TOKYO--Since the trailer for Ubisoft's new Prince of Persia game debuted earlier this year, we've had numerous opportunities to get a load of the game's eye-catching new visual design. We've watched the prince and his beautiful companion, Elika, daringly traverse ruined cities and craggy canyons, but it wasn't until earlier today at the 2008 Tokyo Game Show that we were able get our hands on the game. Playing through the prologue level, we were gradually introduced to the prince's move set, and we were soon traversing vertical surfaces and vanquishing enemies with ease. The control system feels much more streamlined and flowing than in his previous outings, and makes for some smooth platforming and engaging, rhythmic combat.
The game opens with the prince wandering aimlessly through a sandy desert, shouting the name "Farah" into the winds. Though this game stands apart from the previous entries in the series, you may recognize Farah as the name of the prince's female companion throughout the past three Prince of Persia games (no broken promises here, though--you'll later find out Farah is actually the prince's treasure-laden donkey). Near-blinded by a sandstorm, the prince slides into a crevasse and the platforming adventure begins. Any sort of jumping is handled with the press of a single button, whether it be a leap across a gap or a scramble up a wall. To cross larger gaps, the prince can once again run along an adjacent vertical surface. Where in past games you had to pull a trigger to activate this ability, now you simply press jump to begin your run, and jump again to leap out of it.
After navigating the canyon for a bit, the prince is abruptly introduced to his future companion, Elika, when she flies off of a high ledge and lands on top of him--quite an introduction! Before the prince can catch his breath, she's leapt to her feet to confront the men who were pursuing her. Not one to let such an opportunity pass, the prince gallantly comes to her defense and engages her would-be captors in combat. Sword attacks are all handled by one button, in keeping with the simplified control scheme. As we battled our way through this and a number of subsequent fights, we found that multiple presses of the sword button result in combo attacks, and working in the jump button incorporates more acrobatic assault moves.
The combos were not particularly lengthy, and it took a few of them to off the relatively weak guards, but we didn't mind because they were so fluidly animated. As we continued through the level, we learned how to use the prince's gauntlet. It's handy for sliding down sheer wall faces as well as grabbing a hold of persistent enemies. Between the sword, jump, and gauntlet buttons, we had a pretty good move set going and delighted in finding new ways to string these elements together as we continued to engage the persistent guards that so adamantly wanted to stop Elika from escaping.
Elika's beauty and mysterious situation seemed like reason enough for the roguish prince to want to follow her, but his interest is further piqued when she saves him from a collapsing bridge with a magical flourish. The slow blossoming of her magical abilities will happen over the course of the game, we're told, and her journey will mirror the prince's own transition from self-centered treasure hunter to not so reluctant hero. The two will undertake an epic journey that all players will experience, but players who take the time to talk to Elika in different situations by pulling a trigger button will find that she has a wealth of helpful advice, personal anecdotes, and sassy jibes to share with the prince. This is part of Ubisoft's efforts to make Prince of Persia feel more like a cooperative experience than a single-player adventure.
After exiting the canyon and traversing a large, open plain, the prince and Elika gain entry to an ancient temple buttressed by the roots of a massive tree. In the heart of the temple is a glowing white tree, but before we can investigate further, a new challenger appears! It's the muscled, dreadlocked chieftain, whose guards have been dogging our every move. Turns out, he's Elika's father, and he's very adamantly trying to stop her flight. He engages the prince in a particularly tough fight, and we found ourselves having to incorporate blocks and dodges to stay alive. Pulling one of the trigger buttons blocks, and flicking the analog stick while blocking will make the prince roll to the side. Since the prince only ever fights one enemy at a time, there are no lock-on issues to trifle with, so all your energies can be focused on dodging blows and unleashing combos on your enemy. When Elika's father is near defeat, desperation overwhelms him and he takes a mighty swing at the glowing tree in the center of the room. Of course, no good can come from chopping down mystical trees, and we watched with increasing trepidation as black waves of energy flowed from the stump. Enter the corruption--the poison that spreads throughout the land fouling everything it touches, including Elika's father. Transformed by the seething darkness, he enters the fray anew and this time appears almost immune to the prince's attacks. Fortunately, Elika decides to lend a magical helping hand, and we can now call her to attack with the push of a button. Now more powerful than ever, the prince actually stands a chance to defeat his defiled foe and escape the rapidly crumbling temple.
The prevailing impression we were left with at the end of our session was one of smoothness. Even when we were bringing sword, jump, gauntlet, and Elika attacks to bear in rapid succession against the prince's enemies, it was a simple matter of pressing the four face buttons with good timing to execute fluid, high-flying combos. Having these buttons mapped to the same abilities throughout both the combat and platforming sections was a natural fit, and one we're looking forward to exploring more before December 2, when the game hits retail shelves for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Check out our exclusive trailer linked above, and be sure to check back soon to see video highlights from our gameplay experience and hear the in-depth commentary from senior producer Ben Mattes.