There are some constants in our hard "job" as game "journalists". One of them is that games announced less than 6 months before their release date will most likely be really bad, especially for movie tie-ins. So it's with strong prejudices that we started playing the preview code of Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands last week. 3 hours later, it's with surprise that we had to admit that this new PoP has a great potential.
This version starts at the beginning of the 6th level and lets us play until the end of the 12th. No tutorial, not even an option screen, quite a few bugs and some missing functionalities, no doubt this is quite an old build of the game. But the most important part is there, and the game is thankfully perfectly playable.
Since this is a preview, it's difficult to comment on some of the stiff animations, a few big slowdowns here and there, and all the sort of things you'd expect from an unfinished title. The graphics themselves shouldn't change much though, and from what we saw, it ranges from rather average - for the first few levels - to quite good afterward - when we actually get to play in the sunny outside. The engine of Assassin's Creed has certainly seen better use, but considering that the game managed to remain quite smooth with up to 30 enemies on screen it's not that bad. Also worth mentioning are the music, really nice indeed, and the very acceptable voice acting.
The gameplay itself is of course completely finalized and works very well. The first few minutes were a bit difficult since it's a mix between the old-school controls of last-gen's PoP games and the one from 2008. The right trigger is thus used for all the wall running stunts, and the buttons are dedicated to various actions: A for jump, B for rolls, X for sword fighting and Y for kicks. The left trigger is used in later levels to “freeze” water, transforming a waterfall into a wall, or a water column into a pillar our hero can climb. A great idea, especially when it has to be timed perfectly right in some long platforming maneuvers.
As far as we could tell ,the levels themselves were also finalized, and were half original, especially thanks to the water power, and old-school thanks to the return of the traps, which were mostly missing in PoP 2008. The platforming sequences can be very long and interesting, and most of the puzzles are really well done.
The fights aren't bad either, even though they tend to be a bit long due to the rather overwhelming number of enemies to kill at times. It's rare to get less than 10 of them per fight, and even if quite a few of them can be killed in 2 to 3 blows, it tends to get a bit boring in the end. There aren't that many different attacks, though some of them are quite spectacular, but it's enough to get by without taking too much damage.
It's of course still possible to rewind time in case of a bad fall or even in the middle of a fight. Each use of that power will deplete a Blue Orb, which will have to be found either randomly by killing enemies or somewhere in the level by breaking the amphorae scattered all around. Health works mostly the same way, but with Red Orbs, and it looks like Yellow Orbs are used as a sort of currency to get upgrades, but we couldn't use it in the preview build.
This time at least, a game announced not long before its release is shaping up to be a real good surprise. This new Prince of Persia, even though it's not really a technical marvel, should make the fans who thought the 2008 game wasn't worthy of the Prince of Persia name happy, while also having the others certainly find it enjoyable too. Let's just hope that it doesn't mean we won't get to see the ending of the adventures of the other Prince and his sweet Elika.