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Prince of Persia: Warrior Within

Review By:  Tim Mitchell

Developer:  Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher:  Ubisoft
# of Players:  1
Genre:  Action
ESRB:  Mature
Online Play:  No
Accessories:  Memory Unit, Xbox Live
Date Posted: 

8-27-05

I’ve never been on such a roller coaster ride before a game was even released. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was an absolutely fantastic title and probably is still one of my favorite gameplay experiences of all time. When the first details of the sequel started to trickle out, I was quite excited. E3 2004, it was one of my favorite subjects, even with all the other high-profile games showing. But…as the release neared, something began to change. There were impressions out there that the game was maybe too much marketing, and not enough the magic of the first one. A little too, as it’s been said…”Xtreme”. The new, darker direction that had previously looked so promising now seemed contrived and ominously generic. Frightened at having such a pure experience ruined, I’ve avoided Warrior Within quite awhile now. Even as I put it in my Xbox, I was haunted by the questions I’d had for months- would it be a worthy sequel to the first? Or a clichéd mess of an action game with no appeal whatsoever? Having just completed it, I am both pleased and saddened to announce that the answer is…neither.

The new story builds nicely off the plot in the first game. If you remember, at the end the Prince used the Sands of Time to rewind time to before he even opened the hourglass. Apparently this constituted screwing with fate, as he was supposed to die. So fate begins hunting the Prince, in the form of a huge relentless beast known as the Dahaka. Eventually, his quest for salvation from his fate leads him to the Island of Time, where he hopes to go back in time, prevent the creation of the Sands and thus free himself from his death sentence. To do this he must confront the Empress of Time, the ruler of the island. The story is fairly simple in the beginning but actually grows interesting, mostly due to the interactions between the characters. You never feel quite as close to the Prince (or any of the other characters) as you did in the first game with its constant monologue and conversations. But you can appreciate them and the situation they’re going through. There’s a new love interest, and while the relationship comes off as weak at first, it becomes gradually more meaningful toward the end, building not off their rare interactions but from the Prince’s empathy and feeling of kinship with her. There are quite a few interesting twists in the plot toward the second half of the game. Sadly, the dialogue is one of the things that Ubisoft’s marketing got to. It’s shallow and rarely lands, coming off as just corny. Of particular mention are the cheesy lines the enemies blurt at you before, during and after fighting. The worst are the ninja chicks that assault you constantly and in several forms, all spouting off cheesy innuendos while they attack you. Spare me, please. I really would have preferred if the foes had stuck to generic grunts and growls like in the first game.

The dialogue is made worse by some sub-par voice acting. The Prince, in his newfound, apparently boundless rage, now snarls and yells with every swing of his weapon, even for such mundane purposes as breaking some obstacles. He must really hate those jars and boxes. The enemies are worse, most sounding ridiculous and highly annoying. Some of their voices would be right at home on a Muppet. Sound effects are decent, if not particularly remarkable. There are swords, they clang effectively enough. The effects do a pretty good job of fitting the period, especially all the gears and such, they really do sound like ancient machinery. The new “hardcore” theme carries on into the game’s music. While the previous game featured an enchanting soundtrack built on a fusion of rock and Middle Eastern themes, the latter is almost totally gone from the sequel. It all sounds like some uninspired garage band jamming until the drummer’s parents come out and yell at them. Maybe you like that kind of thing, and that’s all right. But it doesn’t evoke the unique and epic feel that the score of the first game did. That combined with the overall lack of variety in tracks severely tempted me at times to play the game with no music whatsoever.

It’s actually quite hard for me to compare graphics between the first and second game, because the environments are so uninteresting compared to the memorable vistas of The Sands of Time that they just seem duller. While I can’t really say for certain if they look worse, I can definitely say they don’t look better. You’ll be seeing a lot of them too, sadly, since the design of the game will have you backtracking through the same areas a lot. Animation is fairly nice, complementing the large and diverse move set for the Prince. But the game does show signs that it could use a little more polish, the tragedy of a sequel pushed out in scarcely a year. The Prince’s character model looks a bit blocky in the face at times, at least for this late in the console generation. A disappointingly large number of minor graphical and audio glitches rear their ugly heads as well, from flickering textures to sound effects that get stuck looping, spikes that get stuck in the up position and enemies that hit invisible walls and floors, leaving bloodstains in mid-air.

