Prince of Persia started life as a ground breaking side-scrolling platforming game, challenging the player to perform feats of platforming prowess, figure out how to use the combination of platforms, levers and gaps to progress while avoiding enemies and traps. After a rather nasty false start (see: Prince of Persia 3D), the Sands of Time re-birth of the series in 2003 managed to take the core formula into a genuine 3D experience without losing anything that made the original so awesome.
Jump forward to now and there have been a lot more PoP games since; some have been pretty decent but some have swung wide of the mark (see: Warrior Within - actually don't, just take our word for it). So it's with some trepidation, then, that we approached this movie tie-in hark-back to the core Sands of Time experience.
For those not in the know, your role is to take control of the titular Persian Prince (voiced once again by the Sands of Time guy - good choice) as he attempts to overcome incredible odds and save the world. Fret not, there are no plot spoilers here. Starting off as a pretty seriously athletic (but otherwise unremarkable) chap, said Prince comes into the power to control the very flow of time itself. Essentially this means that you can push a button if you fail and have the game rewind itself back to the last time you were safe and sound, but it also makes your sword glow and, let's face it, glowing swords are all kinds of awesome.
Levels start off pretty basic but even then, you get to do neat stuff like running along the wall and jumping between high platforms without the annoying vertigo and falling to your death stuff you'd have to deal with if you were to attempt this kind of carry-on in reality. Once again, Prince of Persia makes you look like a videogame god without the kind of effort or experience usually required. This time around, it feels like you get more of a helping hand than previously; it's almost like there's a track you can run along in the wall. Jumping results in your line being straightened up, should you be off center (even miles off) and the camera is forced into an angle (with minimal ability to adjust it) that keeps you from having to think too hard about where you need to go. It's not a bad thing, in itself, it's just... noticeable. More so than normal, anyway.
Eventually things start to ramp up and you'll find yourself thinking a little bit about what to do, particularly when manipulating levers to muddle your way through a puzzle. Controlling the levers is a bit of a hit and miss affair, with the puzzle concepts working well but the levers turning in seemingly unpredictable directions. This is important because you have to move the lever to a specific place much of the time, so having to second guess what's going to happen when you push the stick is annoying.
A new feature in this iteration is that killing bad dudes earns you XP - earn enough and you can spend your unlocked skill point to improve your Prince's ability in an area of your choice. These options include the basic (more health, more time-power) but you can also score (and upgrade) new abilities. Abilities include a blast-back attack, rock armor and ice/fire attacks that you can use in combat. These abilities are handy enough, but having to bust out a d-pad move in mid-combat and eat up your valuable time shifting power means you won't use them much.
Combat is also pretty basic, with some environmental interaction and a little bit of contextual stuff (chucking dudes off cliffs, slamming into walls, etc) but it's an essentially button mashy affair. Generally what you do is hold square for a power attack until the enemies get close and go through their "I'm going to attack any minute now, look how I'm raising my weapon!" move telegraph at which point you release square and either follow it up with another or press circle to roll to a clear spot and start over. There are dudes you'll have to kick the shields off and so on, but generally the combat feels a bit dumbed-down even over that seen in Sands of Time.
Visually it's a treat, with beautiful lighting and texture work meshing everything together into what we can only imagine is a realistic visage of what a fantasy Persian Empire might well be bedecked in. The Prince himself looks fantastic, with mostly awesome cutscenes (the first is a particular highlight but even the in-game stuff looks great).
Audio is good, with nice effects and the occasional twang in the music that brings back strong memories of the side-scrolling originals. The bulk of the music is pretty flat, however, and we even had it cut out completely on the odd occasion (perhaps between tracks? It sounded shonky, regardless).
What we have here, then, is a solid PoP game. It's got good platformy action, with all the classic moves and loads of "this could be interesting" moments. Visually it's more than decent and the audio isn't too bad either. It doesn't push things in a new direction or expand on the formula, though, with combat feeling like a step back and in general it feels like it was made by a B Team - presumably Ubisoft's A team were working on something else. So if you like PoP or Tomb Raider, this is a great way to scratch the itch. Just don't expect it to do more than tread water in anyway whatsoever and you won't be disappointed.