A More Approachable Prince
November 15, 2008 – At a recent event held by Ubisoft, we were fortunate enough to get some hands-on time with the Xbox 360 version of one of the most anticipated titles slated for release this December. I’m, of course, referring to the current generation reboot of the Prince of Persia franchise. While it was a fairly early build of the game and not all of the levels were playable, it did provide us with a good idea of what we can expect from Prince of Persia when it finally becomes available on store shelves.
Starting off with a tutorial level, as most games do, Prince of Persia introduces players to the new prince and Elika, as well as the basics of platforming and combat. Acrobatic prowess has long been a staple in the Prince of Persia series, and this latest outing is no exception. You start out by needing to just jump over some short and basic gaps, requiring only the press of a single button. In no time the game introduces you to the very familiar wall run, wall jumping, grabbing onto rings and other graspable objects, climbing, and grip falls. Basic jumps can also be extended by pressing the Y button while in the air, which will cause Elika to grab your arm and swing you forward, providing you with more momentum and a longer jump. The prince controls very fluidly while maneuvering about, and the controls are very self explanatory, usually requiring only one or two easy-to-remember button-presses.
This same easy-to-use approach is implemented into the game’s combat as well. Each face button on the controller corresponds to a specific kind on attack. The X button is your basic sword slash, Y provides magical attacks courtesy of Elika, A causes a jumping attack, and B is reserved for a gauntlet strike, which allows you grab an enemy and throw them into the air. Early in the game, spamming any or all of these buttons will likely meet with success, but as the game progresses and enemies become more intelligent and varied, players will begin to uncover the underlying depth inherent in the combat system by experiment with the available combos and defensive capabilities.
Combos are fairly easy to execute, usually requiring to alternate button-presses with a little bit of timing. When done successfully, this can result in some pretty lengthy and devastating attacks that are also incredibly cinematic. It is quite satisfying when in the middle of a fight the game goes into slow motion and changes camera angles to highlight these visually pleasing and effective combos. Players are also able to block by holding down the right trigger, or can perform a counter-attack by pressing it just as your foe is striking and then quickly following it up with an attack button.
Steering clear of the multiple foe encounters provided by earlier games in the series, Prince of Persia’s battles remain more intimate by only making you face off against one adversary at any given time. Due to this, players won’t need to constantly fidget with the camera or attempt to lock onto their enemies. Instead, when in combat, the prince will automatically focus on his foe at all times while the camera provides an adequate vantage point. This is especially handy when it comes to fighting some of the game’s larger enemies, such as the warrior we had a chance to do battle with.
While most of the early combat in the preview build consisted on facing off against humans carrying a sword or spear, making our way to the end of the provided “corrupted” level had us fighting against the monstrous warrior who was guarding a cure well. This massive dark figure was at least five times the size of the prince and required different tactics to dispatch with. The area in which this battle took place had a cliff on one side. Since your attacks won’t actually harm this hulking beast in any way, you must string together combos that force it to the edge of this drop-off. Once you’ve successfully battered it to the brink of the abyss, the prince and Elika must work together to give it that last final push. This was achieved by quickly pressing the X button until the creature finally fell over the edge.
Once the warrior had been defeated, Elika was able to use her magical abilities to trigger the cure well, which purged the black ooze and corruption that had previously plagued this level. Players can then make their way back through these now much brighter and vibrant environments, picking up numerous light seeds that basically replenish Elika’s powers and allow you to access the next level of the game. You must collect a set number of these seed before being allowed to proceed, but there are typically more seeds in each level than you will need to collect. This allows players eager to progress through the game’s story to speed right along, while providing completionists with an added goal to achieve.
Graphically, this game looked amazing. The unique illustrated visual style allows for great-looking characters that can actually show their emotions by using facial expressions. This style also displays realistically flowing garments and hair that add a sense of realism to the game’s characters. The vast environments found in the game are also quite visually impressive. This is especially true due to the contrast provided by each level’s corrupted and healed form. When corrupted, everything is dark and dingy, with black ooze covering walls and filling in gaps. Once Elika has healed an environment, grit and grime are replaced by much warmer colors and plants. Although the basic structures you come across will remain the same, this drastic change in visuals makes each level feel like two entirely different locations.
My only real concern with this game is how death is handled. At no point will players ever die or see a “game over” screen. If you miss a jump or are about to get killed in combat, Elika will pull you back to the last flat platform you touched or will blast your enemy to buy you time to recover respectively. In combat, this helping hand will result in your enemy fully recovering their health bar, so essentially, it is like starting the fight over again. While I think this will make the game much more accessible to less skilled players and less frustrating overall, which will keep people playing the game to completion, I fear it may make the game far too easy to complete. I suppose we’ll have to wait for a retail copy to truly know for sure.