The 2008 reboot of Prince of Persia has already gone down in history as a weird specimen, an odd game that was disliked by the series' fans and that Ubisoft hastily tried to sweep under the carpet. As such, I approached the game with a mix of curiosity and caution.
What I found was a beautiful, mesmerizing experience.
The graphics and the music are striking, from the first moment. I understand that the game extensively cell-shaded appearance can be a love-it-or-hate-it experience which won't appeal to everybody, yet I found the game atmosphere beautiful and enticing. Every scenery is wonderfully drawn, and every moment it feels like you are watching a fairy tale unfold before your eyes. I found myself stopping every now and then to look around and visually explore the enviroment around me, taking the time to appreciate the details of the level rather than just calculating where I should aim my next jump.
The rendition of the Prince is also my favourite, so far. Having played through the original Prince of Persia, back in the MS-DOS days, and also through the whole "Sands of time" trilogy, I must say I like this version of the Prince the most. This has mainly to do with the Prince's attitude. There is no sense of urgency in this game, no running against the clock, no being pursued by a deadly monster, no ambition, or thirst for power driving the game's protagonist. He simply stumbled upon an ancient evil which is about to be unleashed; however, he still has all the time in the world to stop him. He embraces the adventure he suddenly found himself in and just goes with the flow, always smiling, always relaxed. When controlling the Prince, you can rush from one level to the next, pursuing enemies, or you can stop and go for a walk through the desert under the moon: nobody's coming at you. This is your story, have it your way.
Speaking about the actual gameplay, a great deal of criticism stems from its dumbed-down difficulty. In fact, there is no "game over" screen, as there is no way to die. Whenever you fall to your death, you witness a cutscene where Elika saves you instead. This is merely a convenience, though: each time you see the cutscene, you know you screwed up; only you don't have to worry about saving, reloading or continuing. To me, that's perfectly fine.
Coming from the "Sands of time" trilogy, the difficulty of navigating treacherous environments feels reduced as well. There are no spikes or deadly contraptions you have to avoid, most envirnomental hazards are about well-timed jumps and avoiding falls. The controls are easy to master, and there is some amount of auto-pilot helping you navigate the most treacherous parkours. All in all, navigating a level feels more relaxing than challenging, although you will sometime need several attempts to figure out how to traverse a difficult section.
The combat system is maybe this game biggest flaw. There are very few enemies scattered throughout the game, so virtually every fight will be a boss fight. You cannot die, but each time you are saved by Elika, your opponent has a chance to recover some life, protracting the battle longer. Fighting in this game is mostly about quick-time events and stringing together your attacks in a long combo, in order to maximize damage. Then it's parrying and ducking, until you can start a combo again. The whole control system seemed stiff here, and whenever I though I had an opening to start a combo I ended up being hit instead. All in all, I never developed a good feeling with the battle system, and boss battles degenerated in a chore rather than a fun experience.
Ultimately, this game might not be for players or long time series fan who are looking for a challenge, but I think its visual style and atmosphere earn this title a place in any gamer's collection. It looks and feels like a remarkable work of art; and each time you complete a level, you watch the scenery transform around you, feeling a genuine sense of reward for your efforts. I definitely recommend to try this one out.