Second Impressions — PoP (2008) Parkour

Parkour, the fine art of getting from point A to point B in the least efficient, but coolest looking, manner. Why take the stairs up to the second floor of the tower when you can scale up the exterior wall?! Hells yes.

And in regard to parkour, just like with the fighting, Sands of Time and Assassin’s Creed did it perfectly. Assassin’s Creed was a little more realistic, but both were believable. Or, like I said in the first impression post, they looked cool enough to be just about believable.

And I think that’s important to a degree (a small degree) because it affects how you think about the character. I don’t want to give off the impression that I dislike the parkour mechanic because of the level of realism, but I do want to say that if I’m watching a guy take three steps along a wall before jumping to a far ledge, I’m holding my breath and thinking how amazing it is that he pulled it off.

But in PoP (Prince of Persia), the realism is so far gone that I find myself caring less. I mean, seriously, you are running, upside down, along the ceiling — using a giant wolverine glove and an occasional ring hanging from the ceiling to keep you aloft. Or you’re running along a wall on the left, jumping to the parallel wall to the right as you lose speed and momentum, re-gaining both to take another half-dozen steps before grabbing one of those rings to, somehow, again re-gain your momentum to take another half-dozen steps, and then ending it by jumping back to the left wall with another burst of momentum for yet more steps and a final jump to the ledge at the end of the run. It doesn’t have quite the same level of tension to know you can effectively disregard gravity.

What? You think that’s disregarding gravity? Well, wait until you’re flying. Yes, flying. There are chunks of the game where you run up a wall, stick to the wall and a magic plate while Elika follows you, grab her hand to pull her up to you while you’re still sticking in place, and then kick away from the magic plate to fly around the level. From there, you proceed through various QTEs (quick-time elements). That is, she flies so unnecessarily close to a wall that you have to duck to prevent getting beheaded, or she flies so close to a cage that you have to swing her to the left so you don’t smash into it.

But you never just fly straight to where you want to go. You fly 10 feet away from the next target. That way, you fly into the wall 10 feet away, and then somehow run to the left or right, or up the wall, to get to that next plate, so you can pull Elika to you and go another round. Or you get dumped in mid-air, 10 feet away, forcing her to catch you in mid-air and act as one of those aforementioned rings, giving you the momentum to keep on trucking and hit the wall.

The less said about the flying, the better — so let’s get back to walking on the ceiling. And the moments where Elika catches you in mid-air and then throws you so you get double your jumping distance. (She’s strong enough to catch you and throw you, but you have to carry her around on your back while you cling to vines, or pull her up to ledges.)

Everything I’ve said so far is kind of negative but… well, I’m not going to say the parkour, despite the lacking level of realism, is great or even good. Ultimately, it feels too much like you’re watching a bunch of scripted, unrealistic animation sequences. Repeatedly. And the more you recognize the sequences, the more quickly you react to the QTEs. You’re running along a wall and — quick, there’s a ring. Press [B]! OK, good job, but there’s a pit in front of you. Press [X] to jump it! Now the screen is going gray. It means you’re falling. Hit [Y] to have Elika catch you and throw you farther. Whew! You did it. You pressed the exact button you needed to press at just the right time. Or, close to the right time. You just have to get it close. Kind of close. Close-ish.

Making it feel more QTE-like, if you fail to press any of these buttons at the right time, or close enough to the right time, you get to re-play the entire sequence until you do them all properly. No deviation at all. Press the right combo and you get to see… the next animation sequence. Whee. If you contrast that with, say, Assassin’s Creed, you see something that felt, to me, much different. In AC, you were trying to find the right spot to start a climb, and then figure out the best way to get to another point. Sometimes you were doing this while guards were following up after you and grabbing your feet, or archers were shooting at you from nearby embankments. There was never a feeling of press the right button at the right time to keep playing. It felt more like an actual game system.

But anyway, moving on…

There are two stages to the parkour in PoP.

The first stage has you running along walls to get to the light fountains where you fight your opponents. And then, after you win the fights, the second stage features little white puff balls appearing throughout the level for you to collect.

I kind of have a thing for collecting stuff, so the second stage works more into my typical style of gaming. Plus, some of the light nodes are hard to get to — which results in actual challenge, or something kind of resembling it, even if it’s the kind of challenge of deciding where to go to get the necessary animation sequence to start. Sure, the animation sequences feel repetitive — are repetitive, I mean — but when you find a new node at the end of your run, or a dozen of them, it’s a moment of rare pleasure for this game where you’ll find yourself sarcastically quipping, “I only need 200 more of these things? Awesome.”

Another post, another bottom line: I mentioned while playing that if there were no fighting in this game, or if the fighting were at least tolerable, I’d probably be enjoying myself more and paying less attention to the QTEs. Maybe when I try some new combat combinations, I’ll get through the combat more quickly and be less frustrated. Maybe then I’ll enjoy the game more. But right now, as bad as the combat is, it’s dragging the parkour down with it.

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