit in an hourglass doing nothing, and if anyone unlocks them than they have to die? I’m sorry but what was the fucking point of making them in the first place!?

On top of that, the game is infuriatingly difficult, even on Easy. I played through Sands of Time in probably fifteen hours of gameplay with virtually no problems. That game also does not have a difficulty setting. Welcome to Prince of War, where I think the game has more fun killing me and throwing the insidious Game Over screen at my face. Come to think of it, I bet I spent more time sitting behind the game over screen than I did actually playing this game. So many deaths in the game out of reflex my mind said “this would be way more fun if it was easier”. So then it says OK well change the difficulty. Crap. Not only am I already on Easy but I would have to start a fresh game to change that.

The game is also extremely glitchy. I had to consult walkthroughs countless times just to make sure I had picked the correct path (the game is only SUPPOSED to give you one path but if you find some of the possible branches and take the wrong one, you will sit there for decades trying to figure out where you went wrong and why there is nowhere to go. There’s also lots of scripting glitches. At one point I was supposed to face a mini boss (the Golem), the battle music started but no enemies appeared. So I continued through the room and reached a window where I could look out on the “battlefield” to see the Golem had appeared down there and was patiently waiting for me to go back and kill it. Later in the game you must jump quickly between the masts of a broken ship before they fall down and even if executed perfectly, the Prince will likely glitch out and fall off it, forcing you to waste most of your time rewind powers to make it through it. The game even feature my most hated of all gameplay “features”, the times when you have literally the lowest amount of health you can possibly have and you have no choice but to go back to a previous save or face insurmountable odds fighting huge amounts of extremely difficult enemies without getting hit once. Believe it or not, the latter was the quicker option in many scenarios.

The Bink video codec used by the game for cutscenes is absolutely terrible. I’m sorry but my computer is rendering millions of polygons and particle effects, it’s applying NUMEROUS vertex and pixel shaders, it’s applying realistic lighting settings and real time shadows, and it’s using compositing to do motion blurs, color filters, all while the CPU is handling audio, enemy AI, input and general gameplay. This all works pretty fluidly on my system. So the question is, why in Canada’s freezer can’t the stupid Bink codec play these shitty quality cutscenes properly? This is definitely not just my problem, I found loads of forum posts across the web about frustrated users trying to fix their settings, even upgrading their hardware just to make the stupid cutscenes work right in this game!

There are redeeming points, but really they are all just bait to get you hooked. Once you’re deep into the game, you start loathing it; planning it’s assassination- some way to stop it from devouring your soul before you finish it. Oh wait, I didn’t finish it because I missed some life upgrades and the end boss battle is too difficult for me to care, considering the only way I’ll ever get that second ending is if I play through the entire game again and use a walkthrough to make sure I don’t miss the hidden life upgrades, which unlike in the Sands of Time, look entirely like the confusing maze your ALREADY trying to get through. I mean big surprise if you miss it considering half of the paths won’t let you get back easily. And what would the point of playing through again if it wasn’t somehow different. Usually in this sort of scenario I would up the difficulty level one notch. Oh right, I hardly made it through this game on easy. And I don’t ever want to see another square foot of that fucking island, nor do I want to ever hear the stupid fight music.

No, I haven’t and am not going to play Two Thrones (that’s the second sequel to Sands of Time) because I can’t risk to be used again for some Persian demonic agenda. I don’t have a PS3 or 360 to play the new Prince of Persia, but if I ever do, I think I will just not play it. I played Assassin’s Creed before this whole mess and loved every moment. In fact that style of acrobatic gameplay made me enjoy Sands of Time.

This isn’t the first franchise with a popular first game and a mind blowingly terrible sexed out, ultraviolent, big budget rock-music button mash romp for a sequel, but the boys at Ubisoft Montreal really took the concept to a new level. It’s the kind of game that gives you a choice: stop playing or risk partial or full-on insanity, rage, scitzophrenia, upset stomach, diahhrea, bloody nose, incontinence and partial disembowelment.

It’s overwhelmingly disappointing that such an excellent trilogy could be ruined for me by such an astronomically shitty game. The game actually induced me to think about ways to get back at the developers, for wasting not only my time but my love on a sold out piece of shit franchise. There’s an air of “the sequel lost it’s visionary” and as I look at Jordan Mechner’s Wikipedia (the creator of the original PoP game) it
does indeed mention that Mechner was actively involved in Sands of Time, but in name only for Warrior Within as he was busy with the movie. That explains a lot. The true genius leaves the house and all that’s left is the wannabe fuck designers who only care about getting a best seller game on their resume, at the expense of the fans. Well it won’t be at the expense of me, because I, sir, am not a fan.


One Comment

  1. WOW , you’re bitching about a game from 2004! I just finished it on PC and got both cutscenes!!!!!!

    Sure WW had sum issues, but it was fun, and I njoyed it.
    And now im off to play “The Two Thrones”.

    You do realise that “the 2 thrones”
    is considered to have one of the best game endings ever!!!!
    I cant wait!

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