Prince of Persia: The Warrior Within
We often like to joke about what goes on in the publisher's boardrooms when new gamesÃ‚Â and new directions inÃ‚Â a franchise are discussed. DespiteÃ‚Â all the things theÃ‚Â previous Prince of Persia did right, the game didn't sell as well as Ubi Soft was hoping. Enter the new and "edgy" Prince with rock metal background music and more focus on combat. Is it still the same old prince underneath all that stubble? Let's see what 4tomsm4sher has to say.
Warrior Within is Ubisoft's follow-up to 2003's multi-platform release, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. The Sands of Time was a great addition to the Prince of Persia franchise, and scored big points with longtime fans for its stunning visuals, unique setting, and superb level design. In case you haven't played it (in which case you're missing out on some incredible platforming goodness), The Sands of Time's storyline went something like this:
The Prince, having helped his father defeat a rival Maharajah, obtains a magical dagger from within the Maharaja's palace. He's eventually tricked by his father's disloyal vizier into using the dagger to unlock a giant hourglass, unwittingly unleashing the sands of time. The enchanted sands spill out into the palace, turning almost everybody inside into murderous sand-zombies. The vizier runs off with the hourglass and the Prince, with the assistance of the Maharajah's daughter, is tasked with tracking him down.
One of the more innovative elements of the Sands of Time was the ability the Prince's magical dagger gave him to slow and rewind time, allowing him to reverse his own death. In Warrior Within, we learn that the Prince's use of the dagger has resulted in a bit of a problem, however. Having cheated death, he's now being relentlessly pursued by the Dahaka, the guardian of time. The Dahaka's a big, armored minotaur-like creature who sounds like Darth Vader with a mouthful of oatmeal, and he's none to happy with the fact that the Prince has avoided his fate. As far as the Dahaka's concerned, the Prince must die in order to restore order to the timeline.
As Warrior Within begins, the Prince is on his way to meet the Empress of Time, who lives on the Island of Time, in (you guessed it!) The Fortress of Time. He's learned from a crusty old wise man that the hourglass was originally taken from the fortress by the Maharajah, who had discovered portals on the island that allowed him to travel back and forth between the past and present. The Prince gets the nifty idea to visit the island, travel to the past, and convince the Empress never to create the sands of time in the first place. If they were never created, he'd never have opened them, and never would have been able to cheat his own death, so finally the Dahaka will get off his case. Got that?
Given the Prince's constant running from the Dahaka, he's a little burnt out. He's also kind of bitter about the fact that in the first game, his father and fellow subjects were turned into sand-filled monsters he was forced to kill. The charmingly naive, swashbuckling storybook character from The Sands of Time has grown up, and he's just not in a very good place, emotionally. On the plus side, he's handier with his weapons, and he's managed to keep a magic amulet from the first game so he can continue to mess around with time.
I was a bit wary about Warrior Within's updated, "edgy" tone. I'd seen the ads and screenshots for the game, and I wasn't sure I liked the new grizzled, decapitation-happy Prince they portrayed. Despite the fact that the game's darker look tied in nicely with the story, I had a sneaking suspicion that it also tied in nicely with the developers' desires to make more money with a sensational, more "mature" sequel.
The generic heavy-metal riffing that accompanied the game's menu screen, courtesy of the band Godsmack, didn't bode well. The game begins as the Prince is sailing toward the Island of Time, when he and his ship's crew come under attack. Within minutes of the game's opening scenes, my worst fears are realized: The attack is led by the Empress's scantily clad assistant, to whom you are introduced via gratuitous close-up shots of her thong-clad butt. Which she later taunts the Prince by smacking. The Prince has to fight his way across the ship's deck in a brief tutorial, all the while growling like an ape and shouting idiotic lines like, "Why do you even bother?" and ""I am the Prince of Persia...and the King of Blades!" while slicing his foes in two. The enemies spurt buckets of blood, and respond to the Prince with equally banal replies.
It's a simply awful introduction, and had the effect of nearly putting me off the game entirely. I was so distracted and irritated by the entirely juvenile presentation that throughout the brief level, I barely paid attention to the new combat moves I was supposed to be learning. I just kept thinking angrily to myself, "Those idiots ruined this game." And yet, I pressed on, partly because I was intrigued by the storyline and partly because I wanted to see how bad it would get.
Once the Prince made it to the Island of Time, and got down to some quality platforming, I started to feel a little better. Thankfully, the complex levels, mechanical puzzles, and atmospheric environments that made the first game so enjoyable are just as good, and often better, in Warrior Within. Although the game takes place almost entirely on the Island of Time, there's a wide variety of settings to leap, swing, and climb through, from massive towers filled with water-powered clockwork machines, to lush outdoor gardens draped with foliage. The Prince has all his trademark acrobatic moves, plus a few new tricks, and sending him sliding down ropes, shimmying along ledges, and running up walls is as thrilling as ever.
