Prince of Persia: Warrior Within marks the second outing for the new and improved Prince and continues the story albeit with a darker and grittier feel. We find our hero is now a fugitive from the events told in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time but he's not on the run from just anything.
He's pursued by the guardian of the timeline, a creature called a Dahaka.
This creature will not stop until the one that opened the Sands of Time is dead by its gnarled and clawed hands.
Our hero has only one chance - he must use the portals on the fabled Island of Time to travel to the past and undo the creation of the Sands, saving himself and defying Fate.
Gameplay - Acrobatic and Puzzle based
To those of you who are familiar with the first game the controls are refreshingly similar but the game responses have been tweaked to near-perfection. A number of new gameplay mechanics have been implemented for the Prince's second outing and all his old moves have been replaced by a plethora of combos and special attacks.
At its core the puzzle based gameplay of the first PS2 game has been kept fairly intact although puzzles are fewer in this game. Most of the game is spent trying to work out how to cross to the exit or location that the Prince needs to get to, this can be as simple as a wall-run or as complex as needing to slow down time and avoid rolling columns, spiked floors and whirling blades.
At times the route to the exit can seem incredibly complex and highly impossible requiring expert timing and nerves of steel. This is par for the course for this kind of game and Ubi wouldn't have it any other way.
So since the puzzle and acrobatic trickery in Warrior Within are similar to the Sands of Time we shall dwell no more on them.
Gameplay - Combat
This is where the biggest and greatest innovation has come in the new game. The old fighting system has been replaced by the shiny and extremely fluid - Freeform Fighting System.
This system allows the Prince to be more creative in his attacks and defence. Combat in the previous game was fluid and balletic but compared to Warrior Within it looks clumsy and slow.
The Prince has access to a wide range of offensive and defensive moves that will take some time to learn and an even longer duration to master. Fortunately for the combo impaired (like me) there's a long list in the pause menu (I'd recommend writing some of them down or finding a FAQ). After a while you will find yourself coming to grips with how this system works and chaining together move after move to defeat the seemingly endless hoards of enemies that are in Warrior Within.
Ubisoft have also given the Prince a mass of acrobatic options and new to Warrior is the ability to swing around columns and poles to perform a swishing-slicing attack that can target a number of enemies.
He can also run up walls and with a little tap of a few buttons come hurtling down while spinning to cut a bloody swath of ruin through his enemies.
Warrior Within is a lot darker than the previous game so the developers have taken a more adult and violent approach, but they still manage to keep the game within the realm of Fantasy Violence (For all those concerned parents out there). The Prince is the kind of wholesome hero that slaughters his way through non-human enemies and protects the weak - good values if you ask me.
Using the Freeform Fighting System you can also grab hold of enemies and then choose swiftly what you want to happen to them. If they're weak you can take their weapons in a variety of gruesome ways (One of my personal favourites is where the Prince sticks the second blade and the first into the body and then ends it by lopping off the guard's head).
The FfFS works extremely well and brings a new edge to the combat that is both fun and frenetic, appealing on a visual as well as a cinematic scale. The Prince can also throw the second weapon into his enemy as part of an acrobatic move or just a single attack, giving the player many more options in dealing with foes.
If you want to add an extra level of dynamics to the fights make sure the combat camera is set to often. This can give some wonderfully slick visual slow-motion examples of the new systems in action and is a real treat for the eyes.
So with the options of stealing or picking up a vast amount of new weapons in the Prince's off-hand Ubi have added the new Two-Weapon fighting style to the game, when coupled with the one-handed and acrobatic moves brings the moves list into staggering proportions.
The Prince's animation states change based on the type of weapon he attacks with in his off hand and whether or not he's in close proximity to his enemy. You can trigger a number of different acrobatic attacks with a single press of a button, our hero will leap over the enemy and bring his blade to bear or both blades, flip-kick them into oblivion.
It truly is an impressive combat dynamic.
Gameplay - The Sands of Time
If you've played the first game you might be wondering how on earth the Prince can use those powers since he got rid of the dagger at the end. I was for a while until the whole truth was revealed - he now has a mystical amulet which possesses even greater power and allows for more incredible Time-Shifting than ever before.
The usual slow powers are back and so is the revival power which allows you to repeat a certain foul-up and save the Prince from an untimely demise.
Along with these are some new powers that are more battle orientated.
