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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

Prince of Persia: Warrior Within (Xbox)


By Michael Palisano

Ubisoft's Prince of Persia: Warrior Within takes players on a darker, more dangerous journey than last year's brilliant The Sands of Time. It plays very much like the first game, though the gameplay has evolved with a sophisticated combat system. This is known as "Free Form" fighting, and gives the Prince more freedom and versatility. The greater emphasis on combat gives the game more action, but there are still plenty of puzzles and traps to challenge your puzzle solving skills. Players will also find the familiar time powers, such as rewind and slow motion to help them in battle their way through time. Join us and find out why Warrior Within is a solidly entertaining title that offers much challenge for the adventurous gamer.

Set several years after the events of The Sands of Time, the latest installment in the Prince of Persia series finds the protagonist chased through the far reaches of the world by an evil immortal being known as the Dahaka. The Dahaka is chasing the prince because he was supposed to die. However, he escaped his fate, causing a rift that the Dahaka needs to correct by killing the prince. The Prince visits an old sage who tells him that he must destroy the sands of time before they were created. In order to do destroy them, he must travel to a mysterious realm known as the Island of Time, where he'll have to defeat the evil and powerful Empress of Time. The empress unleashes her full powers to defeat the Prince, knowing his victory will lead to her destruction along with the Sands of Time themselves. The Prince will face off with her legions of sand demons and other foes during his quest, and they aren't pushovers this time. The enemies this time around are much more aggressive and dangerous and attack mercilessly. They usually attack in groups and aren't predictable, unlike the foes in The Sands of Time. However, the acrobatic Prince can use his athletic abilities and special moves such as swinging around poles and dramatic jumps to slice through them quickly. This is much like the first game, but there are some new twists in Warrior Within that keeps things fresh. This is a much more intense and difficult game that will challenge players who found the original title's difficulty lacking.

For the most part, Warrior Within plays very much like the Sands of Time, with a similar control set allowing him to perform his many acrobatic moves with ease. Players will be happy to learn that the configuration this time is quite similar to the last game, making it easy to jump right into the action. Most of the series' trademark moves such as jumping over chasms and running on the side of walls have returned, but the prince has a few new tricks up his sleeve. These new abilities allow him to traverse the traps and vast environs more efficiently. For example, he can now slide down curtains, jump off walls during combat and perform deadly sneak attacks. Another huge change comes with his ability to use two weapons at the same time, which allows him to perform some devastating combo attacks. Now that he can hold two of them, it logically follows that there are many new weapons in the game with a greater variety of swords to use. He can find many weapons scattered on the ground after he defeats enemies, but some are more effective than others. Ubisoft Montreal has also overhauled Prince of Persia's combat system, which is now much deeper and more refined than before, with dozens of moves and combos. Called the Free-Form system, it allows the prince to perform a variety of new moves including jumping over enemies and attacking them from behind, decapitating foes with new head slices and sneak attacks from behind. Players will also find that the Sands of Time have been integrated much more thoroughly into the new game, with slow motion attacks working much better this time around. Despite the new complexity, the new combat system is quite intuitive, which makes performing multi-hit moves and combos surprisingly easy. It definitely adds depth and challenge to the game, making Warrior Within a much more satisfying experience.

Though the increased emphasis on hand to hand combat is quite evident from the beginning, Warrior Within still features the complicated puzzles and devious traps that have become the series' trademark. The prince will find himself jumping from pole to pole, moving objects to uncover hidden areas, swinging on ropes and climbing onto ledges. This makes finding your way out of rooms a vexing task. Each room in the game presents its own set of unique obstacles such as spinning poles covered in spikes, bottomless pits, slender poles to move on, bars to swing across and more. Many of the rooms require multiple tasks to complete, making them extremely difficult to traverse successfully. This is very similar to the first game, except that the Prince will now have to go through the same rooms in two different time periods. When he returns to room he's visited previously, he'll find their layouts have changed significantly, with traps where none was before and large gaps created by the ravages of time and decay. This definitely adds to the game's sense of déjà vu and disorients the player's expectations, effectively splitting the game in half. This clever technique is smartly implemented with the plot, so you don't feel like you're being cheated. The puzzles themselves place more emphasis on action and moves, instead of the many odd and oblique puzzles from the first game. This makes Warrior Within feel much more cohesive than Sands of Time, and leads to a less frustrating experience overall. During his quest, the Prince will find water fountains in certain areas. Taking a drink from these has the dual use of replenishing his energy and also serving as a save point. They don't occur that often, so you need to save whenever you see them.

