Prince of Persia
30th Oct 2008 | 08:00
Everyone's trying to reach a new demographic these days; Mario's getting fit, Banjo's building cars and the Prince of Persia has gone all... Teen America.
The Prince's very 'Saved by The Bell' accent was the first thing that struck all of us. This is certainly a new royalty as new Prince is more Han Solo than Luke Skywalker, kicking off our adventure in search of his lost Donkey - or at least the bag of King's gold it's carrying on its back. All the while he's hollering and wisecracking like Stiffler from American Pie. Okay, maybe it's not that bad.
He's brash, loud and not quite everyone's cup of tea, which seems to be a metaphor for Ubisoft's revamped platformer as a whole.
The stunning art style is one of most beautiful and detailed we've ever seen - looking like a real life moving oil painting at some points - but somehow in our not-quite finished code Prince of Persia still feels a little rough around the edges.
First off, the triumphs. After playing through the first act of the game we're in love with the combat system - again. Ubisoft Montreal has opted for a more strategic 'duelling-style' sword combat system which after three PoP games of relentless button mashing feels like a breath of fresh air.
Instead of ten moody swordsmen Prince's intro chucks single one-on-one duels in your path, as the Prince and mysterious, magic-abled companion Erika fight their way out of a crumbling temple, as it spills darkness onto the land.
Combat controls are wisely simplified and streamlined across the four controller face buttons, in the Xbox 360's case acrobatics are on A, grapples on B, sword moves on X and our magic mate Erika on Y.
Throughout combat and platforming these move allocations never budge, and very quickly it's easy to figure out clever combos around the thinking man's pace of duels.
Starting things off with an X slice on our black and gooey opponent, we can follow it up with a B grapple which will fling him into the air. From there we can either deliver a killer blow with an airborne lunge assigned to A, or unleash Erika's magic assault with a few taps of the Y button.
You can use these in any order you want and when combined with blocks, counter attacks and the odd QTE sequence, it all works very, very well and feels satisfying.
Thankfully this 'rock-paper-scissors' method of control spills over into the Prince's acrobatic movements, making for a platforming system with a strategic feel. The B button again activates the Prince's grapple moves, so if a grapple ring appears in your path a tap of the red button will successfully swing you along, extending your wall run or trip up the wall.
Jumping has been simplified and now wall-running and swings work entirely on A. There's the odd hickup when you scramble up the wall when you actually want to wall-run it, but most of the time it works well and escaping from the crumbling temple, with walls and flooring falling all around us, is effortless.
As you can imagine from Ubisoft Montreal, it's all beautifully animated as well. There's the odd unbelievable move here and there such as the Spider-Man-like wall-run, but otherwise Prince and co move with impressive realism. And thankfully due to some clever routines such as jumping on the Prince's back during climbs, comrade Erika never gets in the way.
Later on in the first act as we progress to explore the dark and lava-filled City of Light, the magic lady and her Y-assigned magic moves play an even bigger part in swinging and jumping. The most simple use is by extending your jumps using the Y-button, and later you can use the brunette lass in conjunction with special walls pads, that launch the prince in a mad dash up walls and across the ceiling.
This move, called 'Breath of Ormazd', is one of Erika's special powers unlocked by returning collectable Light Seeds back to the overworld temple. It's easily the most impressive section of platforming we've seen so far; after scrambling up walls and across platforms to get to the glowing green pad, a press of Y sends the Prince exploding in a pre-defined direction up the wall in a glowing aura of magic.
The section has you dodging lamps and ceiling posts as you dash between pad to pad, shooting up the wall and across winding ceilings to make a mad puzzle of Ubisoft's gorgeous scenery. It's sections like this that'll define the new Prince, and we're hoping it's just the beginning.
But at this stage Prince of Persia is far from perfect. Exploration of the world in particular, in our brief time with the game, feels like it needs more. Often in our adventure through the first act we lost sight of the path ahead and even ended up backtracking in giant circles.
Obviously we see that a Fable II-style waypoint trail would ruin much of the thrill that comes from scrambling by your finger tips across perilous platforming sections. But this is a much more free-form PoP, with no more straight-to-the-goal linear path. Therefore, it needs more than a pause map and women shouting at us on screen to make the way forward clear.
There is, to be fair, the odd 'glowing orb' showing us the way forward - and it might work more prominently in the final version - but it still wasn't around when we needed it.
Combat too, while fantastic, isn't without its down points. We found that the Prince could do with more fluid movement when circling his duel foes, as some early mini-bosses require you to grapple them off small ledges with precision, and can get frustrating.
That considered we've still got high hopes for the new Prince, which even in its still not-quite-done form has plenty more positives to write about alongside its occasional rough bump. Hopefully Ubisoft, master of fixing gameplay problems at the last minute (cough, Assassin's Creed) will work its magic once more...