of Persia: Warrior Within
Review by Steerpike
Joking Aside, We Actually Are Quite Close
Like me, my older brother is a writer, and a gamer. Together we're
getting our father into the hobby, but I'm concerned, because so
far Dad has been taking after my brother Marcus in matters of taste,
and when it comes to gaming, Marcus is much more curmudgeonly than
I. He didn't like Knights
of the Old Republic ("too much moving around").
("too dark"). Or System Shock 2 ("too
many monkeys"). Or Morrowind
("too much foliage collection"). Or Far Cry ("eh").
He is a joyless shell of a human, bereft of brightness and glee,
churning with subsurface wrath. He has my pity.
However, his gloweringly lemonish surl, in addition to being endearing,
does have one side benefit: when he recommends a game, it's a safe
bet that you won't be disappointed. And so when he emailed me and
said in no uncertain terms that I should pick up Prince
of Persia: The Sands of Time, I did so, and I was suitably
impressed. Sands of Time is an amazing game. It is beautiful,
hugely entertaining, and stuffed to the proverbial gills with thrilling
play, snappy writing, and excellent voice work. Indeed, even on
the PC with a mouse/keyboard comboa control scheme for which
it is not ideally suitedit managed to be one of the best PC
games of 2003, selling nearly two million copies across all major
platforms and very nearly toppling Knights of the Old Republic
for the IGDA's Game of the Year award. As one can imagine, a
sequel was in the cards.
However, in a maneuver of astounding dimwittedness, Ubisoft pretty
much disbanded the PoPTeam studio responsible for Sands of Time
and shifted the entire writing staff from the original over
to work on the upcoming Prince of Persia movie. The new team
totally rewrote the protagonist, recast the talented voice lead
with a monotonous hack, cut a beloved supporting character entirely,
and announced that, unlike the soft-edged dreaminess of its predecessor,
Prince of Persia: Warrior Within would narrate like an action
movie directed by Ingmar Bergmanthat is, bloody and depressing.
And rather than focus on the fiendish jumping puzzles that have
been a Prince of Persia standby since Jordan Mechner originated
the series for Broderbund in 1990, Warrior Within, while
including the acrobatic conundra, would tilt the scales much more
aggressively toward complex, combo-driven swordfighting.
Amazingly, these enormous foundational changes have resulted in
a game that plays as well as, if not better than, The Sands of
Time. It's nowhere near as original, clever, or well-written,
nor is it remotely faithful to the Prince of Persia franchise;
but the surprisingly elegant new combat system, rich graphics, action-packed
pacing, and control improvements on the PC platform are without
peer. Though Ubi made a heroic attempt to ruin it, Warrior Within
manages to transcend more than a year of incompetence on the
part of nearly everyone involved with its production. So despite
the fact that I had serious doubts about this one, I'm no longer
at all hesitant to award it our highest honor. Warrior Within
is vastly different from Sands of Time, but it's still
a great, great game.
The Dahaka. The What? The Dahaka. The What? The
The Prince, as fans will recall, allowed himself to be tricked
into unleashing the Sands of Time in the previous game by a Jafar-like
vizier with dreams of controlling a world populated by sand-filled
time zombies. Fortunately for us, though, a contrite Prince and
his new girlfriend Farah managed to stuff the Sands back into the
big magic hourglass where they belonged. The Prince also used his
Sand-filled dagger to rewind the whole grubby affair and undo lots
of damage that his actions had caused. Then he kissed Farah and
went home to continue his princely activities.
Unfortunately, screwing around with time gets the attention of
a huge black tentacle-horn-thing called the Dahaka, a sort of chronological
library cop. It's dispatched to give the Prince some what-for, and
our hero has to skip town before this new nemesis can eat him up.
Thus begins the Prince's life on the lam, and by all accounts it's
been a pretty unpleasant experience: every now and then the Dahaka
will turn up and hurtle after him, getting a little closer every
time. It would seem that only the Prince's death will bring normalcy
back to the timeline.
