So, I played and finished the new Prince of Persia game the other night. Overall, it was fun, if short. It was also pretty easy, but as I get older, that’s a feature more than a bug. I also happened on an article quoting the game producer as disappointed that fans didn’t appreciate the way they had “innovated” the game play.
I have to say, the game certainly had some innovations I appreciated, though I wouldn’t call them new. Maybe newish, since they aren’t used very often. For instance, the game does not let you die, with your companion, Elika, rescuing you from any falls or fatal strikes from enemies. This gives the game a facade of non-difficulty, but it really just streamlines the die/continue flow found in most games, and is appreciated. It’s used in other games as well, to great effect. Fable 2 does the same, and the Lego Star Wars series basically gives you infinite lives. (And, if we want to rate difficulty by the number of times you have to be rescued, Fable 2 is FAR easier. I “died” in that game only once, and it was much longer than PoP.)
In addition, there is a surprising lack of health bar. This is a welcome change, and makes total sense. After all, you can’t die, so what’s the point in telling you how close you are to not dying? The battles do have a kind of HUD, with red outlining the screen and moving in to the center the more damage you take, but it just tells you how close you are to Elika having to save you. Still, this is not totally new. Ico did this as well. Speaking of, it’s obvious the game takes some of its inspiration from Ico and expands on it. More games should do this.
The game also has simplified the controls for the acrobatics, such that it’s usually one button press to do any of the Prince’s famous maneuvers. The game also is very generous in targeting your jumps, so you never have to spend time “lining up” your jump. You just go. This is also appreciated.
One of the most talked about innovations is the characters. For a Prince of Persia game, there is a surprising lack of Princes. And Persia’s. The game takes place in a hidden kingdom away from the rest of the world, with the main character being a vagabond, whose name we never find out. The game website and other press releases try to rationalize this by saying the character is “his own man, Prince of himself” or some such nonsense. I think they came up with this afterwards to justify the story. I’m not bothered by this, as it’s obvious from the end that they have a continuing story in mind, which may culminate with royalty and Farsi. I can wait.
The character voices are off putting at first, especially compared to Yuri Lowenthal’s wonderful voice from the previous series (2/3 of it anyway), but I stopped worrying about it after a while. Given that if the story were actually taking place, they probably wouldn’t speak English anyway, we probably don’t need to expect particular accents.
So, the game is certainly innovative in ways other games have innovated, and I hope Ubisoft continues that trend towards a true platform adventure, rather than a fighter game. My biggest complaint about the game is the real lack of any challenging puzzles. There are one or two that take a few seconds to figure out, but nothing like the wonderful Library from the original Sands of Time. This leaves very little actual challenge to the game, making it simply an interactive movie in some respects.
There was one innovation that I found very intriguing, however: the ending. (Spoilers ahead)
After defeating all the bosses, healing all the lands, and returning to the temple, the final fight is in two parts: a battle against one more boss, then a long platforming section leading to healing of the temple, the re-imprisonment of the bad guy, and the death of your companion, Elika. This was honestly expected, given the dialogue between the two during the game. However, after that, the Prince decides to revive Elika by freeing the bad guy again, thus undoing all the work they did. This was unexpected, but not bad. The innovation here came in the fact that YOU as the player have to free the bad guy.
There are many games that allow the player to make some kind of moral choice that will affect the type of ending you get. You can do the good thing or the bad thing, and get the appropriate cut scene before credits roll. It is implied in handing the player control of the character that some choice needs to be made on the player’s part that affects the outcome. The difference here is that you are handed control, but given no choice. There is only one thing you can do that will end the game (aside from turning off the machine). You HAVE to free the bad guy. There is no moral choice except the one where you choose to actually finish the game. As someone who usually plays the good guy in moral choice games, this was especially disconcerting. I spent a good bit of time looking for something else I could do, but there’s nothing. You have to do it, and once you do, after Elika is revived and just as the game ends, she asks the very question on my mind as well: “Why?”