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Author Topic: Preview: Prince of Persia  (Read 2881 times)
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« on: October 16, 2008, 03:19:35 PM »

Jane Douglas: Editor - Tech & Gadgets
Thursday, 09 October 2008

Preview: Prince of Persia

When Ben Mattes, producer of Prince of Persia, tells us his new game is a “significant reimagining” of that action adventure series, he is not kidding.

The eponymous Prince, for starters, bears no relation to the hero of the previous games. The look of the game itself has likewise been overhauled, rendered in an illustrative art style that appears almost hand-painted.
The design of the game world leans much more heavily towards pure fantasy than Arabian costume drama. There’s a radically different combat system, an open world and no great hordes of enemies to hack your way through. There’s also no game over screen. Ever.

Meet the Prince
This new chapter in the Prince of Persia universe kicks off with the Prince, a roguish adventurer with an American accent, voyaging across a desert. There he runs into a mysterious young woman, Elika, who is fleeing some equally mysterious pursuers. When Elika takes off again, the Prince gives chase, eventually winding up at a temple housing the mystical Tree of Life.

At this point Elika’s father appears, attacks the Prince and, in a fit of rage, slashes this magical tree. There’s a great explosion and everything goes dark. A black, oily, evil-looking corruption transforms the landscape, spawning monsters and traps everywhere. The evil god Ahriman, it seems, was imprisoned in the Tree of Life and has now escaped.
The point of the game, therefore, is to heal this newly cursed world. Calling up the game map, an array of corrupted paths and locations arranged around the temple starting point, Mattes explains: “The Prince and Elika need to heal all of this by driving the corruption into smaller and smaller pockets until there’s nowhere else for it go except back into the Tree of Life - with a final standoff.”

Open world
This network-like map represents the new non-linear gameplay of Prince of Persia. Within individual areas the environment resembles classic Prince of Persia – with acrobatic platforming levels  – but on a wider scale the game world allows players to traverse paths and visit areas in the order they choose.
This offers a hybrid of linear gameplay and open-world choices, rather than offering the total free roaming of games like Assassin’s Creed or Grand Theft Auto.

“From a narrative and gameplay point of view, these choices do have an impact,” says Mattes. “The point was to give the value of an open world without overwhelming fans of linear adventure games.”
Ubisoft even attempted a sandbox approach at first, prototyping an Assassin’s-Creed-like level design structure for six months before abandoning it.  

“We put it in the hands of testers and they didn’t know what to do,” says Mattes. The total freedom apparently made for hesitant, interrupted gameplay – not the flowing, rhythmic free-running traditionally at the heart of Prince of Persia.

On-demand storytelling
Opting for non-linear gameplay presented some special challenges. “Storytelling and character development is very important to us,” says Mattes. “But here we don’t control where the character goes and when they go there – telling a story in an open world game is very difficult.”

One of the solutions produced by the Prince of Persia team is an on-demand, context-sensitive dialogue system. Pulling the left trigger (in the Xbox 360 version, at least) has the Prince to speak to Elika, prompting in some cases only one or two lines, in others a deeper conversation about some critical thing that’s just happened.

“For people who care about story, they get to be in charge about deep into it they go,” says Mattes. “If they want to know a lot about the background of the Prince or Elika they can press the button for hours potentially, learning about what’s going on. But if they’re a player that doesn’t really care about story, if they just want to swing their swords and flip over enemies heads, they can do that – because that dialogue is all player-initiated, it’ll never get in their way.”

Fighting system
“Some of the most significant differences this time around are with combat,” Mattes tells us. “In past Prince of Persia games, combat was often very violent, and you were fighting against many enemies usually – in Warrior Within in particular.

“This time around it’s centred on this idea of a duel,” says Mattes, manoeuvring the Prince into a face-off with a corrupted enemy. “It’s the Prince and Elika – like a tag team – against one enemy. That’s what all the fights are like in this game.”

So instead of hordes of generic monsters to massacre, fights are more strategic experiences, the Prince mixing offensive and defensive moves, Elika darting in for magical attacks and collaborative combos.

