Saturday, January 3, 2009

Prince of Persia aka "It's the shit"

If you read some of my other articles in this blog you'll find one dedicated to the Prince of Persia series, in which i'm praising it as one of the new millenium's more worthy game franchises. Well, as it stands, it looks like UbiSoft has joined the LucasArts bandwagon in what i can call either "milking the dead cow strategy" or "the Final Fantasy syndrome". Which basically implies that after a succesful game or series of games, you make another game with the same name, similar setting and mechanics, but completely different storyline and characters. So far, it works: the game takes some of its fame from the previous series, which almost assures great expectations (and big sales at the start), while keeping many of its previous fanbois. Because NOTHING that has "final fantasy" written on it can EVER be bad, amirite boys?
Well, i just finished it (and by "it" i meant the PC version) a few hours ago, and i'm impressed. I'm impressed at what lengths UbiSoft will go to when making a complete shiny failure is involved.
Let's be frank, however: it's not the game that is a complete failure, it's the execution. The game has incredible potential and a very artistic style (that vague reminds me of Suicide Girls), but its casual-friendliness and cracks in immersion ruin it thoroughly.
Let's start at the beginning, though: the story. This game's story is about some guy (who would be twice more mysterious and interesting if the game wouldn't tell us who he is from the bloody title) walking around through the desert storm looking for his donkey, named... Farah. That's a negative point from the start for taking the name of one of the most important and deep characters of the series and giving it to a fuckin' donkey that we never even get to see anyway. Suddenly he falls down a pit, gets hit on the head by a falling rock and accidentally finds an old, deserted kingdom which is on the verge of collapsing to a god of darkness. Well, no. What he finds is a girl who's getting chased by some very cowardly soldiers. So the prince chases the girl to this temple thing where her father slices a tree in half and starts the end of the world, spreading the land with a thing called "corruption" (which i will, from now on, call "shit"). Apparently the tree was a prison for the Dark Lord of the Shit, and now that dark lord is spreading his shit across the land in an attempt to destroy some ancient... things (called Fertile grounds - incidentally, they say the word Fertile about 100 billion times over the course of the game) that once destroyed will allow him to spread shit across the world as well. Utterly coincidental, the girl discovers that she has magic powers of light that allow her to clean up the shit. Well, whaddya know.
So the prince and the girl must now thread through the shit-infested lands, reach the ancient things and clean the shit up. Once they clear an area, strange floating orbs of light called "light seeds" (which i will subsequently call "points") appear and make the girl (which i will subsequently call Elika, because that's her name) feel better. Even more, if you collect (or, more precisely, bump into) lots of points, you can buy yourself a special power with them. And you get to choose this special power out of 4 total. The powers are there only to help you reach areas and you can only use them in special locations marked by different colored plates on walls, and are, in order: jump, jump, fly and run on walls. So your goal will be to run around cleaning up shit, then collect points which will allow you to buy powers to reach more areas where you run around and clean up more shit, and consequently get more points. Once you clean up all the areas in a specific quarter, you get to kill a boss and once you've killed all 4 bosses you get to kill the last boss which will finish the game. Easy.
Now that i'm through with the presentation, let's talk mechanics. The game is similar to the other games, but different. First off, there is no time power. You will never be able to rewind, stop or slow down time in this game (unless the game does it for you for increased dramatic effect). The prince gains some new abilities such as crawling on ceilings (Spider-prince, spider-prince, does whatever a spider-prince does. Can he shoot - from a web? No he can't - he's a prince), climbing on cracks in a wall and sliding down walls with his metal gauntlet that he just happens to have (and you're not supposed to ask why, because the game doesn't talk about that sort of thing).
Add to this the power of having Elika at his disposal at all times, which about doubles his overall effectiveness. First off, he can't die. Whenever he's about to fall into a pit of shit or an abyss, Elika teleports him safely away to the last place where his feet were on solid ground. This instantly replaces the rewind time feature, and makes the game freakishly casual to boot. No longer will we get the satisfaction of seeing the prince being sliced to pieces, bludgeoned to death or going SPLAT against the bottom of the pit. For one, the game doesn't have any sharp obstacles (unless you're one of those people who thinks that shit is sharp), for two, Elika saves you every damn time - even when she's supposedly incapacitated. You even use this "power" to solve a puzzle, for crying out loud.