Finally, weary of the chase, the Prince seeks advice from a smelly
old man who lives in a tent, knowing that unhygienic desert hermits
are full of oracular knowledge. Old Man tells him that his fate
is preordained: the Dahaka will kill him, and nothing can change
that. Thus the Prince conceives of a new plan. He'll travel to the
source of all time, return to the past, and stop the creation of
the Sands. If the Sands of Time never existed, he reasons, he won't
have been able to use them to mess up the timeline, so the Dahaka
will have no beef with him and will go home.
Problem is, the Dahaka's home is the Castle of Time on the
Island of Time with the Empress of Time (yeah, I was serious when
I said the game was written by talentless amateurs), so the Prince
isn't there for much ... time before he hears familiar pounding
footsteps behind him.
Being chased by a Dahaka makes you grumpy. At some point during
his flight, the Prince managed to get some henna tattoos and a gothy
new wardrobe. He also has blue eyes and an American accent now,
like all Middle Easterners. He spouts moronic bad-dialogueisms like,
"You will soon feel the edge of my blade!" Compare this
to the wit of the admittedly somewhat foppishbut in a good
wayPrince from Sands of Time and you'll see how brutally
the new writers raped this character. Indeed, to call the writers
of this game one-lobed idiots gives a bad name to one-lobed
idiots; considering that Ubisoft basically terminated the extremely
gifted original writing team, it says something about how much value
the company places on fiction.
This says more. One of Ubi's head writersuninvolved with
Warrior Withinwas recently asked if quality script
writing was a fundamental part of elevating the art form of game
development. His answer: "No."
You don't say.
In another move of staggering brilliance, the writers cut Farah
from the story. The hilarious verbal repartee that these two bickering
quasi-heroes shared ("I've never told that to anyone before,"
"I'm not surprised; it's the most childish thing I've ever
heard") was one of the especially bright points in Sands
of Time. It was pretty clear that the original writers intended
both to be present in any sequels. Plus, Farah was one of the better-written
female characters in gaming.
Instead, they introduced two of the most offensively drawn and
poorly written new female characters ever conceived by male game
developers who can't get laid. Doubt me? Check
it. That costuming is pretty much accurate. Your new female
nemesis Shahdee is even more shockingly uninspired than the rest
of the story. In fact, I have little doubt that the small ... minded
jackass responsible for Warrior Within's characters described
Shahdee in one line in the design doc: "Shahdee is angry and
wears a steel bikini cuz steel bikinis are sexy. And she's, like,
hot, because hot chix totally dig my mad phat skillz." Kaileena,
your mysterious seminude maybe-ally, another Middle Easterner with
milky skin and green eyes, harbors her own share of poorly written
malcontent. And of course the Empress of Time is a hot, barely clothed
woman, perhaps intended as a personification of the proverbial hourglass
figure (get it?). Warrior Within seriously exhibits some
of the most offensively sexist portrayals of women in gaming that
I've ever seen. I, a guy who is prohot woman, was offended.
Ubi set the games biz back again by hiring Cro-Magnon retards to
write the sequel to a hugely selling franchise resurrection. The
player will not care at all about any of these "important"
Moreover, the Prince, a returning hero who was much-loved, is simply
not a likable character in Warrior Within. He was a bit of
a ponce in Sands of Time, sure, but let's remember that the
man was also so genial he somehow managed to inspire Farahwho
originally wanted to watch him die screamingto fall in love
with him. He also inspired players to like and identify with his
character, a special challenge considering the setting of Sands
of Time. Recall that it was the Prince's hubris that unleashed
the Sands in the first place; that and his obsession with pleasing
a father who was already quite obviously pleased with him. That
would have destroyed the world had the Prince not been given the
opportunity to temporally undo his own blunder. Arrogance is very
difficult for an audience to forgive, and yet we did, because the
Prince was likable. In Warrior Within, he is a sullen, spoiled,
obnoxious, bullying caricature, and you won't give a damn if he
lives or dies.
