Title: Prince of Persia: Warrior Within
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
Date Published: 11/30/2004
Platforms: XBOX, PlayStation 2, Gamecube, PC, Mobile
ESRB Rating: Mature (17+) for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, and Sexual Themes

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was considered by many to be the best, or at least one of the best games to be released in 2003, so it was inevitable that a sequel be made. It had everything that any gamer could want in a game: great level design combined with incredible platform elements, an engrossing story with a cast of complex characters that develop throughout the game, an atmospheric soundtrack complete with appropriate ambient noises, and stunningly gorgeous graphics. Where was there for Ubisoft to go with a sequel, you might ask. Well, those crazy Canadians made three major changes to the sequel: 1) the inclusion of a time travel element 2) a decidedly darker mood 3) an improved combat system.

Plot overview (WARNING - some slight spoilers)

At the end of The Sands of Time, the Prince successfully stopped the evil vizier from getting his hands on the sands of time, but in the process created a rift in the "Timeline," for he was supposed to have died. This rift created an invincible being called the Dahaka, whose only purpose is to correct any imperfections in the Timeline. In this case, the Dahaka is out to kill the Prince, thereby rectifying the past temporal imperfection. After running for years from the Dahaka, the Prince headed to the Island of Time, the birthplace of the Sands of Time, to destroy them, thereby making it impossible for him to have ever created the rift in time in The Sands of Time, meaning that the Dahaka would then have no reason to kill him. Now, the Prince only has to avoid the Dahaka and defeat the Empress of Time, the protector of the Sands, and destroy the Sands of Time.

End of spoilers

Major changes:

  • Time travel:
    Like in The Sands of Time, in Warrior Within the Prince can still travel back in time a short distance to avoid certain death, or speed up or slow down time to his advantage in battle or in a puzzle situation, but now he actually travels over a long period of time. At certain points in the game it is necessary to travel between the present time and a time period before the sands have been created. By changing things in the past, the future environment is affected accordingly. For example, if you open a waterway in the past, it will be open and possibly solve a puzzle in the future. Also, the environments are accordingly altered depending on which time period you are currently playing in. So, in the past, the Island of Time is very luxurious, and bright, while in the present, the island is run down and dark. More than anything, this element adds new depth to the puzzle solving aspect of the franchise. While this concept isn't revolutionary, by any means, it is the kind of change that one would come to expect from a sequel.

  • Darker mood:
    One of the most noticeable aspects of the Prince's personality in The Sands of Time was his very preppy, rich-boy attitude, complete with his Ewan McGregor sound alike voice. This has been completely changed in Warrior Within, as the Prince is now decidedly dark, brooding with generic rage. His fluffy prince clothes have been traded in for a tight leather outfit. His well-groomed facial hair is now in scruffy disarray. And his light melodic voice is now rash and hardened. More than that, the rich and colorful environment from The Sands of Time has been replaced with dark, shadowy corridors and an overgrown, derelict castle. Enemies have also undergone an image overhaul. Where they were bright, glowing, mindless sand monsters before, they are now shrouded, sentient enemies of varying threats. From exploding spiky dogs, to masochistic female ninja, enemies have been changed accordingly to not seem out of place in this new environment. Music and sound effects have been changed to suit the new dark mood. Actually, there are only two songs played throughout the entire game, battle music, and non-battle music. Both of which are Godsmack songs.

  • New combat system:
    The combat from The Sands of Time was considered by some to be "too scripted" or cinematic. Ubisoft apparently took this criticism to heart, for they completely changed the combat for Warrior Within. In this sequel, there are set moves consisting of two or three button sequences, like in the first, but now they can be chained together in a free form manner. In fact, there are so many different moves to use in combat, that there is actually a moves list in the menu. Combat is further changed by the inclusion of a secondary weapon. Enemies will drop their weapons when they die, and the Prince can then pick them up and use them in special two weapon specific moves (there's a different moves list for if the Prince has two weapons). There are three types of secondary weapons that the Prince can pick up: knives (fast but weak), swords (well balanced), and axes (powerful but slow). However, each secondary weapon will break after a period, so changing them every so often is necessary. One bonus of the secondary weapons is that they can be thrown at enemies from a distance, giving the Prince some time to get in close and finish the job. There are so many ways that players can combine moves, that the developers go so far as to call combat in Warrior Within an "art form."

Personally, I loved everything about The Sands of Time, and was hoping that Warrior Within would be much the same. When I heard details about Warrior Within, I was fine with the image overhaul, thinking it would be cool to be a real badass, and I was even on board with the new combat system, even though I found nothing wrong with the cinematic feel of The Sands of Time. Long story short, I didn't see the need for changes, but the ones advertised seemed all right. From the second you turn on the game though, it is apparent that Warrior Within is decidedly more mature. The first cinematic scene features a gratuitous full screen ass-shot of a female villain, dressed scantily in black leather. Albeit unnecessary, this polygonal peep show was not entirely unenjoyable. Graphically, overall, Warrior Within is amazing, with all of the darker environments, and enemies done in beautiful detail. I have no real complaints about the changes that were made for how the game looks. When it came to combat, I must say that I was again pleased. At first I was a little overwhelmed by the sheer amount of moves available in the Prince's arsenal. Blending moves together and interacting with the environment to dispatch baddies is a delight... at first. After a period, the long list of moves becomes a novelty, and the few moves that prove effective are the only ones used for the majority of the game, which somewhat defeats the purpose of the improved combat engine. This isn't a complaint though, for while combat eventually becomes slightly limited, it remains entertaining throughout.

The game isn't without it's downsides though, specifically the soundtrack, or rather lack of one. At first, before you realize that it is indeed Godsmack playing in the background, the generic rock music is kind of nice, and it fits right in with the game. However, when it finally sinks in that you've been rocking out to the same two Godsmack songs for the last five hours of play, you can't help but feel a little cheated. Even if you're a fan of the band, it almost seems natural to expect more from a game with such high production values. Another significant annoyance within the game are the bosses. There are only a handful of them scattered pretty evenly throughout, but Ubisoft made sure that that handful counted. Until you figure out the boss' pattern of attack, you may find yourself retrying the fight over and over. The pivotal fights could have been a little more balanced.

Taking everything into account, this is a great game. The only real problems with it are superficial, and can be overlooked when taking into account everything that Ubisoft did right with this game. They even got Monica Bellucci, the hot Italian girl from The Matrix Reloaded to be the voice of the Empress of Time. And I don't think I'll ever get tired of time slowing down all by itself so that the camera can follow my sword as it leaves my hand and lodges itself firmly in the skull of a nearby enemy. Plus, no matter how many times I play it, the short sequences where the Dahaka chases the Prince, where the slightest slip up can mean instant death, still get my heart racing and my palms sweaty. However, there were enough changes to the game that it felt like a significantly different game, rather than a true sequel. If you were a fan of the first game, then I really don't think that you have a choice in the matter - you need to play this game.