Joypad magazine - the French Edge - has published the first preview of the next Prince of Persia, just announced by Ubisoft.
The game will be coming to PC, PS3 and 360 this year and is being developed by the original Prince of Persia: Sands of Time team at Ubisoft Montreal. It features cel-shaded graphics, and scraps the Sands of Time rewind powers. The gameplay centres on healing a corrupted world in the style of Okami, Shadow of the Colossus or The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.
Joypad's preview shows striking images of the game's "illustrative" visual style - a subtle and highly detailed take on cel-shading - and the new Prince, a colourful vagabond swathed in scarves. He wouldn't look out of place in a Final Fantasy game, the article's author points out.
Creative director Jean-Christophe Guyot told Joypad that the aim was to create a more fantastical game and "more poetic vision" than the Sands of Time trilogy, with which it shares no connection. "The previous trilogy mixed the Arabian Nights in with historical Persia," he said (in French, so please excuse our rough translation). "We decided we'd prefer to return to the tales of the Thousand and One Nights for something more colourful."
The move caused some consternation with Ubisoft management, he explained, although they never opposed it. "They knew we weren't going to make a second Assassin's Creed," he said. "However, they did raise their eyebrows a bit at the new, stylised artistic direction. They were worried the Americans wouldn't like it. There were many discussions, but they never said no to us."
Guyot said the style was "Zelda-esque, old school, with very contrasting levels". The settings will be more open and organic than in previous games.
The game's plot draws on a Zoroastrian myth: the war between good and evil gods (and twins) Ohrmazd and Ahriman. Ohrmazd wins and imprisons his brother in a box hidden in an oasis. But Ahriman is freed by an unwitting thief centuries later, and remakes the world in his image, corrupting all living beings. It falls to the thief to undo his actions and return colour to the world, and in so doing he turns from robber into the titular Prince.
He heals the land by killing boss guardians, in the style of Shadow of the Colossus or Twilight Princess, and unleashing the power of the light-wells they guard. The land is then transformed in real-time - unlike Okami's cut-scenes - with grass growing and lighting and colour changing dynamically as the Prince moves through the world.
Although combat is still an important part of the game, enemies will be much less numerous and more vicious. The emphasis is on one-on-one swordfighting duels, with a very dynamic camera. It's described as being more Soul Calibur than God of War.
Platforming has been less drastically altered, with the major addition being a spiked glove that the Prince can use to slide along, and jump from, vertical surfaces. The sands of time powers have been removed due to overuse - "the concept has been so used and copied, we had to move on to something else, put it to one side" - although a still-secret "something" will take their place and fulfil some of the same functions.
Structurally, the game will be a mix of open-ended and linear. The Prince is free to explore the world map and take on challenges in whatever order he wants - dynamic settings taking care of the difficulty curve - but each challenge will be a fairly linear assault course, maximising fluidity and acrobatics, and ending in a boss confrontation. The developers are hoping the bosses will have some of the strong personality of Metal Gear Solid's.
As a fresh start for the Prince of Persia series, it all sounds very promising. Look out for more details from the UbiDays event on the 28th and 29th of May.