Eurogamer Expo 2008 Hands On: Prince of Persia
Out of all the blockbuster titles on show at the Eurogamer Expo, Prince of Persia stood as the lowest key performance. Quite surprisingly, where Killzone 2 and Mirror’s Edge flourished in the middle of the floor, flaunting their differing beauties and accepting the accolades of the public and journalists alike, Prince hid in the corner, offering the most modest of demonstrations. Nonetheless, we took to the floor to test out the opening level of the Prince’s debut on the current generation.
Somewhat expectedly, the familiarity of playing as the Prince flooded back in a welcome instant. In a heavily scripted, linear affair, the first level offers a glimpse of what players can expect throughout. With a new sense of vibrancy and style, it’s fair to say the series has never exhibited such confidence or drawn so much attention as here. With the newfound visual presence confirmed, we were pleased to see that the gameplay itself was starting to shape up nicely.
During our time with the game, we found that the controls and structure of proceedings were hugely accessible, and invited progression effortlessly. Acting as a tutorial, the introduction to the game highlighted the beginning of the Prince’s relationship with Elika; a character who is sure to play to have a huge role in the narrative. In fact, even in this opening section, she proved pivotal to the unfolding storyline. As the Prince fought off his first batch of vivid opponents, it’s clear to see that the combat has evolved into a blend of highly cinematic and scripted actions. Climaxing in a battle against Elika’s father, the depth of enemy strength is hastily shown, as he holds a tougher defence and far more varied attacks than the weaker goons.
In a highly guided opening, Ubisoft ensure that players get to grips with the newer and more mainstream hero as the hints last until the dramatic finale. Mixing a blend of heavy, light and grabbing attacks, you’ll quickly be disposing of enemies in an elegant and equally masterful manner. Although it initially looked very impressive, we did find ourselves witnessing the same animations and identical patterns of combat all too often. Even though we were playing an early build, this lack of variation is enough to set the alarm bells off, especially when you consider the decline in quality and innovation the series provided along its journey on the PlayStation 2. Somewhat sneakily, once you have thrown an enemy into the air, the game becomes ridiculed by unfinished design, as you follow a set of easily executable timed button presses to finish off the foe in hand. Of course, this is hard to fully judge until we get our hands on the full game, but it doesn’t stop early concerns arising amongst those who have experienced what initially seems an underwhelming, and largely scripted battle system.
Alongside the concerns for what seems like shallow combat, we were pleased to witness that the Prince’s running, jumping, and climbing skills remain in tact. Aided by Elika, if you misplace a jump or fall into the abyss below, you can expect her to lend a helping hand, as she’ll spare you from a graceful death. Granted, this aids the duo-central narrative this title is taking on, but this mechanic is in danger of being utilised as an extremely cheap way of keeping the Prince alive and moving. Hopefully in the full game, Elika doesn’t amount to a cheap gimmick that means the protagonist becomes largely invincible, and offers some depth to the storyline and character relationships. With that said, we were impressed with how well the Prince’s movement flowed across the strikingly decorated canvas, even if it followed the physics of Assassin’s Creed absolutely identically. Seeing the game in full flight offers a wonderful visual spectacle, and many gamers near us were audibly praising the prowess and alternative style, especially when we were navigating through the testing scenery.
Other than the two aforementioned aspects of gameplay, it’s surprisingly difficult to pinpoint where Prince of Persia will excel. With new company alongside him, the opportunity for the Prince to shine again has never been in a better position. This latest title is sure to be dependent on these key characters, as they regularly manipulated the environment using each others’ skills. Let’s hope that the duo push team gameplay in the right direction by breaching a set of intelligent and challenging puzzles, rather than just relying on their alluring appearance for praise. We witnessed various doors being opened through the partnership, but would have like to have seen a greater intelligence to design in the early stages.
Overall, we were pleased with Prince of Persia. By showing a decent yet unpolished sequence of the game, our appetites were whet adequately. It’s not going to revolutionise the genre like The Sands of Time, but it does look to be shaping up as a well-rounded and story-focused adventure. Just like its position on the expo floor, it seems Prince is going to linger in the shadows, waiting to generate a significant amount of hype over the next few weeks. Come its release on 5th December, we’ll see if the potential of this series is guided back on track; a feat that would ensure the power of Ubisoft’s Anvil engine finally starts to realise its true excellence.