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Prince of Persia is very, very pretty…

In fact, it may be the prettiest game I have ever played. This game is flat-out gorgeous. It’s lived up to every inch, every single centimeter of promise that was on display in the first screenshots that appeared on the internet.

This is so far beyond cel shading I don’t think the term can even apply. Sure, there are outlines on characters and objects in the world but there are incredibly detailed textures on everything. This game is a moving illustration. It’s a watercolor come to life. And these pretty words aren’t hyperbole, I mean it all quite literally.

The environments are not only intricately detailed, they are vast. I’m talking Shadow of the Colossus vast. Huge vistas, grand tracts of land to explore and views that are just incredible. The amount of effort that went into the visual design for this game is just extraordinary. The people who made this game have a deep love for art and it shows in everything they have done.

And it doesn’t just look great in still shots… the animation is spectacular. Everything moves smoothly. Every slight movement of the Prince and of Elika is done so well that even the most ridiculous acrobatics (running across a ceiling from pillar to ring to pillar) look almost possible. When you master the timing for a given platform sequence, what plays out looks like a stupendously choreographed display of acrobatics from a martial arts film.

Oh, and the game itself?

The game itself plays very, very well. It doesn’t play like a traditional platformer or a traditional action/adventure game. The controls are very simple, in the fashion of this studio’s previous effort, Assassin’s Creed.

A/X causes you to jump or use your acrobatics, B/Circle uses the gauntlet, X/Square is your sword and Y/Triangle uses Elika’s magic. The right shoulder button blocks during combat or releases from a ledge when hanging and the left shoulder button engages in conversation with Elika.

Platforming is really something different in Prince of Persia. There are many many linear paths linking together the many areas in Prince of Persia. Each one has a clearly defined path for the Prince to traverse. There is no exploration and very little in the way of sidetracking to be found when going through these platforming sequences. Each one is a specific set of obstacles and passing each one requires only a button press or two and perhaps direction from the left analog stick. These sequences play out very much like rhythmic music games like Amplitude or Guitar Hero. It’s clear which buttons you need to press to pass each obstacle, the challenge is in actually hitting the right ones with the correct rhythm to pass a set of obstacles.

I’ve heard these sequences described as extended QTEs with the button presses being telegraphed by the environment instead of with flashing buttons on the screen.  And there is an element of truth to this. But there’s more to it. In many ways it’s the beginning of a bridge between traditional gameplay and the amazing sequences that designers want to put into games but can’t fit into existing control schemes - which leads to them utilizing the QTE. When you nail a platforming sequence, the feeling is exhilirating in much the same way as the great sequences in Mirror’s Edge and the ensuing animations as your character interacts with the environment is almost poetic.

When you fail at anything in Prince of Persia, Elika uses her magic to save you. It’s not an elmination of consequences as you’re essentially returned to the last checkpoint you passed. You’re not eliminating death and failure, you’re just avoiding the fade to black and the numerous loading screens. Contrary to supposition from many this mechanic, in an of itself, does nothing to actually make the game easy. All it does is save time or provide a bridge between the world of the game and traditional game mechanics (like double jumping or the aforementioned fade to black).

Combat is not quite so entrancing. Each of the face buttons are linked to the same actions I listed earlier but each one (including your jump/acrobatics button) is an attack that you then link with ensuing attacks. Much like the combat in Heavenly Sword, you have to let an attack finish before you hit the button for the next attack and you can then start a rhythmic chain of strikes to down your foes. Occasionally this will result in a QTE sequence where you can impale a creature or throw it off of a cliff.

Where the combat really fails is in the element of tension. Any time you fail and an enemy is about to kill you, Elika saves you and the only consequence is that they have the time to regain a large chunk of their health. Essentially, you can never fail a fight and you can just keep pounding on an enemy, over and over again, until you win. There is an element to the AI that recognizes how well you’re doing and they’ll up the ante when you’re kicking ass to provide some semblance of challenge but the loading-screen-circumvention of Elika saving you during the platforming sequences just doesn’t feel so right in combat.

While Nolan “Nathan Drake” North may seem a bit out of place as the titular Prince, I found myself adjusting to the voice work rather quickly and there are an insanely huge number of lines recorded for the Prince and Elika. Almost every single time I tap L2, I’m greeted by a brand new tree of conversation or a new line from the Prince.

