Gun ? Check! Kevlar ? Check! Pletterpet ? Check! GO GO GO…

But…what should we make ? Hmmm…let’s start with a Prototype first.

Posted by Pletterpet on June 18, 2009

Prototype (PC)

Prototype (PC)

This past weekend I spent quite a bit of time with the new title, Prototype, and I have to say I was actually pleasantly surprised…

Before purchasing the game, I thought it to be another gung-ho-run-around-destroying-everything-in-sight-mindless-action-adventure game.  I thought it was going to be a game filled with the same thing over and over again.  And to a degree it is.  But what sets it apart from previous titles with similar mechanics, is a description that I haven’t used in quite some time to describe a game.  This game is fun.

The story plays out as follows:  The protagonist is a man by the name of Alex Mercer.  We join his story where he escapes from a facility where goodness knows what was happening.  Only to come face to face with horror unfolding before his eyes and a couple of guns pointed at his head.  He gets shot ala execution style, but miraculously gets to his feet, vaults a 7-foot wall and immediately left in the capable hands of the player.  An interesting start then to this adventure one will embark on.  What is this man ?  Yet more importantly you might ask (with an evil grin on your face):  what is he capable of ?

As the story progresses, it comes to light that Alex has been infected by some kind of virus.  Yet for unknown reasons, it’s lending him super powers beyond the man in the street’s wildest dreams.  These powers include: fashioning his arms into blades/claws/hammers (described as moving biomass to his arms), covering his entire body in a suit of thick armor, jumping over buildings, high speed and gliding.  To name but a few.  And with these powers, is exactly where the fun (and the heart) of the game lies.

Get high much ?

Get high much ?

Moving around the city is as easy as pointing Alex in a direction, and holding the sprint button.  Alex will start running, picking up speed as he goes along.  There’s a certain kind of satisfaction watching him tuck his head in, picking up speed and watching the ground crack under every step with the sheer force with which he pushes himself onwards.  Holding down the sprint button also enters “parkour mode”.  If you’re sprinting, Alex will automatically vault over any obstacles that happen to be in the way.  Be it cars, rubble, low walls etc.  But the final nail in the coffin of fun, is when sprinting up to a building.  Alex simply won’t stop.  He’ll attach himself to the building and start running up the side of the building.  With the same glass shattering, wall breaking force his footsteps produce, you’ll speed up any and every building to perch yourself on the top to have your share of a bird’s eye view of the city.

Holding down the jump button, biomass will build up at Alex’s feet and once reaching critical mass and releasing the button, will vault Alex up to ridiculous heights.  Add to this a movement upgrade (we’ll get to upgrades in a bit) that allows Alex to glide, moving through the city is both effortless and huge amounts of fun.

But this game isn’t only about movement.  Combat has more than a 50% share in the festivities.  Combat is normally a collection of punching and kicking combos with some special moves thrown in for some extra flavour.  Add to that upgradable abilities and attacks, and you’ve got something that won’t get old very soon.

As mentioned before, Alex can fashion his arms into blades, claws, a flexible arm with a pointy bit at the end, large fists (that act like huge hammers) or an immensely strong pair of arms.  Each of these “weapons” has a combo set of it’s own.  From slicing and dicing, to creating huge shockwaves of damage, to swinging your arm around and damaging enemies in a large circle around Alex.  It’s all fun on it’s own, but that’s not where it stops.  As you unlock every weapon, you gradually unlock new moves for each which are up for purchase in the upgrades menu.

Alex has a range of special attacks

Alex has a range of special attacks

Throughout the game, Alex is awarded Evolution Points (EP) for just about everything he does.  From completing missions and side-missions, to collecting collectibles scattered around the city.  These points are then used to upgrade Alex’s abilities.  Sprinting speed and general movement abilities can be upgraded (jump higher, run faster, glide further etc), defensive abilities can be bought and upgraded (shield and armor abilities) all the way through to attacking abilities (one ability which I found quite neat, is to allow Alex to enter Critical Mass mode – gaining health over 100%.  In this mode, Alex can initially execute one Devastator move – a special move that does HUGE amounts of particularly satsifying damage.  This can be upgraded to 3 Devastator attacks before critical mass is expended. Fun!).