You'll frequently chart a course through a section of the fortress, only to find your way blocked by a situation that must be remedied by traveling forward or backward in time. At time portals located within the fortress the Prince can jump between past and present, revisiting the same areas in different times (no ocarina needed). The majestic fortress of the past, full of traps and puzzles, is a pretty impressive contrast to the overgrown, crumbling labyrinth you explore in the present. The time portals also gradually power-up the Prince's combat options, and give him increased abilities to rewind, pause, and slow time.
Warrior Within requires you to visit certain areas more than once, and sometimes you just aren't given a clear idea of where you're supposed to go. The helpful "visions" that the Prince could access in the Sands of Time are noticeably absent this time around. If you're not careful, you'll find yourself wandering about, looking for that tiny ledge you overlooked, or worse, endlessly backtracking into the wrong area entirely. The game features a so-called "map" that serves only to remind you of your current objective - it's useless in helping you determine what route to take.
Every so often, the Dahaka will show up, and you'll be required to run like hell, making split-second decisions about which way to jump, roll, slide or climb. Miss a ledge or pause for a moment, and he'll reach out and grab you with his tentacle-like entrails and dissolve you into nothingness. While these sequences serve to liven things up a bit, they suffer from lousy camera angles and often devolve into repetitive, trial-and-error exercises in carefully timed button-pushing.
The game's creators went to great lengths to diversify the Prince's combat options, with the goal of creating a system where each player will develop their own unique fighting style (the developers refer to this process, with a little too much seriousness, as discovering the "Warrior Within"- hence the title). The Prince always keeps a single weapon available for his right hand - which, in a nice touch, is repeatedly upgraded throughout the game - and can either keep his left hand free, or use it to wield or throw scimitars, maces, swords, and the like. The extra weapons can be looted from fallen enemies, or found in strategically placed weapon racks throughout the game.
With his left hand empty, the Prince has an impressive repertoire of throwing, grabbing, and choking moves. With two weapons, he has access to an equal number of powerful slashing combos. The Prince also has several more advanced techniques that allow him to vault and spin off columns and walls. All told, there are more than sixty unique combat moves at the Prince's disposal.
Warrior Within throws plenty of enemies at you, and with time, you're likely to discover a few favorite combos. No single fighting technique works in every situation, so you'll be forced to diversify. At times, combat feels like it's something to be endured between the more exciting wall-running and column-hopping segments. You'll find that it pays to learn the throwing moves, which in the right environments, allow you to quickly hurl your enemies to their deaths and get on with the story.
You'll face off against a mix of garden-variety soldier types, burly executioners, female assassins (in various states of undress and invisibility), and unique four-legged creatures. Most of the enemies are pretty cool, except for their canned, poorly-acted, repetitive taunts. The acrobatic female foes, who moan crap like "There's such pleasure in painÃ‚"…" and "I like you in this position" are the worst.
There's the occasional boss fight, which typically requires you to utilize one or more of your time-bending powers. With the exception of the towering, armored golems, which are impressive enough that you won't mind encountering them in multiple areas, none of the bosses are especially interesting or difficult once you've figured out the appropriate pattern of attack.
Warrior Within has all kinds of unfortunate audio problems. The music is pretty dull, alternating between repetitive heavy metal guitar riffs and more subtle Arabian-influenced themes. There's little in the way of ambient sound, which is a shame given the game's rich visual environments. While the cinematics are top-notch, the in-game cutscenes aren't much to look at, and are rife with audio glitches, including the complete absence of dialogue in some scenes (thank goodness for subtitles). The sound effects seem poorly mixed, with the unfortunate result being that your enemies' obnoxious catcalls and dying shrieks are often way too loud in relation to the games' other sounds.
Warrior Within improves upon The Sands of Time's short length, and not including any time you spend running around lost, it'll probably take at least 15 hours to complete. For the most part, the game is nicely paced, and through a handful of plot twists accomplished by the whole time travel thing, the plot takes some interesting turns. There's a particularly unexpected development in the latter part of the game that makes some significant gameplay changes and keeps the puzzles and combat from becoming a grind. In addition, Warrior Within features a number of hidden areas where the Prince can obtain permanent health upgrades, and destructible chests found throughout the game unlock a decent amount of concept art, cinematics, and videos. There's even a special weapon, boss battle, and ending cinematic available to players who locate all the health upgrades.
It's really too bad when a game like Warrior Within, which offers so many compelling experiences, suffers from a handful of misguided, sloppy design choices and some totally avoidable technical problems. Provided you can overlook its flaws, you'll find there's a lot to like about the game. It's a real thrill to play - in fact, I couldnÃ‚'t put it down - but it's glaring flaws are a nagging, unavoidable buzzkill.