Forget time manipulation -- in Ubisoft's upcoming game Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands, the titular hero has a brand new bag. Showing off a recent demo of the game at PAX East, Ubisoft has put a new spin on the Prince's mystical powers, giving him command of Earth, Wind and Fire (with a steady bass line from Water, too).
Working within the "seven missing years" after the original "Sands of Time" trilogy, this incarnation of the Prince, voiced once more by voice actor Yuri Lowenthal, remembers saving the world from the threat of the enchanted hourglass, but is far from the jaded vagabond from Warrior Within.
Of course, due to his time-traveling Hail Mary at the end of Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones, "no one remembers that [the Prince] saved the world," said level design director Michael McIntyre. "The Prince has been sent out on a quest to become his own person -- to visit his elder brother Malik, learn leadership from him." Unfortunately, statecraft isn't quite Malik's specialty -- when his kingdom is under attack, he goes into the royal vault to unleash the ancient hordes of the Sand Army, and kicks off a whole new threat for our acrobatic hero to deal with.
The main difference in the mechanics of this game, of course, have to be the Prince's magic abilities. Whereas previous games have made much about manipulating time, this game's focus is the Prince's mastery of the elements. Whether its manipulating the air to torpedo across a gap, generating a limited field of invulnerability via stone armor or -- perhaps the most used power in the game -- freezing jets of water in place to use as a pole or wall to scale across. Producer Graeme Jennings said that these element-based powers would be the main thrust of the series, adding that "rewind is the only time-based power." And while many of the previous games tied in a romantic interest -- and even this series had Malik's magic-wielding serving as a wedge between the two brothers -- the Ubisoft crew said that this time, the Prince was on his own. "He needed to walk away from what happened in the Sands of Time, and we felt the best way for him to do that was to walk alone," Jennings said.
Additionally, combat is "a different beast" from the previous games. "Once it got up to 50 enemies at once, it had to change," Jennings said. With the Prince's movements skewing more towards agility than strength, "he's a lot faster, he strings actions together a lot quicker, and he has to stay on the move... that's the skill you're going to learn." Apparently, the Prince's combat skills will be upgradeable, and are geared towards combo mechanics as well. But that doesn't mean it's a walk in the park -- while animation director Jan-Erik Sjovall moved through the climbing stages nearly effortlessly, there were a few times that the enemy AI got the better of him, causing his health to dip dangerously low. "And you can run away from any of the fights if you want," McIntyre joked.
In terms of graphics, the demo of Forgotten Sands was admittedly a bit incomplete, with more fine-tuning of the physics having taken place in the last four weeks, said Sjovall. Using Assassin's Creed's Anvil Engine as their foundation for the XBox and Playstation formats, the system does sport some huge vistas inspired by Persian history. "Expectations are pretty high in animation, and the Prince of Persia brand," McIntyre said. Something that was still in the works was smoothing out landings and making aerial arcs more realistic. In Forgotten Sands, Jennings said, there is "no more of the gravity-defying Prince -- he's more of a heavier Prince."
Something McIntyre, Jennings and Sjovall added was that the demo was a reflection of the XBox 360 & PS3 edition, and that the Wii version of the game was a completely unique product created by Ubisoft Quebec. "There are some common hooks that fit within the same universe," Jenning said. "You could buy the Wii and the Playstation 3 [versions] and would be satisfied that you bought two different versions suitable for two separate platforms." While the crew could not answer fan questions about a sequel to the previous Prince of Persia game, which featured a new Prince and female sidekick Elika, they did say that this game would help move the "Sands of Time" Prince closer to the man he will eventually become. "The whole gap of seven years is going to make him more jaded, and this is one of the steps towards that," Jennings said. "This story is in a darker moment in time for the Prince."