An important mechanic to the game, is Alex’s ability to absorb anybody he encounters in the streets.  Walk up to a citizen / marine, pick them up and click absorb to physically absorb and become them.  This power can also be upgraded resulting in faster and stealthier means of absorbing others.  This mechanic directly fuels the web of intrigue which facilitates filling in the blanks of the story for the player.  Scattered across the city, are citizens of interest.  People that know something related to what’s happened to Alex.  These targets can be absorbed and their memories used to piece together the bigger picture.  It’s an interesting way of furthering the story.

This absorb ability also allows Alex to hide from the military if he’s being hunted.  Get out of sight and absorb a citizen to get away.  Alex can also switch between his normal form and the last citizen he absorbed at will.  Useful for quick getaways.

Gives new meaning to "Catching a Cab"

Gives new meaning to "Catching a Cab"

Scattered throughout the city, are events that Alex can partake in.  As you complete main missions, more events become available.  These events are simply there to earn more evolution points.  They range from attempting to glide and land as close to a target as possible; running across rooftops and up buildings through checkpoints as fast as possible; absorb a certain amount of marked individuals within a time limit to fighting alongside the military to kill as many infected as possible.  These events serve their purpose of breaking the story grinding a bit, but they can get a bit monotonous after a while. 

As the game progresses, military bases and hives will pop up throughout the city.  From time to time, a military base can be infiltrated and soldiers inside the base absorbed to up Alex’s efficiency with weapons, tanks and helicopters.  These abilities appear in the upgrades menu, but the only way to obtain them are through absorbing the appropriate soldiers.  The hives on the other hand, can be described as a “nest” of infected.  The area surrounding a hive also becomes more populated with infected the closer to the hive you get.  These hives can be destroyed for lots of EP.

Overall then, there’s a lot to do in the game.  A lot that will keep you busy, but some of which might get old pretty quickly.  But the game more than makes up for this with an engaging story.  Something I think most people will be tempted to do, is hunt through the city for all web of intrigue targets (131 in total) before finishing the main missions.  To find out the story behind the story will probably be worth it.

So my initial thoughts of this game being a gung-ho-run-around-destroying-everything-in-sight-mindless-action-adventure game is halfway correct.  The words that can be salvaged from that description are “destroying, everything, action, adventure”.  It really is a fun game to play.  Even if it just serves for the player to come back from time to time to cause some chaos.  I think the reason for my initial thoughts on this game would be that so many games are following this formula of sandbox environment with lots of destruction, upgradable powers and a hero shrouded in mystery.  A game that’s soon to be released which is basically a carbon copy of Prototype, will be Infamous.  But that’s only speculation on my part.  The initial descriptions of the game seem to follow the exact same mechanics as Prototype, but it obviously remains to be seen.

I’d recommend Prototype to anybody looking for something that’s fun, hiding a good story and not too difficult to get into.  It was a refreshing “waste” of a few hours that I haven’t felt in a long time.  I think everybody who plays this game, will be walking down the streets eyeing every building for possible escape routes if the cops were to jump out from behind a bush…

One of Alex's devastator attacks

One of Alex's devastator attacks

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Achievement Unlocked: Start the name calling

Posted by Pletterpet on June 2, 2009

So it’s been forever and a day since I’ve posted, but something happened along the way.  Life happened.  It happens to us all at some stage and it’s unavoidable.  But here I am, alive and kicking, still pressing buttons and still kicking NPC ass.  So to shake off the rust, I’ve had my dose of DB40 and a post about a pet-hate debate that rages amongst gamers.  Achievements.

