Thursday, June 16, 2011

VGR PoP Tree of Life

What I call the "Tree of Life" is the 2008 iteration of the Prince of Persia series.
Simply called Prince of Persia, marking a clear separation from the 128-bits systems "Sands of Time" series. It is meant to be a new reboot for the franchise, the first installment in a whole new series.

Sometimes called "Prodigy", I like to use the above codename instead when mentioning this one.

It's a new beginning for the series, featuring new settings, an all-new Prince.
With no real attachment to the previous games, Ubisoft was able to reimagine PoP, create a new identity for the game, a new feel and new mechanics without relying on the past episodes.

And don't miss my other Prince of Persia reviews!
PoP Classic trilogy: Prince of Persia 
SoT Modern trilogy: The Sands of Time

VGR: Prince of Persia (2008)
From Ubisoft/Ubisoft Montreal
Played on Xbox 360
Also available on PS3 & PC
Type Parkour/platformer
Year 2008

With new so-called "next gen" systems, Ubisoft decided it was time to play in the big leagues. So they continued pursuing original and new ips (like they did in the previous generation with Beyond Good & Evil for example) and revamping there catalog of franchises. (which resulted in the Rayman spinoffs Ravin' Rabbids, or completely new takes on Splinter Cell and Rainbow Six..)
During this modern generation, gone and replaced was the platforming genre of old.
And from recent acrobatic games like the Sands of Time series was born a more free running inspired genre.

The parkour genre was born around and perfected with Assassin's Creed.

For mascot platformers, it was kind of the death of their genre.
But from an overall point of view, I think it was for the best, bringing in also a renewal of the much older genre of cinematic platformers we had in the late 80s/early 90s with amazing games such as Flashback back on the 16-bits systems.

With this new interest in parkour like games (and new cult original ips such as Mirror's Edge), it was only a matter of time before we ended up seeing another new Prince of Persia, this time cutting away from the combat-infused Sands of Time series and taking this occasion to renew with Jordan Mechner's original PoP game's feeling and using a brand new distinct tone.

So was born "Prince of Persia" in 2008, running on Assassin's Creed Scimitar Engine instead of the previous Jade Engine (from BG&E).

The game opens, the tone is set, the new cast introduced and the ties to the past cut... 

This game marks the well deserved return to the classic Arabian Nights fantasy setting.

This story takes place in a world that has seen the struggle between two gods for centuries...
For a very long time, the god of darkness Ahriman has been at war against the god of light Ormazd.
With the help of the Ahura people, Ahriman was finally defeated...captured in the "Tree of Life".
But with time, even the worst nightmares become only memories... The story became a legend, and then a myth only. People departed the land and finally Ahriman was able to get free once again.

The background of this game is actually heavily inspired by (and takes a lot of elements from) by 6th century BC Persian religion, which was at one time one of the world's biggest religions (in amount of believers).

Our tale begins when our new main character, an unnamed adventurer who is Prince in name only (like the original Prince and unlike the SoT series Prince) steps out of the desert. After a huge sandstorm, our hero loses all of his gold (and donkey Farah*!) ends up in a mysterious land. He then finds a girl on the run, who goes by the lovely name Elika.

Elika is the last Ahura, she's on the run from the "Mourning King", this game's main antagonist. This king made a deal with Ahriman to resurrect his daughter..
Without going into (obvious) spoilers for the few of you who haven't played the game but who might be interested, things get worse. The Prince is stuck there and has to clean up this land from the Corrupted. (goo-like minions from Ahriman) 

*that was the name of the previous series' "Princess"
 EXTREEEEME platforming with the most badass Prince of the franchise!

The main goal in this game, is to clean up the mess the Ahura left, clear the land from Corruption.
This time going back to the kind of open ended world Warrior Within offered.
The player is free to go where he wants to, to some extend. A lot of places are opened right away, more will be made available once those are free from corruption and therefore others will pop up on the in-game map. (which isn't an actual "map" map, but more of a glorified schema to keep track of the "lights" collected and explored or not zones) You'll travel from one place to another around the Tree of Life, healing the land.

