I beat Prince of Persia 2008 last night, and I’m still thinking about it. This is a very well-crafted game. Although many folks derided it for being too easy, it’s actually not. The game is very challenging in places; it’s just not punishing. I found myself struggling at certain points, especially boss battles, and there was a genuine sense of accomplishment when I succeeded… without any frustration from having to endure cheap deaths or repeat long sections of the game. Additionally, this game has the best implementation of quick time events that I’ve seen. It’s always clear when you should expect one, and the button you need to press is either obvious from context or random for effect. The only annoyance I had with the system was when I came back to the game after a break and forgot what the “block” symbol meant, especially when it is so similar to the “grab” symbol.
But the most interesting thing for me about the game at the moment is the ending. There will be spoilers. Throughout the game, there’s charming banter between the Prince and Elika. Part of this revolves around their differences in perspective. Elika believes in faith, in idealism, in aspiring to a cause. The Prince believes in serving oneself, doing what you want, and not waiting to get what you desire. There’s definite tension between them, and although the Prince says he’s just helping Elika so that an evil god doesn’t kill him, he’s also there because he likes Elika, both because she’s pretty and mysterious and because she can stand up to his jests and argue her part.
And then she dies.
Elika’s been dead the whole time, in a way; her father released the evil god Ahriman as payment for her resurrection. And Elika knows that in order to seal Ahriman away again, she will have to give her stolen life back. This much is foreshadowed, and I knew pretty early on that she would have to do that. All her banter with the Prince, talk of rebuilding her kingdom or seeing far-off lands… she knows that’s never going to happen. And so in the moment of triumph, she gives up her life to seal the evil God. The prince realizes what she’s doing a moment too late. He picks up her body and, in a fully interactive sequence while the credits roll, carries her to the tomb of her mother to lay her out.
And the credits end, and the game isn’t over. Four previously-barren structures bear glowing trees, symbols of the good god Ormazd. Elika lies dead. At this point, I gasped, and my SO, who was watching, said, “No. No, you’re not going to do that!”
As Ahriman whispered promises in my ears, I scaled the structures, without the help of Elika for long jumps, and cut down the four trees. Then I reentered the temple which we had fought so hard to cleanse, and cut down the final tree just as the corrupted king had done at the start of this whole mess. Because I wanted Elika to be alive. I released an evil god onto an unsuspecting world just to have the woman I had grown to love. And only then did the game end.
You’ll notice that I switched to the first person there. This is a moment of true roleplaying. The player is asked to undo all of the player’s hard work because the player character wants something. There’s no real choice there, from what I can tell; you can either save Elika, or quit the game and leave it unfinished. But it’s clear what choice the Prince would make. So I took it. And the game made me do it all, not in a cut scene, not with quick time events, but using the same controls and perspective that I used through the entire game.
This is interactive storytelling.