Its darker tone may border on generic, but Warrior Within is a masterpiece in level design
The Sands of Time, the first game of this Prince of Persia trilogy, was acclaimed by critics and loved by fans for its superb level design paired with wonderful panoramic scenarios. The game also featured fantastic lighthearted humor in its storybook presentation, for as the tale unfolded the Prince would either narrate the facts in third-person or make sarcastic comments about certain situations. Warrior Within boasts the same level of creativity that made the first game’s platforming sections so delightful, but its overall tone takes a gloomy turn as the game’s storyline and art direction create a heavy and dark atmosphere that highly contrasts with The Sands of Time’s spirited nature.
A few years after returning home from his first adventure, the Prince is being constantly chased by a mysterious sinister creature. When trying to discover the motives behind this situation, the Prince seeks the counsels of an old man who lets him know that by reversing time in the first adventure and changing his fate he had corrupted the world’s timeline. For that reason, the Dahaka – the entity who protects it – was now on his tail, trying to restore integrity to time by killing the Prince, the one being that was able to cheat destiny. The Prince then decides to take on the suicidal mission of locating the Island of Time to stop the creation of the sands from happening. Marred by the many years of constant chases, the Prince is now a sad shadow of his former self, and his behavior is one among many factors that make Warrior Within a very somber tale.
On the island, the suffering hero will come across the very same kinds of challenges he encountered on The Sands of Time. The game’s world is a collection of rooms, hallways and halls filled with platforming sections. Players need to figure out a way to reach a door or a ledge by using the character’s many fantastic abilities while solving clever environmental puzzles or avoiding annoying traps. The Prince can jump, run, climb ropes, run on walls for a good amount of time, perform wall-jumps, grab onto poles and more, and the game’s core gameplay is centered on a careful analysis of the room to spot all important platforms in order for players to plan their way from an initial spot to a final location.
The sheer variety of moves available may sound scary, but the game’s controls are actually so intuitive most newcomers will have no trouble at all adjusting to them. Even though the game does present great quick tutorials in the form of short and precise instructions located at the bottom of the screen, one is pretty much able to figure out which buttons need to be pressed in a certain situation as the overall gameplay, just like it happened on The Sands of Time, has a very natural flow to it. The controls are extremely responsive and they will never fail players despite the great level of precision demanded by the game’s platforming.
The only major change in structure made by this new entry is that while the Sands of Time was a strictly linear game, Warrior Within brings a lot of backtracking with it, which in turn makes this one a much longer quest. Some players will certainly be let down by this significant change, but even if some rooms are revisited an annoying number of times, certain backtracking sections are responsible for the most brilliant showcases of level design in a 3-D platformer, as the process of exploring them occasionally changes considerably.
Platformers usually require a very good camera in order to be at least mildly successful, and when it comes to the Prince of Persia series the importance of camera work is tripled considering how many hectic movements one will be performing in a short amount of time. Warrior Within’s camera system is outstanding as it offers a big variety of views to be used by players (first-person, third-person, and panoramic) and each of those views works flawlessly through most of the adventure.
In fact, the game is bound to blow many minds away as in some segments, when the Prince is being chased by the Dahaka, the camera angles will constantly shift in order to bring more excitement to the chase. Not only are they extremely successful at that, but their implementation is perfect, because differently from many titles that employ the automatically shifting camera mechanic, here the angles quickly change without messing up the controls or confusing players.
If the Sands of Time featured repetitive combat, Warrior Within is quick to solve that issue. The game has a deep combo system and now, aside from jumping and slashing, the prince can perform a whole new array of cool moves by using: his two weapons, his acrobatic abilities, the environment around him, or a combination of the three items.
On the game’s menu, players will find a list with over fifty different attacks, each triggered by a different combination of buttons and tilts. It is true and unfortunate that most of the game can be cleared without those, but at least Ubisoft has made an effort to add something to the bland combat. Warrior Within also brings back the Prince’s fantastic abilities over time as one can once again rewind, slow down time or acquire ultra speed to beat down many foes at once.
Sadly, differently from what had happened in The Sands of Time, Warrior Within suffers from poor checkpoint placement. The game uses a save-point-based save system, but the platforming sections in between save points can be so long and ridden with so many enemies that more often than not players will go through tough jumps and acrobatics just to die at the hands of a horde of foes.
Instead of allowing players to restart the battle right away, the game annoyingly punishes gamers by forcing them to do everything all over again just to get another shot at beating foes. The game itself has a very good level of challenge, so making players backtrack so much just to face strong enemies once again comes off as extremely unfair and unnecessarily punishing, a bad way to pack frustration into a generally fun game.
Graphically, Warrior Within doesn’t really improve on its predecessor, which is by no means a flaw since The Sands of Time looked fantastic, and given the short interval between both releases the graphics still look astonishing. Artistically, though, the game exchanges colors for darkness, and the unique storybook approach of The Sands of Time is turned down for a generic obscure environment that sometimes borders on the survival horror genre.
Where there was personality on the first game, now there is a major void that has been filled by an average gory and unhappy scenario. Fortunately, though, the soundtrack didn’t really change that much as most of the game focuses on immersive sound effects, while bringing heavy rock tunes into the action-packed battle segments.
The game’s biggest flaw, though, lies on its huge amount of bugs and glitches. Many hours were certainly toiled away with level design, but the same can’t be said about debugging, testing and, most importantly, fixing the many rough edges the game presents. Aside from a few very rare freezes, the game also has one or two game-ending glitches that are very easy to run into and for that reason it is heavily recommended that players keep two saves at all times.
A few hiccups also occur during dialogues as in some conversations the voice acting will just disappear all of a sudden and players will be left starring at characters whose mouths are moving without making any sounds. The only telling indicating an on-going dialogue will be the subtitles showing up at the bottom of the screen. Still, the game has a very solid voice acting during all of its fantastic cutscenes that develop the story in a very interesting and captivating manner, but certain sentences that are yelled out by the prince or his enemies during actual gameplay are somewhere between childish, cheesy and silly.
Warrior Within is a very irregular sequel. The game possesses the same stellar level design that made its predecessor shine, and it also improves on combat and overall length, even if it suffers from a poor artistic direction that made the title lose a good part of its personality. Apparently, though, the short time span between releases seriously harmed the game, for many issues were not fixed and ended up making it into the game’s final retail version. In spite of those major shortcomings, Warrior Within is still a must-buy, because its fifteen-hour adventure and delightful platforming are more than enough to make up for its technical shortcomings.