Achievement Whore, Achievement Junkie, Achievement Addict…. We all (most of us) know these terms and what they stand for.  And I’d venture a guess that at least 60% (maybe more ?) of the people who know what the terms mean, feel a kind of hatred towards the people being described by them.

For the people in the dark, somebody would be tagged as an achievement whore if all they care about, is getting 100% achievements for a game, instead of simply playing the game.  But I have a theory about achievements, though…

Roll back a couple of years and achievements are non-existent.  Games are games, you play them from beginning to end, and that’s that.  Play it again if you like, or pack it away to play another day.  Gradually though, developers have introduced achievements to games.  Milestones, if you like.  Most of which have nothing to do with the actual story or progression of the game, some that do.  But what was the drive behind it all.  Why introduce these “evils of gaming society” ?

My simple theory is: lazyness.  Current day developers saw the quick exit to game longevity that achievements provided, and took it.  Most achievements are simply there to extend the length of the game.  Be it for the player to achieve something ridiculous like “Cactiilicious: Kill 1000 enemies with your knife by jumping and landing on one foot before stabbing them and having a cactus in your ass for every second kill” or simply make the player play for longer “Genocide: Kill 10,000 enemies”.  Now I’m all for having longer games to play, but at what cost is this being introduced ?

The cost I’d say, are dumbed down games.  Short and un-imaginitive stories, gameplay spoon-feeding the player, gameplay that feels awkward and generally not very good quality games.  If I sit and think about all the “recent” (last 5 years or more) games that have been released, and try to remember characters from the games and generally the plot, I end up being able to count them on one hand: Chronicles of Riddick – Assault on Dark Athena, Fallout 3, Dead Space, Oblivion…

Yes, Oblivion.  That’s the gap I feel between Fallout 3 and any “worhtwhile” game before that.  I might be leaving out a few good ones inbetween there, but why did I forget them ?…. (And on a side note, I probably didn’t play every game that was released during that time, but still, my point remains).

Long has it been since I had a bunch of games to play all at once where all of them were captivating and had me nailed to the screen right to the finish.  A game where the story’s urging me to continue and not give up.  Nowadays, I get bored after playing the first few levels.  I simply don’t “feel” the games anymore.

Sure, Chronicles of Riddick and Fallout 3 have achievements of their own.  But those achievements are story related and make you feel like you’re actually progressing through the game.  It’s not a yard-stick of how good / how cunning / how ridiculous you are, rather one showing you “Hey, you’re getting there. Hang in there”.  After achieving the achievements for finishing Riddick on the hardest setting, I have no desire to immediately restart and try to get the ones for finishing on Medium difficulty.  The simple reason for that: I’m already satisfied by what the game provided.  An excellent story painted in an excellent way and allowing the player to interact with the universe in their own unique way.  There’s no need for me to re-visit this game immediately as it already served it’s purpose of immersing me in a universe outside of the reality I live in and tell me a story that I actually want to hear / see the ending of.

Down the line I’ll probably re-visit these games.  And maybe then I’ll follow a different path and get the other achievements in the process. But I won’t be  re-visiting them for the achievements, I’ll be re-visiting them because I want to re-live the experience they provided (and possibly because all the games at that moment in time will be even more dumbed down games with ridiculous achievements ??).

As with anything, there’s two stories to be heard.  A flip side of the coin.  And this is no exception.  For some people half the fun of a game, is the bragging rights you have when actually achieving the impossible as it were.  To work out a system, put it in motion and feel the glory when the tab “Achievement Unlocked: Cactiilicious” appears on-screen.  For that brief moment, you feel on top of the world.  Free from the shackles of real life, like you’ve literally just achieved something that was nigh impossible and you’re better for it.  And then you turn your attention to your next goal: “Monkey Man: Finish all racing events by operating the vehicle pedals with only your hands”.

