You'd be forgiven for thinking that putting a 'driving section' in a game engine mainly constructed for climbing walls and decapitating bad guys would be a stupid idea. After all, any actioner where you suddenly find yourself driving where you were previously killing things, must be prepared for at least a mild ribbing. Anyone remember the end of Halo?
So when we got the world exclusive hands-on of Prince of Persia 3 this month, we were shocked to see that as well as bringing the series to an explosive conclusion, Ubisoft had managed to pull of the incredible feat of implementing a proper 'driving' section. As well as swinging from long velvet curtains and running up walls, the Prince will be required to race through the streets of Babylon to flee the thousand-strong army out to turn him into Dahaka food. Clattering through sandy streets, while punching off would-be assassins, running over soldiers like skittles and ramming through burning barricades, it plays like a horse-drawn Burnout.
On foot too, the Prince has once again stretched himself, not only retaining the skills acquired in The Sands of Time and Warrior Within, but also acquiring extra limb-rending moves. Stealth plays a bigger role than in other Persia games, but the emphasis is less on sneaking around avoiding guards and more about hunting them down. It's all about watching your prey, noting their movement patterns, then leaping in for the kill. It's a brutal and lightning-fast experience, as the Prince slides down the side of a wall and lassos an enemy round the neck, simultaneously using them as a pivot with which to swing up to another platform, while choking them to death.
This new 'arcade stealth' technique works a treat. You can string combos of kills together too, often strangling one guard as you spin around him, while kicking others to their death. If that all fails, it's always possible to resort to freeform fighting, Warrior Within style. The Prince moves with a liquid efficiency, and although he spends much of the game shifting between his human persona and his Sands of Time-infected alter-ego, the Sand Prince, both personas complement the gameplay. Or you could say 'contaminate', thanks to the cruel metal lasso the Prince is equipped with. Of course, it's going to be the Prince's destiny to clean up Babylon, not to bring about its ruin.
This of course means there can be only one Prince left standing towards the end of the game, although whether this is the good or the evil incarnation has yet to be seen. Perhaps the mysterious architect of Babylon's downfall is none other than the Prince himself? Although then again, that would be far too obvious. Wouldn't it? Ubisoft is going out with a bang with this trilogy, and everything is set to deliver just that. Just sit back, set the hourglass, and wait.