In these predictable console days where imagination and innovation play second fiddle to genre and cliché even the most stunning games can be tainted by the curse of the sequel, where publishers lose sight of what made a title so enticing in their haste to deliver something bigger, bolder and more complex. Yet while recent Prince Of Persias fell foul of the follow-up jinx and became increasingly befuddled and gloomy, this stripped down reworking of the agile aristocrats adroit antics is an exquisite return to form.
Ditching the capricious prince from the Sands Of Time in favour of a nomad who reluctantly stumbles into this magical quest, the new Persia offers the same heady blend of perilous platforming, swashbuckling swordplay and placid puzzle solving as its predecessors, but is firmly focused on giving players a more intuitive and thrilling experience where less is definitely more.
The most obvious benefit of this simplified approach is in the combat. While previous editions have seen players surrounded by squads of scimitar-wielding goons in pantaloons, all the combat in this latest edition is one-on-one, encouraging players to get to grips with the princes moves and chain attacks, rather than randomly hammering the buttons and hoping for the best. Reducing the size of the battles also makes for more cinematic altercations, the in-game camera rushing in to frame the action and highlight exciting moments, subsequently cranking up the drama to snapping point. An instinctive battle system where you can blend attacks rather than following patterns predetermined by the coders also makes for more engaging blade play, and the condensed clashes also allow for smarter villains and more challenging duels, making victories more rewarding as it takes genuine skill and timing to stab up the bad guys.
But while the combat is exhilarating, the role of violence has been dimished in favour of what Prince Of Persia does best: acrobatics. This time skirmishes are only used to punctuate the lithe heros jumping, swinging and tumbling, the game world constructed in a way that pushes players to search for the most efficient path forward and string together breathtaking stunts to reach their goal. The heros new metal glove, which allows him to slide down vertical surfaces, also adds new possibilities to the gymnastics, but whats most striking is the fluidity of the action; using streamlined controls where outrageous moves are unleashed with the simplest of button strokes, players can run along vertical walls, work with their computer-controlled companion to cross impossible gaps or swing from poles without becoming bogged-down in a mire of special moves, realising the games potential for spine-tingling set-pieces and making Prince Of Persia one of 2008s most exhilarating adventures.
Without doubt, Sands Of Time fans will decry Persias new structure where its impossible to die, the action instead reverting to an earlier save point and forcing gamers to play through certain sections again and again until they get it right. The games unique presentation a fresh take on the cel-shading made famous by The Legend Of Zelda: The Wind Waker, but looking more like an animated watercolour than stylised computer graphics will also pique players more accustomed to the series more traditional art style, but for intoxicating action and dramatic feats of daring-do that make you feel like a character from The Matrix, Prince Of Persia is hard to beat.