Ubisoft did everything right with The Sands of Time, almost everything right with sequel Warrior Within, and more-than-a-few things right with The Two Thrones. That's why, five years after the trilogy ended, they're as pleased as a man with two cakes to be returning to the real Prince of Persia. His name is Prince, and he didn't come to funk around.
"Sands of Time hit a magical spot for a lot of people," says The Forgotten Sands' Level Design Director, Michael McIntyre. (No, not that one). "For us, too. That series was a real point of pride at Ubisoft Montreal, even for people not on the game - they really hit something good and we're just really pleased to be back in that playground."
"That playground" means taking Sands of Time's look, controls, time powers, and even the same voice actor and dragging it to a console generation which can make the platforming spaces, fights, and puzzles bigger than anything in the original trilogy. It means picking up the story around a year after the events of Sands of Time - seven years before Warrior Within - and following him on the Prince's journey to his brother's kingdom and the war against the Sand Army.
BEST LAID SANDS
Back in 2003, Sands of Time changed everything. It was a proper revolution and a massive kick in the pants for platform games, which in seven years had evolved no further than Super Mario 64 and the original Tomb Raider. These days, when you play a platformer, you're usually playing a game which wouldn't exist without Prince of Persia - both Uncharteds, all Tomb Raiders since Legend, Assassin's Creed, even tripe like Aeon Flux and Mirror's Edge wear the Prince's influence like a badge of honour. It was parkour-style platforming in a world which felt solid and tangible, as if it were architecture rather than spaces in a game.
"Level design is a cornerstone of Prince of Persia and there's a very particular style to make PoP feel like PoP," says McIntyre. "We're balancing between three types of experience: the room philosophy, where you'll enter a room, see the exit, and you're left to your own devices on how to get there; action sequences - combat, escapes, chases, and boss
fights; and the 'other' stuff - puzzles and other set-pieces. Between the three we've struck that classic Sands of Time mix. As soon as you start bringing in some of the elements from that series you get a recipe that just works, and it's something that works even today. We're trying to represent it well, not change too much, and do some things that we can only do now with current consoles."
DEJA VU TO A KILL
Here's where we'd normally say how evident the differences between the old and new games are, but it's not true for The Forgotten Sands. In fact, that's what makes it so good - it looks and feels almost exactly like Sands of Time, and even pays homage to the original game with rooms which mimic the most famous parts of that original.
Like Sands of Time, the game begins on the ramparts of a besieged castle. Shortly after undoing the events of Sands of Time, the young Prince - still optimistic but a little less na´ve - travels to his brother's kingdom and finds it under attack from a foreign invader. It's an impossible fight for the King's armies, and so he unseals an ancient undead legion which sweeps away his enemies in hours, leaving them with a new problem - what do they do about the, er... invincible magical army?
"This is the story of how the Prince goes from the bright, na´ve character of the first one to the darker prince of Warrior Within," McIntyre explains. "Clearly, a lot of bad things have to happen to a person to make them have such a dramatic attitude transition and so we're telling the story of the kinds of things that happened to him to get him there. Essentially, it's how Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader."