The Prince is back. Now, I'm not talking here about the R&B/Rock star, although it should be noted that the chap on the front cover of The Warrior Within bears a striking resemblance to Prince, circa Graffiti Bridge era. However, I digress. The returning Prince in this case is the Prince Of Persia, first rendered in game form many years ago by Jordan Mechner, and brought as a gaming franchise by Ubisoft last year. There was only one major problem with last year's iteration, Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time, and that it was that the great gaming public largely ignored it in favour of more hyped, and sadly more urban-styled fare. In response to this, Ubisoft has given the Prince an urban makeover, replete with plenty of strong language, attitude and a look that shares more in common with a street crack addict than the gentle storyteller of The Sands Of Time. If that fantastical, almost fairytale style of The Sands Of Time entranced you, you'll no doubt be disappointed with the rather more gritty style of this year's Prince - and the complete absence of soothing Arabic music, replaced with harsh rock tones instead. Undoubtedly, though, this kind of stuff sells well, and it's presumably that wider appeal that Ubisoft's banking on with Warrior Within.
In storyline terms, it's certainly hard to argue with the presence of a harder-edged Prince - Warrior Within is all about being hunted, in the Prince's case by the Dahaka, out to eliminate the Prince as a result of his choices in last year's game. As a result of the chase, the Prince hasn't slept for several weeks, and is feeling rather the worse for wear when he goes to visit a mysterious old man. Displaying a fine knack for stating the obvious, the old man tells the Prince that with a Dahaka on his heels, he's going to snuff it. The Prince is, naturally enough, not terribly happy with this outcome, and does the only thing possible - he decides that as the Sands Of Time are the problem, he's going to stem them at the source. This is where only having a year's development time really bites away at the quality of the plot of Warrior Within, as it turns out that the Sands Of Time were created on...The Island Of Time. Which is ruled over by...The Empress Of Time. Presumably the corridors you'll traverse - often from dizzying heights - are the Corridors Of Time, with Doors Of Time, Carpet Of Time and suitable Wall Hangings Of Time too. What, though, would you call the clocks? And would it really have taken that much effort to call her the Empress of Chrononicity, or something to that effect?
A quick diversion, if I may, to discuss one of the other factors that Ubisoft's crammed into Warrior Within: The babe factor. You'll meet quite a few women in your quest, and they all share a few key characteristics - gravity defying bosoms, costuming that's likely to give them chest colds, and camera angles that leave little to the imagination. Indeed, the very first female you'll encounter is wearing a metal suit. This is, to put it mildly, puerile and juvenile tripe that adds nothing to the game whatsoever, and it's in stark contrast to the full and interesting characterisation that last year's game heroine, Farah, had. It's not likely to entice female gamers, and is more likely to lead to polite embarrassment at best on the part of most male gamers. Anyway, back to the review
One of the side effects of being on the Island Of Time, however, is that the game's narrative doesn't take place in the one time stream, with plenty of puzzles involving you travelling between the past and present to successfully continue the Prince's quest. While this does allow the designers to create some really interesting set-piece puzzles, it also does give something of a sense of repetition, as you'll find yourself wandering the same corridors over and over again, in the past and present, in order to complete the game.
The subtitle, Warrior Within, makes sense when you realise that the major factor that Ubisoft's upgraded in this year's iteration is the combat interface. The Sands Of Time suffered a touch from one too many repetitive battles, most of which could be handled with continual wall dashes, and in an effort to combat that, Ubisoft's made the Prince's combat abilities just as context-sensitive as his acrobatic ones. If you're near a pole, why not swing around it, cleaving skulls as you whirl? Why not have multiple wall dash variants, and, for that matter, the ability to wield multiple weapons? While these changes seem to be for the better initially, they're met with two rather striking problems that do make them less appealing on closer inspection. Firstly, enemies are much healthier than in The Sands Of Time, and the end effect of this is that unless you time special attacks very well - or use a whole ton of wall dashes - combat lasts quite a bit longer. That's a problem that's intensified by the second factor - that there's an awful lot more combat in Warrior Within, with plenty of multi-foe encounters to overcome, and a fair lack of health-replenishing water in-between battles.
Now, all of this might be leaving you with the distinct impression that Warrior Within is something of a stinker of a title, but that's not in fact true. While the cosmetic changes to the Prince are regrettable, and the combat-focus doesn't make for the best gaming experience you'll ever have, the core value that made The Sands Of Time such a great game are still alive and well in Warrior Within. There's plenty of gravity defying wall jumping, running, beam balancing and column-climbing to do, and the removal of the game-saving sand columns means that not every puzzle is as obvious as it might first seem. Warrior Within is satisfyingly large, although unlike The Sands Of Time, you don't get a percentage update each time you save, leaving a touch more to your imagination as you progress through the narrative. It's also supplied with multiple endings - based on a few key choices you'll make along the way - and unlockable health, weapon and artwork bonuses, so there's an amount of replayability in Warrior Within, albeit not quite as much as was in The Sands Of Time, which hid the original Prince Of Persia games within.
You could also be mistaken into thinking that Ubisoft's pulled another Pandora Tomorrow out of its hat with Xbox Live support in Warrior Within. Sadly, there's no innovative secondary game mode to be found here - merely the option for downloadable content - of which there isn't any yet - and a couple of jumping and combat time trial modes. They're not bad additions per se, but as there's no play actually against real foes, it all falls rather flat - or in other words, if you're pondering the PS2, PC or Gamecube versions, you're not missing out on anything that Xbox owners get.
Is Warrior Within as good a game as The Sands Of Time? Well, that's a tough call. It's certainly not as revolutionary as The Sands Of Time, and it undoubtedly panders to a few key marketing demographics that make it a title in sharp contrast to its immediate predecessor. Then again, it's based on one of the top five titles of 2003, and by simply integrating the key gameplay elements of that title within its framework, it's automatically better than about ninety percent of the action/platform titles out there. Those coming to Warrior Within cold probably won't see a lot to complain about at all, outside of the somewhat repetitive and lengthy combat sequences, and even those who were enraptured by The Sands Of Time should probably look past the surface deformities handed to the Prince and enjoy this extended and extensively enjoyable romp.