The acting, too, is godawful. The Prince sounds like he's from
Wisconsin and delivers his lines with Award-of-Suckwinning
blandness. Shahdee, Kaileena, even the grunt-intensive Dahaka are
equally uninspired. Warrior Within pretty much screams "we
were too cheap to hire good writers and actors, so we had Raoul
from Accounting (the team is French-Canadian) write the script,
and the guys who fill our Coke machines said the lines."
So the story is badly conceived and the characters are hideously
written. Still, when it comes to a game, the gameplay is the really
important factor, and Warrior Within has plenty of excellent
It's a Reverse Swirl
I played the PC version of Warrior Within, so I can't really
speak to any camera or control improvements among the assorted console
versions. But my persistent gripes with Sands of Time for
the PC were the clumsy perspectives and control issues that would
so often cause me to fling myself into the void. While not eliminated
altogether in Warrior Within, the keyboard and mouse controls
are drastically improved.
The trick is that in most third-person games, the camera is locked
to the character's back. That wouldn't work in PoP, where
the camera needs freedom to wander, since you depend on its subjective
field of view to see solutions to the diabolical jumping puzzles.
However, an unlocked camera by nature introduces control issues,
since the position of the camerayour perspective on the game
worldis not a constant as relates to the position of your
character. In a nutshell, "W" does not always mean forward.
The problem is all but fixed in Warrior Within. "W"
means forward from the perspective of the camera, not the perspective
of the Prince. Same with "A" and "S" and "D."
Furthermore, the irritating "swoosh return" blocked-camera
effect is gone from Warrior Withinthe camera, controlled
by the mouse, will simply not go to places where it would be blocked.
While occasionally frustrating in tight spaces, it's much less vexing
than the vertigo of a constantly realigning camera position.
I cannot say enough about the new and incredibly more complex combat
system, for which I originally had very low hopes. I suck at Killer
Instinct, and my brain is too small and stunted to remember
or execute in a timely manner combos of the Up-Up-Left-Up-Left-Kick-Left-Left-Kick-Right-Up-Punch-Kick-Left-Duck-Kick-Left-Right-Left-Up-Kick-Left-Jump
variety, and I feared Warrior Within would play like that:
the demo certainly led me to believe it would. Yet Warrior Within
allows you to carry out insanely complex fighting combos with
a minimum of effort.
You could quite easily clamber over an enemy, breaking his neck
as you go, snatch his dropped sword, run up the wall, flip backward,
land in a blades-out helicopter twirl to lop off some heads, then
somersault away from any retaliation and hurl your secondary weapon
into an oncoming menace. Most importantly, you could do all that
in a preplanned manner; the fighting system is so fluid and so easy
to execute that you can carry out extraordinarily complex assaults
against multiple targets with only a handful of well-timed clicks.
It's because just a couple of buttons do a lot of stuff, depending
on the contextwhere you are, where you're facing, what you've
got, what's around, and so forth. Never will you feel so cool fighting
hand to hand as when you're doing it in Warrior Within. You
will need a responsive mouse with at least four comfortably placed
buttons, but most gamers have that already.
Secondary weapons are a new addition, and one that I'd originally
thought would add too much complexity to the fighting controls.
But the elegance of the system overcomes that. Possession of a #2
weapon is quite unnecessary. Many gamers may avoid them, opting
instead for the Prince's devastating strangulation and fatality
maneuvers that can only be accomplished when he has a hand free.
Others may snatch them up for use as long-range ordnance but not
employ them much in close combat. Fighting in Warrior Within
is so flat-out awesome that I wish they'd included an arena
style of gameplay, with customizable environments and enemies.
Speaking as a person who hates jumping puzzles, it's odd that I
love them so much in the Prince of Persia games. My grumbly
brother, once a 3D animator, was originally drawn to Sands of
Time because of the beautiful animations of the lead character
when he executes solutions to these puzzles; the Prince has even
more unique animations in this game. And though Warrior Within
is much more combat-oriented and doesn't offer dilemmas even
remotely as baffling as Sands of Time, they're still fun
and engaging and make great use of the game engine's skeletal animation.
