The agile aristocrat gets an attitude adjustment. But can he fulfil his eastern promise?
There are two types of sequel in video games. Type one: the re-invention, when the key elements are utterly changed for the better by adding in features that take you into a whole new world of gameplay. Think GTA: San Andreas and Burnout 3. Type two: the remix, which merely involves a bit of a graphical makeover, a set of new locations and a few new moves. Think WWE: SmackDown! Vs Raw and any sports game with a year in its title.
Prince of Persia Warrior Within is only a remix. It's been just one year since the previous game scored 9/10 in the pages of PSW. That isn't really enough time for a game to be completely re-invented, so it's not surprising that Prince of Persia's killer mix of fighting and jumping hasn't been tinkered with too much.
It's good to be Prince
After all, Prince of Persia wasn't broke, so they didn't need to fix it; we loved the fact that it took pixel-perfect jumping and made it accessible, cool and fun. And Warrior Within retains a lot of the charm of that game, with the action moving seamlessly between negotiating all manner of traps and platforms to dealing out death to sand-zombies whenever they appear. In fact, the fluid fighting mechanism's even more stylish. Even hammering the square button will result in all manner of impressive deaths for any nearby enemies. Crucially, you'll always feel in control of the Prince, no matter what acrobatics he's up to.
But they've gone and given His Majesty a bit of a character change. Gone is the na´ve youngster of the first game. In his place, there's a positively nasty fella obsessed with gloating over his enemies and doing whatever it takes to survive. At least that's the theory. In fact, making the Prince all dark and frowny changes absolutely bugger-all. It doesn't even really alter the impressive cut-scenes, mostly rendered with in-game graphics. Sure, the Prince calls a female fighter a 'bitch' in the early part of the game. But we're not talking Manhunt levels of sadism here. The superficial makeover is really here to attract gamers who thought all the first game's Arabian-nights embellishments were a bit too girly. The buxom lady count's been upped as well, which will cause grins or groans, depending on which set of genitalia you've been blessed with.
Mister Sandman play a little song for me
The first game was awash in atmosphere, but that's been tweaked as well. The mystical ambience that filled the first PS2 Prince of Persia has degenerated into a kind of moody darkness. The result is a loss of the original's seductive tone, replaced by a palette of greys and blacks. Again, it's part of the new 'darker' feel, but it does take away from the impact of the still-gorgeous visuals. While you're exploring the derelict ruins of the massive Castle of Time, it's oppressive, but travel back into the past and you'll get a much more elegant version of the same rooms, back when they were in their prime.
There are a few surprises in store for the Prince on this outing. He's trying to evade his destiny by stopping the Sands of Time from being created and save himself from the inexorable Dahaka, a creature designed to destroy those who cheat the laws of fate. We won't spoil the progression, but let's just say things don't quite pan out as you'd expect. If you think the Prince has changed his appearance for Warrior Within, wait until you see him by the end of the game...
But it's the gameplay that grabbed us first time round, and it's the same here. Simply moving around the vast spaces is thrilling, and the complex controls rarely feel stilted or annoying. It's a hard-hearted gamer who won't appreciate the thrill of a random fight that appears as perfectly choreographed as any of Jet Li's kung fu showdowns.