Even though Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands will be released roughly around the same time as the Jerry Bruckheimer Hollywood blockbuster, there is no relation to the movie at all, so don't expect a Jake Gyllenhaal-look alike or voice actor. The story does take place in the Sands of Time universe, though, during the seven-year gap between the Sands of Time and Warrior Within. The Forgotten Sands will focus on just one of the prince's many wild adventures and explains his drastic transformation from the once naive, cheerful young man in Sands of Time to the jaded, brooding character seen in Warrior Within.
The game starts off with an impressive, sweeping view of a city that is under attack as we see scores of sword-wielding men fighting along the battlements and fortress grounds. This besieged kingdom belongs to the prince's older brother, whom the prince has decided to visit, but it seems that he has come at a bad time--or perhaps just at the right time. With the ongoing chaotic battle unfolding in the background, we quickly made our way down along the stone steps, leapt gracefully from one crumbling ledge to the next, and deftly darted along walls to join the fight. The prince's acrobatic movements looked very familiar as he shimmied carefully across narrow ledges and somersaulted effortlessly from one pole to the next. The flow of combat was just as smooth, but one of the big changes will have you facing larger groups of enemies, ranging from a small group of three to a big group of 50. You won't be able to block anymore, so evasive maneuvers involve rolling and being quick on your feet. You'll still be able to perform some stylish finishing moves, like vaulting over enemies to stab them in the back, and you also have the ability to kick opponents down to stun them, then finish them with a quick jab. When facing a decent-sized group, you can crowd surf and hop on the heads of your enemies, then dance out of the way. This particular section of the demo was incredibly cinematic as the camera panned across the vast terrain to give you a sense of scale, and while we were fighting our way through the crowds, we could see the battle raging on in the background.
Next, we explored the sewers beneath the palace, which actually looked quite nice and sanitary with cascading waterfalls pouring out of several openings. The prince already had a solid skill set when it came to wielding his sword, but now, he can gain the ability to control the elements of nature. One of the first powers that he'll acquire is the ability to freeze water. Using the left trigger at any time, all the water in the area will freeze for as long as you hold the button. In this particular area, it will grant you access to wall run on ice to get to another platform. A yellow energy bar under your health bar depletes as you hold the left trigger, so you can't freeze water indefinitely, but it regenerates quickly as soon as you let go. Sometimes you'll be faced with some trickier platforming situations where you'll need to time your powers to get to where you need to go. As our prince made his way above ground and into the luxurious, cavernous palace, we saw water used to create some elaborate platforming puzzles. Timed water spouts along the palace interior were conveniently placed so that when we timed it correctly, we could show off our trapeze artist skills by flinging the prince from one frozen pole to the next. This was the only magical skill that we got to see, but we were told that you can also control the other elements like earth, air, and fire.
The prince will once again be able to rewind time as he did in the trilogy, so you can always go back a few seconds if you missed a tough jump or took too much damage. It costs energy orbs to do so, but your meter can be replenished by collecting more orbs from enemies or breakable items nearby. These orbs can also be used to execute more powerful and advanced skills. Another added feature is the ability to customize and upgrade the prince's combat skills from the experience that you gain while fighting. For example, your shield ability unleashes a burst of energy, which knocks surrounding opponents to the ground. But when it gets upgraded to a tornado, you can call forth a swirling wind that can easily round up and decimate anyone that gets too close. Another advanced move that we got to see was a dash skill that lets the prince dart from one side of a room into the next. This allowed him to plow through any unfortunate individual that happened to get in the way and provided a convenient alternative cross-wide chasm when there were no walls on which to scurry.
Our demo wrapped up with a miniboss fight in a section of an underground ruined city, where we saw the prince fight against a decent-sized horde of skeletal warriors. The story behind these wraiths is that the prince's brother decided to raise a magical army of sand warriors to defend his kingdom from intruders at the beginning of the game, but this could only be accomplished at a huge cost. All the citizens have now turned into sand statues, and it looks like the undead don't intend to leave anytime soon. The miniboss we faced was a large charger that wasted no time trying to run us over. Fortunately, it wasn't very bright, so by carefully positioning the prince, you can lure the miniboss to trample the swarm of warriors in the way, which will save you the trouble of having to dispose of them yourself.
The Forgotten Sands looks and feels like a next-generation Sands of Time. It is full of rich and colorful art direction, as well as clever level designs. The prince represented a cross between the character models of the prince in Sands of Time and Warrior Within. He looks more mature than in the first game and maintains that mysterious air about him, but he looks less menacing than he did in the second game. The voice actor for the prince in Sands of Time, Yuri Lowenthal, returns so it'll feel very much like you're continuing the adventure immediately after the events of the first game. We were shown an incredibly beautiful area--which you'll come across multiple times in the game to meet a Djinn who gives you your newfound powers named Razia--that was reminiscent of the Fountain of Time seen in the first game. As we approached the empty gazebo bathed in moonlight, it was hard not to be taken with the soft silver glow of the moon that covered the artfully crafted landscape.
We're quite eager to see more of Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands, which is set to be released on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC sometime in May. The Wii and DS versions will be entirely different games built specifically for their respective platforms. We'll update you with more information as soon as it becomes available.