Achievements do have their place in current day gaming society then.  Be it to cater for the crazy folks out there who enjoy destruction and mayhem in their games, or the gamers who enjoy wading through a story.  The problem I have though, is that achievements are being used to cover bad game and story design.  In which case, they shouldn’t be there at all.  In a game like Flatout it makes absolute sense to have an achievement for wrecking another car in a unique way.  To create chaos and get rewarded for it.  But in a game that’s story-driven (supposed to be story-driven), I feel there’s no place for achievements of that nature.  Rather reward the player for digging deeper into the story.  Reward them for fleshing out the background story of an NPC which requires some extra searching, but isn’t necessarily key to completing the game.

In essence then, I’m asking that developers carefully consider the achievements they put into games.  If they realise their game is too short, don’t try to extend the life by adding another achievement.  Rather give the people who are going to fork out their hard-earned cash something worht paying for.  Plugging the shortcomings with achievements, is like plugging a leaking dam with cheese.  It’s going to work for a while, but after some time it’s going to start to smell.

So achievements aren’t all bad then.  They’re simply misplaced maybe.  The expression “In the wrong place at the wrong time” applies quite nicely here methinks.

Then there’s the case of gamers vs gamers.  We shouldn’t be labelling people based on what their preferences are.  To be calling them names because they’re trying to achieve 100% for a game you’re playing as well, simply means that it’s bothering you that you don’t have 100% either.  Just suck on that for a while…

The only difference between gamers who are trying to reach all the goals and gamers who prefer the game as is, is personality.  It’s that tiny difference of personality…a difference in opinion…it’s exactly the thing that makes our 3rd planet from the sun, such an interesting place to live on.  So pack away the pitch-forks and torches, and rather laugh at the ridicule you feel for the achievements.  In the words of Dane Cook “Dude, you won’t believe what happened last night!  Go ahead, smell my eyes….”.  Don’t hate the player, hate the game =)

And specifically in South-Africa, the cost of games have gone up a considerable amount.  PC games cost anything around R450 ($57) for a standard edition new release and console games turn around the R850 mark ($106 @ exchange rate of 8.0).  Asking people to fork out that much money for a single game is making everybody jittery.  If I’m unsure about a game, I’d much rather play it somewhere else or borrow it than go ahead and buy it, and it turns out to be a crapful waste of my money.  Game developers need to realise that people aren’t buying games anymore, they’re investing their money in a passtime.  All we’re asking is to be given something that’s worth the money we spend on it.  We’re simply asking that some extra time be spent on developing the game a bit more. I’m sure the public will respond if developers were to consider that.  Even though we’re gamers, we’re still people too you know…

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The Underworld beckons….heed it’s call

Posted by Pletterpet on December 31, 2008

Tomb Raider 1

Tomb Raider 1

Some games simply fade away with time and some stand their ground against the test of time.  And then there’s the special group of games that feel like they’ve been around forever.  One such series would have to be the Tomb Raider series of games.

It feels like Lara Croft has been gracing PC’s, TV’s and portable gaming screens for nigh uncountable amounts of years.  Yet, the very first Tomb Raider was released in 1996.  A mere 12 years ago (Granted, most gamers are only 12 years old – well, that’s what it sounds like to me when listening to teamspeak in Team Fortress….whining, whining, whining…. –  In which case the series would literally have been around forever for them…).

To say Tomb Raider brought something new to gaming would be a severe understatement.  It was in a class of it’s own.  It raised the bar of gaming (it raised it, bent it, mutilated it, mounted it and made the bar it’s b**ch).  It was an instant hit and classic and gamers couldn’t get enough of the game and it’s heroine (be it because of her physical attributes or because it was actually a damn good 3D Platformer).  The game was set to go down in history and be immortalized.

