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Prince of Persia: Warrior Within

Age can do funny things to a man. As the years tick by, waists become rounder, hair gets thinner, trousers inevitably get higher and sex drive, well that goes completely out the window. Not so for the titular Prince. Fresh from saving the land from an evil Vizar in the fantastic Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (Issue 26, 9.0), the elapsed years have turned boy into man and matured the franchise from absorbing platformer to astounding action-adventure. Which is a very good thing.

Much has been made about the fact that this royal outing has taken a darker tone than the original, but blood-drenched loading screens and heavy metal? Now we're really scared. The game again kicks off with a gorgeous opener. Moody visuals, slick production, a tight script and rocking action - welcome to the ever increasing blurring of videogames and Hollywood blockbusters.

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Warrior Within's twisting script is also fittingly dramatic, though players may be lost if they haven't already played the original Sands of Time. The Prince, by using the Sands in the original game, has incurred the wrath of Dahaka, Guardian of Time. This demonic deity has decreed the Prince must face his original fate and die, and will stop at nothing to see his grisly end is met. The Prince himself has other ideas, and sets back in time to destroy the problematic Sands. Paradoxes aside, having a respected scriptwriter on board means players are subtly drawn into the multilayered plot, and before you realise it, you're genuinely concerned for the Prince's welfare. Ahhh.

However, background knowledge isn't the only advantage players of the original will boast. The opening level (a visceral assault on the Prince's ship, with explosions and falling timber all around you) throws players right into the thick of it. And we mean right away. It's kill or be killed as you must quickly adapt and master the simple two- and three-button combos the Prince now has at his disposal. Trouncing the Sands of Time with a single blow, Warrior Within beats its way into the fray, boasting considerably deep combat. Again, vaulting over opponents both looks spectacular and is a valuable way of catching particularly tough enemies on the counter. Fighting is brutal and fast-paced, but intuitive controls (direct attacks with the L Thumbstick) mean you'll soon be slicing and dicing your way through hordes of Dahaka's minions in a way Dogtanian could only dream of. The gore valve has been opened as well, as now decapitations, enemies getting split in two and bucketfuls of blood are commonplace. Grapples, throws and tons of ace special moves are on offer, and the Prince can mix it up like Rocky meeting Ryu. Yet rather than being present for mere novelty value, this really adds to the grittiness of the title. Pulling off a stylish finishing combo after a particularly tough battle is immensely satisfying.

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It'd be fair to say the Prince has changed somewhat in the time elapsed between the two titles; he's now meaner, moodier, and sporting a brash American twang instead of the slightly fey English accent of Sands of Time. Which we for one don't like. In another major addition to the series, the Prince can get his groove on with one or two weapons at any one time. Secondary weapons can be thrown for ranged attacks (complete with über-cool follow cam), or wielded for double damage and additional combo possibilities.

If the Prince himself returns tougher than his last incarnation, then Warrior Within plays along accordingly, and believe us, this is hard. Like a tattooed, toothless, truncheon-wielding West Ham fan - bastard hard. Initially, the superb tutorial leads players through by the hand, prompting what to do. But then just like before, these handy hints will fade away in a way so subtle players don't even realise they're gradually being forced to think for themselves. However, after this initial easy ride, the learning curve becomes exponentially steeper. This is great for veterans of Sands of Time who may relish a tougher challenge, though not so good for newcomers who may become disheartened. Take, for example, your first encounter with a leather-clad Shahdee. It's a substantial challenge, and at only a few minutes in, is slightly out of character with the nature of the series.

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