Prince of Persia

How many reboots can a series take? How many "re-imaginings" can a character endure before he becomes a watered down shadow of his former glory, forced to trot through the motions in repetitive games that smack of boredom and unoriginality?

Apparently, at least one more. First debuting on the Apple II, the Prince of Persia is back again. One more time. This time, it's personal. Or something.

If it seems like I recently reviewed a Prince of Persia game, you're not mistaken. I reviewed Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones ( Macworld rated 3.5 out of 5 mice ) last October. But the latest edition of Prince of Persia, released this past year for game consoles, is now on the Mac. You can thank TransGaming for the quick turnaround time.

The two games belong to different series. The Two Thrones was the final installment of The Sands of Time Trilogy, which was the first reboot of the iconic platforming franchise. The latest Prince of Persia is the second modern reboot of the franchise. (I say "modern," because like Mario, Sonic, and Zelda, there are many different generations and iterations of the Prince.)

I didn't care for the story of the Sands of Time series and found the Robert Smith-like protagonist insufferable. The new Prince is slightly better, and the plot is a hell of a lot more interesting than Two Thrones. Oddly reminiscent of the children's animated feature Fernguli, the story this time around is about an evil god breaking out of prison, and you have to help the princess save the temple and seal the evil god back in his underground layer by healing the land.

Gone are the time-manipulation abilities of the previous games, but I oddly didn't miss it. Instead, your partner, the princess Elika, will save you if you jump off a cliff or get your ass kicked in combat. This might make the game seem easy, but you'll still have to struggle to get from point A to point B with the usual jumps, dives, and grapples around and through obstacles. The enemies are strong and the combat controls clumsy, which means there's a good chance you'll die in combat.

One of the hopes I had for this new Prince of Persia is that it would have better writing. It doesn't, but you'd only notice it if you allow the characters to talk. If you press T on your keyboard to talk, Elika will recount plot points or the blatantly obvious tips throughout the game. For a more enjoyable experience, never press T.

Anachronistically, the dialogue is written for a hip twenty-something audience and performed by voice actors with American accents. The dialogue has moments of genuine humor but the gravity of the world's plight is lost when your two leads seem to be channeling Ashton Kutcher and Jessica Alba, respectively.

Elika is a worthy sidekick because she can unlock powers that are quite useful (though the odd flight sequences are strange and unnecessary) and she's not your typical oversexed damsel in distress (except for her ecstatic moments when she's healing the land).

There are rarely moments in gaming as purely fun and liberating as jumping around the well-constructed world of Prince of Persia, full of obstacles, rooftops, and open areas. This alone makes Prince of Persia worth playing. The visuals are stunning and the environments, though repetitive, are vast and fun to explore. Thank the Assassin's Creed Schimtar engine for finally opening up the world of Prince of Persia. The camera system is also much improved over the previous game.

The designers decided to make the game's progression open instead of linear, which gives players more freedom but flattens the difficulty curve to a low horizontal line that a child would have difficulty stumbling over. You jump around an area corrupted by evil, you kill a single bad guy, you get Elika to heal the place, then you retrace your steps and collect balls of light in this new lush environment. Rinse, repeat. So the game's length isn't necessarily due to its difficulty, but due to its size.

The elimination of the stealth elements and the acrobatic combat are almost unforgiveable mistakes. There are few enemies to kill, and so the game focuses more on platforming than on combat. Unfortunately, when you do engage in combat, you have a wonky set of controls that mandate you block for half the time, wait till you can parry, and then launch Elika at them if you're close enough. Quick time events break up the flow of combat and detract from the challenge of the game. Though the environments are lush and the world fun to explore, the combat is sub-par and the stages repetitive. As the series has progressed, it's one step forward, two steps back.

The minimum game requirements call for an Intel Core Duo Processor, 1GB of RAM, an ATI X1600 or later graphics card, or an Nvidia 8600 or later graphics card. On my 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro, I was very frustrated at points when the game experienced significant slowdown during cut scenes--sometimes even skipping some segments. There are only three graphical settings for the game, and even at its lowest my MacBook Pro couldn't produce a seamless experience.

Macworld's buying advice

The steep graphical requirements sour an otherwise generally fun experience. Yes, the combat is wonky, the environments repetitive, the difficulty curve flat, and the dialogue taken from a crappy romantic comedy, but the majority of your time you're just jumping around a playground. The game brings out the big kid in you, and it's a damn shame that more people won't be able to enjoy it. Considering how divided the previous game left my loyalties, this is one series reboot I'm also actually happy to see.

[Chris Holt is an assistant editor for Macworld. ]

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