2008-12-09

PoP Goes Pop

Ever had that feeling that you're the only one that has any taste? Ever find yourself suprised that the people and outlets who's oppinions you've always held in such high regard suddenly go completely agains your own? A lesser man would start to doubt himself - I start to doubt reality. Am I in Bizzaro world? Has someone fucked up the space-time continum with some stupid paradox again?

Case in point: Am I the only person who feels that the new Prince of Persia seems like a hugh misstep? That in their attempt to renew, reinvent and reboot the franchaise UbiSoft has gone and lost sight of that which made Sands of Time so great?

First off, everyone seems to like the graphics so much. I'll agree that some of the initial screenshots where quite promising, but the more that was revealed the more astray it seems to wander. Technically it looks good, no doubt, and many of the backdrops and environments look great on their own, but esthetically I can't help but feel that this has more in common with low budget TV-fantasy like Xena The Warrior Princess or The Adventures of Sinbad.

The animations in the cut-scenes that I have seen have been over-dramatized (á la Devil May Cry) making them laughably bad. A PoP prince that walks like Fresh Prince and dresses like the artist Prince? I don't think so! They've completely lost touch with the atmosphere from Sands of Time. Maybe not so surprising considering how it's two last-gen sequels panned out, but still. I get the impression that this is a much higher budget initiative, that they are really giving it their all and maybe that's the problem - they're trying too hard. In an attempt to create an experience that will appeal to the mainstream they've created a game with oversimplified controls and a hyper stylish look with fashion strait off the catwalk with little or no basis in Persian history, myth or even Hollywood's take on it. Maybe this is the result of them going out of their way to differentiate the game from Assassin's Creed, and to that point they have now doubt succeeded, but at what price?

"I'll go first... but hey, no staring at my ass." Um... yeah, very appropriate. A comment the prince makes to Elika, that yet again shatters the suspension of disbelief.

Speaking of which, that god awful AI partner has been described by some as "an upgraded Yorda", I would rather call here a schizophrenic-Yorda. On the one hand she keeps saving you when ever you make a non-successful jump (in many cases these are even a necessary part of the gameplay, a kind of "rectified" double-jump) and assists in battles with magic spells and even prevents the Prince from ever loosing a battle by healing him. However then the prince needs to assist her in getting up certain ledges and needs to carry her on his back across some segments which makes no sense we she can teleport and hover in mid-air.

Much like Mirror's Edge, Sands of Time was about figuring out the right way to traverse the environment and feeling great accomplishment when you succeed in chaining together a series of moves - making you both look and feel like a bad ass. In this new game the prince just leaps strait off ledges and sure enough Elika magically appears in the middle of the air and somehow manages to toss you forward. This both completely brakes the suspension of disbelief as well as making you look and feel like an incompetent fool.

The action is almost controlled like a QTE through the combination of just a few buttons and as mentioned in last weeks 1Up Show, it seems like the game is on autopilot a lot of the time.

Instead of, again, like Mirror's Edge, Sand of Time and others (Assassin's Creed, Shadow of the Colossus and Tomb Raider Underworld come to mind) - creating a believable environment with architecture that is designed so that it is travercable without having elements that are all too obviously placed there simply as interaction points - Prince of Persia is riddled with them. Though that kind of design still occurs (the Zelda series is especially guilty of this, but another modern example is Devil May Cry 4 with it's magical jump-points) it feels archaic and arcady, not at all fitting in an atmospheric adventure game.

Now, granted I haven't played the new Prince of Persia, but this close to release I usually have a pretty good idea of what games I'll like and which ones I won't. Sure you might say "Screw it then, why all the ranting? Just forget about it, it's not like there aren't plenty of other great titles out there" and you would be right. I guess I'm just disappointed, in UbiSoft and in people in general who seem to think that these design choices are good. If only I had some sand left so I could turn back time...

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