Prince of Persia Preview
Given the popularity of last generation’s Prince of Persia trilogy, Ubisoft Montreal easily could have phoned-in a follow-up for the agile prince’s upcoming revival; updated visuals, some slick swordplay and the occasional Achievement or Trophy for a well executed wall run, and we’d be happier than a tyke riding Disney World’s Aladdin attraction. Credit is owed to the creative forces behind the new PoP for not only forgoing the quick cash-in route, but also actually taking some risks that could potentially alienate the established fan base.
One glance at this new PoP in action, and it’s obvious it shares little with its previous generation successes. The most striking aspect is its departure from the former, realistic visual style; the new graphics closer resemble concept art come-to-life, than traditional videogame visuals. In fact, screen shots really don’t do the ambitious art style justice. Static screens give the game a beautiful, but slightly under whelming cel-shaded appearance, but to see it in action is an entirely different experience; one that tweaks the visual sense in a way previously unseen in videogames. Saying it’s like a playable storybook or animated movie simply doesn’t capture it—maybe the game’s developers say it best by referring to the new look as “illustrative.”
Beyond the eye-popping splendor, PoP takes the series in a variety of other fresh directions. Players don the sash and baggy pants of a brand new prince—who, technically isn’t even royalty at the game’s start—in a much more open-world landscape. While it’s not exactly Grand Theft Auto: Agrabah in terms of its openness, it does offer gamers far more choices than previous entries. Objectives will remain linear, but the order in which you tackle them in its massive world is up to you. The title’s engine is the same one used in last year’s free-roaming Assassin’s Creed, so that’ll give you an idea of what we’re looking at in terms of scope. So far Ubisoft has been primarily sharing outdoor environments—caves, cliffs, valleys, sweeping vistas—but we’re told plenty of interiors will challenge the platforming prince’s skills, as well.
Whether indoors or out, however, players will face a new threat in the beyond-bad Ahriman, a mysterious manifestation of evil that infects the land with “corruption”—a menacing inky black substance. This evil-doing goo is lethal if touched, and can also block passageways. Of course, it’s nothing compared to the beasties it conjures; our demo introduced the “hunter”, a grotesque monster with glowing eyes and an enormous scissor-like appendage substituting for one of its arms. In another twist on the tried-and-true formula, PoP will only contain one-on-one battles. So, no more hacking through armies of generic spawning ghouls, as each fight will be unscripted, playing out like a unique boss encounter. Building on this further, the corrupted creatures will occasionally take on an alternate form, literally displaying the corrupted blackness fueling their fight. These frightening, tentacle-flailing incarnations of the already macabre minions can only be conquered with PoP’s most significant new addition, Elika, a female support character joining the prince's journey.
This attractive, acrobatic partner is a huge part of the franchise’s new direction; she’s not playable per se, but adds an amazing dynamic to the gameplay experience. Careful not to create something that is a burden rather than a boon, Ubisoft has taken great pains in perfecting the implementation of Elika. She’s absolutely there to help, not hinder the prince’s progress. This means no escorting or waiting for her; Elika is like your shadow, right behind you, and arguably more like an extension of the prince, rather than a separate character. Together the two can reach and tackle obstacles they could never handle solo. As we hinted above, Elika will help during fights when the enemies show their even darker sides, but just as important will be her acrobatic assistance. With hands often clasped liked trained circus performers, the duo will run, leap, scale, climb and dive seamlessly together when needed. And Elika even possesses special powers—triggered by wall-embedded artifacts—allowing her and the prince to travel amazing distances that’d be otherwise unreachable. All Elika's assisting moves can be triggered with a simple button press, as the developers are more concerned with delivering an experience that keeps players focusing on what's in front of them instead of odd button combinations or D-pad contortionism.
While Elika’s ass-kicking and agility perfectly complement the prince’s powerful repertoire, she also acts as a compass, helping guide you when the open-world overwhelms. Additionally, PoP is aiming for a deeper narrative than the series’ previous outings, and Elika is a big part of the storytelling as she shares a unique history with the game’s world. Only with her help and knowledge of the surroundings can the prince vanquish the corruption that’s swallowing the Eden-like land. Elika, the open-world approach, and the inspired artistic style are clearly the hallmarks of the prince’s reintroduction, but they’re only the beginning of the famed franchise’s reboot. The developers also promise a fresh take on the series’ staple puzzling, as well as some nifty uses for the prince’s new claw-like arm gauntlet--we only got to see him use it to slow a slide down a vertical cliff face. If this title was coming from anyone besides the folks who already brought the Prince back from the depths of forgotten franchises, then we might be hesitant of its far-reaching ambitions. However, after puzzling, platforming and sword fighting through last-gen’s excellent trilogy, we’re confident this one will deliver the royal goods.