But unlike WW, the world is fully explorable and only gets widened (instead of blocked by scripted story like the Dahaka who made back-tracking impossible sometimes).
This gives a "continuous" feel to the adventure which in a way as different as it sounds, gamepad in hand, reminded me of the way the levels seemed to follow each other, panels to panels, in the original Prince of Persia. (the game didn't seem composed of levels, but rather an on-going progression following the Prince's escape through the palace who come off almost like a huge open world, which it wasn't in reality)

On the gameplay's side, our acrobatic hero moves as easily and as fast as Altair/Ezio from Assassin's Creed.
As in past & previous Prince of Persia games, you can run, jump, climb but also scale walls thanks to his metallic gauntlet and crawl on ceilings...
The most charismatic characters I've seen in videogames in years.

This game marks also the return of an AI controlled allie, as in Sands of Time.
But unlike the in-game (and often buggy; see my SoT review) Farah in SoT or her more scripted far-off helper in Two Thrones, Elika is a lot more involved in this PoP's gameplay.
She's integrally part of the game's mechanics.

As you'll go around controlling the agile Prince, you have also access to Elika's magic. She can use her powers of light in the platforming sequences, special "magic" moments and in-fights.
One button (Y on the Xbox) calls on her power which will either propel you, launch a light attack during a fight, activate the power of Ormazd on select zones, etc..

As for the story, this game also brought from Assassin's Creed the interactive in-game story telling over the usual CGi cinematic sequence, which is a plus in my eyes. I play games to "play" games, not watch 30+ hours long glorified animated movies. But the story should always be part of games nowadays. This is a good compromise to still have a deep and rich plot and yet perfectly integrated in the game like no movie could. (games shouldn't always try to emulate movies, they're their own medium afterall!)


What about the combats which I only briefly mentioned until now?

This games puts an important emphasis on platforming, like all good Prince of Persia games always should.
And unlike past previous 2nd Prince of Persia episodes (The Shadow and the Flame and Warrior Withing) combat is only one of the game's components rather than the game's main focus.

The classic duels makes a well deserved combat, like in the original trilogy. No more annoying melee fighting. (I play PoP for the platform and puzzles, if I want a beat 'em all, I pick up a beat 'em all game, not PoP!)
Each fight will have you go one-on-one against corrupted monsters. You'll have to be smart about these combats, play with the various techniques, the Prince's acrobatics, often make use of Elika's abilities and parry which kinda makes every encounter unique.
Also, sort of similar to Two Thrones, you can also defeat enemies in one strike and therefore avoid actual duels if you strike them quickly and off guard. (by killing them off before they're formed)

The game contains quite a lot of puzzle solving and is pretty long.
And if you're pretty fast to go around, there's more to explore like collecting all the lights scattered across the land.

The game has quite a lot of challenges around, you'll revisit some zones through new situations.
Once a place healed the traps will disappear and you will be able to run around freely since, spikes or moving platforms, they're always composed of the corruption.

As for the replay value, you can also unlock various alternate skins/costumes. Amongst which replace the Prince with Altair (Assassin's Creed) and use Jade's garb on Elika (Beyond Good & Evil).

I really like these new character.
I've never got into the SoT characters too much, since I've always been more of a fan of the classic PoP games beforehand. The games in themselves were nice, but I never liked the fact Ubisoft tried to make the games more and more edgier, what with all the Dark Prince (TT), emo Prince (WW), metal tunes and all...
And in this game, the Prince is litterally fighting a similar darkness directly.
(in such a beautiful colored game)

Speaking of which, the art direction is simply stunning!
The entire game looks like living and breathing artworks (as can even be seen on the game's actual artworks)
The game has a very airbrush-like cellshaded look using water colored textures.
It's simply gorgeous.
But I can imagine some hi-tech graphics-fanboys not liking it.

And finally the most controversial part, which in the great scheme of things doesn't influence that much the game at all.
Since fanboys love to rant forever on that point, so I guess as a long-time PoP fan I should talk about it on some lenght.

The game doesn't have a health system nor lives.
It probably started from the idea of not having an HUD menu to display on screen.

Anyway, the "Prince can't die" as people love to diss out on this game.
But as far as I know, lives were already irrelevant in all Prince of Persia games made by Ubisoft. You only face a Game Over screen, listened to a funny clip from the narrator ("Wait..that's not how this happened..."), pushed Replay, watched a loading screen and were back to a previous always not-far-off checkpoint.

