Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands preview

We check out Ubisoft's Prince of Persia “interquel” and talk to lead level designer Mike McIntyre

Jake Gyllenhaal will play the Prince in the upcoming film adaptation of Sands of Time.

Jake Gyllenhaal will play the Prince in the upcoming film adaptation of Sands of Time.

Ubisoft’s upcoming “interquel” in the Prince of Persia series, The Forgotten Sands, brings the series back to the Sands of Time universe and leads fans through the time gap between Sands of Time and Warrior Within.

As any Prince of Persia fan will tell you, the evolution of the Prince from Sands to Warrior was quite jarring, though one the developers hope fans will be excited to take part in. “It was interesting to us as developers, and will hopefully be to the players as well — to tell what happened to the Prince to change him into this dark character,” Mike McIntyre, lead level designer for The Forgotten Sands, says. Though it would be incredibly easy to write off The Forgotten Sands as a supplementary game tie-in to the upcoming <i>Sands of Time</i> movie, the developers have every intention of putting their money where their mouths are. The aim is to please diehard Prince of Persia fans and bring back many of the common series elements that went missing with 2008’s Prince of Persia. (We're willing to overlook the Prince's Jake Gyllenhaal makeover.)

”Sit down, and I will tell you a tale like none which you have ever heard…”

Sands of Time is still commonly regarded as the best Prince of Persia game

Forgotten Sands begins with the Prince arriving at his brother’s kingdom, only to find it under attack by a menacing enemy army. As a last resort, the Prince’s brother unleashes the powers of the Sand Army that wipe out the opposing forces... but it also turns the citizens of his kingdom into sand statues. Though the game itself resembles Sands of Time and Warrior Within in many ways, the team wanted to make the world the Prince explores more in line with another big Ubisoft franchise. “We wanted to include a bit of gritty realism, along the lines of Assassin’s Creed, to make the world very convincing,” McIntyre says.

The saturated colours of the world resemble those of past Prince games, but the attention to detail — the Prince himself along with his brother’s gargantuan Palace — make the game world more realistic than it has been in the past. The set-piece Palace that players see upon starting the game instantly comes to life, as the ballista-battered locale is invaded by soldiers that strike down the defending army. During the siege, the Prince makes his way across precarious ledges to find entrance to his brother’s fortress.

The Prince has a new arsenal of magic tricks up his sleeve, including the ability to freeze water

Aside from cosmetic changes, Forgotten Sands puts new abilities at the Prince’s disposal that add new depth to the gameplay. The first one players can use, power over water, allows the Prince to freeze waterfalls and fountains so he can vault his way through the environment. One section involves the Prince freezing water spouts coming out of the wall of the Palace to use as beams; he then deactivates the power in order to jump through a waterfall. Later, he gains the ability to see rock formations as they were in the past. That doesn’t sound very exciting until you see how the Prince can call these formations back into existence (the underground ruins beneath the Palace are a prime area where this ability is used), and the way these formations interact with the subterranean waterways.

Hopefully, Forgotten Sands will strike a good balance between combat and platform navigation

Though The Forgotten Sands looks and feels like a new Prince of Persia title, McIntyre likens the return to the Sands of Time universe to the feeling of “coming home,” noting that after 2008’s Prince of Persia, going back to the Time roots felt right for the team. “We weren’t thinking about getting away from Prince of Persia 2008 as much as thinking about going back to the Sands of Time universe,” McIntyre notes. “Both are Prince of Persia games but they each have their own individual philosophies and vibe. The wall run, for example, was handled very differently in each game, as was the combat. We didn’t want to do these big huge duels like in the 2008 game because it wasn’t in the vein of Sands of Time.”

Aside from making it clear that the team’s intent on returning to the Sands of Time universe was to tell a compelling “interquel,” McIntyre notes the team has no qualms about vocally distinguishing The Forgotten Sands from the upcoming Bruckheimer-helmed action movie. “I probably know less about the movie than you do,” McIntyre asserts. “It’s dangerous, because it could be harmful to the series and that would be a shame, but the fact that it’s Jerry Bruckheimer and the Pirates of the Caribbean team, that’s a vote of confidence. It’s also worth noting that [series creator] Jordan Mechner is involved, and he’s constantly pushing back on the Hollywood guys to keep the mythos of the game intact.”

Skeletons have been mainstays in the Prince of Persia series ever since the first game

Though our time with The Forgotten Sands was short, it’s apparent that the team isn’t riding on the coattails of the upcoming movie, and Ubisoft is well on its way to treating Sands of Time fans to a worthwhile return to that universe.

Before departing though, I had to ask McIntyre one last question: What does the team think of Jake Gyllenhaal as the Prince? “When I first heard about it, I tried to picture Donnie Darko in the Prince garb and it wasn’t really happening, but then they released pictures of him and I thought ‘OK, this might work,’” McIntyre says with a laugh. “He’s a little on the big side, but I pictured Javier Bardem from No Country for Old Men as the Prince.”

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands is due to hit stores May 20; around the same time as Jerry Bruckheimer's movie

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