PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Prince of Persia

The effort here is to provide a fantastic experience, not at all intellectual but one driven by velocity and the player's own gut.

Publisher: Ubisoft
Genres: Multimedia, Action/adventure
Price: $59.99
Multimedia: Prince of Persia
Platforms: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PlayStation 3, PC
Number of players: 1
ESRB rating: Teen
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
US release date: 2008-12-02
Developer website

Ubisoft's relaunch of the Prince of Persia series puts other efforts to re-envision the platformer, like Mirror's Edge, to shame. While the experiment of attempting to produce a platformer from a first person perspective seemed promising, Mirror's Edge failed to really pay off in what seems to be its intention. That intention was to allow a player to execute smooth, acrobatic moves in a fast-paced and dynamic way while enhancing the experience of immersion by allowing the player to see from directly behind the eyes of a free runner.

It sounded exciting, but it was not. The limitations of the first person perspective in really evaluating where a character is and how easily constrained a fairly fixed frame of perspective that that perspective locks one into led to frequently underwhelming sequences of trial and error jumps that only occasionally allowed the player a real sense of fluid forward motion. The tension of fleeing from trouble was broken by a frequent inability to grasp where to move next and how to do so despite some clever visual clues provided by a stark visual layout.

Such pleasure at experiencing a fluidity of motion and falling into a zen pattern of competently executed leaps and bounds is provided by the newest incarnation of the Prince, though. Blogger Iriquois Pliskin has commented on the new Prince of Persia's resemblance to rhythm-based games in that a player in those games learns to adapt rapidly to visual cues (note capsules in the case of games like Amplitude, Guitar Hero, or Rock Band but simple recognizable terrain alterations in this game) and respond to those cues as patterns emerge forcing the player to respond by tapping buttons (or strumming or pounding on drum pads) in order to follow the rhythm that the game prescribes.

Indeed, this description is a fair one regarding the mechanisms of how Prince of Persia plays. Unlike Mirror's Edge, which seemed desperately to want to immerse a player in an experience of a kind of balletic kinetic movement, the Prince's simple one-button press to respond to these simple visual cues provides an elegant explosive forward-driving motion that feels amazing to enact as a player. In other words, the kind of visceral expression of motion that Mirror's Edge wants us to feel is what Prince of Persia actually provides.

Additionally, while the game has taken some heat for not allowing the Prince to die (his female companion, Elika, will always catch the Prince before he is about to fall), this mechanic, which really simply spares the player from load screens as he or she learns the pattern of a level, contributes to the sense that the action of the game is always driving the player forward, and that the action of performing like a trained acrobat is not interrupted by the less competent novice handling a controller.

In that sense, the game is extremely successful at providing a sense of immersion in the skills that being the Prince should emphasize. Unlike the necessity of creating a half-baked frametale that explains why the experienced free runner Faith of Mirror's Edge needs a tutorial to bone up on her forgotten skills to justify said tutorial at the beginning of that game, the Prince seems competent from the start because learning what he does and how he does it is so much more intuitive for the player. As both games progress, Faith dies in seemingly stupid ways for someone that we are intended to believe is competent at what she does, while the Prince merely has to begin a chain of jumps again after a lack of sure footededness. As a result, the authenticity of this competence allows the player to believe in the basic premise of the character that he or she is asked to inhabit.

The game then is not a visual puzzle as platformers like Tomb Raider are. Slowing down to gauge how an environment can or should be traversed is beyond the point in Prince of Persia. The effort here is to provide a fantastic experience, not at all intellectual but one driven by velocity and the player's own gut.

Both the visual style, with cel shading providing a less realistic and more comic book-like dreamscape of a fantasy world, and the simple tale of corruption and renewal of this same land match the overall romantic feel of this new Prince's world. However, the manner in which this plot unfolds is a bit less elegantly handled. The relationship between the Prince and Elika emerges through their physical interactions as Elika and the Prince move through the landscape together, providing one another boosts and catching one another as part of the natural flow of gameplay, which mirrors well the emphasis on physical expression that the game's mechanics focus on. Learning how the two feel through the way that they physically interact works. Body language gives a strong sense of the sexual chemistry between the two.

Nevertheless, a "dialogue button" of sorts provides the most regular means of transmitting background information between the Prince and Elika. Tapping the button in normal gameplay can be intrusive as it just provokes strings of sometimes witty banter between the characters that grows repetitive after a while. As certain sections of the game are unlocked, these dialogues are encouraged by an on screen prompt indicating that the Prince and Elika have some new and specifically pertinent observations on the world that they explore. Tapping the button over and over again to fill in these details seems unnecessary and again interrupts the flow of the game. Frankly, an old fashioned cut scene or spontaneous speech while the Prince and Elika proceed on their adventure would suffice.

The most fascinating part of the narrative, though, comes in the game's closing minutes and has provoked a good deal of discussion both positive and negative. Without getting into great detail concerning the story's ending moments, suffice it to say that, following the rolling of the credits, the game in its effort to express a very particular sense of the character of the Prince allows the player to take actions that may be unpalatable to some players. While the game has "ended" in terms of recognizable conventions of storytelling (the credits should mark a game's ending, right?), the moment that follows that traditional marking of an ending makes the player (should he or she choose to continue playing) become complicit in the Prince's choice of how this story should end.

Such a decision on Ubisoft's part to not allow the player alternatives in determining the fate of a virtual world flies in the face of much of the currently popular open world models of video gamesmanship. Multiple endings, binary choices, or nonlinearly determined outcomes are the vogue amongst most designers, a seemingly appropriate choice in a medium in which player interaction and input is possible in guiding a storyline. While such choices are interesting and often compelling, I appreciate the linear "decision making" offered by Ubisoft here. If an authentic experience of athleticism and acrobatic prowess is offered over the course of the game, I find the authenticity of the character who develops over the course of the story being told is not compromised by the story's conclusions. The Prince seems to follow his own basic compulsions as we have come to understand them over the course of the story.

The new Prince is a vagabond and anti-hero whose motivations to save the world seem driven by self interest and, perhaps, more an interest in Elika than her kingdom. Ubisoft does a nice job in maintaining the integrity of that character by allowing the narrative momentum to achieve its natural outcome in the close of what otherwise would be a simplistic fairy tale, whether that momentum lead to an outcome distasteful to the player or not.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."


50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.


Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.


The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.


Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.


'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.


Matt Berninger Takes the Mic Solo on 'Serpentine Prison'

Serpentine Prison gives the National's baritone crooner Matt Berninger a chance to shine in the spotlight, even if it doesn't push him into totally new territory.


MetalMatters: The Best New Heavy Metal Albums of September 2020

Oceans of Slumber thrive with their progressive doom, grind legends Napalm Death make an explosive return, and Anna von Hausswolff's ambient record are just some of September's highlights.


'Avatar: The Last Airbender' Nudges Out Conscience in Our Time of Crises

Avatar shows us that to fight for only the people we know, for simply the things that affect us personally, is neither brave nor heroic, nor particularly useful.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.