Second, Elika can throw him around (i.e. a double jump) and the game is designed to make it seem like they're working together. You can even use her as a weapon in combat (suddenly, the awesome thought of bashing an enemy with her comes to mind), but we'll get into that later.
The graphics are grade A, and if it's not a masterpiece anywhere else, then the game truly is a graphical one. The levels are littered with sublime views that will leave your eyes wide open and gently massage your soul. Or something. However, the level design breaks the immersion somewhat. The actual amount of running you do in this game is about 5% of the ground you cover, and the levels are designed to have a way to leave them, and a way to come back. This is where the immersion starts to fail as i seriously doubt that any big old kingdom would have conveniently placed bronze rings that you can get a hold of right after doing a wall run, among other things. The zones are big and outdoor-ish, which is better than what the other PoPs offered us but i can only raise an eyebrow when i see this. I won't comment on the cell-shaded graphics because they never bothered me.
As with any PoP game, there must be combat. This game has combat. Problems are, it's not nearly enough combat, it's impossible to die in combat, it's so easy that you might as well let a monkey play it and most of the times it's over in about 5 seconds. You fight 1, max 2 enemies per level, and sometimes that includes the boss aswell. Let me explain: the combat style and mechanics are solid, and very VERY flashy, with combos out the ass. But when it comes to execution, normal enemies are insta-killed AS SOON AS THEY REACH AN EDGE OR A WALL. Ironically, all your attacks will push the enemy back somewhat, and as soon as they're near a wall/edge the prince instantly plunges his sword in their chests and kills them like the big hero he is. If the prince reaches the edge, the enemies will simply throw him to the other side. If it so happens that the prince takes too much damage, Elika will jump in and "save" him (an act which also restores some of the enemy's health). There's a certain strategy required for some bosses but in all cases it's so easy that you start to wonder what the producers were bloody thinkin'.
Also, there are quick time events. Like any self-respecting next-gen franchise, PoP HAD to copy quick-time events from god of war or whatever. I thanked god that the pseudo-quicktime events from Two Thrones were just that, pseudo, but it looks like Ubi took it to the next... level. Yes, it is very interesting to watch flashy animations on my screen while looking for a button that's supposed to appear and hurrying to press it before it disappears. Not.
As for the characters, the prince is a cross between an angsty teenager and Indiana Jones, and Elika is... well, a cross between bitch, drama queen and sensitive flower. The game tries to make you like her, oh, how it tries. But as much as it tries, it fails horrendously (AVAST YE, MATEYS! SPOILERS AHEAD! STOP READIN' IF YER LANDLUBBER ARSE DON'T WANNA BE SPOILT). I checked even the official forums and it confirmed my suspicions. You see, the game ends with Elika dying. And if you wait it out on the end credits, there's a final sequence in which the prince, defying all logic and morality, revives her but destroys all they had worked for so far, releasing His Shittiness upon the world... again. You see, you're supposed to develop such great affection towards her that in the end, you'd even forsake the world to get her back. Here's where the idea fails, because the prince does, BUT YOU DON'T. I did the last sequence reluctantly, while half-searching for a way i could get out of that place and into the desert. I didn't find it, but man did it feel wrong to negate her sacrifice just because i'm some sort of spoiled brat who dun care bout the world -or her duties and what she wanted to do- and simply fucks it all and gets her back. I said i checked the forums: there were fanboi topics saying that the ending affected them deeply, commenting on Elika's humanity and trying to find a reason for the revival, but not one of them said "yeah i liked elika so much that i would have done the same if i was the prince". Because the prince and Elika never share a serious moment of chemistry, because whenever Elika raises a hand, the prince is always lookin' away, because whenever the prince gets sentimental, Elika turns around and acts like a cold-hearted bitch. Everything they do share is smart-ass one-liners, ilke him saying "stop staring at my ass" and her saying "i thought you said it was a donkey". In conclusion, Elika will never reach the standards imposed by characters like Alyx Vance or even the old Farah.
A potentially great game, but one where (in my friend's words) the original developers seemed to be sleeping and the rest of the team quickly hurried to make the game in their absence, and finished it so as to give them a chance to show them how it's done. It's far from a bad game, but not too close to a good one either. If you're an adventure game fan, there's no big reason not to play and finish it other than the annoying hunt for points. Let's hope they wake up next time and design a game that doesn't make you collect stuff just to get it over with.

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