I really like Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. It's not my all-time favourite game but it's a good example of a game where all the elements fit together. It has nice graphics, a pleasant soundtrack, great game mechanics, nice puzzles and it tells an interesting story. It has this air of swashbuckling and adventure, and it really conveys the atmosphere of being in the tales of One Thousand and One Nights. The opening movie really sums up everything quite well (even though it has a tad too much fighting):
Prince of Persia: The Warrior Within had received rather good reviews so I was hopeful when I started playing it. But then... Well, see for yourselves. This is actually the second intro. Before this intro, right after you select "new game", the game opens up with a scene where the Prince runs in a claustrophobic twisting alley, chased by some unknown menace. He also sees an ugly dog (what?). The alley ends in a locked door, which he bangs for a while and after realizing he has no other alternative, he turns towards his chaser and draws his swords. Then the game cuts to this:
Firstly. Did you see that ass? Of course you did, it stayed in the picture for something like five fucking seconds. Five. Godsdamned. Seconds. (And it was actually more like seven, but five is enough to pop veins in my head, so it will suffice). And not only that but the Prince is now clad in some weird armour and a cloak that could be from any cheap high fantasy story. Instead of being the Prince of Persia he's now the Prince of Fucking Vague Fantasy Setting. Also, did I mention the ass? The ass that belongs to a woman who is supposed to become your nemesis-of-a-sort. The recurring villain, if you will. Why did they opt to build ass instead of character?
And at the very end of the clip, she says "Kill him.", which is like the dramatic understatement of the year. Why couldn't she say something else or rephrase the command or do something else entirely. I mean, her crew has just shot flaming arrows at the Prince's ship, waved their weapons about in a very angry-mob-esque way and used grappling hooks to bring the ships together (and once the game begins, they actually ram the Prince's ship). Isn't it kind of obvious at this point that they mean harm? It's like beating the shit out of someone and then saying "I don't like you.". The action has already conveyed the information, so oral repetition seems hardly necessary. Not to mention the cliché-factor it brings with it. But enough about the intro sequences. There are other failing points as well.
The first is about time travelling. Specifically the sort of time travel where you expand the spatial aspects of the game via temporal changes. You have one architectural element, but it's expressed in two (or more) different time layers, so you can create slight variations on top of the basic levels. A classic example would be The Day of the Tentacle, which takes place in the same mansion, but in three different time layers: past, present and future. This sort of thing is quite common in games and when done well it can create interesting puzzles and plot elements.
The first Prince of Persia (And for the sake of clarity, when I speak about the series, I mean the trilogy that was released for the PS2 and Gamecube and such; not the actual original PoP-games of yore.) went a bit further with its time travelling. It integrated time travel into the basic game mechanic by allowing the player to rewind the game relatively freely. It didn't have the multiple spatial layers sprinkled throughout the temporal layers like Day of the Tentacle had. It was more about a linear story than it was about jumping back and forth in time.
Unlike its predecessor, The Warrior Within has this temporal/spatial way of artificially extending game areas. You alter the past, to smoothen your way in the present. This works in many games, but in The Warrior Within all it does is force you to play an area once, and then play it again in reverse, with altered graphics and puzzles. It's sort of nice, but it also makes the gameplay really tedious as you already know what's coming. So, if you are a game developer, please remember this: time travelling is cool, but it can be used in a good way and in a bad way. When it works it can create awesome plot elements and surprises. When it doesn't work it causes plot holes, disrupts the unity of the game world and makes the player confused, irritated or bored.
The second problem is the Prince's character. In the first game he was the Prince of Persia. A noble man with superior skills. He was proud and he let it show through. But he was also wise and just. He felt like a prince from a fairy tale (which he is, really). He fought if he had to, and ran when it was the more beneficial option. He protected but didn't patronize. He was capable of expressing emotions other than arrogance and anger.
In The Warrior Within he's changed. He's angry all the time. He underestimates his opponents and his arrogance knows no limits. The story goes like this: after fucking about with The Time Itself in the first game, the Prince awakened the wrath of terrible monster. The guardian of the timeline, as it were. And now this beast is chasing the Prince (as in, wants him dead) to, um, correct the mistake in the timeline. So the Prince decides to go back in time and destroy the Sands of Time (the mystical stuff that allows him to jump in time to begin with) so that the whole mess that was the entire first game would not happen and he would be free from the monster's wrath. See? Logic. Somewhere there. Must be.
