I have written on more than one occasion, including last week, about my desire to see developers take risks and give us new games over sequels and remakes.
As much of a prick as I can be about it, there are some exceptions to this rule of innovation for me. If a series of games can capture my heart and imagination on a consistent basis while maintaining its own steady evolution, I will snatch up every entry bearing its name.
Prince of Persia did that for me, beginning with the absolutely magical Sands of Time and continuing through the glorious 2008 game, simply titled Prince of Persia.
Unfortunately, if rumors of the Prince’s future are true, we have already borne witness to his death.
The story that has made the rounds on many forums and gossip sites is that a new Prince of Persia was shown to members of the British press behind closed doors during this year’s E3 presentation. No concrete information or hard evidence has surfaced since, so it’s either bullshit or Ubisoft did one hell of a job making sure the secret never got out. A release date, characters, or even what systems the game will call home – none of these are available. One tidbit that has popped up, however, troubles me even more than Dead Space 3’s co-op.
“Sources” say that the next PoP game, not likely to make an appearance before 2013, will be moving away from its platforming and puzzle-solving roots in favor of a more action-oriented and combat-focused experience, something akin to God of War. Of course, believing rumors is always a great risk and I prefer not to speculate on hearsay. In this case, though, it is a move that would not shock me.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time did as much for the latter aspect of the action/adventure genre as Resident Evil 4 did for the former. Controlling the prince was an effortless breeze; running along walls, shimmying over ledges, and jumping nearly impossible heights and lengths took seconds to learn. Ubisoft Montreal had recently crafted the first real rival to Solid Snake with Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell, and this new Prince of Persia had critics and fans raving about every last nuance. I can remember playing the game on a tiny monitor I had attached to my PS2, and even with the absence of a large TV screen, I was sucked into this magical world and never wanted to leave.
To this day, I don’t think Sands of Time gets the credit it deserves. The sequels, God of War, the newer Tomb Raider games, Assassin’s Creed, Uncharted – all of them owe their basic running, jumping, climbing and swinging mechanics to the prince. The voiceover work was brilliant casting – Yuri Lowenthal’s vibrancy and sarcasm gave the prince a life of his own and was a breath of fresh air against the typical brooding antihero. Of course, they did attempt to turn the prince into just that in the sequel Warrior Within, but righted their mistakes with his character in The Two Thrones. This trilogy remains near and dear to my heart, with each game jumping out at me for different reasons, but none of them achieved the perfection of gaming quite like Sands of Time.
These games also spawned a movie in 2010 starring Jake Gyllenhaal as the Prince. As usual, movie critics slammed a film based on a game, but I thought the atmosphere was portrayed well. Another game in the universe, The Forgotten Sands, was released at the same time as the film. While I enjoyed this bit of nostalgia, the world of Prince of Persia had already moved on.
Whenever a company decides to name a reboot/remake without a number or subtitle, it’s a commitment to a new direction. In 2008, Prince of Persia blew me away just as much as The Sands of Time had done five years prior. I have yet to see a game’s art style eclipse what this new PoP did. As much as I loved Sands of Time, I never got the impression that I could get lost inside the palace. This new game made me believe I could go anywhere I wanted to in the desolate world that somehow maintained its own sinister beauty, and with Elika’s powers constantly at your side, there was nothing stopping you from doing whatever you wished.
While there was some more combat in this new entry as well as The Forgotten Sands, Prince of Persia’s bread and butter has always been navigation. I get the same satisfaction out of scaling walls and somersaulting ledges in these games as I do when I take a chainsaw to a Locust’s head in Gears of War. I hope Ubisoft takes this to heart if and when they decide to revitalize Prince of Persia. Even Electronic Arts is still planning another Mirror’s Edge, a game which did not sell ten million copies but found a cult following including myself. Considering that Ubisoft came away from E3 as one of few companies putting serious dough into a brand new game (Watchdogs), I don’t have them pegged as one of the evil, money-hungry publishers. I hope I can be proven right for once.