We were recently privy to a private screening of Prince of Persia 2 (working title) and what we've seen at E3 confirms our first impressions that the game has taken a very dark turn indeed. As executive producer of POP 2, Yannis Mallat, said, with a wicked smile spreading across his lips, "No more Aladdin".
The story revolves around the mistake the Prince made by breaking the hourglass in Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. An incarnation of Fate is stalking the Prince so he embarks on a violent quest to restore the time-line, which ultimately leads to a huge fortress on a cursed island.
With the game being set around 10 years on from Sands of Time, the Prince has matured into a hardened kickass slicing and dicing machine. The screenshots will give you an idea about the darker, grittier route the game has taken but they do not convey the superb brutality of the game in action.
In its current form it is very bloody, insanely gratuitous and viciously brutal. We say in its current form because the tentative rating Ubi Soft are giving the game is 12+ but we honestly can't see it being anything less than an 18 as it is. That's fine by us but we imagine Ubi Soft would rather the game be available to the lower teens for revenue purposes. Personally, hope it stays as wonderfully nasty as its current build.
You may have formed the impression that the game is now biased towards all out action but fear not, the balance between puzzles and fighting is still around 50/50. The series is a classic because of the wonderful balance between the two main playing styles and Ubi Soft, as they vehemently assured us, have no intention of changing that.
The Sands of Time abilities remain (such as rewinding time) and a new element has been added where time stands still (or slows considerably) with the Prince being 'out of time', remaining at normal speed. This mechanic is relevant to puzzles and fighting, where the obvious reference is The Matrix.
There are plenty of other new moves and abilities in POP 2. They're acquired as you progress in the game and related to the body count you've racked up. This isn't as flexible as you may think, as the gameplay has been tweaked so avoidance of enemies (often an option in Sands of Time) is a rare possibility, let alone choice.
There are now combos of moves that can be strung together and a greater variety of moves in general. As Mallat explained to us, "Basically, you watched the fighting moves in Sands of Time once you had made the your choice of action - such as jumping over the head of an enemy. Now you get to actually do the fighting all the way."
A perfect example of this relates directly to the noted move of jumping above and over an enemy - now you have four choices of moves while you are above the opponent. At this juncture let us introduce you to Mr Slice-in-2. Yep, exactly what it says on the tin - the Prince slices down the middle of a bad guy and apparently has hit nothing. He deftly lands on his feet to watch the sliced enemy peel in-two - nice and slow - like a split banana. It's as deliciously cruel as it sounds... only better.
Some other cool moves that delighted us were the human shield, which is self-explanatory and a throw that hurtles enemies through the air. Very simple moves, granted, but when you're in the thick of it and grab a guy as a human shield to stave off sword stabs from other enemies and then throw him into his mates (who do a nice sprawl), run over a few, jump above the head of the one getting up and slice him in two (or decapitate - your choice) - well, it's just a world of lovely wrongful bliss.
We could go on about the greater variety of enemies, new projectile attacks, game-end bonuses and more but the bottom line is this - all the elements you loved about the first one remain and the maturing of the visual style and gameplay has added oodles to its performance and appeal. We loved it. It's as simple as that.
Prince of Persia 2 is scheduled to appear on PS2, Xbox, Gamecube and PC this autumn