Prince of Persia: Warrior Within

Gamestyle Archive Intro: Daniel takes us back to the successful realm of Prince of Persia as Ubisoft unleashed the Warrior Within. This review dates from November 2004.

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If you’ve not played Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, do so now. Seriously, stop reading this review, hunt down a copy of the game on any format (it’ll be pretty cheap now) and lose yourself in one of the best games this generation has to offer. For those remaining, you’ll know what to expect – but you might not expect that Gamestyle is disappointed with what Ubisoft has done. Sands of Time was a game for a mature and appreciative audience; it was a game for those of us who cared that thought and consideration (for the player) had been lovingly invested. Warrior Within, on the other hand, is a game that has been driven by pubescent angst and lust for gritty ‘attitude’… oh, and blood. Lots of blood.

After releasing the ‘Sands of Time’ from its hourglass, the Prince is now on the run, destined to die. Pursued by a shadowy creature known as the Dahaka – who is attempting to seal his fate – the Prince must travel to the castle where the Sands were originally created, thus stopping them and undoing his fate in the process. Once again, the game makes exemplary use of the third dimension: the agile Prince can precisely time and execute his jumps, grabs, swings and wall-runs. Once again, the game’s environments are perfectly configured for these specific abilities, and allow you to scan ahead for the correct path. Once again, the controls are perfectly in-sync with your commands, allowing the Prince to do exactly what you want him to do; and once again you can rewind time and undo your death should your jump miss, your grip slip or your body become impaled by spiky booby-traps. No amount of falling foul could possibly ruin these steady foundations, but by the gods, Ubisoft has tried.

Although graphically astounding (Warrior Within looks slightly better than its predecessor), the stage is slightly mired by murky brown and grey dungeons. The Prince is no longer colourfully-attired, but instead dons armour plates and ‘leathery’ disposition; in fact, the misty, almost surreal, ambience of the first game has been replaced with a ‘gritty’ style that is wholly uninspired. And the music? Repetitive heavy-metal riffs kick in whenever combat initiates, and are punctuated by horrible one-liners that attempt to sound all ‘grown-up’ by cussing inappropriately. The Prince is royally pissed – and this makes him instantly unlikable; his originally sweet, charismatic (and sometimes sarcastic) persona buried beneath a facade of scar tissue and a suspiciously American-sounding accent. But a style is just a style; and although a game’s style (wink) is important for drawing you in, the way it plays is what truly matters. So, let’s take a look at how Ubisoft has messed things up… The first thing you’ll notice is the emphasis on combat.

The intro/tutorial literally throws you into a fracas with several demonic foes (presumably unrelated to the creatures from the first game). Whilst Gamestyle rather liked the original bust-ups, we nonetheless came to the conclusion that less would be more for the sequel. Ubisoft didn’t listen. Instead, combat has been tweaked, rebuilt, made more advanced… and even more frequent. Using one main weapon and a secondary weapon (which can be thrown for instant kills and replaced as new weapons are found), you can pull off an impressive range of combos: foist yourself into the air, swing around pillars, jump off walls, thrust your blade forward… block, parry, and what-have-you. It’s all very balletic, but there’s very little need to do much of this, as button-bashing will inevitably whittle down foes.

Unlike the previous game, there’s no need for a ‘deathblow’ either, as enemies will perish after enough hits. We rather miss the simplistic elegance of the original combat – although we can’t deny the tremendous flourish of lobbing your sword fifty-feet hence and chopping somebody’s head off. The second major change is the removal of ‘premonition’ scenes. For those unaware, these gave a glimpse of the (linear) path ahead; not having them in the sequel is a major omission because they were almost irresistible before – entreating you to play ‘just a little bit farther’ until you’d reached the next one. Instead, Warrior Within gives you ordinary save points that are poorly-placed… as frequent combat will cause many annoying deaths and makes you restart sometimes large sections again. But it isn’t all bad. As mentioned, the combat is very satisfying, and although it occurs far too often is well-integrated into the levels; and the gradual learning of new moves just about keeps things interesting. Also new are the boss fights – but these aren’t anything special, they’re just long and tedious battles.

So, is there anything Prince of Persia: Warrior Within adds to the original template that’s actually an improvement? Duration might be one thing (given the criminally-short length of its predecessor). There are also ‘time portals’, which cleverly split the castle into two timelines; one an exuberant past, the other a desolate present. This makes the game less linear and offers a small amount of exploration. Environmentally, there are sights to behold that hearken back to the very best of original settings… fabulous, well-rendered sections that are a joy to negotiate, but these aren’t quite as numerous as we’d have liked.

What’s most saddening is that Warrior Within has to seemingly resort to showboating to generate interest. Instead of well-written dialogue, we have semi-naked female characters with implausible breasts; instead of any sort of well-rounded lead character, we have a dislikeable chap with ‘attitude’; instead of complex, beautifully-designed puzzles that continually flow from room to room, we have combat and decapitations at every corner. To truly appreciate the genius of Prince of Persia, you have to dig a lot deeper than you really ought to. It’s definitely there, and it’s definitely brilliant, but you’ll likely cringe more times than you’ll applaud.

Gamestyle Score: 7/10

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