I loved Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. Engaging characters, challenging platforming (but which enabled you to quickly retry if you failed by rewinding the last few seconds) and a well-told, enjoyable, memorable story. (Particularly that ending.) I got a bit bogged down by the nasty changes they made to the sequel, Warrior Within, such that I never finished the thing, and have therefore also never tried The Two Thrones. One day.
In the meantime, we’ve got the new Prince of Persia, a gorgeous-looking game with a magnificent soundtrack, that borrows heavily from another game I loved to bits, Shadow of the Collosus. Only it fucks it up. It does this in two ways:
- Turning the entire game into bloody quick time events – both overt and concealed; and
- Turning the Prince into a complete git.
I’ll deal with the last point first, since it’s probably just a matter of taste. I know I’m not the only one who can’t stand the bland, “action hero by numbers” American Prince (for example) and maybe his failings are most acute just because Ubisoft HAD a great Prince and maybe it’s not fair to contrast the new guy with the ex, but it’s still jarring every time he opens his mouth. I’m embarrassed when someone walks past the 360 while he’s talking. The Prince is a stereotypical jock, and Elika is tarnished by the script’s demands that she overlook his gittishness and fall in love with him by the end of the game.
Anyway, the main problem I have with the new Prince is more fundamental than a bit of dodgy characterisation: it’s the gameplay. Not Elika’s constantly saving you from dying – that’s a great idea. Not as much fun as the quick-rewind system in SoT, but effectively the same thing. Those who complain that “you never die” must give up the moment they die in other games, because if they reload and try again then they’re not dying either. And it’s not as if Elika kindly pops you at the end of the long run-jump sequence – she unhelpfully puts you back at the beginning to try again. Which is fine for the short ones; somewhat irritating on the long ones. It certainly doesn’t make the game “easy” any more than any checkpoint system ever does.
No, the problem with the gameplay is that it’s basically made up of those awful, awful, immersion-killing, fun-destroying Quick Time Events. The overt ones immediately rankle – when you’re fighting a boss and the game demands you suddenly press “A” for no good reason, NOW, BECAUSE I SAID SO! And now you can hit “X” repeatedly until you break your controller or get RSI! FASTER! FASTER I SAID! They rankled in The Force Unleashed, they’ll rankle in the upcoming Aliens game. I don’t know when gamers will rise up and demand the end to these idiotic things, but I hope it’s soon. Game designers who keep inflicting QTEs on us will be the first against the wall when the revolution comes.
So that’s bad enough. But then you gradually realise that the entire game is made up of QTEs. You have no freedom in the running and jumping – you are essentially required to press ONE unique button at each visual cue and have no choice in the matter. A ring on a wall? PRESS B NOW OR GO BACK TO THE CHECKPOINT. A shiny glowing thing on a wall? PRESS Y NOW OR GO BACK TO THE CHECKPOINT. And so on. There’s a lag between when you press the buttons and when you jump – the game isn’t promptly enacting what you’ve tried to do and seeing if it worked, it’s determining whether you’ve pressed the arbitrary button in the period it wants you to and if you have, starting the correct animation to get to the next bit.
That’s not what platforming games are about.
The game also does some weird stuff with the controls – when you jump to a pillar and the direction that the prince will go when pressing a particular direction on the control pad suddenly reverses for no apparent reason.
But the most crippling thing is realising that you have no freedom at all. You’re in this lush, beautiful world and instead of exploring it and trying new things within it, you’re pressing the buttons you’re told to, at the time you’re told to, and being made to do it again if you don’t do as you’re told. I wanted to like it, I really did, but there’s nothing more than pretty scenery and inspiring music to really like.
It’s a damned shame.