Cheap and Used - Prince of Persia (2008)
Posted by Alex at 01:05 on 23 Apr 2012
Prince of Persia ... 2008. I wish they'd stop doing that, you know. I get it, sure. "Let's just call it PRINCE OF PERSIA - it's, like, a whole new beginning! A fresh start!" Yes, yes, very clever Ubisoft Chief of Nomenclature, but it all kind of falls apart when anyone wants to write about your game. Then we have to do something stupid like stick the date on the end to make sure people know what we're going on about. As if that's not hard enough already.
Anyway, I'll try and make this quick because this is a piece of shit nothing article really and we've all got more important things to be getting on with. Things like meetings and power-brunches and standing in our corner offices getting measured for suits while sexting with Tom from accounts. I'd let you file your paperwork in my cabinet any time ;} also file your paperwork before close of play or you're fired.
So I just wanna talk about three things really:
Can't stop and talk
This is the worst thing, probably. Just because it's such a small slip, such a simple mistake, but it turns into this big irritating game-turd in your mouth.
I replayed Sands of Time fairly recently and felt like it didn't really hold up for the most part - the platforming not really coming into its own until fairly late in the game and the combat genuinely awful from start to finish. Two things definitely stood the test of time, though. For one, the beauty of those dreamlike areas with the gossamer curtains hanging down and the weirdly tangible sense of quiet. They still sit calmly with all the cool blue tranquillity of a midnight oasis.
For two, of course, that snappy back-and-forth dialogue between Prince and Princess as they go about their business. Prince of Persia (2008) tries the same trick and manages to shoot its own stupid, lovely, well-meaning face off in the process. I wasn't very keen on the new Prince at all to begin with. He's a bit of a dickhead really, sitting on the wrong side of the line which divides that whole area of cocky self-assuredness into charming and irritating. He's not even a prince? His relationship with new companion Elika is really skewed to begin with too - she is entirely on the back foot, basically having to explain why her entire kingdom is in such a mess while he makes jokes about it.
Sands of Time had this neat balance where Farah held more than enough ammunition to throw at the Prince to counteract and pierce through his superior attitude, and it's that conflict from which the humour, the conversation and their relationship sparked. Prince of Persia (2008) is really missing that to begin with, and the Prince's bellend attitude dominates. Thankfully, the relationship does improve - soften and deepen - over time as you learn more about both parties involved. I would even say I quite liked the pairing towards the end of the game.
Most interestingly for me, though, was hearing about the history of Elika's kingdom as the two adventurers converse. There's an interesting story put in place behind everything, none of it quite as clear-cut as 'bad guys took over and now it's a mess' - she knows all these ruined places, has fond memories of them. She knows the people you are fighting and she would rather try to save them than defeat them.
But. But but butt fart. To hear a little history, to indulge in a little light chit-chat, you have to stop, press a button to start the conversation and then just stand there until the characters have stopped talking. Don't move, just listen and probably wobble the camera around because you're bored and your hands have nothing else to do.
It's the pits. And it just makes no sense to divide these conversations off from the gameplay proper. The casual feel of the chatter from Sands of Time as it comes during exploration is replaced with a static little history lecture. It's not something that happens naturally, it's something you have to take the time to activate and consequently something you can even miss out on. And I never wanted to miss anything, so I had to stop all the time during a little platforming section in order to hear this conversation. In a game like Prince of Persia, where a lot of the fun comes out of fluid movement through an area, gracefully linking moves together with speed and precision ... whoever came up with this triggered, static talking idea should feel pretty bad about it.
Neat, boring, beautiful
I really like the map in Prince of Persia (2008) - it's all neatly laid out, like a sphere grid you can explore, lines leading to nodes branching to bigger nodes where the boss is waiting. The pattern lets you travel around the place however you wish which was a nice surprise - I know I was expecting a strictly linear experience from a game such as this going in, anyway.
Those nodes themselves are pretty cool - slightly more open areas with more interesting geography and platforming routes through. It is the corridors between these areas which present the real problem. They are exactly how they sound - transitions, simple connecting lines - and as such are kind of dull. With so many of them linking up all the areas, going through them gets rather repetitive too.
Doubly so all because of these special platforms which are angled so that the Prince slides down them and then jumps off at the end. Which is fine, but you can only use that kind of platform in one direction and because of the game's open nature, every corridor has to be traversable in both directions. So the corridors all end up with this weird dual-lane design and you have to go up and down every one of them if you want to collect all these light seeds which appear absolutely everywhere once an area has been healed by Elika.