The biggest and most touted change to the gameplay is definitely the new combat system. It builds nicely on the moves from the first game, adding some nice combos and finishing moves while also making the variety of techniques more useful with some tougher enemies. You can vault over foes, propel yourself off walls, swing around pillars…there really are a huge number of options for dispatching enemies. You’ll need them, because some of the fights can be truly rough. Blocking is not the perfect defense that it was in the first game; with enemies that can now break your block or trip you with a sweep kick. There are even monsters that will explode when defeated, which I admit didn’t make too much sense but they use it pretty well. When faced with a new type of sand-creature-guard-thing you will often be schooled a few times, but once you learn to adjust your tactics to new foes it becomes easier, and you can progress once more. My one complaint is that there was perhaps a little too much emphasis on the Prince’s attacks and combos looking “badass”, and as a result many of them are over stylized, so to do anything requires leaving yourself open a second or two, a lapse the enemies always jump at. When you’re just fighting one or two foes it’s not bad, but it’s not unusual in this game to find yourself in a 6 on 1 engagement. Fighting under such conditions can take a good deal of patience. In contrast to The Sands of Time, Warrior Within features a number of challenging bosses that will require both skill and careful use of time powers to defeat.

Thankfully, there are some elements that carried over well from the first game. The platforming is largely intact, and as exciting as ever. The puzzle element of it, sitting back to figure out how to get through a room before actually doing it, is greatly diminished. In its place rests an increased emphasis on the action-oriented portions, dodging between spinning blades while running on the wall, skin of the teeth stuff. It can make for a little frustration, and the missing cerebral element is disappointing, but it’s still well executed. You’ll miss the puzzle, but you’ll enjoy what’s still there. You have a lot less sand to work with this time around, so there’s less of a margin for error, and you will die quite a few times. But the difficulty curve is not wholly unforgiving, just enough that you have to really work at it.

Still, there was definitely an effort this time around to take a fresh look at the Prince’s abilities; there are some fairly creative uses of wall jumping and running to get through areas. Also of note are the segments of the game where the Dahaka catches up with you, and you must run for your life, often through some particularly mind-bending corridors full of traps and chasms. Actually having to move quickly does add a different tilt to the platforming, as you’re forced to make decisions on the spur of the moment, evaluating the environment quickly to determine the proper course. You’ll probably have to try these unique sections a few times, but it’s rewarding when you finally do reach safety. But the most interesting twist on the gameplay comes about three-fourths into the game. Without ruining the story reasons for it, I will say that something occurs that leaves the Prince gradually losing health at a constant rate, but also with self-regenerating sand tanks. This subtle change makes for a fantastic twist on the gameplay, and you’ll find yourself approaching every situation differently than you would before. I have to give Ubisoft props for that one.

Highs:

  • Good story that keeps you interested
  • Great combat system with enemies that make you use it
  • The wonderful platforming of the first game is still there, albeit in a slightly different form.
  • Boss fights, finally
  • Dahaka chases and a mid-game shift in play style make for some good variety
  • Does a nice job of setting up for a sequel

Lows:

  • Dialogue is horrible and the voice performances don’t help matters
  • Generic music forgets the themes of the first game
  • Lots of small and a few not-so-small glitches, most likely resulting from rushing the game out so fast
  • Way too much backtracking
  • Prince’s moves stress style over substance, often leaving him open for the sake of some flourish
  • Less careful thinking and more hair-trigger reflex action to the platforming. I’d have preferred a balance of both.
  • There’s a right way to convert a series to a more mature mood, and they missed that train.

Final Verdict: 

I believe, in the end, that there is still a team at Ubisoft that wants to make great PoP games. And then…there are the marketing guys, a group wholly separate from that descriptor. They tried to take the series in a more mature direction, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But Steel dominatrix outfits and yelling in rage at boxes that, after all, have done nothing wrong, just comes across as trying too hard. In fact, the end result is decidedly immature. If you liked the first game, you can try this, and you will probably end up enjoying it, as it has not completely forgotten its roots. But I can’t say that you will absolutely love it, as I can with the first game. And I can’t recommend in good conscious starting with anything more than a rental.

Overall Score: 7.8

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