Tomb Raider II

Tomb Raider II

It saw a sequel in 1997 (Tomb Raider II) which was received with open arms and continued the awesomeness brought on by the first game.  Yet after that, the series saw a steady decline in story and quality.  Subsequent releases in 1998 (Tomb Raider III), 1999 (Tomb Raider : The Last Revelation), 2000 (Tomb Raider Chronicles) and 2003 (Tomb Raider : Angel of Darkness) had the series moving further and further away from what made it special.  Gone were the massive open tombs and mysterious locations and added were more aggresive gameplay, darker stories and games that felt like they were losing the plot / missing the magic.  Yet fans stayed true to the series and chart ratings were still good.

A lot of people thought then that Tomb Raider’s end had arrived.  It had seen it’s last

Tomb Raider III

Tomb Raider III

wave of success.  It would have to get off it’s boogy board, get out of the sea and sit in the sand watching the next generations of games having their time amongst the waves.  Yet the end would not be now.  For, the boys and girls at Crystal Dynamics thought that they could breathe new life into the series.  With Crystal Dynamics being the talented people behind the Soul Reaver games (which I’m pretty sure drew it’s inspiration from Tomb Raider), only good things could come from this announcement.

And they delivered their weight in gold with 2006’s release of Tomb Raider Legend.  A shiny new graphics engine and a return to the sereis’ roots saw Tomb Raider just about resurrected from the dead.  Fans were ecstatic and newcomers to the series loved what it brought to the table.  Crystal Dynamics continued to create another installment with Tomb Raider: Anniversary in 2007.  This time the game would be kind of a tribute to the very first game from back in 1996.  Anniversary was a semi remake of the first game using the new engine developed for Legend.  Epic puzzles and massive locations made a return and fans felt at home nuzzled snugly between the two things that made the original famous (*ahem*…no, not those two things…..).

Tomb Raider Underworld

Tomb Raider Underworld

Fast forward to the closing weeks of 2008, and we are yet again blessed with another Tomb Raider installment namely Underworld.  The question on everybody’s lips would ofcourse be if it lives up to expectations.  Read on to see if it does.

The story for Underworld is a continuation of the story told in Legend.  Lara is searching for a way to Avalon, the mystical resting place of King Arthur, and the place where Amanda claimed Lara’s mother is at the end of Tomb Raider: Legend.  Her search leads her from the Meditteranean Sea, to coastal Thailand, Mexico, the Arctic and other interesting locations.  What’s immediately noticeable when firing up the game though, is the graphics.  It’s prettier than ever.

In-game Screenshot

In-game Screenshot

Lara’s character model has been refined to a sexier / sassier version and her movement repertoire has been expanded.  Navigating the environment is easy although it’s also where I find my first flaw of the game: camera control (well on PC anyway.  I can’t speak for the Xbox or Playstation versions as I haven’t played them yet).  One has to constantly fight the game for control of the camera.  The game responds as if it doesn’t want you to touch the camera at all.  Moving the camera to anywhere but directly behind Lara, the game engine starts to move it back to where it originally was.  It can be quite a pain, but one learns to live with it after a while.

Location size has also been increased.  Levels feel massive and puzzles often span across the entire level bringing back that feeling of epic puzzleness.  The terrains look amazing and everything has been done to make the levels seem real and awesome.  Weather now also plays a part in some areas.  For example, if it starts to rain, Lara is prone to slip more when jumping and grabbing ledges requiring the player to make the save to stop Lara plummeting to her death.  All in all, every location is a pleasure to play.  It’s gorgeous and sometimes you’re left simply standing around and panning the camera slowly to take in the environment in it’s entirety.

Combining the new character model and weather, something new and interesting has arisen.  Lara’s character is also now affected by the surroundings.  If it’s raining and Lara kneels, mud will be left on her leg.  Been running in the rain and start rolling around indoors ?  Lara will be covered with dirt.  And running back into the rain will wash it off eventually.  A lot of effort has been put into making the world / game a believable one and it shows.  Lara also interacts with the environment now in expected manners.  Pushing away foliage, shielding from intense heat and little mannerisms bring the game alive.

