PRINCE OF PERSIA 3D / Red Orb / PC
I've been seeing mediocre reviews for this game since it came out a decade ago, but I picked up a used copy for a few bucks thinking that anything that Jordan Mechner was at the helm of couldn't possibly be all THAT bad.
Well, I was right about the reviews being off, in a sense. They're too generous! Really, anything above a 4/10 is being far too nice to this game. It really should have been called Prince of Shoddily Programmed and Clumsy As Hell 3D. Prince of Complete Garbage also works.
Seriously, this is one of those games where so much has gone wrong, I don't even know where to start. It's easier just to list the things that it manages to do right - the music and the enivronments are both decent. Beyond that, everything else sucks.
The clunky "tank controls" and wildly swinging camera are as good a place to start as any I guess, because you'll consistently be wrestling with them from second one. The textures are close to 1999 standards, but the engine and gameplay seriously don't feel much different than Fade to Black, a similar debacle in which the 2D rotoscoped game Flashback was ported poorly to 3D. Fade to Black had the excuse of being a 1994 release and one of the first fully 3D action-adventure games ever, however. For reference, when POP 3D came out, not only had Tomb Raider been out for a few years, but here's a short list of other games that had already been released - Half-Life, System Shock 2, Thief, Rayman 2. There's no excuse for this level of awful other than shoestring budget, terrible effort, or some combination of both.
Compounding the control problems is that there's a separate goddamn button for every single thing up to scratching the Prince's ass. To give you an idea, there's five buttons just for fighting - draw sword, attack center, attack left, attack right, and parry. None of these can be mapped concurrently with any of the other necessary buttons - walk, step sideways, crawl, jump, use, etc. On a keyboard it quickly becomes as unweildy as an Origin RPG or flight sim. I was initially impressed that the game booted perfectly on Windows 7 and recognized all the buttons of my dual-analog USB gamepad ... until I realized that my 10 buttons weren't enough to map all of the necessary game functions to. You seriously need like some 100 button gamepad to pull that off. I cobbled out a system of getting most of the key action commands onto the gamepad and putting the fighting buttons on the keyboard, but it took so goddamn long and was still pretty clumsy to use in-game.
As mentioned before, the enivronments are fairly creative, atmospheric, and look generally decent, but the human models and textures are just hideous, even by 1999 standards. The music is alright but it loops way too frequently for how long you'll be stuck in these environments between the numerous complex jumping puzzles, the drunken camera and the shoddy controls.
Guard AI is a joke too. My first encounter with a guard was a good lul. It's this dude that is unimaginatively walking back and forth across a hallway you need to go down to hit a switch. Just prior to this an old prisoner dude had said something about walking behind guards so they don't hear you, so I assumed I was supposed to sneak behind him. Well, his sixth senses engaged and he started to very slowly and jerkily turn toward me as I ran behind him, so I ducked in a nearby room hoping to hide. He never followed me so I assumed my ploy worked ... then I walked back out in the hall, peeked in the next room, and saw him stuck on the adjacent wall, turning in circles like a malfunctioning robot. As I discovered with the next guard up, they also have some thing about not swinging their swords when they are too close to a wall or solid object. So if you're up against a wall and a guard runs up to you, he'll just kinda stand there and stare at you until you move (see screenshot below.)
It takes a hell of a long time to get hold of a sword, and once you do, you discover sword fighting is equally awful. There's no animations to respond to hits for either you or the enemy, so you just have to kind of guess as to whether a hit landed on the enemy by whether or not they were in their "parry pose" when you attacked (or just keep spamming away until they fall over.) It's miles from the simple yet graceful combat that was one of the most appealing things about the first two games.
I don't know what happened here. Broderbund snuck this one out under their Red Orb label, usually used for edutainment to that point, so you have to assume they knew it was shit. Amusingly, there's zero mention of it on Jordan Mechner's Wiki as well. Whatever the reason, it should never have been released in this state. It looks and plays like a game still in final beta.
* Gameplay Video
* Prince of Safeway