Speaking of audio, Ubisoft Montreal also poured a lot of money into the excellent soundtrack. Unfortunately, the supposed OST that’s included with the Limited Edition is merely a brief sampler. It’s a damned good thing that the LE was free, or I’d be one rather irate individual right now.

When you get right down to it, I have to admit that Prince of Persia is not the most challenging experience out there. In fact, it’s one of the easier games I’ve played in a good while. But the value of Prince of Persia lies not in the challenge but in the experience itself.  I’m obviously a convert and this game won’t be for everyone but it will leave a serious and lasting impression on those for whom it clicks. And much like Shadow of the Colossus, Prince of Persia provides further proof that yes, video games are art.

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9 responses to “Prince of Persia is very, very pretty…”

  1. Nice writeup!
    You picked it up for 360 I assume? I’m a bit torn on which one to buy for.

  2. Nope, he grabbed it for the PS3. But he’s been pimping it out hardcore over at Ars, no matter the thread (I’ve seen PoP screenshots in the PS3, 360 and actual PoP threads)! And for good reason apparently.

    I’m not picking it up right away, but I do have it on my Christmas list so hopefully I’ll be able to check it out at the end of the month. It looks amazing to me and I’m a huge fan of the art style.

  3. As Ajar said, I picked up the PS3 version. It looks and runs great - I’m really impressed with the progress UbiSoft Montreal has made with the Scimitar Engine on the PS3. None of the issues that were present in the PS3 version of Assassin’s Creed exist in the PS3 version of Prince of Persia.

    There is some very slight tearing (incomplete tears that exist only at the top of the screen that I don’t even see while playing) in the PS3 version and that may be absent in the 360 version (though I haven’t actually played it). Otherwise, the only difference between the two version of the game is the choices made for anti-aliasing. The Xbox 360 version uses 2xFSAA and the PS3 version uses nVidia’s 2X Quincunx AA. Watch the GameTrailers HD review if you want to see the PS3 version of the game in motion - it’s apparently the version that most outlets received for review.

    It all came down to controller preference for me - I just like the Dual-Shock for action/adventure games.

    I’ve got to admit, I’m a little surprised that you want to pick this one up after reading your impressions from the PlayStation event in Toronto that you attended. Is the draw of the art just too strong or has your stance on the platforming mechanics softened?

  4. How dare you call those “impressions”. That’s the best review for this game I’ve read yet.

    Wondering if I should pick this up next and stall Valkyria Chronicles until maybe a trophy patch announcement. I’m such a filthy whore.

  5. It appears that there will be no trophy patch for Valkyria Chronicles. Please don’t hold that against the game as it’s a seriously great title that people need to go out and buy (if you haven’t already). A message needs to be sent to Sega that THIS is what gamers want from them.

  6. I picked it up for the 360 today. I’m enjoying it so far, and my take is quite similar to Deviation’s apart from a couple of small things.

    First, the combat really takes me back to the classic Prince of Persia. I can potentially see it getting old and feeling easy in the way Deviation described, but right now I’m really enjoying how they captured the spirit of the 2D one-button attacking in the very first game while making it flow and look beautiful.

    Second, Shadow of the Colossus is a work of art for more than just its visuals. Yes, the vistas and creatures are beautiful (as they are in the new PoP), but the game had themes beyond “save the world” and made you — or at least me — think about what I was doing without even needing dialogue in the creature segments. It had ambiguity, and didn’t tie everything up in a nice bow at the end.

    PoP, at least so far, is fun and beautiful, but it isn’t trying to tell me anything, make me think, make me ask any questions, or make me feel anything beyond “wow, that was really fun,” or “wow, that’s beautiful.” Whether that’s enough to make it “art” depends on your definition of art, but in the “games as art” continuum I certainly wouldn’t put it nearly as far along the art axis as I would SotC.

    I don’t mean that as a criticism of the game at all; like I said, I agree with you completely in all other respects. I think the game is great and I’m expecting to thoroughly enjoy it.

  7. Oh, I’m definitely not saying that this game measures up to Shadow of the Colossus in that way at all.

  8. Wow Dev, that is a nice writeup. Really gave me good feeling of what the game is like. Didn’t realize it was you till I saw Nerf’s comment. I figured I get around to this game sooner or later, but after reading this, putting this on my Christmas list.

    Thanks.

  9. Danke.

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