Thursday, August 6, 2009

Prince of Persia: Warrior Within

Prince of Persia: Warrior Within
Ubisoft, 2004

Platform: PlayStation 2
Overall Rating: A-

Okay, folks, so I finally got around to using this blogspace for something. Hopefully, someone will actually read it. Now then.

Warrior Within is the second game in Ubisoft's PS2 trilogy based on Jordan Mechner's 1992 game Prince of Persia. I played the original game quite enthusiastically when I was in fourth grade, so when Ubisoft (which I believe is the company that acquired Red Orb, which acquired Broderbund, which was the publisher of the original POP game, as well as Myst and a few other of my old favorites) began continuing the franchise in 2003 with Sands of Time I was quite excited about it.

I'm going to assume, for the purposes of not having to write a separate review for another game, that if you are reading this you have played, or are at least familiar with, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. If you haven't, then it would probably behoove you to play it first before reading this or attempting to play Warrior Within, as it is the second game in the series, and to play a sequel before an original would just be silly. Also, this review draws heavily on comparisons between the two games, so if you haven't played the first one you probably won't know much of what I'm talking about. Now then.

The first thing I should probably say about Warrior Within is that I haven't finished it yet. I am presently stuck on an extremely difficult fight, but I have a suspicion that I am nearing the end of the game. I picked this game up used in early 2006, didn't get around to starting it until late 2006, got fed up with it in mid 2007, and didn't pick it up again until a couple of months ago, at which point I needed to start over because my sk1llz had severely deteriorated.

The fact that it has taken me this long to hammer through this game is in itself an illustration of the vast difference between the two games. I bought Sands of Time a short time after it had been released (November or December of 2003, if I'm not mistaken) and had beaten it for the first time within the space of about two months. I've since played it through again several times, because I thoroughly enjoyed it. By contrast, it has taken me, what? Three years, give or take, to get through this one? Obviously, I haven't been playing it continuously for that whole time, but still. It's a much harder game, by cracken.

In terms of gameplay, Warrior Within is a dramatic improvement over Sands of Time. The fighting system is >9000 times better, the environments are more challenging and take longer to navigate, puzzles are more difficult, and the game's progression is less linear. However, many of the elements that made Sands of Time such an enjoyable experience are lacking in Warrior Within: mainly that the game focuses less on story and more on fighting and trap-evasion, and the environments overall tend to be less varied and interesting.

In Sands of Time, the fights were more tedious than anything. You only had a couple of techniques at your disposal, and most of the time I just found myself dealing with barrage after barrage of the same two or three types of enemies by vaulting over them and slashing them, over and over and over until the fight was done. Warrior Within offers a much more interactive fight system. In addition to the Prince's standard one-handed sword, you are also able to use his other hand to hold a second weapon (since he no longer posesses the Dagger of Time, this hand is now free). These can be picked up from the hundreds of weapon racks scattered throughout the environment, taken from slain enemies, or (my favorite) stolen from enemies during combat and used against them. Nothing quite so satisfiying as taking an enemy's knife out of his hand, jumping over his back, and slitting his throat with it. Just my opinion. Extra weapons can also be thrown as projectiles, a technique which comes in handy when having to fight while balancing on rafters.

In addition to extra weapons, the fight system itself is far more flexible than in SOT. The Prince's acrobatic abilities can be used much more effectively and creatively, and in combination with various attacks. As well as standard thrusting and cutting attacks, you can now also employ combo attacks. The combos are simple, so a button-masher such as myself can easily learn to employ them effectively, without having to memorize complicated button sequences. Attacks also function differently depending on whether you are fighting one handed or two handed. All of this combined gives a player quite a bit more flexibility when fighting, and enables you to develop your own particular fighting style.

However, that said, in my opinion this game tends to go a little overboard with the number of fights that you have to engage in. In Sands of Time, there were usually cut scenes or visual/auditory clues which gave you some sort of warning that you were about to be beset upon by ruffians. In the Fortress of Time, however, the guard staff seems far less interested in that type of fair play. Fights are frequent, often unexpected, and tend to last much longer and take more out of you than in SOT. There is also a particularly nasty kind of enemy; a female ninja-type character who will descend from above without warning, and if you're not careful, lock you in an attack that costs a great deal of health and can't be escaped from. Other obnoxious enemies include exploding dogs, invisible birds, giant trolls, and shadow creatures that attack from a distance and have the ability to teleport. In reasonable doses, all of this can make a very challenging and enjoyable gaming experience, but when you are being constantly barraged by regeneration after regeneration, fight after fight, it can get a bit nerve-wracking after awhile.

