Review: Prince of Persia Epilogue DLC (Xbox Live)

Last year’s Prince of Persia was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Fans of the series’ earlier games often dismissed it out of hand as an oversimplified, brain-dead rehash of a platforming game, and a pale shadow of the franchise’s former glory.

Frankly, they don’t know what they’re missing. Prince of Persia was designed to be an enjoyable experience from start to finish, and for my money, it delivered almost flawlessly. What it lacked in precision platforming and twitch-reflex combat it more than made up for with simple (but not oversimplified) controls and a rhythmic balance between tense combat and laid-back, serene exploration sequences. It may not have appealed to everyone, but it was precisely what I had hoped for.

And that’s what makes the epilogue so baffling. It tries to appeal to both the game’s fans and its harshest critics, and what resulted is…well, a bit of a mystery.

We haven’t posted a review on last year’s Prince of Persia, so here’s a brief synopsis: It marked the first entry in a new Prince of Persia series, the first since the Sands of Time trilogy. Although it garnered mixed reviews from game critics, I was enthralled with the new art direction, the intuitive controls and the dizzying, sensational acrobatics. I embraced the distinctive pacing, which alternated between segments of intense action and suspense and relaxing, exploratory sequences. And yeah, I was grateful for the game’s infamous “easy” difficulty level because it made for a fluid, enjoyable experience with almost no frustration.

I’m not the only one, either. For a great op-ed on Prince of Persia, read Ludwig Kietzmann’s analysis in its entirety here. But the real crux of his argument is that Prince of Persia was designed to value your time. It doesn’t needlessly punish you for your mistakes, and it’s a better game as a result:

A stockpile of lives is no longer accepted as currency in today’s games and second chances (not to mention third, fourth and fifth chances) have ceased being a limited resource. Having your avatar squashed, mashed, mushed or mutilated is largely inconsequential when the game instantly resurrects it and offers you another go. If you’ve ever had to repeat a devious segment numerous times, you’ll agree that “another go” brings with it the real punishment for failure: your character’s life may be infinitely expendable, but your time is not.

– Ludwig Kietzmann, “Branching Dialog: R.I.P. Death

This is the biggest distinction between the Prince of Persia of last year and the Epilogue of this year: this expansion punishes you for your mistakes. And you’ll be making a lot of them, thanks in no small part to the overabundance of enemies and repetitive boss fights. Expect to fall to your near-death dozens of times while attempting the epilogue’s extended and less-than-intuitive acrobatic sequences — something the retail game did a markedly better job of. It’s good that the developers want to address the problems that a significant number of gamers had with Prince of Persia, but doing so would require a major overhaul of the rather tightly-focused design and rules that define the game. The added challenges call for precision that doesn’t really exist in the game’s control scheme, where timing is unimportant and button presses don’t yield immediate results.

Ultimately, the epilogue stuttered too often in its pacing for my tastes, and while I did finish it (in less than two hours, even) I was left with an unpleasant feeling about it. I had gone in hoping for the same joy I got from conquering an environmental puzzle and reveling in the resulting vertical playground, and what I got felt incomplete — all the struggle and none of the payoff. Still, there is some clever level design to be seen, and the added character development between The Prince and Elika (two characters I grew to really like throughout the retail game, despite my better inclinations) was thoroughly enjoyable.

Any fans of Prince of Persia will probably enjoy the experience, provided the price and sometimes-frustrating level design don’t drive them away. If approached with adequate expectations and an understanding of what’s being offered, the epilogue has some unarguably great moments to be enjoyed — just be ready for a bumpy ride.

This review was written based on the Xbox Live version of the DLC, priced at 800 Microsoft Points. Also available on PlayStation Network for $9.99. The epilogue was played to completion directly after a second play-through of Prince of Persia.

Recommended for:

  • Players who enjoyed the back-and-forth banter of The Prince and Elika in the retail game and are eager to see their relationship develop further
  • Fans of the original game’s jumping, climbing and swinging who are craving a bit more of a challenge

Not Recommended for:

  • Critics dissatisfied with the difficulty level in the original game; despite the cranked-up challenge, the game wasn’t built for it and flounders
  • Anyone expecting more of the same lush, verdant landscapes and rich, picturesque environments — you’re looking at a two-hour dungeon run with only a glimpse of the outside world
  • Those who were frustrated with Nolan North’s voice acting — the “Prince of San Diego” is back and smarmy as ever (but for the record, I like how he plays the role!)

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