Not the King of POP
Prince of Persia is a strong gaming franchise that rarely disappoints. The Prince’s unique acrobatic abilities, along with solid combat and quality platforming tend to make it an A+ action/adventure offering. Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands was announced just a few months ago (November 09), and all of a sudden, here it is, showing up in the middle of May like an early Christmas present!
In The Forgotten Sands, the Prince is having some trouble with his older brother Malik, who regrettably unleashes the Army of Solomon when looking to protect his kingdom from invaders. As luck has it, the deadly army turns against him, and now it’s up to the Prince to battle it out and hopefully save him from that ill-fated magic.
The plot is not very original, and while this has never been an issue with an otherwise quality game, the worrying familiarity of the first environments seen in the game, along with the ordinary storyline, may end up turning some people off before it gets to the good stuff.
However, the truth is if you wait long enough, you’ll realize The Forgotten Sands is a great-looking game with fabulous platforming mechanics never seen before in the franchise. In addition to the traditional wall-running, rebounding, climbing, and rolling, the Prince can now chain up these moves in order to reach new areas. For example, when you encounter two walls – one across the other, he’ll have to wall-run up, jump across, rebound, run up again, jump, and so on. The level of challenge in the platforming has definitely been amped up, and towards the end of the game you’ll find some segments that should just be classified as “Tough” with a capital T.
Once in a while, as you advance through the game, the Prince will find a mysterious gate that’ll give him access to a magical area you may recall from previous titles. Here you’ll encounter Razia, Queen of one of the Djinn tribes. Her wisdom is worth centuries, and she’ll give the Prince the knowledge and powers he needs to defeat Solomon’s Army and save his brother from the clutches of that blinding, deadly magic.
One of those powers gives the Prince control of time. Should he do something wrong, he can fix it with a touch of a button. The Power of Time was present in the Prince of Persia trilogy we had all come to love, and its return is a blessing, as it allows for an agile and speedy gameplay experience.
Another major power he receives is the Power of Flow, which allows him to control water. By holding the right trigger, he’ll be able to freeze water sources, creating temporary columns he can climb, poles to swing from, and walls he can hop onto in order to grab a ledge or simply run across to reach the other side. You’ll even have to get through segments that require freezing the water mid-jump and letting it go with proper timing. As you advance, the use of the water gets even more interesting, as it is employed in some clever puzzles and combined with other powers.
Later on, the Prince receives the Power of Flight. With this power, he can dash past big gaps, crashing against enemies who await on the other side. This one comes in especially handy later in the game, when gaps seem to get bigger and crows hang around so you can go from one to the next before you can land on safe ground. You can use this power during combat as well, but it’s not very reliable, due to the incoming enemy attacks that will oftentimes hinder your heroic efforts.
The Power of Memory is an interesting one. Razia remembers what the Palace and its surroundings used to look like, and she puts these memories to good use by giving the Prince the power to recall and use these absent walls, platforms, beams, etc. However, you can only recall one of these forgotten elements at a time, so good timing is of the essence in order to travel through platforms successfully. Towards the end, you’ll even have to combine the Power of Flow with the Power of Memory, which greatly increases the challenge.
These powers, along with the whirlwind, the ice blast, the trail of flame, and the stone armor that he can use during combat, are all the Prince needs to overcome the obstacles in The Forgotten Sands. The platforming and the use of magic are one of the strong suits of the game. Sadly, as exciting as the gameplay sounds, the experience is marred by some bad viewing angles and the fact that you can’t move the camera around you freely, as we used to be able to do in previous titles. This is very frustrating when you’re trying to plan the next jump or when you can’t distinguish an ice wall from an ice column due to the side perspective provided. Pushing down the right analog stick re-centers the camera, and twisting it moves the camera around a bit, but not always offering the desired results.
