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Prince of Persia: The Downward Spiral

Prince of Persia: Epilogue is the culmination of a game filled with lazy design choices and form over function decisions.

It magnificently exemplifies those vile, those rank, those despicable trends in the burgeoning market of downloadable content that, despite the relative newness of the concept, should already have long ago been banished to the history books, never again to be forced upon the poor, unsuspecting consumer.

Prince of Persia: Epilogue was unfairly criticized for making gamers pay a fee for the ending to the game, a charge that, were it true, would make Prince of Persia into the rough equivalent of a mafia boss of the digital realm, extorting his poor victims for every last cent they’re worth, unable to wipe the satisfied grin off his pudgy face all the while.

Such a charge is blatantly false, however what it does instead is sadly no better.

In fact, the mafia approach might have been preferred if only for its predictability.

What we really have here is a case of history repeating itself; of terrible design trends coming to their logical, inevitable conclusion; of the giant, noisy marketing machine clanging to life and seizing hold of development, pushing the potentially interesting story toward its sad, predictable, totally unsatisfying non-end.

Clearly the design team behind this game had a better idea of what their world should look like than how it should play.  The visuals and animation are stunning, the music is epic, the plot progression is interesting (in fact, it’s the only thing that kept me going through the maddening Hedge Maze of Eternal Torture that the game eventually devolved into), and the characters are decently compelling once you get past the jackassery of Prince and if you learn to obsessively press the certain controller button that prompts the random spurts of dialog.

Along with the wheelbarrows full of artistic ambition, however, comes dump trucks full of arrogance and misplaced self-confidence of the type that can only find its source in an overbearing marketing team and a budget so mind-bogglingly huge it takes control of the entire project.

It wasn’t enough to make me suffer through an unspeakably annoying combat system in the game proper.  It wasn’t enough to make me fight the same tedious enemies over and over again.  It wasn’t enough to reuse the same platforming ideas ad nauseam until I began to wonder whether I was running around in circles instead of progressing through the levels as I was supposed to.  

Perhaps most hurtful, it wasn’t enough to take a potentially interesting story, the diamond in the rough, the hundred dollar bill buried in the giant shit pile, the proverbial carrot on the stick that was enough, just barely enough, to keep me moving through the game and hack the ending off with a rusty machete, put a small bandage over the bleeding stump, and shove an unsatisfying cliffhanger down my throat while forcing a hastily written note into my hand that said, “If you ever want to see your precious ending, buy our inevitable sequel.  It’s gonna totally rock.  Sucker.”

This game did so much to anger me over the course of its relatively short play time, so much that detailing it any further would surely send the length of this post into the realm of the patently ridiculous, yet it apparently wasn’t enough for the scheming bastards at Ubisoft.  

No, they had one last little prank up their sleeve.

For their ultimate coup de grâce, they slapped together a stinking, concentrated dose of their most annoying design choices from the main game, slapped the label “Epilogue” on it to make it sound semi-legitimate and trick tired, wounded saps like me into daring to get our hopes up for it, thinking it might lend some closure to the story or right some of the wrongs we had been dragged through, and then had the sheer brass balls necessary to actually charge gamers for the pile of crap.  

Those maniacal douchebags must have been laughing all the way to the bank.  

Prince of Persia: Epilogue contains some of the most difficult, most annoying platforming in the entire game.  Cheap tricks and shamelessly reused platforming elements lurk around every corner and the drunken cameraman does his best to ensure that you don’t even know which way is up, much less which way you’re supposed to jump.

The combat was so maddeningly button-mashy that it literally gave me hand cramps and by the time the ordeal was barely half over I was just this side of taking a blood oath to personally destroy the game disc in the fires of Hell if I had to fight that same goddamned annoying enemy again.  You’ll feel like you’re facing one of the two supremely frustrating enemy types featured in the three hour ordeal every five minutes or so right up to the final battle which is, go figure, exactly the same as all the other fights you’ve had against that same enemy.

Did I mention that, somewhere in the midst of all this blatant self-copying, they actually reused the concept for one of the final “boss” segments of the game itself too?  

Yet I still continued.  I had paid good money for this thing and I was damn well going to make it to the end, come Hell or shattered controllers.

Humans are supposed to beat video games, not the other way around.

Finally, I prevailed.  

Even more surprisingly, both of my Playstation 3 controllers are still intact.

What did I get for my hours of struggle?  Was it worth the pain and anguish and stress and disappointment?

In a word: no.

In two words: hell no.

What the smug developers at Ubisoft saw fit to bestow upon me after suffering for a few more interminable hours at the hands of their diabolical whims was, amazingly, a non-ending that was outmatched in its lack of containing absolutely anything that a good ending should only by the original ending to the game, and not by much at that.

What I got was the hardest to obtain teaser trailer I’ve ever viewed in my life, a small hole in my wallet, and a large hole in my soul.

I could go on another rant here about how these glorified advertisements posing as endings are ruining both movies and games these days, or even about how bad Ubisoft in particular is becoming after having done more or less the same damn thing with Assassin’s Creed, but I’ll refrain.  Those are different arguments altogether and, frankly, I just don’t have the energy for them after what this game has put me through.
What I will say is that Ubisoft’s sin against satisfying storytelling hurts more than most because by the time I got to the end of Prince of Persia, the story and the characters represented the only possible hope I had of coming away from the game with a positive experience.  I wanted to like the game, but the terrible combat, control scheme that felt like I was giving vague suggestions to Prince rather than actually controlling him, and repetition wore too thin.

When, after all of that, the story fell out on me too and I could practically see the dollar signs glowing in the pupils of Ubisoft’s marketing department, it hurt.  It hurt because I had spent my time playing a game that ultimately proved to be a severely unpleasant experience.  It hurt because I felt I had wasted my time on a story that didn’t go anywhere.  It hurt because I really did want to like the story and the characters and I wanted to see what happened to them.  And it hurt because I now know it will take nothing short of a miracle for Ubisoft to get me interested enough in this franchise again to take a chance on spending more time with it when the possibility of a second, even more crushing disappointment always looms on the horizon.

It’s bad enough when you leave a game disappointed, but when you leave wishing that you had never picked up the blasted piece of software in the first place?

That’s an entirely different level of bad.

All I wanted was a moderately satisfying conclusion to a tale I was kind of enjoying.  Tell me dear readers, still in possession of that glorious thing called “sanity”, is that really so much to ask?

And if it is, why have we let the state of things sink to such lows?

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  • Response
    Response: my review here
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Reader Comments (2)

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