After finally getting my copy of Prince of Pesia back from the bandits who've been borrowing it the last month or so, I've at long last had a chance to play through the Epilogue downloadable content.
Following immediately after the game's powerful ending, Epilogue sees the Prince and Elika on the run from Ahriman's power. Taking shelter in a dusty mausoleum, they stumble across a series of tunnels that run under the hills, providing a path to an area of comparitive safety.
The Epilogue doesn't shy away from the game's ending; in fact, the consequences of the ending are the core of the downloadable content. Elika is understandably not impressed by what's happened, but the Prince finally gets the chance to tell his side of the story. Not content with taking victory at a price, the Prince has chosen to gamble everything in the hopes of a more lasting win. Or at least, that's how his rationalisations go; it's clear his real motivations are more emotional than logical.
The writing in Epilogue is some of the best in the game, and as with the original content the dialogue and interplay between the Prince and Elika is the real meat of what's on offer. However, to experience it all you're going to have to put up with some of the most frustrating gameplay that Prince of Persia has to offer.
The gameplay side has seen some small improvements. There's a new attack option available - a running charge - and a new plate to unlock, which opens paths by summoning phantasmal wall sections into being. Also, the horrible plate-initiated flying sections are blessedly nowhere to be seen.
Checkpoints are fewer and further between, though - trips between one area of firm ground and the next can take upwards of a minute, which makes forward progress significantly harder. The rise in difficulty brings into sharper relief the game's mechanical problems, which were more forgiveable when you weren't falling to your death quite so often. The camera is still horrid, for example, sometimes automatically angling to where you need to go next but more often stubbornly pointing at dead ends while you're trying to look up and down for a way to progress.
The levels are unnecessarily dark; distinguishing the lethal shadow-blobs from clean wall at a distance can be tricky. Also, the timed sections make a return, where you have to clear a certain are before black fumes kill you. This mechanic was used well in the original content but here it's frustrating - the dark screen filter cause by the mechanic exacerbates the existing vision problems, and often the effect doesn't give you the necessary time to work out your next move while you're clinging to a mid-wall fissure and struggling with an uncooperative camera.
You'll have to deal with the green plates again, too. Those are the ones that send you charging up vertical walls at high speed. They were originally fun just due to the sense of speed involved; however, late in the original game the cheap collisions with scenery and the requirement to learn the route in advance rather than react on the fly made them a lot less welcome. That trend continues in Epilogue and the twenty minutes or so involving green plates are easily the worst twenty minutes in the game.
A lot of what made the original content addictive is missing, too. The levels proceed linearly, for example. There's no option to choose your next destination or revisit a previous one. You don't cleanse areas, so it's a lot less satisfying finishing a level, and there's no hunting for light seeds. The new collectible item is the "light fresco", a portion of glowing wall that you need to run or slide across to collect. You'll only be rewarded, though, for your first light fresco and your last, and the linear nature of the levels means that missing one (such as by not being aware that they could be collected) removes the incentive to go looking for any others.
For all its flaws, though, Epilogue is a first-class piece of downloadable content. It delivers maybe three or four hours of solid play, it's a non-stop parade of new levels and new challenges, it's built upon the very strong foundation of Prince of Persia's generally excellent gameplay, and it features some of the best story and writing currently available in a videogame.
If you enjoyed Prince of Persia, Epilogue isn't an optional extra, it's a must-have. It's an excellent addition to an excellent game and it only makes me more excited for the next installment of the Prince's adventures.