A bit late to the party, I decided to acquaint myself with the second-to-latest Prince of Persia. You know, the one that appeared before the Sands of Time needed to be exhumed because of dealings with Disney and movie tie-ins and whatnot. Anyway, I quite looked forward to the game, seeing that I liked the previous three a lot. They were the games that redefined modern-day Ubisoft for me, appearing like a blessed ledge to save them at the last minute from the stigma of absolute mediocrity.
Now that I’ve played the next-to-latest game for a few hours, I’m liking it well enough, but with Assassin’s Creed 1 and 2 still fresh enough in my memory to make adjusting to the new controls a bit tricky, I find myself asking “who is meant to play Prince of Persia and why”.Don’t get me wrong, all of the Ubisoft games in the series have been quality titles. It’s just that there seems to be a bit too much of an overlap between PoP and the assassin games for both to be justified. Let me just cobble together a list real quick:
- Magnet-Powered(TM) Platform/Parkour/Acrobatics level traversal
- Exotic locales
- Quipping, suave male main characters (at least since AC2 introduced Ezio – damn I hate Ezio)
- Game mechanics such as death being avoided in their true form through various wrappers of fiction
- (Insert more here, when not as glucose-starved)
The biggest thing is of course the environmental traversal. Most people looking at the games while someone is playing them will just feel the similarities, even if they can’t really add them up. So, if one walks into a game store, with a rough idea of this stuff, which series does one decide on purchasing and why?
Sure, there are differences between the games too. Possibly enough to sway some people in either direction. Prince of Persia makes no effort to fake being inspired by true events, and is decidedly more fantastical in its presentation and aesthetic. There are also differences within the game mechanics, to be sure… but these kind of seem a bit arbitrary. Yes, Assassin’s Creed seems to be more geared towards multi-enemy combat, but it works quite well for one-on-one fights too. It could’ve been made to work in PoP, I’m sure. Also, Assassin’s Creed seems generally just… better at the traversal stuff as well. Some will argue that there are differences there too, and there are. But most are just aesthetic differences; it’s all in the metaphor. In PoP, walking up to stuff and pressing a button results in Fairy Tell Magic Attack X. In Assassin’s Creed, Ezio kills someone with his bare hands and 2 minutes later laughs and parties with his friends. The mechanics are more similar between the two games than the aesthetic would have us believe.
Maybe it’s down to the target audience. Assassin’s Creed is an M/18-rated franchise and seems to like it that way. Prince of Persia is a 12+ game. Maybe this is what it all comes down to. But if that’s the case, why not make both games play exactly the same, and just change the aesthetics to get one to work better for the younger crowd?
Indeed, some of the differences between the two franchises seem to exist for difference’s sake. Like the developers are desperately trying to make the games easier to tell apart, sometimes even making certain mechanics more complicated in one game than in the other (interestingly, it’s PoP that feels a bit overcomplicated, which kind of squashes the kid-friendly theory). So all you ultimately end up with is near interchangeable mechanics that could generally work in either game. Plus a different aesthetic.
Maybe that’s all it’s about, really. A different wrapper, a different audiovisual feel to the two games. Perhaps intentionally similar and dissimilar at once, that maybe the same customer will buy both. I did, after all.
But I don’t think I’m representative in this matter. And the sales figures seem to agree. The game I’m currently playing seems to have sold just under 2 million copies on the PS3 and Xbox 360 combined (PC sales are likely marginal). Not the worst numbers, but nowhere near those of the Assassin’s Creed games. And the newest game, though it’s only been out for a few weeks, seems so far to be selling at about half the clip of its predecessor. Maybe it’s because of the backtracking to the Sands of Time canon; perhaps people preferred the new direction and were disappointed when Ubi didn’t stick with it. Maybe it’s that people are getting bored of the Arabian Nights aesthetic altogether. It’s probably not that AC cannibalizes on PoP sales – the previous game sold better than most of its predecessors after all, according to VGChartz.com. And yes, that game was released after the first Assassin’s Creed. Maybe… people bought it for their teenage kids, hoping they’d be able to play something as awesome as AC but without the blood, gore and overt sexuality, only to be let down.
I don’t have any answers. I do, however, have this niggling suspicion that everything would be made much clearer if we only had the correct answer to the question “who is meant to play Prince of Persia and why”. I wouldn’t be completely surprised if nobody at Ubi had a satisfying answer either.
Maybe there isn’t one. Maybe they just can’t bring themselves to let go of that ledge.