In Reset Button I said that Prince of Persia was “flawlessly executed”, which, looking back, was a little hyperbole brought about by my love of the game and a desire for brevity. Let me make good by enumerating some of the shortcomings.
It’s a matter of taste, but the saturation of fantastical elements has been maxed out in this entry. In Sands of Time, the buildings and stunts were all semi-plausible in a visual sense. In the latest game, the stunts are preposterous, with barely a nod towards the effects of gravity or friction. The scenery is a lot of abstract platforming with Persian-themed highlights and window dressing. It looks wonderful, but it doesn’t look like there was ever a point where the place made sense as an inhabitable space.
The game suffers from a lack of challenge for advanced players. This is a nice change of pace from all the other games which are aimed only at advanced players, but I have a big-tent view of gaming, and I would have liked if the game could have offered everyone a challenge. My worry is that the next title will over-correct for this, and we’ll get another tedious game of pointless punishment. (This is exactly what happened going from Sands of Time to Warrior Within. The rewind feature and forgiving platforming brought in new people and bored hardcore, and then Warrior Within placated the hardcore and frustrated the newcomers.) But they could ramp up the difficulty without resorting to the cudgel of checkpoint-based practice & punish gameplay. Some suggestions:
|The scratches in the wall don’t make much sense unless the Prince has been platforming here for years, but they provide a visual cue so they can tell the scenery from the platforming sections. It has the side-effect of taking a lot of the sense of mystery and discovery out of the world if you already know what you’re doing.|
- Remove the “trail of breadcrumbs” for platforming. The gameworld has all these scratches on the wall, cluing you in to where you’re supposed to go. It works well for people who aren’t familiar with the genre. (They were invaluable in teaching my wife how to play and giving her clear direction as she learned to spot viable paths through the gameworld.) But for vets this seems like a bit too much hand-holding. Giving an option to remove them would give the game a “puzzle platformer” feel, which is something with which I would be down.
|The Prince can grab onto this brass ring and use it to restore his momentum during a wall run. Doing so is a matter of choice for the player, not a matter of timing.|
- Reduce the tolerances on platforming actions. The game is very forgiving. If you’re running along a wall and you come to a brass ring, you can press a button to have the Prince grab it and use it to extend his (already absurd) wall run. You can press that button almost any time between the moment you begin the run and the moment he falls. As long as you hit the button somewhere in that several-second window, he’ll do it. This takes the focus of the game off of timing and makes it more about broad decision-making. I like that, but veteran platformers hate, hate, hate this. Probably in the same way that I hate auto-aim in an FPS. You’ve cultivated a skill and the game doesn’t give you a chance to use it.
On “hard” difficulty, the prince could reach for the ring when you hit the button. If you’re too far away, this reach ruins the wall run and causes him to fall.
- Offer a “hard” combat mode. In the game, if you get into a situation where you would “die”, Elika saves you with her magic and the enemy regains part of their health. From observation, it seems like the first time this happens, they recover 1/2 of any damage. (So if they were nearly dead, they will be back to 50%. If they were at 50%, they will go up to 75%, and if they were at 90%, they will go up to 95%.) This effect diminishes with each successive “death”, going from 1/2 to 1/3, 1/4, and so on. (Again, these are just guesses based on observing the game.)
I was never all that into the combat, so in a lame bit of exploiting I would just let the bad guy get in a free “kill” right away, thus reducing the risk of the upcoming fight. (I hated when I’d make a mistake in the last moments of a fight and have them shoot back up to 50%.) If I let him kill me first then my blunder wouldn’t cost me more than 33%. (Actually, I only did this in the concubine fights. The other fights were fun enough that I didn’t mind if they went on longer, but fighting the Concubine was always a little one-dimensional. And cheap.)
But for people who hate this, hard combat mode could simply fully heal the bad guy whenever Elika saves you. This would make the system indistinguishable from all other games – you’re basically starting the fight over from the very beginning, and you can’t proceed until you can beat him in one go.
So, they offer three difficulty switches at the start of the game. But instead of calling them “easy” and “hard”, call them something like “casual” and “advanced”. So, you can put platforming on advanced and the controls would tighten up. You can put puzzles on advanced and the wall scratches would vanish. You can put combat on advanced and lose the ability to beat a boss by wearing him down in repeated attempts. Then offer an achievement for each one. This means the game would have eight distinct difficulty levels. Every player would get to focus on the aspects on the game that they enjoy the most, and downplay those parts that don’t interest them.
Silent Hill 2 and System Shock both had this malleable approach to adjusting the challenge of individual gameplay elements. Interestingly enough, both games have a place in my all-time favorites list.
Games have homogenized their challenge over the last decade or so, offering less difficulty levels, eliminating “easy” mode, and making the remaining difficulty levels much more similar. I hope the next Prince will offer an experience that includes everyone.
Still, it’s a tremendous game. Kudos to Ubisoft.
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