Trust me, he’s not as tough as he looks.
Time for another retro-review! Generally speaking, I have a soft spot for older games. Most of the games populating my Top Ten are over a decade old. Over the last few years I’ve found myself getting progressively easier to please when it comes to movies and games, to the point where I’ve started wondering if my claws fell out (Breath of Fire II notwithstanding). Then we came across the second Prince of Persia game!
I remember the first Prince of Persia being revolutionary and groundbreaking at the time of its release by taking action platforming in a new and exciting direction. Hell, it spawned a spiritual successor in Ubisofts’ triple-A annual cash cow, Assassin’s Creed. What I fail to see, however, is how a series can survive at all when it has the audacity to pump out the miscarriage that was Warrior Within, as only the second installment.
Before getting into the awful things I really want to say about this exercise in masochism, I’ll touch up on the things that I actually did enjoy about the game. At times, the locale was dreary and dark enough to set the mood adequately. The grey sky overlying the shipwreck and adjacent caverns were pretty spot on in representing what was in store for Prince. If only I, as the player, were smart enough to pick up on the cues that early. Crap, wait…this is the GOOD stuff section.
The Prince’s character design is decent, if a little boring. However, I will give the game a small bit of leniency, as it came out in the era that basically pioneered brooding gritty heroes. The style of weaponry is pretty exotic, although it didn’t exactly scream Middle Eastern to me. Enemy designs were actually great, a breath of fresh air from the whopping two or three plain-jane enemies you encountered in the first title. Sure, they were primarily palette swaps of two different attack-patterned enemies, but it was nice to see them wear a scarf every now and then. Or a black spiked banana-hammock! And then there is the Dahaka. I’m going to come clean right now; teenage memories of running from the Dahaka are the only reason I opted to replay this title. While I usually frown at the prospect of an unkillable boss in a game, there are two exceptions that stick out in my mind: Nemesis and the Dahaka. They’re not entirely dissimilar in execution, either; you’re running for your life, making split decisions on the fly while some terrifying thing threatens to instantly kill you at your first error. If it weren’t for the Dahaka, I’d have stopped playing two hours in. And I never give up on a game.
Annnnd…that’s it. Honestly. That’s about all I’m drawing as positives to this game. Even then, there are caveats to most, if not all, of these pros. So, without further ado, here is a mountain of reasons you should avoid this game like a back-alley hooker when rent is due.
Let’s start at the very basis of any game; its gameplay. No, not even its gameplay, its genre. The original Prince of Persia, while not flawless by any standard, had at least the resemblance of a firm grasp on what it was trying to be. An acrobatic platformer/puzzler, with middling emphasis on combat, right? So, naturally, we would expect something in a similar vein from its successor. And I think that Warrior Within tries, but too many glaring inconsistencies just kill the experience. For instance, they shifted a good deal of emphasis to combat. Respawning enemies, explosive enemies, bosses and mini-bosses, constantly-evolving powers; it has all the elements of a Devil May Cry knock-off. That would be all well and good…except the combat is beyond terrible, due to the fact that Prince has the preternatural ability to do the exact goddamned opposite of what you want him to do in nearly all situations, due in no small part to yet another terrible decision I’ll talk about later (the fact that, with an entire controller at their disposal, Ubisoft insists on making two buttons do about four things each).
Let me wrap up Prince of Persia combat in a nutshell. Is the enemy a ninja chick? No? You can a) Mash square until one of six hits gets through the enemy’s guard, or b) Press triangle to throw them to the ground and stab them (if you’re lucky, you’ll throw them over a ledge instead of yourself). Or use the secondary weapon for the four hits or so they can survive through. Sure, you could do some square-triangle combo, except for the fact that melee combat timing is nonexistent. It queues button presses, which works fine for a game like Mortal Kombat, where the fights are one-on-one and in a contained arena. However, if Prince of Persia wanted to be a platform fighter, having time-sensitive button presses to chain combos on the fly is kind of part and parcel to the genre. Can you imagine a game like Devil May Cry queuing button presses?
Or, is the enemy a ninja chick? Well, if it is, better throw that secondary weapon, unless you have all day. They can’t be vaulted and whenever you try to evade near an enemy, Prince vaults them. Ninja chicks also chain together six hit combos, so you’ll be blocking for quite a while. When there’s two or more of them, you’ll have a hell of a time with them jumping on your back while you’re block-locked from their friends you can’t evade-roll away from.
And the awful controls certainly don’t restrict themselves to combat alone. I can’t tell you how many times he would vertically run straight up a wall we were trying to run across while being chased by the Dahaka. Forced perspectives make you make blindly leap in one of two possible directions when pillar-hugging, oftentimes your objective is flat-out outside camera range so your objective is to suicide dive until you find the right pillar.
Speaking of visibility issues, typically, I don’t complain about graphics. My all-time favorite game’s graphics are awful this day and age. But in a game like Prince of Persia, having your objectives virtually indistinguishable ledges and branches when the colors of the background bleed together and your two-pixel indication is a meager one shade lighter than the rest of the cavern, factored with the resolution on a 55″ television…we had a few head scratchers.
And the glitches. Oh God, the glitches. We encountered more than a few, and the walkthroughs we referenced online spoke of considerably more! We’ve had to quit and reload on multiple occasions; sometimes the Prince would channel his inner Neo and just go into suspended animation after a jump. We pulled a bookcase out farther than the game had intended, glitched through it, and were incapable of pushing it back into place. One of the earlier bosses invisible-stabbed me through the chest…after I had knocked her on her ass. We had an incident with invisible enemies, much earlier than stealth enemies were supposed to show up. In almost poetic fashion, I managed to kill the final boss, the Dahaka….because he glitched out and just stood, motionless, staring at the wall, for ~60% of his health. I wasn’t proud of it, but I thought it was perfect ending note for the absolute mess that the game was, and I was glad to be done with the game.
This is getting a bit verbose, so I’ll wrap this up by touching up on those caveats I had mentioned earlier. Earlier I had said the character designs were pretty great, and they are….unless you happen to be a woman. Unsurprisingly, Warrior Within ascribes to the “less is more” theory when it comes to women’s attire. Your first adversary is a no-nonsense, badass woman who, despite how at odds it is with what little characterization she has, feels the need to rock the butt-floss and slut-top. Think Ivy from Soul Calibur, but with less class. And Kaileena, Jesus, she’s just as bad. Way to set back women’s rights by about sixty years, guys.
And I’ll wrap this up with what is one of my biggest grievances with the game. I had said earlier that the scenery and background were pretty good for this type of game, and that’s true…the first one or two times you go through an area. The game uses the past and present mechanic to justify sending you through the same half-dozen areas two or three times, and while that has the potential to work if they had made the areas drastically different, it falls short and just feels bland. You basically play through a third of the content that other games of this nature offer, three times. Oh, but you kick down a ladder and reach a previously-inaccessible area! And then dance through some saw blades, drop down a tapestry, and into….the room we were in half an hour ago.
Aside from Breath of Fire II, I’m having a hard time thinking of a game I’ve recently played that failed this hard to deliver. We’re going to rough it out and play the third PoP game, but I can think of no situation where I’d recommend playing this title. If you’re an action platformer fan, you’ll be sorely disappointed. If you’re an avid PoP fan, you’ve already played it, but in the off chance that you’ve skipped it…do yourself a huge favor and just read a plot synopsis.
Want a finishing punchline? PSM gave this game a 10/10.