I was never one of the lucky ones that enjoyed the classic Prince of Persia, released in 1989, I missed my chance. However, I was still able to recognize, despite the disappointing release of Prince of Persia 3D back in 1999, that PoP fans have been awaiting our hero’s “princely” return. Ubi Soft’s onslaught of excellent games over the past few years heralded the release of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Our prince had character, he was young, na?ve and we could relate to his fight against evil. To date The Sands of Time, has been considered by many to be one of the most fulfilling action titles in the current generation of video games. With its success, we were guaranteed a sequel. The question is; will it be a worthy sequel to one of the greatest action titles of the 21st century?
Let’s begin this review with the negatives found in Warrior Within. In his previous adventure, the prince was young and innocent and we could relate with his battle to not only save his loved ones but also the entire world as he knew it Straight from the off, the prince made for a likable protagonist; and I think this directly contributed to the success of the game. But now, in an attempt to sell Warrior Within to a wider audience, Ubi Soft’s art team has taken the title in a new direction. A darker prince surrounded by a darker world filled with the rock music that young people say they “identify” with today. Since when did the prince become an icon for Hot Topic? This new atmosphere has taken away any relation I have with the hero. Any true successful character design – or story – needs to have the player relate to the characters, their situation and understand why they are making the choices they need to make. I just can’t do this with the new prince. Whatever audience the developers are trying to aim at, I guess I am not a part of it.
In Warrior Within the prince finds himself being relentlessly chased by a fiend whose only point of existence is to kill him. The Dahaka’s mission is to correct the flow of time that our hero disrupted during The Sands of Time by escaping his own death. Think of the movie Final Destination and you are golden. To prevent this from happening, the prince must stop the Sands of Time from ever being created by the maleficent Empress of Time. This places the gamer on the Island of Time, a location that is much more open than in the original title. The game has changed from a linear area-to-area design to a more open ended game world, which is both a worthy addition and a bane to the gameplay. The game is immediately recognizable to veterans of The Sands of Time, the combat is improved and still incredibly impressive, and the many acrobatic puzzles also make a welcome return. These puzzles played a huge part in making the original game such an enormous critical hit but, with any game utilizing this formula, there is going to be inevitable backtracking. I don’t blame the game designers for this common element; it’s inherent in the design. We are treated to seeing these revisited environments in different time zones as the game progresses, which is refreshing to the gamer’s senses.
The gameplay, as stated, remains the same with some added bits here and there, but it’s still Prince of Persia. We cannot complain about that, but some more creative design wouldn’t have created any complaints from my tastes. I guess the old adage of “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.” remains true in this case. Anyone who has played The Sands of Time will be in familiar territory here. The gameplay, which we all know and love, is still great but little is done to truly improve the overall game. The camera is almost identical to that in The Sands of Time, but then again, rarely do we see a perfect gaming camera system. Once again, improvements could have been made in this department, but it’s still better then most action titles. One thing that has received the greatest of improvements is the game’s free-form combat system. Picking up weapons dropped by downed foes, creating your own deadly combos, and the added slow motion replays add a layer of style to your battles. The combat is a harmony of style and substance, which runs against today’s normal trend of arbitrary “whoa!” factor.
The sound in the in Warrior Within has also gone downhill a little since the original game. Godsmack is not my thing and, to tell you the truth, I don’t see how that mixes successfully with the whole Arabian motif that the game carries. The ambient music that is in the game, is twisted in the same way that Godsmack is in the game, along with the new “depressing” and “dark” appeal Warrior Within tries to emit. This is only secondary to the game, though, the gameplay quickly makes you forget this unfortunate marriage of trendy music that in no way fits the game world and forces the player to forget the new “edgy” prince. The prince has also reflected his new look with his in-game dialog. During battles, the player is treated to some of the worst one liners in gaming. I wonder if the writer of these one lines also wrote the dialog for the cut scenes? If so, he must have been having a bad case of writer’s block when penning the in-game one liners. Overall, the dialog that moves the story along during cut scenes is both well written and well executed, but in battle, the speech coming out of the prince’s mouth makes you shudder. I won’t be writing home about the game’s overall sound design.
I have ranted about the art design, and rather then repeating myself, I will move onto the graphical splendor of Warrior Within. The biggest winners are the animations of the prince along with the architectural environments you will experience. The game world, as dark as it is, will have you gazing in wonder at the sights the prince comes across. As impressive as The Sands of Time was, Warrior Within will emulate the same feeling you experienced during your first adventure with the prince. Overall, Warrior Within is a fantastic graphical achievement. During gameplay I would still think back to the colors of The Sands of Time; that almost dreamlike setting with the heavy use of bloom lighting – it was like a breath of fresh air. We have been granted that bloom effect again, but the “freshness” of The Sands of Time is lost in the heavy use of dark coloring. The art in Warrior Within makes the world feel malevolent, as it should be. The dark environments are not my concern, but rather the personality of the prince and his new shabby and dreary design. Any reader can probably guess by now that the beef I have lies in the new direction the art team has taken with our prince.
In closing, Warrior Within is good – even great, but does it provide the same impact as The Sands of Time? For me, the answer is no. The improved puzzles and combat are a small step in the right direction, just small enough to not make Warrior Within a clone of its older brother. Still, the dark environmental settings are just not catching my eye and if I wanted this type of dark depressive art I would play an Id Software title. The charm that came with the original through its use of colors and the likable prince are now gone. We have here a wonderful holiday title and a worthy sequel, but nothing we haven’t seen before – if you can get past the drastic change of art direction.