As previously mentioned, Lara’s moves have now also been extended.  A simple example would be poles protruding from walls.  In all the previous games they would only be there for swinging.  In Underworld, Lara can now perch ontop of these and balance along them extending some of the puzzles and allowing the player a bigger feeling of freedom.  The game suffers heavily on some levels from clipping problems though.  A few times I’ve found myself halfway through an object I shouldn’t have been enabled to enter and the character model would “pop” uncontrollably between being outside the object and inside.  Also, there are reports of some timed events not happening, leaving the player stuck and having to resort to re-loading a previous game.  Luckily I haven’t experienced that, but I’ve experienced something similar.

Puzzles resetting to a half state.  What I mean with this, is sometimes you’d do a puzzle which requires the moving

In-game Screenshot

In-game Screenshot

of stones to jump on for instance.  Climbing up some walls and fighting some enemies later, you get to where you have to jump on the stones you moved, only to miss the jump and die.  No problem though, because Underworld is very generous with the save checkpoints.  So playing from the last checkpoint , the player easily gets to the spot again only to find the stones have been reset.  The player would probably have to a) re-trace his / her steps to replay the puzzle completely, b) load a previous saved game or c) switch off the game in frustration.  This only happened to me twice though, but still it’s twice too many.

As far as the story goes, it’s interesting from the word go.  Learning more about Norse mythology as one goes along doesn’t get old and Lara now has a Journal where, as the player progresses through a level, more information is unlocked pertaining to the myths and legends.  Also, this is one of the few games where it’s not much of a burden to watch cut-scenes.  The scenes are done in such a way that the characters look and behave in a completely believable manner and they never get dull to watch.

Overall then, the game is a great package.  It’s got enough to keep you coming back in order to progress and uncover more and the story is interesting enough to keep you hooked for the times that you do come back.  In terms of re-play value though, the game doesn’t offer much apart from coming back to collect all the hidden relics and artifacts one missed.  But I suspect only the very hardcore gamers and fans would do that.  But I do predict though, that in the future this will be one of the games one returns to when feeling a bit nostalgic and looking for something older to play.

I’d definitely add Tomb Raider: Underworld to my list of must-play titles for everybody.  And if the only thing you happen to own is a Nintendo DS, then you don’t have to worry about feeling left out.  The DS version of Underworld is something amazing in it’s own (I’ll write a short review about it as well).  Go ahead and dabble in the Underworld.  It’s well worth one’s time.

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The Prince hath cometh again

Posted by Pletterpet on December 23, 2008

Prince of Persia (1989)

Prince of Persia (1989)

Now let me start off by saying, I am a HUGE fan of the Prince of Persia series of games.  And I’m not talking about the latest release and the Sands of Time trilogy. I’m talking about the original 1989 PoP and it’s 1994  sequel.  Simply put, the exact moment I laid eyes on the first PoP game, was the moment my love for platform games started.  And it has only grown since!

The first PoP captured everyone’s imagination.  Be it with it’s fluid character animation that translated human movement to a digital format quite remarkably for it’s time, or with it’s interesting yet refreshing fight dynamic.  It was ahead of it’s time in just about every way and an instant classic.

The Shadow and the Flame

Prince of Persia 2 : The Shadow and the Flame

PoP2 continued to build on the success of the first.  With updated graphics and a deeper storyline, it raised the bar ever higher of what gamers expected of games.  I vividly remember playing the game and stomping my feet and tensing up at intense junctions.  Such was the immersion the fluid character movements and the game dynamics brought to the player.  

I believe just about every programmer / company who were thinking of making a platform game in those times, were scrutinizing the PoP games carefully in order to not fall in it’s shadow.  Only one game ever achieved the same level as the original Pop, and that would be Flashback.  Asking me to choose which is better between the original PoP and Flashback, would be like torturing me.  I regard both as the best platform games to date.

