While dodging outsized cosplay swords and errant catgirls at the London MCM Expo over the weekend, I was lucky enough to get a hands-on with the most recent build of Prince of Persia.
The code on show featured the beginning of the game - really an extended tutorial level to get you used to the controls and introduce both The Prince and his new partner Elika - of whom more later.
The franchise revamp is simply lovely to look at. The much-discussed cel-shading doesn't jar as much as I had feared with the designers opting for a subtle outlining rather than the 'chunky black felt-pen' look I would normally associate with the effect.
Character animation is smooth and scenery is full of pleasing touches like kicked-up dust, swaying grass and insects. It is nothing new exactly, but it all works well together to create the feel of a well produced animated movie.
Movement controls are broadly the same as the recent PoP games. You can still wall-run like a wushu master and dangle from ledges - this time around aided by a metal claw that lets you slow your descent in a similar way to the dagger-thru-drapes in PoP:The Two Thrones.
The first big difference is in combat. The last two games in the series leaned heavily on their fighting mechanics with plenty of combos, chained moves and elaborate attacks for taking on multiple enemies at once.
Prince of Persia strips all that away and focuses instead on one-on-one duelling with relatively simple controls. You can swing your sword around, leap in the air to evade or perform acrobatic swipes or perform grabs and throws using your 'claw'.
It is easy to pick up, if a bit button-mashy. Certain powerful hits trigger slo-mo animations and anime-like sequences of flaring magic . These look great.. a couple of times. It is not always entirely clear when the animation is over and your button stabs are having an effect on proceedings, however.
Despite this, combat generally feels quite visceral. Get in close and you can head-butt and grapple and there is a large enough range of animations that you always feel like more than a sprite with a stabby arm.
Ubisoft have made much of the AI system that controls your lovely companion. To be honest, I was initially a bit disappointed - she didn't instantly strike me as being particularly intelligent. It was only after twenty minutes or so of playing that I realised I hadn't once had to go back and look for her or nudge her around a tricky obstacle or do any of the other NPC-herding you usually have to put up with in a game where you have a 'companion'.
Elika provides you with hints and advice on what to do next - just tap a trigger button to initiate a dialogue. Not just a pretty face, Elika can also do magic. Her spells will help you in a variety of ways. Most noticeably in the demo she was able to chip in during combat - hitting the Y button during a boss fight makes her leap forward and lay down the ethereal smack upon your opponent.
To be honest it was never entirely clear how much this was helping - she was never able to land the finishing blow, but it did give me enough of a breather to get back to some serious sword 'n' claw work.
Elika's most useful skill, though - especially if you suck at wall running as much as me - was in swooping down like the Too Human Valkyrie to rescue The Prince every time the big dope stepped off a ledge into the abyss.
This effectively means that you can't die by falling off things. The Ubisoft PR person who showed me the game explained that this was partly to encourage you to make the leaps of faith that have always been a part of the game. It also made some sections of the game a lot easier - good for me as I was anxious to get as far as I could in the time available - maybe not so good for you.
For me, the game's biggest flaw was the dialogue and look of the characters. Not the graphics - they were great, as I have already said - but the fact that The Prince and Elika look so Western. Would it kill the developers to make them look like they might have even visited Persia?
Oh and the dialogue. I appreciate that it needs to be accessible but would a nobleman of medieval Persia really step forward into battle with a casual "I got this"?