Prince Of Persia 2008 Retro Review: Bargain Bin Prince

Title: Prince of Persia (2008)
Players: 1
Genre: Platformer
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC (Reviewed)
Developer: POP Team
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: December 2nd, 2008

You know how there are games that sit in your digital library for years and you just never touch them? Well, the 2008 outing of Prince of Persia is one of those games. I passed by it almost all the time every time I go into my Steam library and I just never touched it until recently.

Well, I can tell you right off the bat that you probably want to skip playing Prince of Persia’s 2008 outing for the PS3, PC and Xbox 360. Stick with the original Sands of Time trilogy if you really want a decent hack-and-slash, puzzle-platforming experience. I had the unfortunate pleasure of wasting about eight to ten hours on Ubisoft’s 2008 title, and I’m here to say that pretty graphics and a fetching bit of voice-acting from Nolan North and Kari Wahlgren weren’t enough to save this highly repetitive platformer from deserving a spot at the bottom of the bargain bin.

At first I found myself really engrossed in the game, even though the opening sequence didn’t make much sense and I had no idea what I was doing or why I should care. The tutorial rushes gamers through the basic concepts of platforming and fighting before moving onto the general plot of the game, which involves Princess Elika attempting to stop her father from freeing an evil god of darkness named Ahriman. So far, so good… I guess.

The Prince – who is actually just a thief, so I don’t know why he’s referenced as the Prince – is out looking for his donkey carrying sacks of gold that he looted from tombs, when he encounters Elika. He ends up getting roped into her adventure that ends up seeing the duo attempting to save the world from Ahriman’s wrath of darkness. They do so by traveling to four different regions, spread out across 24 interconnected levels.

Prince of Persia - Flat Boobs

+Art direection
+The soundtrack
+Voice acting
+Chemistry between the main characters

• Story
• Level designs

-Controls on PC
-Light grinding
-Lack of proper combat
-Lack of proper PC settings
-Buggy on Windows 10

So first and foremost, do not buy this game if you’re running Windows 10. You’ll have to waste an hour or two just trying to get it to work.

If you check the Steam forums or the Ubisoft support forums I’m sure you’ll find plenty of fresh threads about the game either not booting up or kicking people out directly after it boots up.

I ran into the problem of the game crashing if a controller was plugged in, which really threw me for a loop because it meant I couldn’t play the game with the Xbox Elite Controller. Yes, if you try to boot the game on PC with a controller plugged in, it crashes.

I figured I could settle with the Steam Controller. No big deal… right? Wrong.

The Steam Controller can only work with the game if it’s designated to keyboard and mouse controls. If you attempt to use it as a controller the game crashes.

Prince of Persia - Boss

Windows Woes

Now typically a lot of PC-centric games have keyboard and mouse controls mapped to the Steam Controller with no problems. However… that’s fine if it’s an FPS game or an RTS game or a strategy sim. It doesn’t work very well for third-person games at all, especially platformers.

See the problem is that even if you modify the controller to emulate eight-direction overlap, the game still reads it as if you’re pressing keys individually on a keyboard. So you lose the fine precision of an analog, along with the granular movements that come with it. Unfortunately, if you attempt to modify the Steam Controller settings so that the keys are emulated like an analog stick, it just ends up making the controller incessantly vibrate while the Prince moves around real slow.

It’s amazing because this is the exact same problems that the other older Prince of Persia games had that came out half a decade before the 2008 version. Yet even a game made for seventh gen consoles suffers from sixth gen problems on PC.

Anyway, I had to make due with the controls to the best of my ability, but it was a real struggle.

The main issue was that sometimes the camera would move into fixed positions, and unlike the original Sands of Time trilogy you don’t get the option of going first-person or using the landscape view in the 2008 outing, meaning you’re prevented from getting a better glimpse of your surrounding environment(s).

This caused the problem of sometimes ending up in a precarious position where you can’t see where you’re supposed to jump or land, and you fall only to be saved by Elika… again… and again.

Prince of Persia - Saved by Elika

Finicky Controls

In some scenarios you’ll be seeing her hand a lot, grabbing onto the Prince as he makes a daring jump only to fall into an endless pit because the timing was off or the camera angle wasn’t in the right place.

I do admit that fighting with the camera wasn’t as frequent as in the older games, but not having the first-person option or the landscape view really hurt the experience in some segments for the 2008 game.

