Prince of Arse?

My sporadic attempt to play through the Prince of Persia games continues apace with a whip through 2008’s Prince of Persia. Fancy a trailer?

There you go.

Firstly, wow. I know that I’ve most recently been playing fancified versions of the original console trilogy, but this game is very pretty – almost pretty enough to counteract a few of its glaring flaws. In this episode, you’re wandering around and stumble into a battle between a couple of gods who’re somehow involved in a family matter.Maybe. 

Basically, Ahriman is a bad dude, and he’s filled an Orientalist architecture wonderland (well, apart from the bits that look a bit Gilliam) with nonspecific gloopy corruption which you, dear friend, must help remove with the help of a sidekick who has some kooky powers thanks to good dude Ormazd.

So, keep the bad dude locked up, crack on to female company, and parkour your way through someone historically inaccurate yet deeply enjoyable? Sounds like business as usual, right? Well, not entirely.

As we’ve established elsewhere in the game series, the Prince is a bit of a knob. But in this one, he’s weapons-grade dickbaggy. This is partially due to his continual nudge-nudge, how-about-it dialogue, the fact his lost donkey is named after the main female character in the previous games (oho, I see what you did there, scriptwriters, making us think we were getting some reunited action but no) but perhaps more keenly hammered home by the fact that he’s voiced by Nolan North. If you want smug dude cranked out, he’s your man.

(To be fair, North’s reading is supported by the character model. He’s got abs for days, and some weird scarf/bandanna/broAnime ‘do. Christ, I want to punch him so hard.)

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Rowr, ladies. 

There’s something a bit too louche about him, in comparison to the other times he’s popped up over the years. Yes, even including that terrible emo version. I’m aware it’s a bit naff to be complaining about a character in a videogame where you spend a lot of time hunting down courtesan powerbroker ghost monsters (amongst others) but there we have it.

You can see from this picture an example of the change to gameplay: the Krueger glove. Just like Freddy, our Prince has a glove he can use to effect slow descents down walls that play along and don’t feature any extruded bits. This works relatively well with the parkour-style action the series is known for, but that blackboard screech is fucking intolerable. But you’d better like it, because there’s no time manipulation mechanics here.

Yep, you heard. None. The things that Ubisoft’s previous three games made so much fun. Gone. Instead, you can slide down a wall, have some dumbed-down fights, add in some orb mercantilism and – most importantly – have a sidekick who exists solely to ensure you don’t die.

Wait, what? Yeah. Elika, a magical princess – there’s more to her, but for brevity’s sake, I’m narrowing her role to that – exists to fill the gap left by removing the ability to rewind. If you shoot off the edge of a platform – quite likely as the camera/direction controls appear to have been made a fuckload worse in this outing – Elika will reach down to you, pulling you back up to the most recent piece of flat ground you both occupied.

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Well, I’d do me, even if you wouldn’t. 

This is kind of frustrating on a few levels. Firstly, the series was known for death – a lot of death – and suddenly it’s disappeared. The animation of hands grasping midair is actually more irritating than the death sequences of previous games, and when coupled with the fight system – she exists in battles to get in your way and to revive you if you get walloped, albeit at the cost of extending the battle interminably because enemies regain some health when she has to save your arse– it makes the game seem more overly childish than it needs to be.

There’s a stab at an open world style setup here, but it means that depending which area you choose to liberate first, you could be shit out of luck, skills-wise. However, as you become more accustomed to the mechanics at play, everything seems a little flat. The corruption goo takes the place of blades and spikes, offering gelatinous death rather than dismemberment, but the addition of an energy ball-hunting aspect to the game seemed a little too much like creating work for the player to stretch out playtime.

The camera/3D platforming part of the game still is very hit and miss, with lots of faceplanting ahead for the player. There’s an interesting/infuriating addition to the action of the game, with the appearance of energy plates which you charge up, and which either shoot you off into the air, or let you run along walls, depending on their colour. This allows for some wonderful 3D gameplay, but they’re often dogged by instakill collision detection problems. Additionally, there’s elements that appear to be on rails, but will then require your input. But it’s not especially clear what’s a cutscene and what’s an avoid-this-thing task, which often leads to screen-shouted epithets when the Prince faceplants into some stonework, and you’ve got to complete a six-plate string of acrobatics to get back to where you were. It’s unfair, and irritating as hell, especially given that these are the most difficult parts of the game.

Puzzles and lever-pulling are still here, though, so never fear. If you thought you’d miss out on some water management puzzling, then rest easy, pilgrim. 

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Pictured: fun.

The soundtrack is once again great in the same way hiring one of The Tea Party instead of someone with a relevant cultural background is great. I mean, let’s face it, if you were gonna mine Led Zep’s more Arabic moments but couldn’t actually afford/land Pagey, Stuart Chatwood’s Moroccan roll is as good as you’ll get. I liked it a lot, and it’s more subtle than a lot of things in the game – it’s suitably epic and mysterious in a way that actively aids the cel-shaded Orientalism on offer here.

The game looks pretty lovely but there’s some polish issues that seem odd. You can’t turn off the subtitles, which is fine, except the subtitles haven’t been proofed very well and feature ‘stray’ quote ‘marks’ in random spots. Maybe they were included to give the voice actors some kind of emphasis, but their continued appearance makes the game seem half-arsed. There’s some graphical issues, and some absolutely terrible collision detection in some of the “power” bits which frustrate. The game came out two years into the PS3’s lifespan, so I suppose it’s not really a surprise that there’s issues.

That said, I did see this through to the end and I did enjoy it. When the freerunning works, it works well, though there’s the sense of a lot more dependency on split-second timing. The worlds are interesting (even though the restore-colour-to-the-world-as-you-free-it-from-scumbags mechanic seems a bit old hat now)  and the fact the storyline isn’t quite like any we’ve played thus far means that though this is undoubtedly a game which tries to hamper your enjoyment, it’s strangely endearing.

I just hope the next – and final – PS3 Prince game is less irritating. There’s only so far pretty will get you.

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