Having been a fan of the first two installments of the Jordan Mechner side-scrolling action-based games that revolved around the exploits and tribulations of the Prince of Persia, I looked forward to the conversion of the tale to 3D with great anticipation. Sadly enough, the results of the long wait (the title was in production three-plus years) are somewhat disappointing, although, in all fairness, some of the features found in Prince of Persia 3D are worthy of note.
To set the stage, the choice to turn Prince of Persia into a 3D adventure seemed made to order as all aspects of those 1989 and 1993 sword-fests fairly begged to be turned into glorious 3D real-time action. On the surface, the idea was not only plausible but thoroughly possible with the advent of late 1990s gaming industry capabilities. Can it be assumed, then, that the gaming world is a better place with the release of the current iteration of the Prince's tale? Unfortunately, the answer depends on how forgiving each individual gamer is of the faults found therein.
The very essence of a 3D adventure resides in the realistic maneuvering of the hero being controlled -- without it, the process is flawed from the beginning and begs the question of "what's the point?" In what might well constitute a fatal flaw to some gamers, the noticeable sluggishness of movement at certain parts of the game disrupt the flow of action and turn the experience into a tedious exercise. Specifically, when trying to control the Prince when he's up against a wall or trying to hurry him through a doorway, the interface can fail you in a big way.
That's not to say that the problem arises 100% of the time -- it seems to be somewhat selective and also appears to be tied to the level of resolution being used as well. Three modes are possible: 640x480, 800x600 and 1024x768. Any but high end computer owners should know going in that the lower two choices will be necessary to keep up any real continuity or feeling of fluid progress while adventuring. Add to this the annoying restriction of limited movement during combat mode, which is automatically invoked upon readying a weapon, and the control factor can become very irritating.
The problem lies in the inability of the game's internal engine to "keep up" with the keyboard or gamepad strokes at times -- often crucial or critical times when speed counts. All too many times, just to turn the Prince around, you'll have to back him up a step or two and then make the turn -- unacceptable behavior when he's being threatened and needs to make a quick getaway. Running, such as it is, doesn't always give the impression of moving quickly, either, at least not in the manner that many action gamers expect. Making sharp 90 degree turns into hallways or through doors is nigh unto impossible as the fat turn radius prevents such turn-on-a-dime maneuvers. On the plus side, there is a control (5 on the keypad) that allows for a 180 degree about-face if needed.
The earlier mention of keyboard or gamepad as a means for maneuvering didn't include mouse or joystick action as a possibility since, quite unbelievably, both types of support for movement are non-existent. To me, this seems like an incredible omission in the plan of design, given the number of games on the market in the late 1990s that integrate mouse movement with keyboard support keys. I'm all for designers striving for that elusive "dare-to-be-different" feature but not at the cost of eliminating or excluding something as fundamental as this particular feature. Perhaps the long design phase can be blamed for (but doesn't excuse) this apparently planned oversight.
The pace of the entire game is deceptively slow. There are plenty of action filled sequences, jumping from swinging ropes, climbing, leaping chasms or holes -- basically the types of movement associated with the earlier Prince of Persia side-scrollers, but the game never achieves the level of breathtaking excitement. The Prince's running mode (the default) is never fast enough to appear as anything other than a leisurely jog through the environment and his speed remains constant regardless of the situation he's facing.
Prince of Persia 3D suffers from a bad case of poor camera perspective throughout the adventure. Far too often the camera that automatically tracks our hero as he goes about exploring the seven huge levels of the game world gets blocked by extraneous objects or walls. This, coupled with the sluggish movement at times, deposits you directly into teeth-gnashing territory. Fortunately, a different and less confining perspective is used during combat mode that allows you to have a fighting chance, although the game tries to automatically focus and adjust both the Prince's and his numerous enemies' battle positions to face each other -- not always successfully.
Lest the reader gets the idea there are no redeeming qualities to Prince of Persia 3D, let me dispel the notion right here. The game contains beautiful landscaping and environments, a tried and true story (very similar to the original), a large world in which to interact and an immensely successful depiction of a world straight from the mystical environs of The Arabian Nights. I suppose if I had to put my finger on one aspect that makes the game seem more hollow than it should, I'd have to reluctantly admit that at no point during the game did I develop a "connection" with my character -- I was really more captivated by the environments and the vicissitudes of the journey than his plight and the reasons behind it.
The game is flush with traps, puzzles, physical challenges and enemies. But, even these seemingly good features leave room for a small complaint, specifically in the area of traps. Rarely are there any tip-offs to potential traps -- until you've been mangled by each of them at least once. The smart gamer will save very often as a guard against these continuity-stopping deathtraps.
To sum it all up and answer my earlier question, I can't say positively that the gaming world IS better because of this game. For those fans of the earlier games, it is a new and different look at an old story -- the Prince still gets thrown in prison has to escape and then fight his way through hordes of enemies to save his heroine, albeit this time she's his wife. The journey is very long and fraught with great dangers -- both metaphorically and, unfortunately, in the gameplay itself.
If you can afford only one 3D-action game this year, I can't in all conscience recommend that this be the one. If, on the other hand, you're a full-fledged action junkie like myself with fond memories of the previous Prince of Persia releases, then you may want to take a look if for no other reason than the nostalgic benefit, but only if you're willing to forgive the faults. While not game-stoppers per se, they are a force to contend with.
Graphics: Beautiful surroundings although close-ups of the characters fail to be inspiring. An Arabian Nights motif is certainly in place with an overall pleasing effect. Unfortunately, this effect is somewhat offset by rather bland cut-scenes, other than those at the beginning and end.
Sound: A two-pronged rating here. The sound effects are definitely average at best with some good voice acting. The music, however, soars and flows in an extremely nice fashion -- the soundtrack is good enough to listen to separately.
Enjoyment: Oh how I wanted to give this game a higher rating. Unfortunately, even with all the good qualities such as stunning environments, additional weapons (ranged) beyond the original games and 3D action, the all-too-often unresponsive interface is a turn-off. Only by playing for extended periods will this fault become fully realized, but once you've been burned or frustrated by it a few times the experience becomes tainted.
Replay Value: No real reasons to replay the levels unless you're a perfectionist striving to set a speed record for fastest trip through the game world. Traps remain in-situ as do puzzles and most enemies.
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