The lights are on
Prince of Persia is an action adventure game that's perfect for those who take quiet afternoon tea breaks with a side of games. It's almost unfair to call this an action game since the genre is defined by over-the-top, blood guzzling, head slicing, limbs tearing massacres. Playing a session of Devil May Cry feels like riding a roller coaster without wearing the seat belt—it's all cool until the main character dies. This is more like Shadow of the Colossus. It's quiet, subdued, and beautiful. As far as features are concerned, there aren't any. Start the game, press play, and off you go. There is a new dialog feature that allows the Prince to only talk to his sidekick whenever he feels like it. A woman who speaks only when spoken to. I guess that's a pretty nice feature, now that I think about it. Cutscenes are few and far between. Superficially, the plot is decently simple. It's just that dark places are bad, bright places are good, and Elika, your checkpoint reloader, has magic abilities to make the world good again after a confrontation that led the release of a bad god that is determined to enslave the world in goo. However, Ubisoft is a mad genius when it comes to Prince of Persia games, and it's the same case here. There are more loop holes in that initial whiff of plot than the American financial system, which is intriguing enough to pique the player to flirt the dialog button to get a bit more back story. Why is the father releasing the evil demon? How did she get the power? Where is everyone? Why is Prince there? Where is his ass? And why does he care? It's a luring premise to be sure, but the answers may be anticlimatic depending on how much the player decides to discover through conversation, which, through the Pulitzer-worthy dialog, is both funny and character building. Seriously, with each conversation, I get attached to each character just a bit more. Maybe it's the cheesy pickup lines or the playful banters that puts a bit of jokes in quite the sad and lonely world. Whatever it is. It works.
And it is a lonely world. Traversing through the dark blue lonely vistas accompanied by silent footsteps and gentle grunts, the Prince risks death to save an unpopulated world. The silence hits hard when the action stops and you pan around to look at the beautiful graphics. If Uncharted defined the technical capabilities of next generation graphics, Prince of Persia defines the artistic opportunity of video games. Everything looks hand-painted and exquisite. Light areas feel warm, colorful, and creamy. Dark areas feel hollow, cold, and dangerous. This game proves that graphics and sound plays a vital part in the experience of a game. Graphics matter people! Unlike Ninja Gaiden, which is padded to the brink with extra modes and features that may be fun, but are a bit superfluous, Prince of Persia is an adventure game without any excess fat. It's all about feeling the sensation of the wind sweeping past the Prince has he wall runs across the the canyon. The fighting is minimized. The narrative is minimized. Almost nothing is keeping the Prince still. All except that waste of a desert that separates a Final Fantasy 10 style ability grid and the actual playground. I'm all for trying to avoid using the menu altogether, but having to run across an entire dust bowl just to mash a button to get a new ability to unlock a new world is just boring and tedious. To be honest, it's cool for the first time that the Prince prance forward with the glowing spark leading the way across the wasteland into the darkness of the world. It's like walking out of the sewer into the world of Oblivion. It's got a sort of here-we-go suspense.However, it's not a game that you play. You sort of push buttons and watch, and there's a video game term for this and that's the dreaded and over-used quick time events. In fact, there are moments when you actually wait a couple seconds between button pushing, and that just doesn't cut it for an action game. But it works. This QTE isn't just some poor excuse of explaining why triangle translates to cutting the boss in half and tossing it into the air then ripping it to shreds. It all sort of makes sense. The circle handle that the Prince grabs to swing to the other side is the visual QTE for pushing circle. It only sort of makes sense because why would there be these circle handles on the underside of cliffs in the first place? Still, none of this sounds fun.
And it's not. Ubisoft isn't going for that traditional fun factor from other action games. Instead this game aims to deliver an epic experience. Everything that may break the experience is left out. Death is gone--the Prince is automatically resumed back at the last safe platform if he so chooses to leap towards the cloudy infinity underneath the platforms. Timing is gone--the Prince can basically jump from wall to wall at any time and the game will adjust the animation to make it work. Difficulty is gone--the Prince doesn't die in fights, and it's basically just a rhythmic back-and-forth dance between attack, defense, and counter. The result is surprisingly enjoyable. The scale of each acrobatic run creates the exhilarating sensation like sliding down a snow-piled hill. The fighting feels challenging and adrenaline-pumping and precise without actually be challenging so that at the end of every fight, you'd feel accomplished without all the effort to actually accomplish it.But it's a gem of a game with flaws. Ubisoft tries to sell this game as an open world adventure where the player can choose how to traverse each area, yet, that's not exactly what the game is. At every fork in the road, the player basically chooses between two or three paths, and that's it, the Prince is stuck with that path until the end of the boss battle, he can't even go back. This fake open-world-ness comes in full swing when Elika decides that she needs to absorb light orbs in order to progress the game, which means that the Prince must climb and run across the same area at least three times just to get the orbs, and that comes off as repetitive and boring. Yes, this place looks great, but let's move on already! Playing this game is a bit like a man wearing a pink shirt. He'd argue that he's comfortable with his feminine side in clothes just like I'd argue that I'm comfortable with my non-murderous side in an action game. It's unthinkable and blasphemous for a cold blooded Prince of Persia evolution to turn into this heart-warming relaxation therapy. And at the end of the day, you'd look at your back catalog of games yet to be finished and ask, "why have I just wasted so much time on this game?" Then you'd answer, "because it was fun."
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