I'll have to admit that I approached Warrior Within with a great degree of hesitancy. I was absolutely head-over-heels in love with the first game, and I still view it as one of the greatest revivals of the current (and soon-to-be-over) era. But, after hearing what Ubisoft had done to the Prince formula, I held off on buying it. After I bought it, I held off even longer on playing it. Now that I've seen the Prince's second adventure through to the end, I'd have to say that on the whole, it was pretty damned good.
Although it has been mostly panned, I actually think (in retrospect) that the game's darker tone was a good idea, and a natural progression for the series. Time travel has always fascinated me as a concept, and seeing the Prince try to unravel the temporal events skewing his world so far off course kept me captivated. However, I do feel as though Ubisoft went a bit too far in making Warrior Within as "edgy" as they did.
The game's grey and brown palette replaces the missing warmer tones, losing the soft, dreamlike aura of the Sands of Time in the process. Adding a variety of S&M enemies came off as cheesy and immature rather than gripping and intense, and the heightened emphasis on combat is definitely a mistake. I liked the boss battles and the large enemies that posed challenges of their own, but I quickly grew tired of being thrown into battle after battle, almost constantly outnumbered. Fighting in Warrior Within just isn't that enjoyable. (It wasn't in the first game, either.) I think it does serve a useful purpose in breaking up the serene platforming sections, but as it stands, it's overkill.
However, neither the snarling, angry Prince nor the over-emphasis on disposable swordplay can diminish what turned out to be truly excellent environmental design, and sprawling, vertical areas that are a joy to conquer. Even better than the original, Warrior Within's complex environments are pleasing to the brain as well as the hands. There is a real feeling of accomplishment after getting to the goal of each segment, much like Mike said in the main review.
While magically rotating traps, architecturally impossible parapets and huge room-filling machines defying the laws of engineering still populate the Prince's world, they're all more cohesive and believably convincing than before. The different elements and obstacles complemented each other, and were easy to become engrossed in. Going from the shore of the island to the throne room perched on its heights kept me glued to my controller, and making my way from the first rotten, rocky chambers to the game's ending climax would still have been a great adventure without the story elements or combat.
I also have to give respect to the designers for the way they successfully interwove the large areas of play into each other to create the semi-nonlinear structure that exists on the Island of Time. Each room and level must be traveled through at least twice, once in the present and once in the past. Mike's observation that doing so was never tedious is entirely accurate. In fact, I quite liked seeing the differences in navigation required when a bridge had crumbled into a ravine, or when trees overtook a courtyard after jumping forward a hundred years. Each time period is basically a different level, despite looking similar to its counterpart.
While it's also true that the game does not have a specifically pre-set path of advancement for players, the same sort of "point A to point B" logic thankfully still exists to keep players moving forward, and did not falter until the very end. There were two occasions late in the adventure when I thought that a little more linearity—even a hand-holding—wouldn't have hurt. But I'm glad to report that the structure and focus of the game wasn't permanently damaged by leaving things a little more open for players who want to explore or to revisit areas at will.
I could live without the attitude, the combat, the holes in the game's plot, and the scantily clad dominatrix enemies telling me how much pleasure they get out of pain, but I have to either hand it to Ubisoft or thank my lucky stars that none of the elements I just mentioned were enough to destroy the solidity and appeal that my eighteen hours with Prince of Persia: Warrior Within possessed. In this particular case, the charisma of the game is not contained in who the Prince is, but rather, in where the Prince is.