Sunday, March 8, 2009

Prince of Persia Epilogue

So, this last Thursday, Ubisoft released a 10 dollar add-on to Prince of Persia called Prince of Persia Epilogue. Now, a reasonable response to this action on their part would be to question why this wasn't part of the original game. I mean, it seems as though they effectively decided to charge 70 bucks for the game instead of the originally agreed upon 60. But, well, I take a decidedly different view on this type of thing.

I'm the type of person who has bought well over a hundred songs for Rock Band. I'm quite willing and, possibly more importantly, able to buy these types of downloadable extras for games. Costumes and non-functional items are a little harder to justify, but content, yeah, I'll buy content. If I really liked a game, I kind of appreciate the opportunity to spend more money on it and get to play it even more. And there's no better way to tell developers that you liked their game than to spend money on it, right? Right, except maybe e-mailing them or something, I guess that might work too. I've never tried it.

So, long story short (ha, short, that's funny), I bought and downloaded this little extra as soon as I was able. I then played through it the next morning and I thought I'd put my thoughts on it down. This is only based off a single, admittedly pretty long, level, so my review can't be too long (oh, I'm sure it can), but this was definitely an interesting buy and experience.

So, if you recall, everyone's big complaint about Prince of Persia was that it was easy. We've already gone over the fact that most people's intuitive reason for it being easy (the fact that you can't die) is wrong. In my original review, I explained that it thought it was too easy because the Prince would automatically make the right directional choice as you were running along the walls or avoiding traps or whatnot.

Well, I can go on record as saying that Prince of Persia Epilogue is not too easy. I would put its exploration challenge level as right up there with the series from the last generation. This game is hard.

In the original game, there would be long sections between check points when you would need to avoid the traps as you'd run along the walls, but it was easy. I don't think I had fully understood why it was easy, though (or, rather, I struggled to articulate why it was easy). In practice, I could say it was easy because I never failed. I could also say it was easy because I was never even worried that I might fail. The reason I couldn't fail was because the game couldn't let me. Let me explain.

In the previous series, there were sections that required extremely tough timing to get through but you had two advantages. The first advantage was that you could slow down time. It gets a lot easier to get the timing right when things are moving slowly. The second advantage was that the hardest sections wouldn't usually involve the risk of falling to your death. This meant that if you screwed up, you would have to eat some damage (Oh no! I have to go drink some water now). It felt really hard, because you didn't want to eat the damage because that's lame, but if you needed to, you could get past it (and, let's be honest, you needed to, I mean, we all did).

In this generation, both those advantages are gone. You can't slow down time and you can't eat damage. Any interaction with any trap is immediately fatal (okay, fatal is a little strong since you can't die, but the moral equivalent occurs). On paper that sounds like it should make things harder, since they are taking away advantages that you previously had. In practice, though, the opposite occurred. It got easier because they couldn't design traps that were as hard as the previous games' traps. If they did, it would be too hard. The result were these extended sections that looked like they should be really hard, but in practice were really easy because the designers had allowed a very large amount of time for the correct initiation of the sequence (to put it in perspective, in previous games you would often have to slow down time before starting a section and wait for just the right moment to start navigating because if you left a moment too soon or late, you would get hit by one of the traps, typically near the end).

So, people complained that the challenge was gone, without fully understanding just why it might need to be gone. Hopefully, this little bit of content will educate them. For those who just want to beat it without finding any secrets, it's easily the hardest dungeon in the game. If you want the secrets (I found all of them, yay me!), then it's very comparable to the hardest challenges in the previous generation and they even sometimes made it hard just to figure out where the secrets were hidden (crazy talk!).

Some of the dungeon challenges they made include: cranks to change the architecture of whole dungeons, allowing multiple switches to be reached under different conditions, but requiring real planning and understanding. Yeah, you can move walls and buildings and different combinations of the movements can get you to different areas. Understanding how you want things set up to get where you want to go requires a huge amount more insight than just following the only available path (which is the typical strategy in all the Prince of Persia games). They also changed the traps (I don't really know what to call them, but they're equivalent to the moving chainsaws and shooting darts from yore) so that they can move at different speeds. This makes navigating them much harder than when they all moved at the same speed. Oh, and they got some set up so that the timing requirements were much tighter than anything you encountered in the main game.

And, just to add icing on the cake, they'd often made the hardest timing challenges occur in areas where there were either evil bugs flying around that would attack you if you stayed in one place for too long or damaging stuff in the air that would kill you if you stayed in the general area too long. Or both, that was the case pretty often too. And, lastly, they made sections where the next place to go wasn't actually visible (ie- no visible hints of where to go) and so you had to figure out where you should go almost blindly (as in, you had to eliminate all the places you could see that you clearly couldn't go and then go in the only remaining the time it takes to run along the wall, because at the end of that time it's too late...yeah, those situations typically took multiple tries).

In effect, this was their opportunity to show us fans that they hadn't gone soft. They still knew how to create sweet dungeon challenges and hide goodies in there too. Oh, and the architecture was pretty cool too.

So, yeah, I was really impressed. It was hard. And I liked it. Oh and the awesome dialogue was totally back. And I liked that it picked up right where the main game had left off and that it provided us with an idea of what the sequel is going to look like. I hope they make stuff in that game as hard as this. But, to be honest, I also liked that this wasn't part of the main game. That this was something optional and separate to the game. The end of that game was note perfect. It was emotional and the story had really built up to it. I wouldn't have wanted them to add this section just by default. Or, if they did, I would want them to still roll the credits when they do in the game, because that's just perfect.

In fact, on the topic of story and awesome dialogue, one of the best things about this Epilogue is that it gives the Prince a chance to really explain himself and his decision. We know why the Princess made her decision, but it was really cool to hear his side of things. He didn't just bring her back because he was in love with her and couldn't bear to let her die (I admit, that's how I interpreted it). He brought her back because he couldn't believe that her sacrifice was either the only solution, or even a valid solution at all. And I appreciated his arguments for it. That's cool.

So, my one complaint: there's still fighting. Yep, they kept that in. In fact, they added a new combat move. At any time, you can initiate a little quick-time button press event-thingie, if you so desire. Personally, that's kind of like being told I've got a needle that I can stick in my eye, if I so desire, but that's just my opinion. Yeah, I still didn't like the fighting. And, of course, there was a fair amount of it. Yargh.

But, ignoring that, it was awesome. I was really impressed and it was a huge amount of fun to get to play it a little more. So, yeah, good job Ubisoft Montreal. You guys rock. I was glad to spend my 10 dollars on your hard work of the last couple months.

That is all.


1 comment:

tc said...

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