So, yeah, the pattern is nice as an idea but doesn't really pan out. The actual level design beyond the corridors feels like a swing at the same idea Mario Galaxy was praised for - stripping away everything in the environment which isn't essential for the experience. Kinda goes without saying that it doesn't quite work as well here, if only because there's a limited variety of masonry to build the world from - can't really just shove in a planet where bees live or a bubblegum asteroid or a moon made from the concept of forgiveness.
Prince of Persia (2008) does okay with its thematic variety or whatever you might call it - each area feels distinct enough anyway, the Alchemist's section of the map in particular nailing that atmosphere of a place grimy and poisoned and corrupt. It feels genuinely unpleasant to move through, makes you want to clean it all up all the more quickly. But on the whole, most of the architecture is pretty disjointed and fragmented - definitely seeming more like a selection of stuff built to climb across rather than a real locations that has fallen into ruin.
I am also, personally, just much more partial to a big open area. Even playing Galaxy I longed for somewhere a little more open where I could just run around for a while. It's those places with some scope and solidity to them in this game which I liked the most - the largest node areas (especially after they have been cleansed of evil's dark influence) can be really impressive in sight and scale.
Honestly, I was a little stunned when I first got into the game's big starting area laid out before the temple. I'm not sure screenshots can really convey just how striking the game can look - how crisp and vibrant. It really is sharply beautiful, with skies so blue they'd make UK:R break down and cry, and something special (I have no idea what) going on with the skyboxes that make distant sights seem like distant places, not painted murals on a backdrop.
Failure is death
I guess I just don't understand this one. I definitely remember around the time of the game's release a bunch of people saying how easy it was because you couldn't die. I thought that sounded weird but kind of shrugged it off, picturing something bizarre like getting skipped ahead if you ever messed up the platforming or having no life bar for fights or something. In reality, it's nothing of the sort. It's not even a thing anyone should have really mentioned - just that if you fall off a platform, instead of Prince dying and then the game resetting you back on a nearby ledge, you see a little animation where Elika saves him. And he ends up back on the ledge anyway. It's the exact same quick reset that the game would have had - that loads of other games have. Sure, you can't 'die' - but you are still failing in exactly the same way.
Blah blah blah, you know the rest: unless you're talking about roguelikes or hardcore modes in dungeon crawlers or an event dictated by the game's story, death is always essentially meaningless. It's not even really death, it's just gaming short-hand for 'you messed that up, try it again'
This method in Prince of Persia (2008) is certainly a step backwards from how Sands of Time dealt with failure where you could just rewind time, rewind your mistakes. Or - as that story was told in flashback - the Prince would chip in with an endearing 'no no no, it didn't happen like that' if you ever failed properly.
But it's a better method of dealing with failure than a lot of games, because the little rescue event actually ties in with the game's characters and everything. It's neat. Actually dying and then respawning on a platform all the same reduces the whole thing to something purely mechanical and more standard, more boring.
The game is easy, for sure - but this isn't why. It's easy because the infrequent combat is basically a choose-your-own-QTE adventure, action slowing down for a moment so you can pick how to attack next. Which is very flashy and fun to watch, but not difficult. It's easy because too much of the platforming is automated and it puts too many actions on the same button. And the problem really is that simple - in some stages it does become more involving, when you have to swap between jumps and ring grabs and using Elika on magical plates. If you just had to hold a button down to wall run and maybe one to grab onto ledges or poles - anything, really, just to keep the hands more involved with the action, keeping the brain engaged with swapping between one command and another - I think the platforming would have been really good. Most of the time it just lacks that base, mechanical interactivity with the player through the controller in their hands - you feel rather uninvolved, unengaged.
So there we go. The only other thing worth mentioning, really, is the game's ending ... which is set up perfectly to let you make an important decision, but then never lets you have any control over it. I guess this has the bonus of forcing you to go through the motions towards an inevitable event - something which can always be quite powerful, I find. But it seems a real missed opportunity at the end there to let you choose whether to move inside or walk away.
But. That's all for now. Probably get the game if you haven't yet though, cos it's still good fun despite the various problems. Okay? Cool, bye. Bye. I'm going to go now. Bye. Close the tab! I don't want to close the tab. Okay we'll both close the tab on the count of three. One ... two ... three!
You didn't cl- oh, you did. Well ... bye. Love you ;[
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