There were a handful of games that emerged from E3 worth marking a calendar for or building a shrine to. Prince of Persia was one of those games.
Sure we’d been seeing screens and artwork trickle about the interwebs just prior to the big event, but that initial trailer, seeing the new art-style running and realising Ubisoft Montreal are one of the few companies left with the cajones to try new things was something I’ll long remember.
Well, I enjoyed the memory of that moment for all of a day as the very next I went into Ubi’s booth and sat down with the game running in all its glory in front of me. Now that’s
something I’ll remember for a long time (probably until we get to go hands-on even more in the not too distant future). But I digress.
So what’s all the hubbub then? Well besides the new art-style and beautifully constructed new game-world (which is running off the Assassin’s Creed engine, I might add), Prince of Persia has thrown its past behind itself. Ubisoft opted to leave the last Prince trilogy (and spin-offs) where they were and create an all-new reimagining of the timeless story of the Prince of Persia.
What this means is for everyone, the entire experience is going to be new. And while the usual athletics and death-defying leaps and stunts the Prince is known for have remained, intact, they’ve been heightened and refreshed for a new beginning.
According to Ubisoft, our hapless prince begins the game really as a nomad wondering the desert in search of treasures and adventure. He’s not a pillar of royal perfection, nor is he the most noble of men, but when he bears witness to the destruction of the Tree of Life
and becomes entangled with the beautiful Princess Elika, his life changes in ways he couldn’t have imagined.
It’s the introduction of Elika, and the gaul of her reason for being in the game that is such a refreshing change of pace. She’s a support character, this much is true, but Ben Mattes, lead designer for the game explains unlike other support characters in games Elika is here to help you and to make you look cool. She never gets in the way, never uses initiative and never dies. It’s Mattes’ team’s goal to create a support system that both fleshes out the narrative (you can talk to her at any time with the push of button and learn more about the story) and keeps the game’s flow intact. And if the Prince of Persia series has become renowned for anything, it’s its acrobatic and level design flow.
Level design is another area touted as instrumental in the game’s change-ups. Unfortunately none of what we saw of the game truly
illustrated Ubi’s new vision, but we’re told the game will offer both open-world play and constructed, linear paths replete with action and narrative scripting. Essentially you’ll come to a series of open-plan hub-type areas where you can make more than a single decision for progression. Moving ahead with your chosen direction then brings the action and headway down to its linear point. Apparently the overall goal will be to avoid handing out too much freedom to gamers who don’t know how to utilise it, and to keep the game’s narrative flow and progressive action on a clear-cut course.
How you utilise Elika (and her abilities) with what’s available in the game’s environments then are key to the progressive mechanic. Elika will gain new magic abilities, and you can upgrade her in whatever way you see fit. With her new enhancements then, you’ll equally be able to access areas of the game-world you couldn’t before (in a fashion not at all dissimilar to Metroid game and level design). Bearing this in mind does make you realise the game-world will likely be a single map with various access points to each of the open-plan sections – something the last Prince games never had, but has obviously been pulled from Assassin’s Creed and elaborated upon.
Similarities to Assassin’s Creed aren’t *too
* welcome by Mattes, but they are expected (after all it’s the same technology, if tweaked a bit). But he and his team are quick to point out the visual differences which see Assassin’s Creed going for a far more realistic look and feel, while Prince is an illustration come to life; a picture worth more than a thousand words and the technical implementation of this new visual system is even more stunning when seen in motion.
Screenshots just don’t do it justice and the trailers all around don’t truly capture the sense of motion and art as synergy. You’d think a painting with brush strokes shouldn’t move, but Prince of Persia’s art system educates you with style.
Speaking of synergy, another facet of Prince of Persia is its base elements of juxtaposition. The Corruption
is a black all-encompassing mess that has strangled light and life out of the world, it’s essentially the black to Prince and Elika’s white. Obviously the combatant to this then is light and life, and it’s in clearing areas of The Corruption
that Elika can return life and peace to the world. This is shown in a dizzying display of magic as grass, flowers, shrubs, trees animals, insects and more are returned to the arid landscape, reinvigorating what was previously dead and seemingly gone.
The last part to the demo showed off one of the game’s main antagonists - The Hunter
. Like Gmork from The Neverending Story
he is an agent of The Corruption sweeping the land, and is trying all he can to fell the Prince and ensure life is snuffed from the world. In something of a pseudo boss battle, the Prince battles The Hunter across a portion of a map with tangents of battle split up with platforming and traversing moments.
Battle throughout is especially cool as Matte’s mentions one of the main sources of inspiration for the all-new system as Soul Calibur. Each confrontation should feel nail-biting as opposed to simply taking out the trash (as it does in games like God of War and Devil May Cry). With this in mind the team has had room to create a dynamic sensation of confrontation through intense camera cuts and sweeps. You’ll feel the intensity when the camera gets up close and personal while the Prince and The Hunter are locking swords and exchanging deathly stares of power and intractable desire – both for good and evil, respectively. Amidst the dynamic camera work, you won’t help but marvel at the animation system and aforementioned visual style. This game really is one in a million.
After defeating the monster (for now, we’re told you’ll see him a lot throughout your adventure) the demo was over, unfortunately. But I’ve never meant it more than now when I say “so far, so good”. This really is a truly epic reimagining of one of gaming’s great adventure icons, and looks to do for the action/adventure game this generation what Resident Evil 4 did in the last. We’ll just have to wait until the end of the year to see if they can really pull it off.
For more on what we think was one of E3's more impressive titles and is a clear runner for the coveted Game Of The Year award, be sure to check out our AusGamers Prince of Persia game page