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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Prince of Persia (Playstation 3) 

Taking players to a mystical land full of magic and puzzles, Ubisoft's enchanting Prince of Persia gives the series a fresh start with a new prince, his new companion and a dynamic illustrated visual style that makes for a beautiful, engrossing experience. This new prince has a number of new abilities, such as climbing on ceilings along with more familiar moves such as running on walls, making huge jumps and more. He also has a new friend named Elika who's with him every step of the way to aid him on his journey. A non-linear structure, an engrossing narrative and beautifully designed puzzles make for a magnificent title that transports players into another world.

While the name Prince of Persia has a long and storied history for gamers, the latest eponymous installment represents a completely new start for the series. There's a new prince who battling a new adversary that has corrupted his beautiful lands. It all begins when he chases a mysterious woman named Elika through a series of canyons. When he finally catches up with her, the prince discovers that she's a princess. Her father is the king and is very angry at her for some reason, and he destroys the tree of life his family guarded for generations. By doing so, the king unleashes Ahriman, the god of darkness in the process. Having been ensnared in this supernatural battle between good and evil, the prince decides to join Elika in her battle so she can restore the balance between darkness and light. This is where the adventure begins and it takes the prince through a variety of elaborate and beautifully rendered lands. Unlike previous adventures, he has a companion as Elika joins him throughout the game to help guide and aid him in this journey. This is a significant change that has a large, and positive effect on the game's overall pacing and difficulty. It also gives the prince someone to banter with during his quest which adds an unexpectedly lighthearted veneer to the game. Players begin at the central temple that serves as the game's central hub where they can journey to different lands and transport between areas. Each of the lands he encounters has been corrupted by the dark forces and Elika and the Prince have to work together to restore and heal these lands to the light power. Players traverse the lands in a variety of ways, including some of the traditional Prince of Persia abilities such as wall climbing, jumping and climbing onto ledges. The controls this time around are quite intuitive, allowing you to perform jumps, scale walls and perform wall runs easily. There are two new elements here, one of which are the wall rings, which the prince can grab onto while wall-running to extend his runs. The other new feature is his ability to climb up and over ceilings and run over those vertically, which is a cool ability as well. As usual, the level designs can be quite elaborate, with multiple jumps, extensive climbing and more required to traverse through the game's elaborate stages.

The most significant addition in the latest installment is Elika's magical ability which helps the prince in many ways. She has the ability to save the prince from mistakes, and she'll automatically pull you back from the brink before you plunge downward. This allows you a quick redo of your last move and gives you incentive to experiment since your aren't penalized greatly for failure. After she saves you, the prince finds himself back in the last safe area, which isn't too far back. Elika can also use her powers in other ways. One of the most impressive new features this time is the fact that she can boost the prince's jumps midway through which allows him to jump greater distances. She's also a fully formed character in her own right, and players can talk to her throughout the game to get tips and directions on the adventure. Adding to this is her ability to throw lights in the direction where you need to go at the push of a button, which comes in very handy if you get lost or lose your sense of direction. Elika is a very solid addition who makes the quest much easier than it would have otherwise been. Prince of Persia's open ended structure is fairly straightforward and most players should be able to progress through it fairly easily. It's not as easy as it sounds, since each land is guarded by dark forces who will battle with the prince to defend the evil king Ahriman's hold on the world. In order to do this, players will find themselves exploring an impressive number of different lands. What's interesting about this installment is that it's not as linear as before, and players are allowed to explore the different lands in the order they choose using the game's world map. It's not quite that simple, since you're initially limited in where you can transport. In order to open up new worlds, you first need to heal them by defeating all the dark forces you face. In addition, after you've healed a land from its dark corruption, it suddenly changes tone and character to a far more beautiful and tranquil place. After this happens, each level will suddenly fill with the aforementioned Light Seeds which are scattered throughout. These are placed in difficult to reach areas and it can take some time before you collect them all. It can be a tedious process, especially when you miss a couple and have to search for them. This is further frustrating since you can't teleport to other lands or unlock Eleka's other powers until you have completed finding each one. There's an average of 60 on each level, which feels a bit like padding, and makes the game needlessly frustrating at points. However, this is kind of a small speed bump in an otherwise brilliantly designed title. Despite this annoyance, It's worth the persistence to collect these in order to see the magnificent lands that await you later on.

Many of the game's puzzles are relatively elaborate and there are certain sections that can be very frustrating. You have to learn to think ahead, or you'll fail often, which despite Elika's helping hand, can become quite frustrating at times. After you're done running and jumping through each of these levels, you'll then usually have to face off against an intimidating boss character at the end of each which creates an epic battle. The game's combat system is quite good, adding a new dimension to the gameplay. You have several moves at your disposal including standard sword thrusts, acrobatic attacks which cause quite a lot of damage and can also perform move blocks. As the prince takes damage, the edges of the screen turn red, but the prince can either call of Elika to restore his health or wait for his energy to rejuvenate. The fighting sequences are surprisingly fluid and give a heightened sense of drama to the action. In addition to his standard fighting moves, the Prince can also call of Elika to perform some magical light attacks, which can help finish off foes. The only problem is some really pedestrian button mashing sequences when you are in a struggle with an opponent. These don't require that much skill and can become annoying. However, they're few and far between and aren't a significant detriment to the overall gameplay. There are a few minor problems with the gameplay, but Ubisoft Montreal's highly polished production values make these issues feel largely insignificant in the larger picture.

One of the most impressive changes this time around is the new visual approach that eschews realism for a more painterly, illustrative approach that makes the game feel more like a storybook than the usual CGI-fest players have come to expect. The game's richly animated appearance extends to the characters, all of whom have an incredibly stylized appearance. Prince of Persia's animation has always been superb and this installment is no exception with each movement shown with an incredible amount of grace and fluidity. The opponent monsters look like ink-splotches on canvas and the game's beautiful design shows an absolutely impressive attention to detail. Its expansive environments offer some breathtaking sights, with an immense sense of scale and rustic design that transports you into another world full of magic and light. Each of the game's levels offers a distinctive look and feel that creates a strong sense of place. It's mixture of darker cavernous areas and more open-ended city places makes for an excellent sense of balance. The camera system is also very keen, allowing you to see your next objective and other obstacles easily for the most part while not intruding on the option. This works well with the game's intuitive controls to create an almost seamless gameplay experience in which an elaborately designed world unfolds before you. Prince of Persia's music is offers a very fitting middle-eastern style of music that compliments the look effectively, though the westernized voice acting does seem a little out of place. While it takes a radically different approach from the previous games in terms of presentation, the high quality and fine polish of the visuals delivers the immersive, gorgeous experience players have come to expect from Prince of Persia titles.

Ubisoft could have easily taken the easy way out and delivered a slightly smoother edition of the long running franchise. Instead, they've reinvented the game with several new elements. The addition of Elika as a character was a brilliant move - she acts as an onscreen guide, adds some fun to the game and most importantly, adds a new co-op mechanic to the gameplay that makes it more challenging in some ways while increasing the accessibility. Prince of Persia's open ended structure works well and gives players the freedom to explore and challenge the levels at their own pace while still telling a coherent story. The traditional control scheme isn't too terribly difficult to get the hang of and its unobtrusive camera system helps to keep things flowing smoothly. You won't find yourself needlessly falling or going in the wrong direction nearly as much as in previous titles, which makes this Prince of Persia far less frustrating than it's been in the past. Overall, this is a solidly entertaining and challenging adventure that despite some relatively minor problems, delivers one of the best Prince of Persia adventures to come out in quite some time.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: A

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