There have been several attempts to reclaim the Prince of Persia’s past over the years – ranging from the great to the tolerable – of which this outing is nothing less than the very latest. Reverting to the original moniker (no Two Thrones or Warrior Within crap) it has already been described by an overpaid marketing skunk as “a re-imagining of the franchise”. Hardly a visionary statement, it’s the same glib sound bite that Tim Burton wheeled out before summarily pissing in the eyes of The Planet of the Apes.
Prince of Persia’s so-called re-imagining takes place courtesy of the same graphics engine as Assassin’s Creed (there’s even a secret skin that enables you to play as Altair from that game), however, while the huge vistas and vertiginous topology are comparable, PoP is very much its own game, with a bespoke art style that would probably once have been called cel-shaded, but is now described as illustrative.
Falling somewhere between Saturday morning cartons and a fully-fledged Disney feature, whatever it’s called, it’s extremely impressive, throwing you into a consistent, visually stunning fantasy world that screenshots can’t really do justice to. With no heads-up display or gaming baggage such as ammo counts and weapon selection, it’s a bold move away from the current trend of ultra-realism, and a welcome one at that, like stepping into a fairy tale. Perfectly suited to the subject matter, it conjures up such touchstones as the Sinbad and The Thief of Baghdad movies.
And while the story of PoP may not be remembered with such affection, there is one somewhere, the details of which are inevitably absolute poppycock. As a very loose synopsis, once upon a time there were two brothers who fell out, resulting in the world being a constant battle between corruption and healing, dark and light, with evil represented by oozing black pus, and good by flowers and butterflies. As a fan of good stuff, it’s your job to heal the land from corruption and reclaim the fertile grounds so that everybody lives happily ever after.
More pragmatically, to start with you’re some bloke in an ornate waistcoat wandering through the desert with a donkey laden with stolen gold when you stumble across a damsel in distress. That damsel is a Princess called Elika, and doing the decent thing you save the day through what is essentially an interactive tutorial that teaches you the basics of swordplay, climbing, dropping, wall running, ceiling running and all that stuff.
While there’s some initial swearing, controlling the Prince soon becomes second nature, with a mouse and keyboard proving adequate for even the most athletic of moves. However, so stringent are the paths through the game that it soon becomes apparent that you’re not doing much more than pressing the right key at the right time. Clearly, we’re exaggerating slightly, but it’s fair to say there isn’t a great deal of skill involved, as there’s a distinctly binary approach to the gameplay in that you either do something or you don’t.