I will say, though, that the platforming was far less frustrating than in the older games, where sometimes you would be forced through these long, tedious segments that almost made you want to throw the controller at the wall. In the 2008 outing the platforming was far more forgiving. Yes, there were some tedious moments here and there, but most of the time everything was laid out in a visually distinctive manner so you could see where you had to go or how you had to get there.

Additionally, you had a visual guide attached to the right bumper where if you tapped it you could literally see the pathway you had to take to reach your destination.

Visual and audio cues reminding you of where you had to go and how you had to get there kept most of the levels straightforward and fairly simple to navigate.

Prince of Persia - Vista

Platforming Simplicity

In some ways, I think it was a little too simple.

Most of the biggest hardships I encountered was either because of the camera or because the game didn’t read the button presses correctly and I was forced to redo entire segments, especially later into the game where you had to rely on these magical plates to get from one area to the next.

Basically, each of the four areas have their own magical plates you unlock that Elika can manipulate. You have to gather up light embers to unlock each of the color-designated plates and then you activate them by holding down the right bumper. However, they didn’t always activate on time and the Prince would fall; sometimes for multi-part segments involving jumping, running, or swinging, you would have to redo the entire part from the last platform you were on if you fell midway through the segment.

It’s quite a different setup than relying on the sands of time to rewind back from where you last messed up (for better or for worse).

The plates themselves weren’t entirely bad, but it was just the way they were implemented could be annoying when you would tap the button and the game would randomly decide to drop the Prince from the plate and force you to restart the segment.

Prince of Persia - Classic Costumes

Barely-There Battles

On the flip-side, since the restarts also took place from the last platform you were on, they ensured it that even the most casual of players could eventually get through even the hardest segments of the game… especially the combat.

Oh boy was the combat a huge letdown coming off the Sands of Time trilogy.

You know all those acrobatic moves you mastered in the previous games? All those complicated combos you learned? All those twitch-reflexes involving dodging, blocking, and parrying? Well, all that was tossed out the window for one of the most casual combat systems in the world and you barely even have to fight.

In fact, combat maybe makes up 15% of the total game.

No joke.

You spend almost all your time figuring out platforming puzzles or backtracking to collect light embers.

The combat is so sparsely intermittent that it’s easy to forget that you can even fight in the game.

Most of the fights are against corrupted creatures and while you can still block, dodge, and strike, it’s more of a QTE system where you have a basic strike, a throw attack using your gauntlet, or the ability to use Elika to do a charged magical attack. Alternating between Elika, the gauntlet, your basic strike, and your jump/dodge will allow you to perform different combos.

The longer the string of combos, the more damage you dish out. This becomes essential for fighting the four bosses, who you will encounter six times each; once in each segment and then a sixth and final time in a special boss stage.

Prince of Persia - The Alchemist

Light Grinding

The main issue here is that there’s only one real combo that does massive amounts of damage, it’s basically an alternating string of moves between striking, having Elika attack, jumping in the air, having Elika attack again, and then having the Prince do an aerial strike. You’ll find that this series of combos is the most reliable but it also gets really repetitive because, again, it’s like a QTE sequence. So you’ll keep seeing it over and over again once you master it to wipe out the scant enemies you’ll encounter and for the boss fights.

After each boss battle, Elika will heal the land and then embers of light will appear that you’ll need to collect.

This also removes any enemies from that stage. So, once again, combat becomes a sparse afterthought once you begin healing more and more parts of the land.

Majority of your time will be spent gathering the embers of light in order to unlock or activate the plates at the temple. It starts off with requiring 60 embers, and then the requirement doubles or triples after you unlock each plate.

You could tell they were trying to stretch the game out to justify the $60 price tag, even though technically it should have been $19.99 and capped at four hours. However, they thought they could pull a fast one and hike the price up and pad out the playtime to eight hours due to all the unnecessary ember grinding.

Prince of Persia - Elika Classic

Top-Notch Audio/Visuals

The only thing that makes the game tolerable throughout it all is the presentation.

The soundtrack from Inon Zur and Stuart Chatwood is very much on point.

Some of the songs can become quite tiresome as you spend inordinate amounts of time trying to collect embers in a particular area for too long, but there’s an airy, orchestral feel to the music that matches the beautifully rendered art-style from a team of artist who showcased that you don’t always need the biggest and best hardware to make something visually memorable.

