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Hands-on with Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands

If you’re getting to a place in long-running series where you have to call your game an ‘interquel’, it might be time to think about just moving on to something new, rather than slotting new games in between old ones like some horrific dusty sequel sandwich.

‘Interquel’ is a bastardisation of English Ubisoft PRs invented to describe this new Prince of Persia game. Its release is being timed to coincide with the release of the blockbuster Prince of Persia movie coming out next month. You’ve probably heard about it already, as your female friends have likely been spamming their Facebook feeds with pictures of the film’s Prince – Jake Gyllenhaal – sporting a washboard stomach and chiselled pecs.

We won’t be anywhere near a theater in May though, if Ubisoft get their way. We might just be pinned to our chairs, fixated by the site of a non-Gyllenhaal Prince vamping it up on our monitors in classic, non cel-shaded Prince of Persia style. Interestingly enough, the game’s plot isn’t that of the film. Instead, it goes all the way back to the Sands of Time trilogy, which ended in 2005 with The Two Thrones. This one, The Forgotten Sands, goes further back, as it’s set between the events of the first (Sands of Time) and the second (Warrior Within) games. Hence ‘interquel’.

Story-wise, this means the developers can’t do anything too dramatic with the universe. After all, how would they then explain everything getting back to ‘normal’ in the second and third games? So, instead, the Prince is sticking to his tried-and-tested scenario – the kingdom is under devastating attack, and time-warping sand is needed to save everyone.

As such, he can rewind time straight away. There’s no messing about with contrived explanations of why you haven’t got access to the time warp powers, you just do, right from the get-go. It’d be boring (aka ‘the same’) if he just did the same things as before, so Ubisoft are giving him a load of new elemental powers to learn throughout the rest of the game. One of these will be a freezing ability, so, for example, you could stop a water fountain in time so you could climb it. This is a water-based power, so we’re interested to see what the other elemental ones bring in terms of gameplay-changing mechanics.

As well as these core powers, there are also some more minor abilities, which can be obtained from a Djinn named Razia. This guy will operate as the obligatory salesman/shop guy that every action game released nowadays seems to need, setting his stall up in an alternate dimension. Not the handiest of places, but it makes it easy to explain how the Prince can access him at any time.

The other core thing about the new Prince games (aside from parkour) is the combat. There’ll be no shortage of it in The Forgotten Sands. At times, you’ll be fending off up to 50 enemies at once, although the emphasis won’t always be on killing them all, but on evasion and crowd control. Summoners conjure up fresh enemies as long as they’re left alive, so prioritising enemies on sight is essential here. It’s going to be a quick-paced affair, with no blocking at all, so you’re going to have to be nimble if you want to avoid taking damage.

Powers bought from the Djinn can also be used, such as Shield (a wind based power capable of knocking back enemies) which can be fully upgraded to Tornado, a room-filling blast that kills those nearest to you and knocks others to the floor. Toppling enemies is the key to success here, as once foes are in the dirt the prince can quickly assassinate them.

Elemental magic suggests interaction with different elemental areas – fire suggests lava, earth forests and so on – though so far only the usual gamut has been on display: your baths, prisons and palaces. What we know is that this could be a shot in the arm for the series after the less-well-received previous game. We’re certainly more enthusiastic about it than we are about the film, at any rate.

Apr 19, 2010