Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands
The Forgotten Sands is not a movie game, but it does come out right before a movie from the same property, stars a variation of the same character, and shares a number of visual traits. So if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck…. No matter how you bill it, this will be the game to represent the franchise to a wealth of fans that will be encountering the character for the first time in video games after they see the big Hollywood treatment. So how does it hold up?
The Forgotten Sands does a fantastic job of emulating the formula first established in the original Sands of Time. Set in the months after the Prince’s first encounters with Farah, the Vizier, and the Dagger of Time, the Prince finds himself leaping and fighting his way through a new sand-based disaster in his brother Malak’s kingdom. From spinning blade traps to running along walls, all the familiar elements are in place that established the franchise as the last console generation’s king of platforming. The thrill of nailing a complex path is still there, diminished only marginally by the passage of time.
Several new features join the experience to mixed results. The new powers are a blast, adding layers to the gameplay by allowing the Prince to solidify water, dash into enemies from afar, and recall ruined structures to their former glory. Together, these mechanics add depth that keeps the older design concept feeling fresh. Combining powers in a single platforming challenge is great fun. My favorite moment in the game had me jumping through a waterfall only to turn around and use that same waterfall as a solid wall to climb. The Prince’s path is linear almost without exception, but that path is so entertaining that I didn’t mind the lack of freedom.
The same can’t be said for the combat system, which has several cool ideas that never coalesce into something as challenging or dangerous as it could be. There are dozens of enemies onscreen, but they all are helplessly slow automatons with no intelligence. The Prince has an impressive suite of moves, but all of his motions seem too slow for such an agile character. The result is a combat system that feels plodding at its worst, and visually exciting but simplistic at its best. An enjoyable progression system, including some fun elemental powers, goes a long way to enrich the combat; seeing the fruits of your XP collection pay off in a powerful sword swing or a surging blast of ice is thrilling. It’s still not enough to keep the combat fresh throughout the lengthy story.
The storyline, falling as it does in the middle of an established trilogy’s plot, feels like exactly what it is: a retrofit to a previously tight narrative. The story is also a little too similar to the one told in the original Sands of Time. That said, the tale of corruption and the dangers of seeking power works just fine to move along the gameplay. If Malak’s kingdom looks and feels an awful lot like settings from previous games in the franchise, I’m willing to overlook the fact to enjoy some of the great exploration that made me fall in love with the series years ago.
The Forgotten Sands is a conceptual step back for the franchise, but for once that’s not a terrible thing. The Sands of Time trilogy was hugely entertaining, and this return to that formula puts a great face on the franchise to new series converts while pleasing old fans with a return to form. Like the exciting finale sequence that ends the game, it’s clear that the Prince formula still has some surprises in store. Now all that remains to be seen is what direction Ubisoft will take the franchise from here on out.