Prince of Persia was always going to be a tricky series to reboot for the current gen. Any game franchise so cultishly loved and specific in approach to its genre automatically sets off alarm bells whenever changes need to be made. But three games down, PoP did indeed need renovating in order to avoid the onset of staleness. Such a fate would be a tragedy for such a fresh and individual set of games. But has Ubisoft made the right decisions along the way? Weeeeeell...
First things first. Those gorgeous 'hand-painted' graphics you've seen? They look fantastic in-game. Often these things have a habit of falling short once they're implemented into actual, controllable, moving gameplay, but PoP's visual overhaul consistently, abjectly refuses to not look great. The animation is as slick as ever, especially during the Prince's interactions with new co-op NPC Elika. Seeing her jump in to throw our acrobatic hero over wide crevasses and assist him during seamless combat combos is like watching the finest circus trapeze act you could possibly imagine.
And it's not just the obvious set-piece moves that impress. The little incidental animations that Ubi Montreal have included whenever the two characters, for example, pass each other when hanging from a ledge or climbing a cliff face are impressive, subtle and functional all at the same time. For once, we have a co-op character we won't be screaming at to get out of the way every five minutes. Or at all, in fact.
As for Elika herself, she's a great addition to the PoP gameplay mechanics. Her implementation is a carefully planned tightrope walk, doing a great job of freshening up the gameplay we all love without ever breaking the winning formula. Although a separate character from the Prince, she essentially works as an extension of him. Her trapeze throw operates just like a double-jump. Throwing her magical attacks into battle is just like using an extra weapon button. And her ability to save the Prince from two-dimensionalising plummeting deaths is basically just an automatic version of the old Sands of Time rewind function.
So far then, good times all round. But you're intelligent people. You know there's a "But" coming, so let's just get on with it, shall we?
The fact is, in trying to make PoP more accessible to new players, it seems that Ubi might have muddied the game's identity somewhat. For starters, while all the running, jumping, flipping, swinging gameplay is here in swathes, the newly simplified controls don't necessarily do it any favours. By making things context sensitive, Ubi might have made the gameplay a little less daunting for casuals, but we can't shake the nagging feeling that some of the precision and finesse of the earlier games' control is now missing.
Wall runs now kick in automatically when the Prince jumps towards a vertical surface. Aim dead on and he'll run straight up; go in at an angle and he'll run along it. The problem with context sensitive controls is that however well used they are, the game is still essentially guessing what you want it to do. In a game requiring the kind of precise control that PoP does, although not the car crash it could have been, the approach definitely leads to running and jumping in undesirable random directions from time to time. It's not game-breaking, but it does feel fluffy and uncomfortable after playing the previous games.