The trailer says, “Your fate has been written. You will die.” Granted, it should have said “You will die, and die, and die some more. And then you’ll die.” Prince of Persia: Warrior Within is the sequel to the award-winning 2003 title Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Changing many of the details of the first game for the sequel is always a challenge, especially because sequels are always compared to the games they followed. The question is, did the changes help or hurt and how does Warrior Within stack up to Sands of Time? There’s no denying it, PoP:WW is a very pretty game. The graphics are lush, highly detailed, and it’s almost like watching a movie, although there are some slight jarring effects when going from an animated cutscene to the game itself. All in all, though, the graphics from SoT have been improved here, and on a medium-range PC, it’s still incredibly beautiful to watch. The images when going back and forth in time, the chamber aging before your eyes, it’s really rather breathtaking. Carpets and tapestries move back and forth, ropes dance here and there and it just feels alive. There are many weapons, and each one looks significantly different. The time effects are well-done visually, and the chase scenes with the Dahaka are muted, the colors bled out as you literally run from your destiny. Here’s where some of the cracks in the veneer begin to show. The wise-cracking Prince is now replaced by a darker, more bitter version of himself. Granted, he’s got every reason to be angry and bitter, with running from certain death and all, but still, it gets a bit annoying after a while. Another issue with the game is that when you turn the subtitles on, you notice that the way the characters say what’s in the script dosen’t always match up to what’s written on the screen. When I see a phrase with an exclamation point, I expect to hear some sort of inflection in the character’s voice. Unfortunately, hearing the old man say “Madness!” but hearing it in the same tone as the rest of his speech…takes away from the experience somewhat. Also, hearing Shahdee scream wordlessly fifteen to twenty times in a fight is really going overboard. The other major issue is that while the music from SoT was this incredibly period stuff, it’s been completely replaced in Warrior Within by generic heavy metal riffs. While it works in some places (the music video to “I Stand Alone” for example, in the bonus features), in the majority of the game, including boss fights, it just dosen’t mesh well. You almost have to wonder if the folks at Ubisoft were trying to make the game more Gen-Y friendly at the expense of the people who enjoyed the previous game (as well as those who liked the original games in the series). Given that SoT didn’t sell all that well, it’s a definite possibility.
The controls for the game are basically unchanged from SoT, although the addition of a map and the ability to rotate the camera about yourself are helpful. However, you can only rotate the camera around you most of the time. Every now and then, the game locks the camera into a spot that it’s hard to see where you’re going, and other times the camera shifts positioning in the middle of a fight, which is hard to explain, especially when it’s a mini-boss fight. Once you get over the camera being annoying, the controls are very tight, especially the combat controls, which change depending on if you’ve got one weapon or two.
One of the major complaints about SoT was that the combat was very limited. They’ve definitely repaired this, with over thirty different combinations between single-weapon, double-weapon, walls, throwing weapons, leaping over your opponent, using pillars to attack….you literally could do different things in every fight and have it work, except of course for boss encounters. Still, though, it’s a vast improvement over the previous game.
It’s very obvious that this is a console port, although Ubisoft did a fine job in converting the control structure to a mouse and keyboard. However, it brings to the forefront a number of issues that can’t be ignored.
The first, of course, is the save structure. The only times you can save is when you find a fountain to drink in (which also restores your health). Normally, this isn’t a problem, but there are times where you have to go through a puzzle, a fight, a second puzzle, maybe a few more fights, and then you can save. If you die somewhere in the middle…you go back to the save point. This can lead to a lot of frustration, especially if you were near the next save point, where you have to go and repeat the process over and over again.
It must be noted here, however, that one of the banes of a console port has been avoided here, that being the unskippable cutscene. The first time you see a cutscene, you have to watch it, of course, but if you die after and have to repeat it, pressing the jump button will fast-forward through the cutscene, as if you were controlling time to get there.
The other major issue with the gameplay has got to be the boss-AI, perhaps with the enemy AI itself. With most of the monsters, you can use a variety of tactics to destroy them, which is an improvement from the previous game. However, when you come to the boss fights, it’s feels more like a war of attrition. A perfect example is the first two fights with Shahdee. The first time, it’s a matter of just holding down block while she goes through her pattern, ending with her wordless scream. Then, you throw in a couple of hits, then repeat. With the sheer length of her health bar, it becomes monotonous very quickly, although the developers do throw in a few minigame cutscenes during the fight to break it up a bit. The second time is worse, actually, because it’s the same fight, yet Shahdee throws in an unblockable kick which can take out nearly half of your health, if not kicking you off the platform you’re on. It’s avoidable, but it’s still the same fight as before, with that one move added. It’s almost inexcusable now to have this type of cheap AI, especially in a boss fight.
All in all, this combines to make the game almost a chore to play, whereas the first one nearly drags you through it, making you feel that you don’t want to stop playing. This time, it’s more finding a reason to keep playing that becomes an issue.
While the game is significantly longer than Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, and it does have two seperate endings (depending on a couple of choices made late in the game), there isn’t much more to recommend it at the typical $40 price tag. There are a few unlockables here and there, mostly in the sheer number of weapons that the prince can pick up and use, each of which is fully detailed and described in the bonus section. Outside of that, though, there’s no real reason to play through the game more than once other than to find the second ending, and that can be accomplished by a single save point near the end of the game.
The game remains fun, but it definitely isn’t as fun in the overall sense as SoT was. The frustration brought about by replaying the same sections over and over due to the limited save structure and the monotony of the boss fights means that the game can quickly become more of a chore to play than just simply being fun. While the shift to make the game much more combat-centric dosen’t hurt it specifically, it dosen’t help it either.