• When I first grabbed a slice of the “next gen” action with my 360, I remember one of the games I really wanted to see on the machine was Prince of Persia. My requirements were pretty simple. Make it pretty much like Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, cut down on the combat, and recapture that whole Arabian essence that was so inveigling with POPSOT.

    Ubisoft had other ideas. For the first proper Prince of Persia this-gen game we’ve been given something that partially resembles an interactive cartoon, and something that owes more than a slight homage to Team Ico’s fantastic games Ico and Shadow of the Colossus in equal measure.

    Our tale picks up with “The Prince” mooching around in the desert, looking for his donkey Farah (nice touch, I’m sure the heroine of Sands of Time loves the fact that he named his donkey after her!).

    A beautiful girl literally drops into his lap, and before long both the prince and the girl are running for their lives, pursued by palace guards who seem intent on recapturing the girl and returning her to her father.

    Straight away, the visuals of the game suck you into the action. If there’s one thing Ubisoft have got absolutely right with this, it’s that they’ve not tried to deliver any pseudo-realistic look and feel – what they’ve done is brilliantly designed and animated a living breathing painting. The cel-shaded look and feel to the prince, his world and the other characters really makes this title stand out as one of the most beautiful games of the year.

    That’s where the adulation stops. Though it all looks fabulous most of the time, there are the usual trademark Ubisoft nasties lurking in the background. V-Synch tearing happens on a regular basis when any scenery gets busy, and there are a few instances of slowdown when combat gets too hairy. Those niggles aside, if you’re looking for a visual showcase for your machine then this is most definitely one of the titles to show to non-gamer types to make their jaws drop through the floor. Just make sure you show it off with the sound turned down because the prince’s wise-cracking Las Vegas comedian routine will drive you batty. Why oh why they couldn’t have gone back to the vocal style of Sands of Time is beyond me. No one likes a smart-mouth, and definitely not in a game that’s supposedly set in the middle east hundreds of years ago.

    Prince of Persia

    I half got my wish for more platform acrobatics and less combat with Prince of Persia. There’s certainly more than enough to keep you leaping around the gameworld, but something seems to have happened to the difficulty curve. Prince of Persia practically leads you through bemani / QTE-like steps from the word go, breaking your immersion in the title by flashing up button-prompts at every opportunity (switching them off from the options menu does make the game tougher and makes your timing for jumps etc more challenging but it still doesn’t detract from the fact that it’s all a bit easy to start with).

    Worse still, you practically cannot die. There’s plenty of checkpointing (basically every solid surface you put your feet on becomes a checkpoint) and your female cohort, Princess Elika will save your butt at every opportunity. Fall too far and she uses her magic powers to hover in and save you with a timely grab. Start to lose in any of the (utterly frustrating and irritating) combat sequences and once again Princess Elika will step in, temporarily dazzling your enemy, restoring a bit of their health in the process but keeping you out of harm’s way.

    This hand-holding is a nice nod to Ico, but it’s also excrutiatingly irritating. Elika does serve a purpose because you have to escort her to various places in the blighted land in order to restore fertile growth and put the kingdom to rights, but the more you progress, the more the game starts to feel like a series of quick-time events than something you’re actually playing and using your gamer skills to progress through.

    The more of the map you unlock, the more you begin to realise that despite a few unique and challenging set pieces, there is a hell of a lot of padding and repetition in place throughout the game.

    The aforementioned combat will steadily drive you nuts. Each of the game’s main nasties seem to be able to regenerate themselves at the drop of a hat, and though Ubisoft have designed a rich combo tree for the prince’s more flash combat and defensive moves, these become utterly useless when you realise that the only true key to success in combat is to keep mashing away at the buttons until the enemy’s power bar is drained. Again those immersion-busting button prompts keep kicking in during fight sequences, so if you have previously moaned about combat in the earlier Prince of Persia games, you’ll wish you’d kept your mouth shut because if anything, Ubisoft have made fight scenes far worse than ever before.

    There are glimmers of recognition shot through the various levels and a few familiar puzzles that will give veterans of the Ubisoft PoP games a point of reference, but for the most part once you’ve worked out the core dynamics of what you need to do to progress through the various physical platform challenges, you’re back in button-mashing territory and because you literally cannot fall or fail, all the challenge is lost. There was nothing really wrong with the Sands of Time “Rewind” dynamic, so why it was replaced with something that automatically saves your ass (no not Farah) at every given opportunity is a bit of a mystery.

    Presentation wise, Prince of Persia feels like it’s had a lot of artistic love poured into it, to little or no consequence. For each and every sumptuously designed part of Elika’s world, you’ll find a jarring piece of terrible game design that will slowly make you realise that stripped of its pretty veneer, the underlying game is an unsatisfying and shallow repetitive mish-mash of ideas with only its visual appeal to hold it together.

    For instance, there are sections of the game where you need to wall-run to plates that fling you and Elika into the air, where you then navigate your way through labyrinthine levels filled with columns and objects to crash into, ending your flight of fancy. The problem is the objects have such huge collision bounding boxes that it becomes a seriously frustrating trial of hit-and-miss till you figure out how to navigate around the obstacles. If you thought the chariot bits in the previous game were annoying, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

    It is blissfully short though, so if you’re looking for a (rather expensive) filler game to slide into your Christmas gaming schedule, you’ll be mercifully done and dusted with this in record time and aside from wishing to show it off for its art direction, you probably won’t want to play through it a second time not even to hoover up the light-seed collection achievements.

    All told, Ubisoft have fallen into the trap of getting carried away with designing a beautiful gameworld and superb characters, then ruined it all by lousing up the gameplay and the underlying structure of the thing.

    As with Assassin’s Creed before it, Prince of Persia suffers from being one of the best looking but worst playing titles on the 360. Worthy only as a piece of visual showboating, or as a bargain basement filler game, it’s a wasted opportunity and could end up being a costly mistake at a time when the industry needs to start listening to what gamers want, and stop going off on expensive flights of fancy that don’t quite cut the mustard.

    Score: 6/10

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