Prince of Persia Preview
Last generation, Prince of Persia made a triumphant return with Ubisoft's Sands of Time, which received numerous awards and became a fast favorite of gamers everywhere. It helped to pioneer some of the gameplay mechanics we see today, including wall-running and the "rewinding" of time, and the puzzles were downright ingenious. The series continued with two more top-quality installments and since then, we've all been anxiously awaiting this generation's first princely effort. Enter Prince of Persia for the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC, recently unveiled at this past week's Ubidays 2008 event. This time around, things will be a good deal different, which may or may not appeal to fans of the last generation's entries. From what we've seen and heard, though, it seems we can expect a good deal of originality and innovation, which some critics will argue is lacking thus far in the PS3/360 generation.
Perhaps the biggest alteration to the tried-and-true formula is the addition of a permanent companion: her name is Elika, a beautiful warrior who will assist the Prince in returning the recently escaped - and very evil - Ahriman back to his prison. She is one of the last surviving Ahuras, who were assigned the task of keeping Ahriman locked up in the Tree of Life...but something obviously went awry, because this guy is now free and hell-bent on spreading corruption and pestilence. Now, you won't really be controlling Elika; she actually reminds us of Farah from Sands of Time. Mostly controlled by computer AI, your female counterpart will work to help you in your quest, and she will probably play a significant role in many of the puzzles you face. Farah was a great little helper, if we remember correctly, and we're expecting that much and more from Elika. Of course, most gamers these days don't particularly like the idea of an AI-controlled companion, just because the AI often isn't smart enough. But Ubisoft isn't about to fall into that trap, here.
As she is a support character, Elika will follow you wherever you go. And instead of being a hindrance, she will be a smooth and effective partner that never gets in your way. More than a few examples of this cropped up during the demo on display, and all of them were encouraging. If the Prince has to move in a different direction and Elika is in his path, she will voluntarily move, even if they're shimmying along a ledge or in some other trying position. Furthermore, if Elika can't follow a crazy acrobatic move by the Prince, she will take the initiative to find a way to reach him once again. How great is that? The bottom line is that you don't have to constantly worry about your AI-controlled partner, and that adds a great deal of accessibility and fluidity to the gameplay. Oh, and Elika isn't always bringing up the rear; she'll be able to team up with the Prince for some nifty duo maneuvers, some of which may be required to conquer certain obstacles. Thing is, Elika won't do anything you don't want her to do, and that's why there will be a separate command button for her actions.
Elika also proves very useful when attempting to navigate your way through the biggest, most freedom-oriented environment in the franchise's history. Very often in action/adventure games, players find themselves a little disoriented, and even lost when it comes to the next objective or mission. Elika will never allow you to lose your bearings, as she can use her magic to shine a column of light in the direction you need to head, which is gonna be ultra-handy. Not surprisingly, the landscape should be littered with puzzles of all kinds, ranging from the brain twisters to the intricate dexterity tests that will push the Prince to his limits. Elika is a trooper and will match you step for step, too, so when you're attempting a puzzle, you won't be yelling at the screen, "get out of the way!" No, she's there to help, and that goes double for battle. In addition to the exploring, platforming and puzzle solving, this is one series that is well known for its frequent combat. The Prince has always been quite capable, and we have high hopes for his abilities in Prince of Persia.
The Prince should have quite the arsenal in this next-gen installment, and one of those weapons will be Elika. When you enter into a battle, Elika won't go nuts; stepping in front of your blows and screwing up combos. Nope, she'll just stay back and circle around the fight, tossing in her magic at strategic times. She'll stay there until you issue another command, at which point she will respond with supreme swiftness, landing three quick blows before leaping back to her backup position. Now, we know what you're thinking: can we string together her attacks with the Prince's? Oh, we've got a big ol' resounding "yes" for you on that one; you'll be able to create all sorts of insane combos on the fly by incorporating Elika's strikes with yours. We're just wondering if we can use Elika's magic in those combos as well, because that would open up a whole new dimension of possibilities. One final note: say you're in a precarious position and facing imminent death. Elika will recognize the dire situation and actually leap in to halt a killing blow. Now that's a partner worth having!
As for the structure of the combat, we've heard that each battle will be a one-on-one duel, which means Ubisoft is abandoning the idea of multiple foes at once. And if you recall past entries in the series, there were times when the Prince was outnumbered 20-1, so this is a major change. We are wondering how this will play out, though; it must mean each and every encounter is both dangerous and perhaps even epic. It also may rule out the possibility of stealth kills, which is something we very much enjoyed before. We have many other questions concerning the battle, but we expect to hear more about it in the coming months and we're happy with the information we have. We have no doubt the puzzles and platforming will be top-notch (at least, we have little doubt), and for the most part, we can't wait to get our hands on Prince of Persia. Ubisoft has it tentatively scheduled for a fourth-quarter 2008 release. More to come.
5/29/2008 Ben Dutka