Welcome to the second installment of this LusipurrCom Prince of Persia review-a-thon, readers! Since it seems that some of our staff writers are doing these sorts of specials, it’s time for Ol’ Emmori to hop on the proverbial bandwagon!
In the last installment of Emmori’s Prince of Persia Spectaculariffic Game Reviewing Time for Great Justice (Working Title), Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was the subject of analysis. Ubisoft’s 2003 platformer set a standard for action games and platformers that adventure titles of today live by; with high-flying, fast-paced acrobatics and fluid, graceful combat matched with powers that compliment its unique style of play. So why then is Prince of Persia: Warrior Within widely considered to be an inferior game compared to its original, when Warrior Within executes these mechanics on a level equal to its predecessor, if not better?
Originally released in late 2004, Ubisoft’s Prince of Persia: Warrior Within once again follows the trials of the titular Prince of Persia, seven years after successfully preventing the disaster of the first game. It is revealed in the introductory sequence of the game that after the Prince saved Azad from the Sands of Time and prevented the Maharajah’s betrayal, a beastly creature know as the Dahaka began to pursue him. According to a mysterious old man the prince meets in his travels, The Dahaka is a guardian of the timeline; since the Prince had used the Sands to prevent his own death, the Dahaka seeks to kill him and ‘balance’ the timeline. In an attempt to save his own life, he decides to make his way to the Island of Time to prevent the Empress of Time from creating the Sands of Time in the distant past, utilizing Time Portals that were said to be in the Fortress of Time, on the fabled Island of Time.
This is the point in the game at which the narrative begins to pale in comparison to the original. In addition to being horrible at making creative or original names, the narrative of Warrior Within is executed in a way that is considerably inferior to The Sands of Time in many ways. Unlike the sarcastic, yet tragically arrogant Prince of Sands of Time, this Prince is now simply a darker, brooding generic version of his former self. Instead of commenting on the wondrous, yet deadly architecture of the fortress or how weary he is from his years being hunted by the dark monster that runs from, he instead merely yells cookie-cutter battle cries and remarks on what he must do next to get to the next area. At some points in the game does the Prince actually get to talk other characters and discuss what topics such as fate, death, and knowing one’s place in history, but these moments are short and quickly forgotten. The needlessly dark characterization of the Prince in this game is a severe hindrance on the quality of the narrative for the entirety of the story.
While not nearly as problematic as the characterization of the Prince and the unnecessarily dark mood, the environment of the game is another minor issue. Much like the Prince himself, the game’s levels have a dark and dirty visual motif that, while stylish, is a somewhat boring sight to look at for most of the game. The entire world is seen through some sort of ugly gray filter during the portions of it that take place in the Present, while in the Past the colors are more vivid, but still contain mostly shades of brown. While this may be a choice on the designer’s part to create a suitably darker version of Sands of Time‘s visual style, this design decision reeks of the industry trends of the time, in which game developers were beginning to add darker, more mature elements to video games in order to pander to a more ‘adult’ demographic–a trend that continues to plague the industry to this day. Another nagging problem with the game’s style is its soundtrack; instead of the authentic Arabian-sounding music blended with modern electric instruments of the previous game, Warrior Within opts instead to use heavy metal riffs for nearly all of its soundtrack, which again detracts from the strength of the audio element of the game and adds to the suspicion that this was simply done to pander to the ‘hardcore’ gamers of the era.
On a more positive note, the game’s level composition is one of the better features of the game. As opposed to the strictly linear map of the the previous game, Warrior Within features an open world, with parts of the map unlocked through player upgrades and using the Time Portals scattered around the Fortress. There are rarely areas in the game that are inaccessible once passed through, giving players the advantage of backtracking to find additional upgrades when they have achieved the necessary level of power. In addition, the game’s platforming and combat are as good as, if not better than, Sands of Time. The implementation of the game’s Free-Form Fighting System is a welcome addition to the already stellar combat of the series, allowing players to utilize not only different weapon styles and strategies, but also use the environment against enemies. Warrior Within also includes bosses and huge enemies to fight, giving players a break from the generic hordes of enemies. Enemy AI has improved as well; foes no longer simply watch as you twirl over their compatriots and stab them, and take attacks of opportunity when the player is cornered, outnumbered, or surrounded. As in Sands of Time, different enemies require different strategies, so care must be taken to fight intelligently when confronting them.
Prince of Persia: Warrior Within is a strange game to talk about. It suffers from much, but not enough that it could be called a bad game. The platforming is better than ever, the combat is visceral and engaging, yet the overly-dark mood and characterization of the Prince is notably off-putting. But despite its flaws, this reviewer recommends it. It is an excellent buy on Steam for only $9.99 USD, in addition to having an HD remake available on PSN for $14.99 USD. If you enjoyed The Sands of Time, there really is no reason not to give Warrior Within a try.