That fluffiness is compounded by the simplification of some of the platforming mechanics. Building swing momentum on a pole to make a long jump now isn't necessary, or even possible. Instead, a canned swing animation kicks in when the jump button is pressed, which always leads to a standard length leap. There's no need to balance on planks and narrow platforms either. When landing on one, the Prince now comes to a dead stop, frozen and unable to do anything but jump ahead to the next one when the button is pressed again. And with significantly long timing windows for control inputs, jumps can be pre-loaded in mid-air before the next platform is even reached.
While smoothing the flow of the game and showing off the Prince's animations beautifully, this does all rather lend the feel that the game is playing itself a good portion of the time. In fact sometimes it even feels like it's all just a case of pointing the Prince in the desired direction and hammering A until he gets where you want him.
The new combat system is a more welcome change, but definitely an acquired taste. Now based entirely around one-on-one duels, Ubisoft's claims that it harks back to the original 2D game's fighting are entirely accurate. You'll circle your opponent in 3D space, but dealing damage is all about edging forward while maintaining a defensive stance, and waiting for an attack window to open up before starting a combo. Enemies are very defensive, and a blocked hit will often leave the Prince wide open to attack. Fortunately, parrying is fairly easy to pick up once you learn the timing, and leads to a nicely tactical to-and-fro dynamic in battle.
There's a slow, deliberate pace to fighting this time around, and that's something that's going to take some players a while to accept, especially after the dynamic freeform combat of Warrior Within. But it's worth sticking with, as although it never provides the same kind of frantic thrills, when played with skill and practice it can be really rather satisfying. But again, thanks to some very generous attack input windows, the longer battles sometimes have a tendency to feel like extended QTEs. The fixed camera angle for combos doesn't help the interactive cutscene feel either.
At the moment it's tricky to know who Ubisoft is aiming the new Prince of Persia at. The simplified controls and platforming mechanics imply the expanded casual market, but the fact that everything is still based around the traditionally hardcore PoP model is likely to scare away the Wii Sports brigade regardless. Similarly, the occasional difficulty spike around boss fights is a little at odds with that philosophy.
The levels we've played so far have been relatively simple affairs, mostly consisting of moving in a single direction via wall-runs and swing jumps. We've been told that the finished game will include PoP's more complex, indoor platforming conundrums, and that can only be welcome news to hardcore players. But will those epic feats prove off-putting to casual players regardless of the new controls?
Right now, the game could go either way. With stunning production design and refreshed gameplay, it could be end up bringing the Prince of Persia magic to hardcore and casual camp alike. And for that, we could only praise it. But depending on how well balanced its approach turns out to be, it may fail through trying to please everybody at the same time. We're quietly hopeful, but we need to play more. Watch, as ever, this space.
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