Each animation is drawn by hand; there is no motion capture in Warrior
Within. You'll run along walls, swing on ropes, slide pirate-style
down curtains, and basically use everything in the environment as
your own personal jungle gym. They've also integrated combat into
the environment to a slightly greater degree, though puzzles and
fighting are still kept largely separate.
Making a triumphant return are the Prince's powers of time control.
Originally available through the auspices of his stolen dagger,
apparently the Prince can now rewind and rework time just because
he's so damn dark and grim and cool. He's like a chroniscient ancient
Middle Eastern Trent Reznor. As usual, you need to have some Sand
in your possession to make even the most basic Rewind powers work,
though in Warrior Within, it's easier to get Sandyou're
in the Castle of Time, after all. It seeps out of dying enemies
and can be found in many pieces of crockery that inexplicably clutter
the halls of the palace. Generally the time powers are modified
and polished, but in truth they haven't changed much. It's amazing,
though, how necessary to the franchise they have become after just
two games: should the next PoP title leave out the time control,
I think gamers would abandon it in droves.
They've also tweaked the save system. Warrior Within is
still very much a console port, so you cannot save whenever you
like. Save points are much more common, however, and you'll generally
find a new one after ever major puzzle or combat sequence. You'll
certainly find one before and after every Dahaka event, during which
the Dahaka turns up and chases after you for a while. These instances
allow approximately zero margin for error, usually involving jumping
puzzles that would be quite simple if time weren't a factor. It's
nice that you can start over at the beginning of the chase sequence
rather than enduring a long build-up every time. All in all, save
pointswhich are represented by healing fountains rather than
sand whorls in Warrior Withinare about three times
as frequent. While I generally prefer the freedom to save whenever
I like, in games like PoP it just wouldn't work, and save
points are common enough that it's no big deal. One thing I do miss
is that saving no longer affords you a glimpse into the future.
This was necessary in SoT because the puzzles were so incredibly
difficult, but it was also a neat effect and I'm sorry it's gone.
Finally, it's considerably longer than its predecessor. Sands
of Time was a 12-hour experience, give or take; they claim that
Warrior Within is 24-plus hours, though my own experience
was closer to 20. Still, it's nice that they extended the play length
from the original, which was too short, though I suspect that extension
was easy to accomplish since Warrior Within makes no effort
to be even remotely as complex as Sands of Time.
Attach Camera Lens. Add Vaseline.
Warrior Within's visuals bring back the beautiful muzzy
blur. This effect reminds me most of the film Sky Captain and
the World of Tomorrow, an experience that was to me like watching
a dream. But Warrior Within, though it has its share of somnescence
and general fuzziness, looks more like the video game version of
Roman Polanski's Repulsion. This is mostly because of the
Whereas the Maharaja's palace in Sands of Time was a colorful,
luxurious artifice, in Warrior Within you're visiting a place
that has long since gone to seed. The vast majority of the game
is spent in the Castle of Time, which looked great back in the day
but looks like Fallujah in the present. Fortunately, you spend a
lot of the game in the past, and it's fun to see how the moss-covered
ruins transform into a lavish golden pleasure garden when you are
transported to the days of yore.
Most of your jaw-dropping on the Warrior Within graphics
front will be related to the animations of the Prince, who looks
even more amazing in this sequel. Though reskinned with his stupid
tattoos and "I'm an angry goth rich kid" clothing, he
is breathtakingly fluid and lifelike. His acrobatics and combat
moves are astounding. One day they'll find a way to combine the
elegant fighting system and gorgeous protag animations of Warrior
Within with the quality writing and terrifyingly good gameplay
Life 2, and we'll have the perfect action game.
Ultimately, the graphics in Warrior Within are stellar and
smooth at high resolution; I played through at 1600×1200 with
everything and it was buttah, and my machine is definitely getting
long in the proverbial tooth. There's nothing to complain about
here, and the developers did great work with a year-old graphic
engine. Colors are far more muted and drab, but of course you spend
most of your time in a ruined castle, so that's to be expected.
Audio, however, is kind of a mixed bag. The clanks and clinks of
swordplay, the soft ripple of a curtain as wind passes through it,
the whoosh of drifting sand or the spatter of running water, and
the mechanical clockwork of the game's devious traps all sound excellent.
