Hollywood is ready to mesmerize viewers with a shirtless Jake Gyllenhaal jumping from rooftop to rooftop in the new Prince of Persia film. It should therefore come as no surprise that a new game is releasing alongside the movie to cash in on its possible success; however, it actually has nothing to do with the film. It also doesn’t continue the cell shaded, Nolan North voiced series reboot that Ubisoft launched over a year ago.
With Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands, the developers decided bring the series back to its roots by returning to the Sands of Time trilogy story arc. While the original PS2 game is now considered a classic, the sequels definitely began to get old with each new installment. This begs the question, is it a good idea to go back to a formula that did not age well in an attempt to recapture the magic that made the original so popular?
The Forgotten Sands takes place during the seven year gap between The Sands of Time and Warrior Within. As the game begins, the Prince’s father has just sent him on a journey to his brother Malik’s kingdom to learn to be a great leader. Upon arriving, he quickly discovers that Malik’s palace is under attack by a powerful enemy armada that can’t be stopped.
Just as the Prince arrives to help, his brother decides to unlock King Solomon’s legendary Lost Army in a last ditch effort to combat the invading hordes. However, it turns out the army is pure evil set on destroying anything and anyone, and all hell breaks loose. It is up to the Prince to stop the mythical army in order to save both Malik and his kingdom.
What is immediately evident about The Forgotten Sands is that it’s definitely a Prince of Persia game. The typical formula of using your acrobatic abilities like wall running, climbing, jumping, and pole swinging to traverse the landscape and get past traps is all intact. The Prince also has some magical powers to help him in his quest, including the ability to freeze water, recall memories of how the environment used to look, and the ever popular ability to rewind time to correct foolish mistakes like dying.
While it’s nice that the developers have given the Prince all these unique abilities, it’s disappointing that the entire game is still based around an extremely linear structure that doesn’t offer the player any freedom in how to get past the challenges presented. There is always only one way to progress forward, and it’s typically very clear as to what abilities should be used where and when. It’s this type of gameplay that caused the Prince of Persia formula to get old in the first place.
One major problem is the combat system, which is unbelievably simplistic. You only have one attack button, a kick button to push enemies over, a dodge button, and a jump button. You can combine these to perform an aerial attack or an aerial kick, but that’s as deep as the combat gets. For the most part you simply spam the attack button since it’s the easiest method of dispatching your enemies.
The enemies themselves are another disappointing part of the game, mainly because the AI is absolutely horrendous. Instead of attempting to challenge the player with intelligent enemies, the developers throw large amounts of stupid foes at our hero, which simply requires the hack-and-slash approach for victory. There are also only two boss battles in the entire game, neither of which is difficult at all.
To mix the combat up a bit, there are four elemental abilities that can be unlocked to help dispatch the hordes of enemies. These abilities include: a trail of flame, which follows the Prince and lights enemies on fire; stone armor, that makes the Prince invulnerable to enemy attacks; whirlwind, which pushes all enemies surrounding the Prince back and damages them; and Ice Blast, which creates a wave of ice that damages all enemies in its path. While these do help make the combat more enjoyable, they are never required to defeat any of the enemies, so you can simply ignore them if need be.
All of these abilities can be unlocked and upgraded thanks to a grid based upgrade system. Every time you kill an enemy you get experience, and when a certain amount of experience is collected you gain the ability to unlock one slot from the grid. At first, only two slots are available to choose from, but every time you unlock one, the adjacent slots become available. Besides unlocking and upgrading the four magical attacks, you can also increase your health, magic, and the amount of time allocated to rewinding time or freezing water.
A major problem with The Forgotten Sands is it starts out really slow and simple and doesn’t really hit its stride till about 3-4 hours in. The game really shines though in the last few hours when all the special abilities must be used together to solve puzzles and traverse the environment. While the difficulty curve does eventually go up, the game also becomes a lot more frustrating due to some extremely accurate timing that is required in the later levels. Long time fans of the series will love these hard challenges, but new players will likely throw their controllers across the room in anger.
Another disappointing element is the graphics, which are just extremely bland and boring thanks to everything being covered in a dull layer of brown sand. If I didn’t know better I would think this was a first generation PS3/Xbox 360 game. It’s definitely a far departure from the colorful cell shaded visuals of the previous game which really helped to bring all the environments to life.
Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands is really a tale of two halves. The first half of the 7-8 hour experience is easy and forgettable, with a simplistic hack-and-slash combat system that isn’t any fun. Once all the magical abilities are unlocked, the second half to the game really shines, demanding the player to use all the tools at their disposal together in a beautiful ballet of acrobatics that is very entertaining.
Once it’s all over though, there isn’t really any reason to go back for more. Besides not capturing the magic that made the original so popular, it actually manages to feel like an outdated game. It’s therefore hard to recommend this to anyone except for the most hardcore Prince of Persia fans, if there is such a thing. Your money would be better spent buying the original Sands of Time and a copy of Assassin’s Creed II.
Most of the time the visuals look very outdated, with a dull brownish color palette that bores the eyes.
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Acrobatics and magical abilities combine for an enjoyable level traversing experience, but the simplistic, one button, hack-and-slash combat system leaves much to be desired.
The soundtrack is decent, but there just really isn't anything special here your ears haven't heard before.
There is little more than 7-8 hours of gameplay here, and once you finish it, you'll never play it again.
The Forgotten Sands does such a good job of returning to its "Sands of Time roots" that it actually feels like you're playing a seven year old PS2 title: and that isn't really a good thing. The game simply refuses to evolve and become something greater than its predecessors.