PRINCE OF PERSIA (2008) / Ubisoft / PC
Prince of Persia 2008 represents the series' 2nd reboot. You had the original trilogy of games released in the 90s, then more recently the Dark Prince trilogy (Sands of Time, Warrior Within, Two Thrones) in the PS2 / Xbox era, which was the first reboot. This "reboot reboot" flushes the Broody Asshole Prince and the Rewind Mechanics of the previous three games, opting to give you instead a very colorful cel-shaded world more akin to that of Wind Waker, cartoony Disney snark instead of Grimdarkness, and a magical companion who basically prevents you from ever dying.

This installment opens with our new Prince (who looks like he shares a tailor with Kefka) wandering the desert, looking for his lost camel. He quickly runs into some magical jumpy girl, running away from some menacing armed men. Being dashing and horny, our Prince interjects himself into the situation, and before you know it he's on a quest to keep a sealed dark god from being unleashed on the world and all that.

Though the game looks entirely different, when you get down to the nuts and bolts of it this is still Ubisoft Montreal developing it, so fundamentally it doesn't play all that differently from the Dark Prince trilogy. The two major differences are the aforementioned Magical Girl Companion, and the combat. And Magical Girl is really an automated time-saving quicksave/quickload device; if you slip into a fatal fall, she automatically catches you and heaves you back to the beginning of the jumping sequence. Combat also pays homage to the style of the very first two games; you only fight one foe at a time in a timing-heavy duel of parries and ripostes ... or so's the idea, anyway. Magical Girl bails you out of any fatal situation here, too; the worst that can happen is the enemy recharges a little HP and drags the battle out a bit longer.

As such, we run into the game's first major issue - you can't really lose in any way. A no-lose design doesn't have to be a problem, necessarily; just ask LucasArts back in their adventure game days, for example. In a game based entirely around action, however? It strips any sense of challenge at all down to being temporarily inconvenienced by a jumping puzzle here and there.

The funny thing is, the game STILL almost pulls it off just by being so damn *pleasant* - so gorgeous to look at, and with such a nice symphonic soundtrack, and enjoyable to play while in the midst of a fluid parkour stretch. But it doesn't, simply because the jumping puzzles are so continually samey, and combat never really feels like you're doing much of anything at all.

I've seen the game described as "open-world", but that's not really accurate; I think a more apt comparison is to the sort of "hub world collect-a-thon" platformers that were really popular in the N64 day - Banjo-Kazooie, Donkey Kong 64, even Jak and Daxter 1 for the PS2. There's a tiny hub world that connects a bunch of different levels, and each level is full of little glowy light balls which you have to collect to open further worlds. The game initially has an interesting structure - generally in each new level, you fight the boss fairly early on, and then the rest of the time in the level is spent doing Cirque Du Soleil shit all over the place hunting down the light balls. The problem with this is that the very first level shows you about 90% of what you'll be doing for the rest of the game.

With very repetitive action (and a fair amount of backtracking between worlds), can the story at least bail the game out by providing impetus to continue on? The devs stated flat-out that your Magical Girl companion Elika was meant to capture the same sort of feeling as Alyx Vance in Half-Life 2, to take on a state of the player looking at them as almost alive and wanting to protect them. This kinda falls flat on its face for a couple of reasons, however. One is simply that Elika is flat and unlikable; as is the Prince, to be fair, as they're basically just a pair of Generic Disney Snark Machines that trade lame one-liners back and forth at each other in most of their dialogue. The bigger reason, however, is that Elika is so capable she makes the Prince seem like a useless hanger-on. I mean, she can do all the acrobatic moves you can do, plus has the ability to fly temporarily, plus fights monsters in combat with magic, plus apparently strong enough to heave you bodily great distances while flying. Throughout the adventure you're kind of wondering, "Why am I even here?" The story overall is pretty threadbare and is your generic "seal the evil demon" contrivance with almost no character development; the Prince starts out as some random guy with no name or background wandering the desert looking for a camel, 5 minutes in he's random guy with no name or background sealing the Great Evil in its tomb by jumping through a bunch of ruins. That's about it. I didn't finish the game, but reportedly the ending is some attempt to ape Shadow of the Lolossus that didn't come off all that well.

PoP 2008 isn't quite a game that plays itself ... but really, it's uncomfortably close. You rarely press a button other than A - B for the occasional ring that pops up, RT to slide down walls, and that's about it. It's a nice ride up Highway 1 in the passenger seat with the top down on a sunny day; lovely sightseeing, but 12 hours of it is going to get boring inevitably. Especially when you start seeing the same segments over and over.
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