Warrior, come out and play.
The Prince of Persia made his debut back in 1989 as a deft swordsman wearing a turban and M.C. Hammer pants. He leapt over bottomless pits, avoided spike traps and whacked at menacing foes, an Eastside version of Indiana Jones. He was cute, suave and deadly, not unlike Game Revolution.
But who would have guessed that when he turned fifteen, the boy wonder would be such a nasty grouch? Indeed, things have taken a turn for the dark in Prince of Persia: Warrior Within, a violent episode in the life of the Prince filled with cool combat, tricky puzzles and a couple rather annoying gameplay flaws.
Prince of Persia: Warrior Within takes place a few years after the conclusion of The Sands of Time. The Prince has said goodbye to the days of princess-rescuing and has taken up life on the lam. It turns out that by messing with the Sands of Time, the Prince created a cosmic boo-boo in the world timeline and is now being relentlessly hunted by the Dahaka, a sort of avenging Balrog of darkness. To stop the insanity, our hero must pull a Marty McFly and journey back to the Island of Time to stop the Sands from ever being created in the first place. Sounds like a plan to me.
Unlike the rich and vibrant colors of Sands of Time, the landscape of Warrior Within is generally dark and damp, giving the game a much more mature feel. Even the Prince is on edge. The wide-eyed, swashbuckling savior of years past has been replaced by a bloodthirsty savage who often looks more like a villain than a hero. Those of you that have been with the Prince since the beginning might be a little disconcerted by this change, although most pleasantly desensitized modern gamers probably won't care much.
Taking a cue from a few other time-traveling games, Warrior Within has you flipping back and forth between two time periods in order to successfully navigate obstacles. What is done in the past will have an effect on the present, though not the other way around. The game doesn't really make a fine point of this fact, but your quest will require fairly extensive amounts of warping between time gates.
The sinister inhabitants of the Island of Time would rather not see the Prince succeed, but this time around, the Prince has some nasty tricks up his sleeve; namely, a brand new fighting system with which he can apply a liberal dose of acrobatic whoop-ass. Abilities like bouncing off walls and flipping over enemies make a return alongside a handful of rougher new moves, including stealing weapons, twirling around poles and strangling unsuspecting baddies.
More importantly, the Prince can now wield two weapons at once, unleashing a flurry of powerful blows that are limited by the strength of the second weapon. The array of weaponry is pretty impressive, although the blades themselves are about as reliable as a toaster from a second-hand store and will break after a short period of time. It's a good thing that the next weapon is only as far away as the next enemy.
The new "Free-Form" combat system allows the Prince to chain together various combos depending on whether he's got one or two weapons in hand. It works decently enough and the acrobatic moves are visually appealing. They also lead to some of the more brutal kills, such as vicious beheadings. Still, battles generally devolve into a select few combos, usually involving the ones that cuts right to the chase and hurl your enemy over one of the game's many cliffs. I'm happy to see that the developers included different combo options - they're just not particularly well-balanced.
They are easy to perform, however, thanks to the game's intuitive control scheme. The Prince's new moves are done simply at the touch of a button, a testament to the ease of control provided by Warrior Within. The fight scenes and acrobatic performances look complex, but they're easy to perform.
While the Prince is well-equipped to slice and dice the bad guys, he's also got some handy magical powers. Making a return is the ability to rewind time to cancel out that accidental cliff plunge or enemy attack. The power to slow time is also required to get past some of the game's obstacles, which is really Warrior Within's other half.
In keeping with the series, there's a significant platformer component. As before, the Prince has the ability to run along walls, flip off of objects and climb columns in order to solve the game's many environmental puzzles. He's picked up a few more nifty tricks, including rope wall runs for extra distance and a curtain slide straight out of a pirate movie. Whereas most new action-platformers are heavy on the action and low on the platformer, Warrior Within takes both parts with equal consideration. You'll frequently be hopping from ledge to ledge and running from wall to wall to reach your goal. Those familiar with the Sands of Time know what a challenge this can be, and Warrior Within continues the tradition of obscuring the Prince's escape route.
This time, though, the ante is upped in the forms of numerous collapsing cliffs and crumbling ledges. Often you'll have no idea where to go, a situation made all the more difficult with some scenarios deteriorating beneath your feet, leaving you absolutely zero time to check out the landscape. It's certainly difficult, but at times grows so frustrating that you'll have to reign in urges to see just how far the controller will fly.
Warrior Within manages to address at least one of the problems of its predecessor; namely, the small number of enemy types. Make no mistake about it - this game is packed with plenty of different bad guys hell-bent on your demise. Big bad guys, small bad guys, and even a handful of bad girls make up the core of your adversaries. There are also lots of bad things out to get you. The aforementioned Dahaka in particular is a nasty foe, giving chase to our hero at a number of different points throughout the game to create an impending sense of doom.
The troublesome camera angles definitely don't help you deal with all these threats, as they seem to have been set up primarily for fancy cinematographic effect rather than ease of control. This has become a somewhatcommon practice, but try telling that to the guy who keeps jumping off a cliff or can't find the exit due to a bum camera angle.
Although the camera issue mars the experience a bit, Warrior Within is otherwise a good looking game. The darker tone and copious amounts of blood definitely help it earn its M rating and the game runs smoothly enough, although it's not quite as sharp as its predecessor. The magical haze and environmental effects that were found in Sands of Time are only found in bits and pieces here. This might be due in part to the game's darker direction. Across the board, expect a pretty good performance from each of the console versions. The PS2 version gets the short end of the stick when it comes to graphical power, but at this point, that's expected.
The sound fares worse. Enemies emit a really annoying shriek as you chop them to pieces (the kind of annoying that attracts people over to find out what the hell you're doing), and the voiced taunts from foes as well as the Prince are less than stellar. Aggressive metal tracks don't do any wonders for the fantasy world, either.
The Xbox version sports some Live capability with a Time Attack and Survival mode, but neither of these make any significant contribution to the overall package. Aside from some unlockable artwork and recap videos, there isn't much else to Warrior Within.
Prince of Persia: Warrior Within's new tone isn't really the direction we were hoping they'd take the series, but the action is intense and the new combat system is pretty cool. Still, a downgrade in the look and sound combined with increasingly annoying platforming and camera issues get in the way of this warrior's ultimate victory.