So, the Prince is a bit stressed. Anyone would be a little grumpy in a situation like that. Except now it doesn't feel like a tale of swashbuckling any more. It's a tale about an insensitive jerk, out to save his own neck by any means necessary. The Prince is no more. Now he's just a guy in a funny armour with a strange lust for bloodshed. I don't understand why they chose this way to characterize him. It would've made more sense to me if they had chosen, for example, the Sirius Black style of wild and aloof man-being-chased type of thing for the Prince.
I also have to question his ethics. His main motivation is to destroy something that does not belong to him. Fine. This involves him killing an innumerable amount of beings that seem to be quite human. Um, not fine. He justifies his anger with the fact that the Ass Pirates of the intro movie attacked him and sunk his ship and killed his crew. Okay, I sort of understand, except that he was attacked because evidently he was himself going to the Palace of Time, bent on destruction, mayhem and carnage. So why does he get all worked up when there are people that want to protect the place? As a prince, does he not understand the loyalty of the guards of the palace? Did he expect to be able to just waltz in and destroy the very essence of time, without problems or hardhips? Is he both arrogant and stupid?
Whatever he is, he's come a long way from the cultivated Prince of the first game. After the opening movie, the Prince and the Ass have a duel, during which the Ass slashes at the Princes face with her sword. The Prince is injured and furiously shouts: "You bitch!", and the fight continues. "You Bitch!", that's the best response he can think of. Do you feel my pain? -__-'
The final problem I have is with the battle system. Don't get me wrong, it works just fine. But it's sort of advertised as the main point of the game. And certainly the complexity and amount of puzzles has been downgraded, while fighting seems to occur more frequently. The battle system is nice but, really, the Prince now knows a couple of new moves and can pick up and use weapons with his left hand as well as his right hand. So, dual-wielding it is. But it defeats one of the more finer points of the game mechanic:
In the first game, the rewinding of time used up a "slot" of sand (The Sands of Time, ya). You got more sand by defeating enemies (sand monsters, in the form of men). The trick was, if you just killed an enemy, you received no sand, and in due time the enemy would regenerate and rejoin the fight. You had to kill them with your Dagger (of Time, naturally) or right after killing them with your sword, plunge your Dagger (of Time) into them, to suck out the sand. And this process was surprisingly hard to execute in the heat of battle. It took just a bit too long to draw the sand.
So, by drawing the sand you could gain the power to use all sorts of time-warping battle abilities plus the possibility to rewind the game, but in the process you risked getting your ass whipped while filling your sand slots. Or you could disregard the sand altogether, which made battles more straightforward (just beat enough enemies to allow you to escape the whole situation), but your time-bending abilities were very limited. The choices added a strategic element to the battles. You had to plan your strikes in advance to create openings for using your Dagger.
In The Warrior Within, you still have the sand slots, but instead of having to actively seek out refills the dead enemies just more or less randomly refill your sand slots (Why do they turn into sand when they die? They aren't sand monsters like the enemies in the first game.), without you having to utilize any tools. The enemies also die permanently when killed with normal sword attacks (which goes to prove that they really aren't sand monsters). So all you need to do is hack away. Yes, you can utilize weapons dropped by the enemies, and the new steal-the-opponent's-weapon-and-stab-him-w
(Oh, and as a final note: If you have to put sounds into the game menu, pleasepleaseplease don't choose the sound of sword striking sword. There's enough sounds of fighting without the menu navigation process sounding like a damn battlefield.)
Now, don't get me wrong. The Warrior Within is actually a pretty good game and I really enjoy playing it. Not only that, it's actually a great game at times. I only complain because I feel it was a step in the wrong direction. Had The Sands of Time been a more mediocre game, this sort of decline would've rendered The Warrior Within a horrible game. But as such, it withstands the stupidities rather well. It just seems like an awful waste. Once again the attempt to add something to the story and to the game world actually broke the magic. This time it was not that serious, but somewhat disappointing nonetheless.
End of ranting! Whew, I feel so much better now that I got all that out of my system.
But! There's something honestly good about the game as well! I think the quote "When a man knows he is going to die, the impossible doesn't seem so hard." is genuinely good. It's the only time the Prince manages to sound tragic and proud, instead of arrogant and stupid.