Another negative note is the combat. It’s really weak compared to what the Prince of Persia used to be. His attacks are very limited, and they’re all performed with the same button. You can’t even do combos, other than pushing the same button five times for a stronger attack or holding it down and letting go for a power attack. If you approach an enemy that’s in the ground, you can finish him with the same button as well, but it’s so far from satisfying, especially when you’re used to the trilogy. There you could jump off a wall and crush the enemy, do fancy pirouettes in the air and finish him with a devastating blow, and so on. In The Forgotten Sands, this is barely possible. You can jump over their heads and hop in between them for an “aerial slash,” and you can kick them or push them away, but that’s the extent of this Prince’s combat abilities. Later on, you can upgrade the aerial slash, getting a bit closer to what we’re used to, but it takes a while to upgrade it if you want to keep a balance and increase your health and magic as well.
When you fight, you’ll obtain red orbs for extra health, yellow for experience points, and occasionally blue ones that’ll fill up one of your energy slots. This energy is what you use to rewind or perform magic attacks. If you want to increase their duration and effectiveness, you’ll have to invest your yellow experience points into upgrades. This wasn’t part of other Prince of Persia titles, but it’s a tried-and-true formula that has always worked well. Of course, you almost don’t even need these upgrades when you keep on fighting the same enemies, rarely breaking a sweat. There aren’t even many bosses, and the ones you’ll encounter require almost the same approach every time, leaving our expectations for epic boss battles behind.
A glitch in the game made my upgrades disappear when I was closer to the end, weakening the Prince’s attacks and making me pay for upgrades all over again, but even still, I was able to finish the game just fine. While I assume Ubisoft will fix this with a future patch, I was quite disappointed due to the lack of polish that was obvious in this and other mistakes. Other glitches I encountered made platforms disappear at the wrong time while using the Power of Memory, making it impossible to advance in the game. Luckily, this problem was solved by turning off the console and restarting the game. I’ve also read there’s a glitch that locks you up in a room when you fall in a certain area, forcing you to restart the game from scratch. Luckily, there seems to be a fix for this one, which simply requires you to go to your console’s memory and delete the game save. When you reload the game, the backup save will take over, this time glitch-free, as long as you don’t fall again.
Regarding the visuals, there’s no complaint. The realistic style found in the POP trilogy brings back the authenticity to the franchise, and needless to say, the charm. The environments are full of detail, with true-to-life textures, wonderful architectural elements, and the Arabian Nights feel we’ve come to love. Everything looks great, save for the Prince’s face, which, if you don’t mind me saying, I find slightly unattractive.
As far as sounds, fans should be satisfied as well. The soundtrack is just right for this kind of adventure, matching the game’s feel and theme perfectly. If anything, it may not have the wow factor other game soundtracks often have, but overall, it’s still of high-quality and enjoyable. Same with the voice acting, which gives an excellent voice to the Prince, making players sympathize with his comments and sarcastic tone.
Unfortunately, between the camera issues, the couple of glitches found in the game, and the weaker combat style, Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands fails to fully satisfy the fans. Luckily, this is not to say it isn’t an enjoyable game. There’s still plenty of action and plenty of fun to be had, as long as you can overcome these flaws. Like I said before, the level design and the platforming are possibly the best ever found in a game, and the puzzles are clever and satisfying, so you have to enjoy the game for what it has to offer and look past its blunders.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.5 Graphics
Everything but the Prince’s own face is inspiring and full of detail. The Prince of Persia has gone a long way, and the realistic visuals just work well for the franchise. 3.5 Control
The weakest link of this title. Although the platforming is very well done, the combat is too basic and the camera controls can be frustrating. 4.2 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Overall, the orchestral soundtrack has its merits, matching the game’s feel perfectly. However, there isn’t a wow factor this time around. Voice acting is excellent. 4.0 Play Value
The platforming is absolutely satisfying, but the simplified combat scheme and occasional glitches will leave you wanting for more. Challenge mode and unlockable Ezio skin (via UPlay) extend replay value ever-so-slightly. 4.0 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.