Problems with Prince of Persia One Last Time

Why oh why do I do this to myself? I said that the last one would be the last one, but no. I go out to buy some chips late and I find myself thinking about concepts of the game design. My mind turns to something being debated now around Flower, most prominently over at Sexyvideogameland. The concept of the designer manipulating the player emotions, which in turn led me to a previous debate of the designer manipulating you into caring about a character. The dog from Fable II comes up a lot in this discussion. I have no opinion on it having not played the game. Then came Eleka from Prince of Persia.

Maybe this will get the game out of my system once and for all.

The designers intending you to care about Eleka. This is not conjecture, they have said so themselves. I never did care about her, in fact, I have stated that I was ambivalent about the whole game, but I could never figure out why. I loved the Prince of Persia series. I did so on the walk back and it comes down to the same problem I’ve had with the new game all along, the open world nature of the game. I could talk about he horrible choice in voice actors, the insipid dialogue or the ending, but all of those could have been done differently and not fixed it. Instead I will focus on two points that are at the core of game and where I think the real problem are.

First of all I did not care about the game. The reason I was ambivalent is that the game never told me I should be otherwise. Throughout the whole game you are bombarded with the knowledge that the world is about to end if Ahriman is released and regains his powers. His generals have already escaped and are corrupting the land as we speak. This is very evident as you go through and defeat the various corrupted and dodge the black goo and other traps. But once you’ve defeated, the Hunter, Alchemist, Concubine or Warrior and heal that area you are left with a peaceful land. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, the grass is green and the water clear. It is as idyllic as it should be, so you move on to the next area. The problem is when you go back to a previous area. It’s not like you can’t either. The game invites you to revisit old areas, collecting light seeds or just enjoying the scenery. Excuse me I thought the world was ending. The game offers no threat to player for a majority of the game. Without a threat why am I motivated to fight on? Eleka’s constant insistence to continue on and stop Ahriman doesn’t endear her to me, it makes her an annoyance. I almost don’t believe her. I’m ambivalent, because I am not offered a reason not to be. If the game doesn’t offer a constant threat or at least the appearance of a threat then I’m not going to feel threatened.

Secondly, the designer’s made Eleka the new reset mechanic. Should you die, Eleka is there to save you and let you try again. Fair enough, the sands did the same thing in the previous trilogy. But there was a limit to how many uses there were. They became a carefully guarded commodity and it forced you to be smart about how you played. You could rewind time, but you could not afford to be reckless. It was there for quick fixes. In the new game, you can go crazy. Eleka will always be there to save you. You can be reckless in the game (that and I think it was there to cover up the design flaw they wont own up to of mapping too many moves to the same button that sends you into the abyss.) So if you can just keep falling and whatnot whenever you want then you aren’t grateful to be saved, you’re expectant. You no longer feel thankful to go back, but feel entitled. She is no longer the end she is the means.

This is why I was ambivalent about Prince of Persia. If the game is not going to care than neither will I. I have told anyone who would listen that I felt the first three games had crack baked directly into the discs the gameplay was so addictive. I always said to myself when I had to go, “one more wallrun, just one more.” Even Warrior Within with its unintuitive level design still made me want to run through the same death trap over and over. The new Prince of Persia also feels like they’ve baked crack into the disc only now its been a few years and buzz no longer comes, only apathy as something once great crumbles around you. I say I’m ambivalent about the game, but no matter how much time goes by I keep coming back to it. I can’t escape it. It’s like it hurt me on some emotional level. I see the greatness that it could have been, but instead all I only have are the broken promises.

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