One of my personal favourites allows you to enter a hyper-speed combat mode and cut a massive painful swath through your foes. It reminds me of how the Agents in the Matrix are supposed to move super-humanly fast and had me laughing at my enemies when I first did it.
One last thing I should mention. There are a number of new enemies and some of them are pretty massive - the bigger bosses can prove to be a suitable challenge and should keep the deft-fingered amongst us busy for quite a while.
Graphics, Models and Textures
Just when you think you've seen it all Ubi come along and show you just what you can do with a PS2 when you know your stuff. I really love the soft bloom effects in these games and the new level of detail for the characters makes them stand out a lot more than the previous Sands of Time. There are a lot more polys this time around and Ubi have taken a great deal of care over the look and feel of every character in the game.
The models are extremely detailed and the new look for the Prince speaks of a darker, grim and even more determined character this time around.
The character texturing and levels are all perfectly designed to fit and match the era in which the Prince is adventuring, from the ruined crumbling areas of the present to the rich sumptuous areas of the past - it all comes together seamlessly.
From the in-game graphics to the cut-scene CGI, Warrior Within really-really shines forth as a great example of how a game can evolve from the first pretty-much groundbreaking title.
There's not much that I can say about Ubi's level design in this game except that it's fiendish, evil and twisted and their level designers should be shot for the mad-skills they possess at a design level. Some of the areas in Warrior Within are gut-churningly twisted and to get through them requires a level of thinking that borders on genius.
Couple this with their sumptuous new graphics engine and special effects and you have a really gorgeous looking visual feast for the eyes.
Everything in Warrior Within is extremely well animated, from the characters themselves to the combat moves. It has a level of detail and slickness coupled with fine-tuned combat moves and split-second crazy death-traps.
The animation system also ties in with the actual acrobatics of the game so that if you're slightly off when you leap for a ladder, the hero will try and correct his mistake and unlike the first game - he usually manages it unless you're way off base when you jump.
Sound and Music
I love a good game that brims with spot effects, ambience and gorgeous sound. Warrior doesn't disappoint in any of these areas and it has beautiful sound that reflects each move you make in combat, when swords clash and lock there are sparks and crackles as metal clashes and grinds against metal.
Some of the Prince's grunts in combat could have been a bit better but it's often an area of a game that really needs tweaking. If you care about that kind of thing that is, suspension of disbelief being very important in the whole aural and visual journey.
As for the music in the game most of it is of the dark ambient sort that whispers along quite nicely and compliments the action when it has to. But for the discerning metal-head amongst you, you'll notice that when the Prince's Nemesis makes an appearance that the soundtrack swiftly changes to Godsmack's: I stand Alone.
This pumping mesh of harsh vocals and brazen guitar only serves to heighten the tension and pushes you onwards as the Prince tries to escape this relentless new foe. It can't be fought so you must run and often there isn't a chance to repeat a section if you muck it up.
Ubi have spared no expense in this particular outing and have recruited the talented and very beautiful Monica Bellucci to voice one of the characters. Monica is best known for her role in the Matrix: Reloaded and Matrix: Revolutions. She also plays one of the principle characters in the French movie: Brotherhood of the Wolf.
Along with the new voice for the Prince which is darker and more serious than his first younger character, this makes for some excellent voice acting indeed.
Warrior Within is a great game don't get me wrong but it does have a couple of niggles that serve to annoy. The rewind time on the Sands seems to be considerably less and can leave you in a worse position than when you started.
Some of the boss fights are extremely hard even on the easier difficulty. This could serve as a source of frustration and put a few gamers off the game who aren't as stubborn as me and my friends.
While you can regain health by drinking from water puddles and fountains these are few and far-between and can result in much retrying and backtracking as you are forced to repeat a dangerous section over and over.
Since save points are now at water founts, the developers should have included a few more in-game checkpoints after every dangerous section and put in many more water founts for the player to use.
Some of the enemies block far too often and seem to have an almost uncanny ability to know when you block, just before you even think about striking. I think the combat AI needed a few more tweaks, but that's just really my own personal preferences.
And last but not least: The Camera - the way that the camera seems to be a solid object in PoP: WW really does irritate me to no end. I think for the next game they should really change that and make sure that you have a full 360 degree view that isn't impeded by a wall or a pole.
The last word
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time set new ground for the action/adventure genre and the sequel lives up to and exceeds it progenitor by light-years. I am now left wondering what Ubi plan for the next outing of our hero and what can the developers possibly do to top this particular adventure.
Only time will tell. I guess.