As I see it, it's only a way to take the pushing replay button/loading screen out of the game, since the whole game doesn't have loading screens already.
And also combined the replaying events back using the Sands of Time-mechanic of the past games.

Not only is it a good way to keep an on-going focused gameplay on but also to take off useless cliché gimmicks we've been used to all these past years. (Game Over screens in non-arcade games that don't even have a given Lives system)

And all this using simply by using Elika's role in the story as a way to replace the Sands from the past episodes.
(though you could also complain about the fact there's no limit to Elika's powers/number of saves allowed)

Finally, the score is amazing. 
I already mentioned it in a blog post a long time ago. 
Like the game's stunning visuals, it's grandiose, epic and highly cinematographic. 
It contributes as much to the game's atmosphere as the rest.
It was brilliantly scored by Inon Zur & Stuart Chatwood, recurring Ubisoft composers.

Overall, it's a magnificent entry in this long running franchise. 
A much needed return to basis, with the most important part of the game being "jumping around" and exploring.

History repeats, once more the 1st entry in a new Prince of Persia series creates a new interesting world to play with. The magic lives on.

It's a pretty good game, if not a bit repetitive.
Probably the hardest one to totally agree with the direction, I know some folks didn't like aspects of it.

I hope Ubisoft will one day revisit the world of Ahriman and Ormazd in a second entry in this new series.
And taking another cue, will also improve as much as the following games did after the 1st kind of simplistic and repetitive (but good) Assassin's Creed.

It's a return to cinematic platformers such as Flashback or Another World/Out of This World. And like those classic games, the game doesn't feature a life system and you'll simply be put back some "screens" away from your fall.
Which is in my eye a great compromise between the time rewind-gimmick, the lack of loading screens and game over/continue screen, made irrelevant in past Ubisoft PoP games anway.

A fantastic game, a must play, fan or not of the genre.
Sort of like Ico and Shadow of Colossus on the past gaming generation. (which are also similar in tone and spirit)

I give it:
 3 / 3 Bruces!

VGR: Prince of Persia: Epilogue
By Ubisoft Montreal 
Type DLC
Year 2009

Over a year after this game's release, Ubisoft release a digital expansion of this game's storyline.
Using its own save games slots and even separate section in the main menu.

Since some people criticized the main campaign open ended conclusion, Ubisoft Montreal worked on this little sidestory/epilogue to offer a new ending to this lovely game.

It takes on the game's (bad) ending, which saw Ahriman on the loose once again, The Prince with Elika in his hands (spoilers aside).
The Prince and the Princess survived their dangerous foe. They retreat in a palace underground...
There, they will have to fight their way through a brand new zone, fight against the the King once again.
The Prince is convinced they can defeat Ahriman once and for all, since he seems sort of afraid of Elika, and sees this as an opportunity to strike back.
While Elika is mad against the Prince who has set events in motion they might not be able to stop.

In the end, they both leave, Elika to search for her own people and the Prince on his side...

Overall: It's a nice epilogue. 
Some might argue Ubisoft is making us pay extra $$$ just to play the game's actual ending. But this isn't.

This is, as the title implies, simply an epilogue to expose a new goal for our characters, have some more to play around with and offer fans something in-between while we wait for an actual sequel.

Game-wise, it's much more of the same. You'll be able to play with all of Elika's powers at some point.
Not too shabby.
Platform-wise, it's kinda funny but this DLC's platforming sequences sort of reminded me of the best you could find in Sands of Time/Two Thrones. Same sort of thinking. Smaller places and corridors, places to jump from top to bottom and vis-versa.
For some reason all the places you'll visit in this underground palace (and believe me, there's a lot of ground to cover) are all depicted in blue colored tones.
And also, an all-new score was composed for this chapter, as wonderful as the original.

Check it out if you're a fan, can't wait for more or want more out of this game after completing it 100%.
Not necessary anyway.

I give this one a: 2 / 3 Score! 


  1. Both brothers HATED the hell out of this game when we rented it. And I never even got the chance to play it...!!!

  2. Lemme guess... and both loved the Sands of Time series, right?

    I will never understand this fanboysm for the SoT trilogy.. They got edgier each time to the detriment of the Arabian Nights and platforming roots...
    See if there's some good argument you could use in the above review :P

    (also, why don't you grab a copy yourself? It's pretty cheap, affordable and easy to come by these days)

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