PAX East: Prince of Persia The Forgotten Sands impressions

by: Sean Colleli -
More On: Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands PAX East 2010
At PAX East you typically had to wait in long lines to get to the demos and panels, but in many cases it was worth it. One of my favorite games at the event was Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands. I’m kind of a PoP fanboy so I’m a little biased here, but I think anyone could play this game and come away with a smile.

On the show floor I got to try out the public demo of Forgotten Sands for the 360. For the most part this was classic Prince gameplay—acrobatics, wall-running and time manipulation. Needless to say I felt right at home with the controls and even the Prince himself—after 2008’s reboot/departure with a new Prince, voice actor Yuri Lowenthal is back in the saddle as the Prince from the Sands trilogy. Yuri’s wit is back in fine form—after battling through several sand demons he looks out on the horizon and sees a sandstorm, quipping that “it’s probably just a coincidence.”

Forgotten Sands takes place between The Sands of Time and Warrior Within. The 7-year gap between those games always left players wondering how the Prince went from a carefree arrogant youth to a haggard, desperate and starving man on the run from fate itself. The events of Forgotten Sands will clear up some of that mystery. At the end of the first game the Prince used the Dagger of Time to completely erase everything he had done during the game, preventing a huge catastrophe but leaving him a novice in the eyes of his father.

To make a name for himself, the Prince travels to the kingdom of his brother Malik. Malik’s decadent city is under siege and against the Prince’s warnings, Malik unleashed the ancient Army of Solomon in the hopes that it will solve his problems. Of course this just makes a whole bunch of new problems. In an epic cutscene in Malik’s treasure vault, the ancient demon Rotash and his horde of sand skeletons rise from the earth and turn all of Malik’s subjects into sand statues.

I played through an early section of the game as the Prince acclimates himself to the situation and gets used to his new powers. In addition to the usual rewind stuff, the Prince’s new elemental powers are the game’s big hook. I only got to play around with the water powers but if the rest of them are as good, this is going to be one heck of a game. Basically, you can freeze all water on screen by squeezing the left trigger.

The puzzles built around this are brilliant and intuitive. Parallel waterfalls become walls to wall-kick off of; jets spouting from walls turn into poles to swing on; tubes of water dropping from the ceiling freeze into columns to hug and leap from. This power really makes you think about the puzzles in a different way, and timing is often very important. For instance, I had to wall-run along a frozen waterfall, jump off onto a frozen spout, and then swing off of it through another waterfall; if I didn’t let off the trigger right after jumping off the pole, I’d smack right into the still-solid waterfall and tumble to my death. I didn’t think this series could surprise me with puzzles anymore, but I’m happy to be proven wrong.

The other big change is the combat. In previous games the Prince would face maybe five opponents at once; now it’s dozens. Crowds of enemies will mob you, so dodging, takedowns and acrobatics are more important than elaborate swordplay. It’s an enhanced version of the rather simple but comfortable combat from the first game, where the concept finally reaches its full potential. I’ll still miss the satisfying speed kill system from Two Thrones, though.

After the demo I got to sit in on a panel with level design director Michael McIntyre and producer Graeme Jennings. Michael has a lot of fond memories of the first game, specifically the Prince saying “No no, that’s not what happened,” after you’d died. He wanted to make Forgotten Sands a successor to Sands of Time in a number of ways, including the combat and story. However, this game’s plot will be about the rift between the two brothers (Malik gains sand powers too) and the Prince’s need to walk away from the events in the first game. For this reason he’ll be going it alone—no sidekick this time.

The segments they showed behind closed doors—including the aforementioned sand army rising—focused more on the story. Rotash is the historical nemesis of King Solomon, the Prince’s ancestor, and he’s mistaken the Prince for his old enemy. This leads to chase sequences similar to the Dahaka ones in Warrior Within, except these are much more hectic. The area he appeared in was a garden broken up by several indoor sections. As long as the Prince was outdoors, Rotash would destroy huge chunks of the environment trying to kill him. When the Prince was inside he was safe from Rotash, but had to battle through crowds of enemies. Michael and Graeme took this opportunity to show off some of the Prince’s elemental attacks, which match his powers. I got to see him using whirling stone armor and ice waves he threw off the edge of his sword.

Prince of Persia Forgotten Sands is due out May 18th. The 360 version looked great and added some exciting new dynamics to the puzzles and combat that I’m already hooked on. I also have it on good authority that the Wii version will cover different events in Malik’s kingdom, have different levels, puzzles and elemental powers—it’s basically a separate game. We’re getting essentially two new Prince of Persia games this summer, and I couldn’t be more excited.

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