Prince of Persia: Warrior Within
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You might remember that I had been prejudiced against the Prince of Persia series from the general impression that I got of it through tangential contact on the Internet before, but even after playing a little of it, it was clear that "Warrior Within" was unfortunately where most of that impression came from.

The game opens on a dark and stormy sea, where the Prince's ship is quickly invaded by LeChuck and his band of ghost pirates. It's about here that the first problems begin to emerge, because as soon as you rush up to hit any of them with a sword, the music turns not into a fast but not overbearing Eastern-style fighting music but a pattern of wild flails at a distorted guitar courtesy (apparently) of Godsmack. Thankfully you can turn it off, but that results in the cinematics having no sound either because that's classed under "music" as well - it's now been left at a comfortably quiet level where it's not present enough to really bother anyone.

The first stage of the game amounts to chasing an enormous bottom throughout various collapsing environments, occasionally fighting the woman who's attached to it when you catch up with her. The first time that this happens, you hit her a few times before the game cuts to a scene showing her slashing the Prince in the face, which seems to upset him a bit as he stumbles backwards, then looks back at her and counters with -

"You bitch!"

Naturally this (figuratively) caused my cup of tea to escape its saucer, with my macaroon tumbling to the floor and my monocle blasting through the screen. Not because of the line in itself, you understand, but because of its phenomenal out-of-placeness - it sounds honestly like something from a badly written bit of fanfiction that was thrown in there in a desperate attempt to be edgy, and you can almost feel the embarrassment radiating off his actor as he says it. And honestly, a cynical throw-in is exactly what it seems to be - after the introduction section the parkour/platforming sections make a return, with only the irritating guitar torture during the fights (which have thankfully been reduced from the first game - you no longer have to deal with eight sets of respawning enemies at a time or finish them off one by one) being the real remnants of the rubbish attempt to darken it up. It's rather sad, really, that they felt that they had to attempt to change its image in a desperate attempt to appeal to people - and I don't know the figures, but it would be even more upsetting if it worked.

Like I mentioned, though, if you ignore the trendy new image that works about as well as your dad trying to rap then it's still a reasonable game - it certainly gets you into the complex acrobatics early on, and it's very welcome to be swinging around the rooftops again. This series is one of the most vertigo-inducing I have ever played - if you fall, you usually fall a long, long way, and you get this strong tingling feeling in the soles of your feet every time you leap over a thousand-foot drop to narrowly grab onto a horizontal bar or any of the other things that you usually have to do to get around the oddly conveniently-crumbled environments.

There are other changes that aren't as blatant, but are still disappointing. Prince Tosser (as he will hereforward be known) is strangely now American instead of very posh and British like in the other two games, not that you'd notice as much because the clever interaction and monologues are sadly missed. They've been replaced here with him occasionally grunting and shouting painfully generic things like "Taste my blade" at the monsters he's fighting, in a level of conversation roughly on par with, say, Evil Zone.

But there are some things that I can appreciate improved from the first game, too - mostly there are just a couple of new obstacle types, but the largest addition is that of chase scenes where you have to sprint through sections while pursued by a giant monster whose name I can neither spell nor pronounce, who will instantly kill you if he gets behind you. You'll never have time to look back to see where he is, but the screen colours wash out when he's within killing distance. It's a way to get you to look at a room and try to work out how to get through it very quickly, rather than puzzling it out as you usually would, and they're absolutely flaming terrifying.

As a result of those I had a dream about being chased through a series of caves by the Butcher from Silent Hill Origins, then teaming up with Ben Croshaw to save the nearby town's bakeries from destruction. As dreams go it could have been worse.

In the end, it became the second game that we returned to Gamefly without getting to the end. It wasn't a bad game, exactly, because the gameplay was still much the same as the others in the new series, but the stylistic "darker" choice (a term that was overdone a couple of years ago in a way absolutely exemplified by the content of this game) was very off-putting. On reflection, the plot doesn't make a whole lot of sense - a monster called the Dahaka has begun to pursue the Prince to repair the timeline because of him messing with the Sands of Time and causing a paradox, so he sails off to the Island of Time to destroy the Sands of Time so that the paradox couldn't happen, an event which creates another paradox which... was never really touched on. I don't think he had really thought the whole thing through.

Unfortunately my initial praise of the fights having been shortened from the first game was premature, and towards the end I found myself bravely running away from yet more hordes of repeated badly acted sound file-spewing jesters rather than bothering to fight them. And I found myself lost quite a lot, because they decided to make the game less linear, and often you don't really have a clear idea of where you're going next or whether you should be going back to somewhere you've already visited.

Anyway, after listening to Prince Tosser wangsting about being the architect of his own destruction for most of the last half of the game you don't really care whether the Dahaka eats him or not, and the final boss was just a cruelty that I didn't feel like suffering after a few goes at it. It involves rolling around in close quarters for positively ages and occasionally daring to swipe a little off her screen-wide health bar, only for her to inevitably use her powers to slow down time and batter you instantly. So defiantly I decided I wasn't having any of it and watched both endings on Youtube instead.

I was later informed, though, that the game has numerous health upgrades throughout and that I had somehow missed every single one of them. In retrospect, those might have helped a bit.