Sands of Time

Prince of Persia : Sands of Time

Moving on with the times then,  and the prevalent course games were taking, was the introduction of 3D.  So in 1999, PoP took the leap (no pun intended) to 3D.  To say it wasn’t well received by fans would be an understatement.  The graphics were good, the animation was still fluid and overall it wasn’t a bad game at all.  But it didn’t have the same charm the two games before it had.  

So it was with bated breath that each and every PoP fan awaited the release of Ubisoft’s attempt at taking the Prince to a new dimension.  Everybody was skeptical after the announcement, yet secretly everybody was hoping it would be the game to breathe life back into the series.

And breathe it did.  It huffed and puffed and blew the community down. 2003’s Sands of Time was a masterful creation.  It re-captured the soul of what the PoP games were :  running, jumping, climbing trees… (well, without the trees part).  And most of it’s success could probably be attributed to the involvement of the original’s creator, Jordan Mechner.  It was an instant hit and fans across the world rejoiced.  And rejoice some more they did when Ubisoft announced that the franchise would be a trilogy.

Warrior Within

Prince of Persia : Warrior Within

Continuing the trilogy, was 2004’s Warrior Within.  With a darker setting, a level of violence earning it an M rating and a punk rock soundtrack, the Prince was deviating from the path he was destined to walk upon.  Like a rebel teenager it seemed he was against everything that made the series spectacular.  The absence of Jordan Mechner’s input in this title was obvious and in interviews with him, he commented that he didn’t like the direction the game took.  Fans were fearing the worst for the future of the trilogy.

The Two Thrones

Prince of Persia : The Two Thrones

But in 2005, Ubisoft surprised fans with the final installment.  The Two Thrones was a careful blend of Sands of Time and Warrior Within.  It wasn’t as dark and moody as the second installment and it had a great story to back it up (although, the story could be confusing to new players to the series).  So the series ended on a high note.  Yet Ubisoft wasn’t finished with the Prince.  There was yet more running, jumping and climbing to be done.

On to 2008’s recently released Prince of Persia then.  Before release, Ubisoft announced that the game will follow a completely new storyline and sport a new graphical style.  And deliver they did.

Prince of Persia (2008)

Prince of Persia (2008)

The new PoP looks incredible.  It’s a blend of fantasy and comic.  Or at times it feels like an epic clash between the two (epic, but in a fantastic kind of way).  Looking at the game, it feels like you’re drowning in a sea of colours.  But in a good way.  It’s like dying because you’ve had too much ice-cream and you got heartfrost.  You die, yes,  but what a way to go!  You’re too scared to get close to the screen to admire the minute details on the characters and environment in fear of smudging the paint.  For that’s what the game looks like.  A beautifully crafted oil painting where the colours jump out at you, suck out your eyeballs and envelope you in a blanket of fuzzyness……

*ahem*  Did I get carried away ?  Well, suffice to say, it’s beautiful to look at.

What about story and gameplay then ?  The important bits !?  Well, Ubisoft delivered there as well.  The story revolves around the unfortunate Prince (who’s name is never revealed in the game), who stumbles upon a damsel in distress.  And like any good gentleman, he feels obliged to lend a hand.  Landing him smack dab in the middle of an age-old battle between the good of that land and an evil that was, up until the moment he got involved, locked away safely.  The damsel turns out to be a Princess called Elika and so the duo set off to purge the land of the evil flowing through it.

The story is interesting and it’s helped along by dialogue between the two main protagonists.  This dialogue can be accessed by the player hence he / she isn’t forced to listen to it.  When standing close to Elika, the player presses a button to engage in conversation and after each junction in the conversation, the player is returned to free roaming.  So he / she can choose to start playing again, or press the button once more for more dialogue.  It’s a nice mechanic that Ubisoft has introduced bearing in mind that some people only want to play the game and don’t care much for story nowadays.