In a way, the art reminded me a lot of what Nintendo used to bring the open-air concept of Breath of the Wild to life on the Nintendo Switch, but it’s nowhere near as subdued or minimalist as Breath of the Wild. Instead, they used hard black lines around the characters to imitate ink, while the textures are awash with a painterly palette. When combined with the game’s sparingly but adequate use of soft-shadows, it creates a visually distinctive art-style that looks like painted concept art come to life.

It’s just a shame that the gameplay and combat weren’t as inventive as the visuals, or as captivating as the budding romance that plays out over the course of the game between the brash yet heroic Prince, and the less-than-coy but fairly feminine Elika.

Prince of Persia - Elika and the Prince

Now this story has no bearing whatsoever on the original Sands of Time trilogy involving the Prince and Farah, and these characters are all set in a completely different universe.

However, I will say that I liked the way the romance between Elika and the Prince played out far better in the 2008 outing than the Prince and Farah in the Sands of Time trilogy.

The original Sands of Time had some fairly grating characters; the Prince was annoyingly petulant and Farah was a whiny ditz.

In this case, the Prince is portrayed as selfish and arrogant, but charming… played to perfection by Nolan North. The problem is that it’s almost like a Persian version of Nathan Drake, but slightly more arrogant and more of a ladies man. I sort of wish the voice director had allowed Nolan to play up a more exotic accent to match the equally exotic locations featured int he game.

Even still, the Prince’s charm played off well on the somewhat naïve but very motivated a story-driven Elika.

Elika was also written to be quite inquisitive of the very world-traveled Prince, and they did so without making her come across as being too pushy. And she had more of a maternal characteristic for her quest rather than one done for selfish reasons. As you begin to see the plot unfold you can see that the story will inevitably take a tragic twist, and that really adds to the dynamic of the Prince and Elika’s relationship.

This was one of the rare times where I thought the writers really nailed the characterizations for the two leads.

This was also before the time of female characters being written as obnoxious, annoying, foul-mouthed wenches who you would sooner rather kick in the teeth with a muddy boot than help out of a spiked pit.

Prince of Persia - Dancing on a Pole

Exquisite Animations

What’s more is that the added playfulness to the duo’s banter during the platforming sequences was also quite refreshing, as well as the way both characters were animated.

For instance, if the Prince stood underneath Elika while she was coming down off a platform, he would either catch her or help her down. It was completely dynamic depending on how you positioned him around her.

Additionally, if you were on a platform and she was in the way, he would grab her hands and swing around her as if they were dancing to get to the other side.

The animations for the platforming worked really well in synchronizing with the relationship of the two leads you saw being hewn together throughout the cinematics.

That makes it all the more annoying that the actual gameplay was just so bare bones and there was just so few incentives to replay the game.

There was the added bonuses of unlocking additional costumes, but since those were pre-order bonuses and I don’t pre-order games, it basically meant that I had no extra costumes to unlock.

Prince of Persia - Retro Costumes

Bargain-Bin Bait

But even then, the retro outfits from the Sands of Time or Altair’s outfit from Assassin’s Creed wouldn’t have done much to change the fact that the game itself was still lacking greatly when it came to the mechanical loops.

Beautiful environments and great art design doesn’t compensate for shallow combat mechanics, brief and barely existent combat encounters, and way too much backtrack-grinding through mediocre levels.

Again, if this was a game that was four hours long, was one-and-done, and it cost you $19.99 out of the gate, I could see it becoming an easy sleeper hit. However, at $60 out of the gate back in 2008, it was competing with games like Gears of War 2, Fallout 3, GTA IV, Far Cry 2 and Metal Gear Solid 4 to name a few. And that’s not mention that it came out a year after Assassin’s Creed – which despite having some serious replay issues was still a far more engaging experience – and both Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Mass Effect.

So just for comparison’s sake, those other games were giving you tens of hours of engaging gameplay that could last you years, whereas this $60 turd was getting boring before you got to the halfway point.

Now I’m sure some people will probably think that grabbing Prince of Persia while it’s on sale will be the best bet, and that’s totally up to you, but even at $3 or $6 I would say you’re better off watching a Let’s Play.

The gamification is just far too limited compared to the original games that came out way back in the early aughts. It’s sad but you’ll get a lot more challenge and fun out of the combat and platforming challenges from the Sands of Time trilogy than you will with the 2008 outing of Prince of Persia.

The only thing the game really had going for it was the visual style that looked like concept art brought to life. But looking at pretty visuals isn’t enough to warrant eight dull hours of gameplay. That’s not to mention the absolute hell you’ll be put through trying to play the game on Windows 10.