After what was arguably one of the strongest (well, critically anyway) franchises of the previous hardware generation, the Prince of Persia series was one that didn't really need much of a reboot to be successful. Still, here we are, with a brand new Prince of Persia title, and it's taking the series in a shocking new direction.
For those hoping for a continuation of the Sands of Time trilogy, I hate to disappoint you. This is a new Prince, the adventure takes place in a new world, and several key play mechanics have been changed. You no longer are able to mess with time in any way shape or form. Combat is always one on one, usually against a boss character, unlike previous titles which had you taking on as many as a dozen enemies at once. Also, the art style has been fully overhauled to a pseudo cel-shaded life style that
Still, despite all these jarring changes, Ubisoft Montreal has once again created an experience that is unmistakably a Prince of Persia title. The core values that the series has always held near and dear are more than accounted for in this new instalment. Magical middle eastern setting? Check. Amazing acrobatics with smooth controls? Check. One prince up against nearly insurmountable odds to save the world? You know it.
Actually, you're not playing as just one prince. In this new instalment, you are always followed by Eleka, a mysterious magical girl who helps out the Prince throughout the entire game. She has the ability to teleport, fly, and is every bit the acrobat that the Prince is. All of her actions are controlled by a single button, and are fully context sensitive. Are you going to be just short of that ledge you're trying to reach? Press the Eleka button and she'll give you an extra boost.
Eleka is the consolation prize that you get for giving up the power to control time. Instead of being able to rewind, Eleka will always save you at the last moment and instantly bring you back to the closest checkpoint, which happens every time your feet touch solid ground. She also has your back in combat in the same manner. If you're about to meet your maker, Eleka will step in and save your butt, allowing your enemy a chance to heal fully before you take him on again.
That's right, you never actually die in the game, but that doesn't stop the game from being challenging. Quite the opposite in fact. I had a good challenge trying to transverse several of the challenging obstacle courses on display, and had to repeat several sections over before I was successful. Even the individual enemies you fight provide a good challenge. Enemies will give you clues to their weakness by changing colour, meaning that they are vulnerable to different attacks, such as the Prince's sword, grabs from the Prince's clawed glove, or Eleka herself. Combos are quite seamless, and animate beautifully on the fly. Also, of particular challenge are the moments in which you must fly through a maze of pillars at top speed. Hit one pillar and right back to the start you go.
Unlike the linear levels of yesteryear, the new PoP is a fully open world in which challenges can be tackled in any order players choose. Figuring out which way you have to go next is pretty easy thanks to the visual representation of the storyline. A black sludge of corruption has overtaken the world, leaving it a disgusting, deserted mess. Uncompleted challenges are always in the direction of the sludge. At the end of any given level, Eleka is the only one that has the ability to destroy the sludge, but she must be at an altar that is usually located at the end of any given level.
Words don't do justice to how beautiful this game is. When Eleka casts her spell to trun a dead world to one teeming with greenery and life, you'll know for yourself what brilliant art design this game has. Ubisoft calls it "illustrative art style", but I just call it freaking brilliant. It's not really a cel-shaded game either. It looks more like a watercolour painting come to life. Characters have thick black outlines around them, making them look like they jumped from panels of a comic book. This will be the game that purists will pull out when defending games as an art form.
I'll admit, I was tentative when I heard that Ubisoft was rebooting one of my favourite franchises, but after getting some hands on time with the game, I realised that my fears were totally unfounded. PoP is looking every bit the worthy successor to those games (Warrior Within and Prince of Persia 3D not withstanding) that charmed and enthralled us with their magic over the years. You'll be able to experience it for yourself when the game is released in December.