“One of the things we’re trying to do with this combat system is create spectacle,” Mattes says. “Something dramatic, with lots of special effects and great sound - like a really good movie fight scene but without making it just a series of simple quicktime event button presses where the player sit there, watches a movie, presses A, sits there, watches a movie, presses B.”

No more hordes
The absence of irritating quicktime events will please some, but it remains to be seen whether the lack of button-mashing crowd fights, such a staple of the action adventure genre, will go down well with gamers.
“It’s a controversial decision,” admits Mattes. “There are some people who get it – every fight is more intense, feels more significant, gives greater sense of accomplishment. Other players are like: ‘I kinda miss having hordes of enemies – but I see what you’re trying to do.’”

He likens Prince of Persia’s “deep fight system with 14-hit combos” to that of Soul Calibur. While we’re on the topic of drawing inspiration from other games, Burnout: Paradise City is mentioned as a reference for the game’s open world.

And then aesthetic comparisons to Japanese art games are unavoidable: from the Prince’s ethereal companion to sprawling fantasy vistas to the oozing black corruption, there’s more than a touch of Ico or Shadow of the Colossus to the new Prince of Persia.

Mixed inspirations
Mattes has some reservations about that. “Any comparison to anything Team ICO has ever done is welcome - from an artistic point of view. They make beautiful pieces of art, but they don’t sell every well. The key difference is we’ve tried to make a beautiful piece of art where you pick up a joypad, press a few buttons and instantly feel like an action hero.

“You don’t have to wander through endless fields of beautiful loneliness with your horse before you see something cool. You don’t have to take your girl by the hand and drag her through these long corridors.”

According to Mattes, Prince of Persia combines the best of both worlds, borrowing from both mass-market blockbuster games and more artistic titles. “We’re tried to find interesting ways to take the best of each. It’s been a delicate balancing act in terms of all the reference materials, making sure we didn’t go too heavily in either direction.”

So far, so interesting. But what of the Prince of Persia series’ most distinctive gameplay feature, namely acrobatic platforming? Though it’s clear that Ubisoft has pulled out the stops to reinvent Prince of Persia, fans of the previous games will be keen to see this crucial element preserved.

Classic action
The good news is that free-running action is still at the heart of the game, with all the climbing, running, flipping and leaping basically intact – albeit tweaked.

“Even things as basic as the wall-run mechanism, a staple of the Prince of Persia universe, are done in a subtly different way from the previous games,” says Mattes.  

The Prince also has a few new tricks up his sleeve: a ceiling-running ability and a descent-slowing grip fall, courtesy of a clawed glove.

Elika herself is probably the biggest change to the way in which the Prince navigates the level space. She’s beside or a few steps behind the Prince at all times, enabling a cooperative flying leap with which the duo can jump further than either can manage alone. She’s also packing a handy compass power: an on-demand magical beam of light that points you towards a destination set in your map.

Deathproof Prince
Most significantly, Elika has the magical ability to save the Prince from near death. When he stumbles into a trap or plummets off a ledge, she always swoops in, grabs him and pulls his back and into the action. This goes further even than the more restricted ability to rewind time in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.

“The Prince can’t die,” Mattes emphasises. “There is no game over in this game. Game over screens are, in my opinion, archaic. They are leftovers from the days when we used to put quarters in arcade units. I feel they kill the immersion, kill the experience, and we don’t need them any more.”

It is a bold move, matching the general way in Ubisoft appears to have approached this Prince of Persia reboot, the series’ first real venture onto the next-gen consoles.

With a well-established franchise and a trio of relatively recent successes (Sands of Time, Warrior Within, Two Thrones) to build on, a straightforward sequel with shiny next-gen graphics would have been the obvious choice. But then in a world of safe sequels and cookie-cutter genre games, it’s nice to see a title ready to take a few risks - and the new Prince of Persia is nothing if not risky.
Prince of Persia is released on the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 on December 5.

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Lost in Thought :-?
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« Reply #1 on: October 16, 2008, 03:23:00 PM »

I dont own one of these consoles but the game looks nice. Maybe if i have enough spare time and money one day i will buy an xbox just for this game.

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« Reply #2 on: October 16, 2008, 03:41:05 PM »

Thanks for share. Nice Game.

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