Alas, then, that the voice acting is so dreadfully bad and the musical
score is a totally out of place hard rock thumpfest, complete with
roaring guitars and drum solos. It's as though Ministry were hired
to design the soundtrack of the next Super Mario Brothers; the
music and the game exist in totally different worlds.
One of the great strengths of Sands of Time is the way it
is narrated, as a flashback a la Sacrifice.
Though you had to finish the game to see the clever intricacy
and structure of the story, the writers and artists made clear that
you are playing the game inside the corridors of the Prince's memory.
Time, he says, is not a river flowing swift and true in one direction;
Time is a torrent in a storm. SoT made it clear that the
same is true for memory, which isn't organized in a crisp linear
fashion. That game was designed to look and sound and feel like
... well, not to beat a dead horse, but like you're playing a dream.
They cut a lot of that from Warrior Within. Not exactly a
capital offense, but jarring all the same.
Warrior Within is not a perfect game. But manymostof
its flaws are based in the inaccuracies associated with its absolute
failure to remain faithful to its immediate predecessor. If it weren't
a Prince of Persia game, I'd probably be raving even more,
and though the tone of this review may not seem ravey (maybe I take
after my brother), despite its failings, Warrior Within deserves
I just came off a review of Half Life 2, which received
a superb score despite a story I considered so riddled with holes
as to be utterly nonsensical. At the end of the day, though, Half
Life 2's gameplay, that evanescent "fun factor," was
off the charts. And in a game, gameplay is the most important part
of the equation. We see this again and again: games are games. They
mean something, but they have to be fun. I'll take a badly written
but fun game over a brilliantly written but flawed game any day.
Warrior Within's script feels like it was written by a fourteen-year-old
whose most advanced sexual experience was sneaking looks at his
dad's Playboys. A fourteen-year-old whose most complex imaginings
involve being killed just after rescuing the prettiest girl in school
from some terrible dangerdying at the moment he and the girl
whisper blood-bubbled protestations of love for one another. A fourteen-year-old
who never matured, who resents women, who devalues powerful narrative
in favor of masturbatory adolescent fantasy, and who has never,
ever, had an emotion beyond puddle depth. The writing is vomitous,
the acting nauseating, the characters vile.
Warrior Within's gameplay feels like it was tuned by industry
luminaries of whom no more than a handful exist. Industry luminaries
who recognized the need to sell games and tweaked the jumping puzzles
to attract more potential purchasers while still respecting that
portion of the franchise history. Industry luminaries who also saw
the flaws in SoTthe redundancy in combat, the inordinate
cruelty of some puzzles, the shortage of save pointsand fixed
them. The gameplay is without peer, the combat aorta-thrumming,
the environments breathtaking.
Warrior Within is not a perfect game. In many ways, it stands
as a badly written testament to exactly what is wrong with video
games: sexism, teenage hormones, amateurish writing, clumsy franchise
handling. But it's entertaining. It's incredibly entertaining. Oftentimes
we game scholars, myself included (or especially), get lost in what
the games need to mean. What they need to do. How
they need to affect us. And we get lost in that for a good
reason: games are still looked down on, held in contempt. They're
not viewed as the world's first interactive art form; they're viewed
as a child's playthingssomething of which grownups who play
should be ashamed. And so we are defensive of the medium we love.
But in so doing, we often lose sight of the fact that, as important
as all that is, they are still games.
And Warrior Within is a great game.
Developer: Ubisoft's Montreal Studio
Release Date: December 2, 2004
Four Fat Chicks Links
Windows 98SE/2000/XP (only)
PIII 1 GHz or AMD Athlon 1 GHz
256 MB RAM
DirectX® 9-compliant graphics card (supported cards are NVIDIA
GeForce 3/4/FX series (including 4MX) or ATI Radeon 7500/8500/9000
families or newer)
DirectX 8-compliant sound card
DirectX 9.0c (included on disc)
16X CD-ROM or 4X DVD-ROM drive
2 GB free hard disk space
Where to Find It