In-game Screenshot

In-game Screenshot

Controlling the Prince is easy as cake.  I mean, it’s a piece of pie.  The dynamics are still the same as in the previous installments.  Running along walls, climbing pillars, shimmeying and making great big jumps all return.  Along with a few extras.  Roof running makes an appearance (like wall running, but for short distances along the roof) as well as unlockable power plates (to which I will get in a moment).  All of these are initiated with a single button press by the player along with pointing the Prince in a direction.  Pretty simple and easy.

To vary the gameplay a bit, rings are placed along the walls and the roof.  These rings allow the Prince to extend his wall / roof run.  Once the player encounters a ring in at the end of a wall run for instance, he / she needs to press a second button which will make the Prince swing on the ring and extend the wall run.  Miss the button press and the Prince will plummet to his death.  Which leads me to a second interesting mechanic.

You can never die.  If the Prince misses a jump, Elika intervenes with her magic to lend a helping hand (literally).  She will pull you up and drop you on the last solid platform you were standing on.  Some people might say that this is synonymous with nursing / spoon feeding the player.  But it’s actually a great way of keeping the momentum going.  I wouldn’t go as far as saying the game is challenging, but some areas are tricky enough to make you grateful for not having to quit to the main menu and load a saved game for the umpteenth time.  Or to die and find you haven’t saved in quite some time.  It’s a rather clever idea that will keep players positive about the game experience.

In-game screenshot

In-game screenshot

On to fighting then.  And here, the new PoP returns to the dynamics of the very first Prince of Persia.  You fight one enemy at a time and it’s all based on timing and blocking, just like in the 1989 game.  The player can either hold down the block button and wait for an opening to start dishing out the pain, but later in the game the enemies will not stand for that.  They will break through your defences and get you in a tight spot at which point the game will prompt on-screen, which button the player needs to press to get out of the spot of trouble they’re in.  The player has about a second to a second and a half to press the button, and if they miss, Elika will step in and save you at the cost of the enemy regenerating a chunk of it’s health.

The other option, is to press the block button just as an enemy attacks.  This will stun the enemy for a moment and allow the player to queue a combo to make ’em hurt.  Later enemies in the game tend to do the same though, so the fighting doesn’t get old very quickly.  Also, the combo’s one can string together are fun to do.  Some involving Elika’s magical attacks and some with only the Prince tearing it up.  It’s both fun and engaging to do.

The unlockable power plates I mentioned earlier work as follows.  Once you heal a part of the land, that part will be filled with light spheres.  Collect enough of them and you can unlock one of 4 different power plates (with all 4 being unlocked by the end of the game).  These plates kind of resemble old persion astrolabe’s and shows the research the developers did with the artwork.  What these plates do in the game, is allow the player to reach new areas.  Areas which are only accessible once the relevant power plate is unlocked.  This also means re-visiting previous areas to find more light spheres you couldn’t reach.  And as it’s a completely open-ended game (the player can go where he / she pleases apart from being limited by the power plates), it’s another piece of pie.

In closing, the new PoP takes everything it’s learned from the previous games, and builds on it.  And the result is a beautiful melding of fantasy, adventure, story and gameplay.  It’s a title well worth having, and although there isn’t much re-play value in the game, I’d wager you’d go back to the game just to look at the pretty graphics again =)

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The End is nigh

Posted by Pletterpet on December 22, 2008

Between starting a new job, a trip to China, lots of martial arts training and a plethora of games to get through, my time has been quite limited and the blog has suffered under it.  And now we stand at the end of another year and are in preparation for the new year to arrive.

But glad am I to announce that things have cooled down considerably and time I have once more.

Over the next few days (starting later today), I’ll be going over some of the recently released games that game developers have felt to grace us with.  Games like the new Prince of Persia, Tomb Raider Underworld, GTA IV (PC) and more.  Maybe there’s somebody out there who still has some last minute (last second ?!) Christmas shopping to do for a gamer friend / family member.  Or maybe the ones reading this who are fortunate enough to be on holiday, don’t have any games to play and would like a helping hand as to what would be a good way to pass the time.

Nonetheless, it’s good to be back !

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