Monday, February 09, 2009

The Tomb Raiding Prince of Persia

Over the past couple of months I've been playing both the new Prince of Persia game by Ubisoft, and also Tomb Raider underworld by Crystal Dynamics. The two games are very similar, both recent takes on the 3d platforming genre. But which one is better? There's only one way to find out, as Harry Hill would say ... fight!

Tomb Raider doesn't look bad (you can almost feel the spray from some of the ocean bits), but the settings are fairly generic, and the art style is the same as ever. But it's clearly an early lead for Prince of Persia here. In motion the game looks lovely, but when you stand still it is just gorgeous.

Underworld continues the tale from Tomb Raider Legend, with Lara still searching for her mum, while being set back by the white haired Amanda. It's no epic, but it does its job of carrying you around the various world locations. PoP's story is something about an ancient evil being unleashed, and a magical princess who must defeat it. I don't think either game scores points in this category.

Thankfully TR keeps interaction with anyone who isn't Lara to a minimum, the extended cast of Legends either dropped or kept very much to the sidelines. They seem to have decided that Lara is now the sort of person who will not only fill endangered wildlife full of lead, but will also happily kick priceless ancient vases to pieces, in search of whatever trinkets she can find.

PoP, unfortunately, forces you to spend the entire duration of the game in the company of two unlikable forgetables. The prince is some generic thief with a heart - basically Disney's Aladdin. The princess is ... actually, aside from glowing blue, I can't remember anything in particular about her.

Tomb Raider gets a point, by a whisker.

Both games set out to do different things here. PoP's idea is to take the motion of free running, and make it easy to pull off. You spot a point you want to get to, and with a series of simple button presses and some visually impressive acrobatics, you'll be there in a few moments.

Underworld gives Lara a similarly accomplished set of moves, but they're performed more deliberately, and with less speed. The paths through levels are much less obvious (though just as linear once you get going), and the result is a game where you spend a lot more time working out your route.

To me, TR's approach is much better. I felt a sense of achievement after working my way through a section, as if I was exploring it, instead of just passing through.

Combat in Tomb Raider: Hold down lock-on button; hold down fire button; jump about to avoid being hit; wait for enemy to die. Combat in Prince of Persia: Hold down block button; follow on-screen button prompts; wait for enemy to die. No points awarded either way.

Anything Else?
Tomb Raider has a nice series of difficulty setting options, and also has a nice in-game hint system. You can get a hint about either your general goal at the time ("I need to get that door open"), or the specific task ("I should try the switch over by the door").

PoP has some utterly hateful yellow "special move" pads that make me think of turning the game off every time I have to use one.

The Ronseal Test
Tomb Raider Underworld - You raid some tombs, and explore the underworld of Norse legend. Prince of Persia - He's not a prince in this one, and it isn't set in Persia. Pretty conclusive, that.

To sum up, if you're after a 3d platforming game to play, get Tomb Raider. If you want someone else to play while you watch something pretty, get Prince of Persia.

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