Warrior Within's darker storyline and bleaker look gives it a much more adult feel while not completely throwing out the first game's appeal. While the "present" levels are somewhat dark and dreary, once the player returns to the past, the levels and environments brighten considerably. Warrior Within's plot is somewhat more adult with a sexier cast of scantily-clad vixens who temp the prince while trying to kill him. During the game, you'll meet two of the Empress' female apprentices, Shahdee and Kaileena. Both of these women have been sent to kill him, but they use their undeniable appeal to distract the prince from his mission. Their appearance isn't just for sex appeal, as both characters play a key role in unraveling the mysteries of the Empress' existence and how the Prince may end up defeating her. Warrior Within's more pronounced violence also makes for a more mature game. In the fist game, dispatched sand demon enemies disappeared into the wind but they spurt blood and scream when killed in Warrior Within. The Prince's moves are also more graphic, since enemies can be skewered, cut in half, and even decapitated. This definitely makes this Prince of Persia title feel more adult than many fans of the series are probably accustomed to.

One of the elements that made Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time such a great title was it's beautifully designed levels and evocative storyline. While the visuals this time are much darker, the attention to detail in the game's expansive environments remains breathtaking. The designers have created some truly massive areas for players to explore, making this feel like an epic quest. The use of different time periods allows the rooms and areas to undergo some startling changes. Many rooms feel dark and imposing the first time you encounter them, in the bleaker later time periods. However, when you return to them in the distant past, they become grand palatial halls full of glowing candles glowing warmly. The effect can be startling, with these transformations making for an occasionally startling metamorphosis. The game's graphics engine remains very impressive, with the extensive use of light-sourcing, shadows and detailed textures creating an evocative world. The gauzy finish of the Sands of Time's visuals has been toned down, but there's still a slight glow. Initially, it probably seems like this is a relentlessly bleak experience, but some of the old POP magic shines through once you move deeper into the adventure. As you'd expect, the character animations are excellent, with fluid movement of the Prince and his adversaries giving the game a truly lively feel. Unfortunately, the in-game music is one of the areas where the game falls flat. A repetitive and annoying neo-eastern heavy metal track repeats endlessly in the background fails to fit the game's atmosphere. It detracts from the mood but fortunately the volume can be turned down once you grow tired of it. The game's voice acting is excellent this time, with the Prince's angrier edge reflected in the dialogue. While controversial in some quarters, we found Warrior Within's darker edge worked for the most part. It enhanced the game's existential plot without overwhelming the gameplay.

The change in direction for the series seems dramatic on the surface; this isn't nearly as severe as initial impressions indicate. While this is undeniably a darker game than the Sands of Time, the violence doesn't seem as excessive and fits in well with the storyline. Adding some sex appeal to the game definitely gives things a tension that the first game didn't have. Whether this is a good idea depends on your point of view about such matters. Despite these changes, Warrior Within remains at heart, a classic Prince of Persia adventure with the same appealing gameplay mechanics. There are still plenty of the classic puzzle elements in the game, despite the greater emphasis on combat. It's important to understand that the deeper fighting system isn't gratuitous and actually improves the overall experience. These enhancements make for a deeper and more satisfying adventure. The light and dark areas are implemented intelligently with the same level of detail and aesthetic beauty players loved about the first game. Prince of Persia: Warrior Within is an excellent sequel that carries the series into new territory while maintaining the core of challenging, engaging gameplay that's made previous Prince of Persia titles so successful.

Grade: A-

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