Also of note is that the frequent fights have a tendency to consume your health over time, and health-restoring water fountains are often few and far between. You will often find yourself emerging from a fight beaten and bloody, only to have to go through several more fights before having the opportunity to restore health and save the game. Bear in mind that you will also have to do all of this while navigating through the assortment of nasty traps that are pretty much standard in a Prince of Persia game. The end result is that you will often find yourself having to play the same environments and fight the same fights over and over again before being able to progress.

One strong advantage that WW has over SOT is the deviation from the linear format of previous POP games. In SOT, you progress from area to area in a direct sequence as the story progresses. This is no doubt based on the basic level system of the original POP game, where the goal is to climb through the Sultan's dungeon level by level.In WW, you are given various objectives to accomplish, which will often lead you into new areas of the Fortress, then require you to backtrack to a previous point and follow a different path to acheive a different objective. You are also often presented with more than one objective, which means that the game does not necessarily have to be played in the same order every time. And if you get stuck, sometimes you can backtrack and try something else before moving on.

Another interesting feature of WW is the addition of time portals. As well as posessing the old time-manipulation powers of the Dagger of Time (although this time your powers come from the Amulet given to you by Farah in the last game, since obviously you no longer have the Dagger), the Fortress of Time also contains various portals, which transport you back and forth between the present era (i.e. medieval Persia) and several centuries in the past. The several-centuries-ago version is apparently the fortress at the height of it's glory, but in the present-day it has become an overgrown ruin. You navigate the same areas of the palace while jumping back and forth between centuries, and the same rooms present completely different obstacles in each era. Oh, and by the way, in the present day version you are being constantly chased by a gigantic demonic beast called the Dhaka, which you accidentally unleashed when you went fucking around with the Sands of Time in the previous game. Have fun with that.

Unfortunately, in visual terms, the environments of WW are not anywhere near as beautiful or as interesting as in SOT. In SOT, you navigated through a series of diverse and visually stunning locations; however, the Fortress of Time basically maintains the same drab, stony, vaguely Gothic decor throughout. The present-day Fortress can get especially monotonous; although, to the designers' credit, I suppose there isn't really a whole lot you can do aesthetically with a ruin. However, this is mostly just a minor aesthetic quibble on my part; the look of the game was probably intended to be consistent with the generally darker tone that WW takes overall. The Prince, as a character, is also much darker here, and much of the humor and lightheartedness present in SOT is gone.

While we're on the subject, I would also like to bring up another feature of the game that was probably the result of the designers trying to "darken" things up a bit. While I may have a couple of gripes against WW, I have to say that overall it is a very fine game, and it's high points definitely make up for most of its flaws. However, one thing they added that I have to say is pretty much 100% fail is the inclusion of a Disturbed song on the soundtrack. Thankfully, they only included the instrumental track, but still. I've got nothing in particular against Disturbed, but what the hell is the same song that was used for a Navy recruitment ad doing in a game set in medieval Persia?!? I'm running away from the fucking Dhaka, not getting down with the sickness, you buttholes. z0mg. I really hope someone got fired over that.

Anyway, what was I talking about? Oh yeah. Another (in my opinion) unfortunate direction that this game takes is the exclusion of a second main character. While as a gameplay element, Farah in SOT tended to be more of an encumberance than an asset (especially in battle; I couldn't tell you how many times I threw my controller at my TV because that dumb bitch got herself killed), her continuous presence made it possible for the game's story to develop through dialogue and frequent cut scenes. The back and forth bantering between the Prince and Farah not only made for a much more engaging story, it also provided frequent breaks from the monotony of incessant running, jumping, climbing, and fighting. While the story of WW is not bad, it is definitely a less story-based game than SOT. As I've mentioned before, the environments can take awhile to slog through sometimes, and what little story advancement there is tends to occur at pretty long intervals. Sometimes I get so bogged down trying to get to a particular objective that I forget why exactly I'm trying to get there in the first place. But that's just my opinion; a lot of gamers seem to dislike complicated storylines and superfluous cut scenes, so whatever. Go play HALO or something if that's you.

Anywho, I think that just about wraps it up for this edition of The Opinionated Quoons. To summarize my point: Warior Within is a pretty good game overall. In terms of gameplay, it makes numerous improvements over Sands of Time; however, I found the story to be less engaging, and it tends to be a bit lacking in warmth and aesthetics. However, it is still well worth playing, particularly if you are as big of a Prince of Persia fan as I am. For my part, I intend to finish it and move on to The Two Thrones, which I bought like a year ago and still haven't gotten to yet, mostly on account of being quagmired in this game. Thank you and goodnight.

Overall rating: A-