Imagine yourself in Ubisoft's position; Prince Of Persia: The Sands of Time was a critically acclaimed nigh on masterpiece of platform gaming. It figured in most of the gaming media's Game of the Year polls at the end of 2003. It packed in stunningly cinematic moments, a great story line, amazing puzzles and a breathtakingly beautiful and surreal world. However, it sold terribly! Okay, terribly may be a slight overstatement but gamers were too busy snapping up Need for Speed: Underground, Jak 2 or whatever else had been aggressively marketed over the period of the game's release to give the game a second glance. The Sands of Time has become somewhat of a cult classic and still continues to sell today to the odd person who has heard from a friend of a friend about this hidden gem.
What then could Ubisoft do to improve sales? Why they could, in a cynical marketing ploy, turn the game into PRINCE OF PERSIA: EXTREME! Okay, that too is an overstatement but at least you might get the idea. Prince of Persia: Warrior Within has had a huge amount of what made its predecessor such a charming title ripped out of it and replaced with some absolute rubbish. That is not to say that the game is bad, but the general tone and feel of the game has been turned into something that does not really make much sense. Why for example does a game called Prince of Persia have terrible Nu-Metal guitar riffs attempting to damage my hearing? And why are we beset with characters in terrible S & M costumes? And why has the Prince been turned into an unlovable little bugger?
Despite the above complaints and underneath all the crap, Prince of Persia: Warrior Within is still a great title. The same core gameplay of The Sands of Time has been kept largely intact and it remains an absolute thrill using the Princes insane acrobatic skills to leap fearlessly over bottomless pits. It is still a joy to run along a wall, jump off onto another platform before making a seemingly suicidal dive to what you hope is safety. And if you manage to fall a few hundred feet to your doom, well then you can just reverse time and go back to where you fell from can't you?
Yes people, Prince of Persia's amazing time reversal system is back and it is just as handy as before. You can afford to take far more risks than you would in normal platformers and it certainly leads to some hair-raising moments as you wonder where to jump from as you slide down a curtain along the side of a two hundred foot high wall. Curtains now play a slightly larger role, as you are able to slide down them for a safe landing. In The Sands of Time curtains were merely for swinging on to bridge gaps that were too large to jump.
Sadly though, the gameplay does not survive wholly intact. Focus has shifted rather drastically from exploration and puzzles to a more combat orientated game. This can lead to some cool moments such as managing to decapitate, yes folks, DECAPITATE an enemy and be rewarded with a slow motion view of the grizzly event. You may have double swords and you most certainly look like more of a bad ass, but the combat, like in the original game, feels tagged on and incomplete. Combat controls feel loose and cumbersome and most of the time, button mashing will suffice. There is one useful combat trick however, which allows you to throw pesky enemies. The throw, more often than not, will send them flying off the edge of a ledge and will put and end to your fighting, letting you get on with some exploring and jumping. Why combat has been given a larger role in Warrior Within is quite beyond me as it was plain to see from the original that this was not where the strength of the game lay.
Graphics too have been given an overhaul. Instead of the dreamlike and hazy purple and gold palette of Sands of Time, we are treated to a much darker game. I absolutely loved the feel of the original and was initially dismayed at the gloomy feel of Warrior Within but eventually it will grow on you and it does throw up some interesting by-products. The architecture is a little different for example. Gone is the Arabian feel of the original and in comes ridiculously huge gothic structures. At one particularly stunning moment, you are walking up the steps to the castle where the game takes place. The camera tilts upwards at an odd angle so that you are treated to an epic view of a stunning and gargantuan castle. It really is spectacular. The darker tone though is almost certainly little more than an attempt at selling more units. You can just imagine someone saying, "It worked for Jak 2, why don't we try that?" Cynical? Yes. Does it ruin the game? No but it certainly detracts from the originals charm.
Now sound is one area where the game just screams to have fun poked at it. What is with some companies putting awful music games? Anyone remember Sonic Adventure's music on the Dreamcast? Okay, it now has a certain retro feel of itself, but what were Sega thinking? What about Sega GT? Prince of Persia: Warrior Within continues this fine tradition by having some of the worst music EVER to grace a video game. We are assaulted, seriously assaulted, by dreadful nu-metal riffs that just serve to distract from the atmosphere of the game. The music was probably some ridiculous attempt to give the game a harder edge; instead it just makes me turn up my personal stereo while I'm playing. Sound effects don't help either. Enemies make some stupidly annoying noises. Female enemies even try and make smart comments to you. Awful really.
Voice acting is also a let down. While not shoddily recorded and lip-synched, it is what is being said that lets the game down here. Prince is a tough SOB now who smack talks and calls people bitches. Ooooh, I'm so scared! Oh and he has suddenly become American as well, which he wasn't in Sands of Time if memory serves me correctly. The cut scenes in general are a little poor and just turn the story into something far more run of the mill than the original's unique feel.
I am sorry for complaining so much. I only do so as the original was one of my favourite games of recent years; that and I still remember playing the ORIGINAL Prince of Persia about 15 years ago so I have something of an attachment to the series. The Sands of Time demanded an absolutely amazing sequel; instead we get a diluted version of the game which has been given its edgier and darker feel for, in my opinion, questionable reasons. If you loved the original then you will find plenty in this game to keep you occupied. I warn you though; you will not fall in love with quite as much as the original though. If you haven't played the original (shame on you) you will find here a very good platform game, you may want to think about grabbing the original first though.