With the Prince Of Persia formula threatening to go stale after three games, Ubisoft developed a simplified approach to acrobatic adventure. A new Prince assists Elika, a woman driven to clean her supernaturally stained homeland. In the process, they fall for each other, which provides a point of departure from the action-game template.
Combat in Prince Of Persia is limited to face-offs against a few tough enemies in one-on-one mêlée. In theory, the lack of constant fighting clears the field for story to emerge. Yet as the pair wanders Elika's land, clearing corruption from one "fertile ground" after another, falling in love is just something to do. Character interaction is evidently intended as the game's core, but the game radiates a real sense of unease over whether gamers will go for it.
Players are meant to be mesmerized by exploration that would daunt master mountain climbers and Cirque du Soleil performers alike. But Elika is always ready to magically save the Prince's ass; he literally cannot die. Rather than using that safety net to underpin environments requiring lunatic leaps of faith, the designers offer up obvious pathways through. Banishing death is a fine idea, but danger and tension have elected to depart with the Grim Reaper.
To their credit, Ubisoft's designers stick the landing, as the emphasis on narrative eventually pays off. Instead of giving players the option to choose between multiple fates, the relationship between Elika and the Prince pushes forward to one of the Persia series' few satisfying conclusions. Fine, it sets up a sequel, too, but that's a small price to pay for end-game satisfaction.
Beyond the game: The isolated boss battles and morally ambivalent ending recall the spectacular PlayStation 2 game Shadow Of The Colossus, which Ubisoft has acknowledged as a primary inspiration.
Worth playing for: The ending, which justifies slogging through many grand but eventually monotonous landscapes.
Frustration sets in when: You hear the phrase "fertile ground" for the thousandth goddamn time.
Final judgment: Like listening to an old hippie telling lazy, stoned stories. He may remember some moving moments, but you'll probably already have fallen into a stupor.