I’ve been a fan of the Prince of Persia franchise ever since 2003′s The Sands of Time. The combination of acrobatics and combat– along with the sweeping environments — made the Prince of Persia franchise one of my favorites from the last generation. And despite Ubisoft beating the franchise into the ground by releasing sequel after sequel each year, I still bought and played them all — though I recognized that the Prince was starting to feel more than a little tired.
But the 2008 Prince of Persia — a reimagining of the franchise that took away almost all the player’s ability to fail — showed that the Prince needed more than just a few tweaks and a short break to be exciting all over again. While some people enjoyed the ultra-forgiving, you-can’t-lose aspect of the 2008 PoP, I felt like the game had brought this aspect in at the expense of the sense of accomplishment the previous games evoked. The Prince’s adventures need to be beatable, sure, but player’s don’t need to have their hand held all the way.
Which is why I think I enjoyed the latest game, Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands, as much as I did. While much more than a simple rehash of previous PoP mechanics, Forgotten Sands manages to find a fine balance between reward and punishment. Combine this with some awesome new mechanics and a combat system that really comes into its own by the end of the game, and it’s easy to recommend despite the boring story and rather unpolished feel of the game’s visuals.
In The Forgotten Sands you play as the titular Prince of Persia, a handsome, acrobatic warrior with a penchant for climbing just about anything and destroying anyone who he comes to blows with. The Prince goes to visit his brother and in typical videogame fashion things go awry, magical enemies appear, and he’s quickly dragged into an epic quest that will take him through the ruins of a kingdom in an effort to save the world. It’s the sort of stuff that previous PoP games were all about, but I have to say that this storyline pales in comparison to The Sands of Time (the PoP game that all are measured against in my mind), and never managed to pull me in to the narrative.
However, while the story failed to catch my attention, the acrobatic platforming the franchise is known for managed to get me hooked all over again. The Prince has the uncanny ability to run up walls and be an all-around monkey when it comes to climbing, and the game gives you plenty of environments to ninja about in. Each area the Prince enters is essentially a level, and it’s up to you to figure out what moves you need to pull out in order to make it through.
The first couple of hours of platforming would have you thinking it’s a relatively easy game, but it gets more difficult as the Prince unlocks new powers. During the quest the Prince will eventually gain the ability be to temporarily freeze water into climbable objects and make certain portions of ruins appear as they were before they were destroyed. The game gradually ramps up the difficulty, forcing the player to combine these powers until eventually they’re encountering rooms where all of them are used in epic sequences that make the game feel like a mix of platformer and rhythm action.
Combining so many skills is hard, and resulted in a lot of dead Princes. Thankfully, Forgotten Sands brings back the ability to rewind time, giving me a second (and sometimes fifth or sixth) chance at success. But this isn’t the infinite retries of the last PoP game, either, as this time around player’s have a limited amount of retries (which are refilled by finding blue orbs in vases or from fallen enemies). Should you run out of retries you’ll go back to your last checkpoint (which are pretty regular), making failure in Forgotten Sands the perfect balance of risk and reward. There’s nothing sweeter than completing a challenge without having to use any retries, or, even better, succeeding when you’re on your last try. After all, if there’s nothing to lose, nothing to risk, where’s the fun?
The platforming is immediately gratifying, but the combat takes some time to become a worthwhile part of the game. The earliest enemies are really boring to fight, and combating them amounts to little more than button mashing. Later, though, when I had a series of powers and a good mix of enemies to fight, combat became an entirely different beast.
Much like a host of other games before it, Forgotten Sands has an experience system. Killing enemies yields experience which is then spent on a skill tree. Through the course of the game the Prince will get such powers as temporary invincibility, an area of effect knock down, or even the ability to leave a trail of fire in his wake. These powers use up the same resource as your ability to rewind time, and thus the choice to use them in combat becomes a much bigger deal towards the end of the game when I was screwing up a lot. The biggest thing about the powers, though, is that they’re really fun to mix in with your normal attacks — so much so that they make combat interesting enough to actually make me want to play the game’s challenge modes, wherein you fight waves of enemies in a set amount of time.
Whereas the combat and acrobatic sequences of Forgotten Sands are, in many ways, like those in the fantastic Sands of Time, the story and visuals of the game are a far cry. The plot is utterly predictable, and the characters (outside of the Prince) are forgettable. Likewise the game’s visuals, something I normally don’t even really notice, are all over the place. At times the game looks pretty fantastic, with great dynamic lighting and a wide array of colors, and at other times the game looks dull and dated. It’s too bad, really, because if the story and look of the game could have been as refined as it felt in Sands of Time, 2010′s Prince of Persia could have been a game that people remembered as fondly as its predecessor. But buyer beware: if you’re into what you’re hearing and want to pick it up for your PC, just know that this game requires you to be online at all times while you’re playing. Check the DRM requirements before purchase.
Forgotten Sands is much better than the 2008 Prince of Persia, but still not as great as Sands of Time – the game it so obviously seeks to recapture the spirit of. The story and visuals are unimpressive, but the combat and platforming are good enough that anyone who’s been longing for another PoP game since 2005′s Two Thrones is in for a treat.