Rebooting the Reboot

When sequels fail to recapture the success of their predecessors, developers are faced with a decision. On the one hand they can cut their losses, scrap the franchise and move on to fresh digital pastures. Alternatively, if there is anyone at the company who believes that there may be life (read “bucks”) in the old girl yet, they can suggest the designers take the original concept back to the drawing board and perform a reboot. In this sense, game designers behave much like the gamers who gleefully devour their wares; when they’ve used up all their continues, they press reset and start all over again.

In 2008, Ubisoft brought its extremely popular Prince of Persia series to the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. After the success of the Playstation 2 reboot, subtitled Sands of Time, and the two proceeding sequels, The Warrior Within and The Two Thrones, it would have been reasonable to expect that the prince’s first high-definition adventure would pick up where the old trilogy left-off. The formula had been established, and it had proved critically and financially profitable. A few control tweaks, a couple of gymnastic flourishes and a graphical update, and Ubisoft would be free-running all the way to the bank.

Sands of Time, The Warrior Within, The Two Thrones

But instead of Sands of Time HD, loyal fans of the series found themselves staring at a cell-shaded prince with an American accent who appeared to be cosplaying as a Final Fantasy character. Prince of Persia 2008 was a radical departure for the series, featuring a completely retooled one-on-one combat system, non-linear progression and a female love-interest/sidekick whose job it was to magically airlift the prince to safety whenever he so much as tripped over a dandelion. While the wall-running, pole-climbing, come-and-have-a-go-if-you-think-you’re-hard-enough-gravity aspects of the franchise remained, the world, the characterisation and fighting mechanics established in the Playstation 2 trilogy had been swept away in a sandstorm of bright colours, glib banter and weird black goo.

Fans were bemused, and despite generally positive reviews the game failed to shift as many units as Ubisoft would have liked. Some cited the low difficulty level and inability to die as a turn-off, while others blamed the day-glo graphical overhaul and repetitive boss fights for spoiling the party. I blamed Nolan North, because that’s what I do when games have Nolan North in them. But whatever the reason, it was clear that Prince of Persia 2008 had divided its hardcore fanbase. Ubisoft had rebooted a franchise that many felt didn’t need rebooting, and the faithful were not amused.

Prince of Persia 2008

The developers were now faced with a conundrum. They could stick to their guns, keep the new-look prince and his unfeasibly dexterous girlfriend, and produce a sequel set in the colourfully abstract universe they had just spent two years crafting. Alternatively, they could call the whole thing a failed experiment, go to the office breakout area, remove the Dagger of Time from its hiding place (at the back of the fridge behind the festering sandwich that everyone knows should be disposed of but nobody wants to touch), use its otherworldly powers to reverse the flow of history and thus prevent the reboot from ever existing in the first place.

With none of the current Ubisoft development team willing to touch the sandwich, they fell upon a third, less gross option: they rebooted the reboot. With a big-budget movie based loosely on Sands of Time in production, Ubisoft grasped the opportunity to make the obligatory movie tie-in. And, with the movie using the old trilogy as source material, it was the perfect excuse to bring the franchise back to its populist roots without it seeming like too much of a cop-out.

Cue this year’s Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands. Gone were the dazzling visuals and open-world layout of the 2008 reboot. The Forgotten Sands was business as usual: a screen filled with golds and reds; an unaccompanied prince using his agility to leap chasms, operate ancient cogs and levers and fight hoards of demons en masse. In many ways, The Forgotten Sands was the game that fans were expecting in 2008, the true continuation of the Prince of Persia saga.

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands

Now, I have a confession to make. I really liked Prince of Persia 2008. It was flawed — it was too easy, the combat reminded me of the awkwardly rigid fencing of Assassin’s Creed, and Nolan North’s voice was in it — but I though it was an engrossing experience filled with imagination, kinetic thrills and visual splendour. To my eyes, The Forgotten Sands looks dated and uninspired in comparison. Perhaps the word that best describes The Forgotten Sands is ‘safe’. And whilst ‘safe’ may ultimately be more lucrative, it rarely captures the heart.

I, for one, was delighted to see Ubisoft’s bold re-imagining of such a popular series, and I was sad when the reboot was itself rebooted. The developers took a risk I wish more developers would take. Rather than sticking to the established formula they let their imaginations run wild and came up with something exciting and unique. Sure, it didn’t please everyone, but with so many unimaginative, copy-and-paste sequels on the shelves, I’m more than happy to make room for the occasional flight of fancy, especially one that results in something as beautiful as Prince of Persia 2008.

The boss fights were pretty lame though.







3 responses to “Rebooting the Reboot”

  1. The Rook avatar
    The Rook

    I’ve enjoyed each of the Prince Of Persia games but would have liked a sequel to the 2008 version. The story left on quite a cliffhangar it would have been good to see where they went with it.

  2. TimG13 avatar

    I too rather enjoyed the 2008 installment. The criticisms against it are understandable but the Epilogue DLC would suggest that Ubisoft were prepared to follow it up, sooner or later. Fingers crossed, eh?
    As for Nolan North, I think he’s one of the best voice actors around. But that may be because I absolutely love Uncharted…

  3. James avatar

    It would be delicious if they did decide to revisit the 2008 story and style. I’m a little doubtful, but hope springs eternal.

    As for Mr North, it’s not that he’s a bad voice actor; more that he always voices smug, obnoxious characters in the same smug, obnoxious manner. Perhaps he’s utterly charming in person, and the irritation his voice work causes me is a testament to his supreme acting skills. But what with his appearances in the PoP, Dark Void, Assassin’s Creed, Uncharted, Halo and Final Fantasy franchises, it would be nice if a major game series decided *not* to cast him now and then. I think we’ve reached saturation point. Man cannot survive on Nolan North alone.

Leave a Reply