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Review: Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands

2:00 PM on 05.19.2010 // Nick Chester

Ubisoft's Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time stands as one my favorite games. At the time of its release, the game's re-imagined beauty and control was like nothing we had seen. Go back and play it today and it still holds up, a magical journey with crafty platforming and puzzles that set a new bar for the genre.

In 2008, Ubisoft completely turned the series on its head with a new game in the series, simply called Prince of Persia. With this new approach came a completely new Prince, a remarkable visual style, and a fresh adventure. It wasn't The Sands of Time, and it wasn't what I expected. But I loved it.

Not everyone agrees with me, longing for a return-to-form and a more familiar Prince. The Forgotten Sands is Ubisoft's answer, taking a more classic approach to the series, and returning with the familiar Prince for an all new tale. But does the publisher hit the mark, or is this simply rushed fan-service hoping the cash-in on the buzz surrounding the upcoming Hollywood film?

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 [reviewed], Windows PC)
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
Released: May 18th, 2010
MSRP: $59.99

Instead of continuing where it left off with its The Sands of Time trilogy, Ubisoft takes The Forgotten Sands as an opportunity to fill in narrative gaps in the series. Set between the events of the original The Sands of Time and its follow up The Warrior Within, the title finds the Prince traveling to meet with his older brother, Prince Malik. A formidable commander and leader, Malik has taken command of a contested territory on the outskirts of their father's land. When the Prince arrives, he finds that his brother's army is already engaged in a heated, overwhelming battle. With his back to a wall, Malik unleashes the fabled army of King Solomon as a last resort. Thing don't quite go as planned when the army turns on him , leaving the Prince responsible for helping defeat said army.

In many ways The Forgotten Sands feels like an apology for 2008's Prince of a Persia, a "back to the roots" title that borrows heavily from the original The Sands of Time in a number of ways that will most certainly please fans. The first and most welcome return is in the game's pure platforming and movement controls. Ubisoft doesn't play with that original formula much, adopting nearly all of the Prince's skills here, from wall running to swinging on poles to tearing into a banner with a blade for a sound descent. It all feels both familiar and tight, with Ubisoft providing some remarkably calculated and enjoyable environments to hop, jump, and shimmy around.

One of the Prince's familiar powers also returns -- the ability to turn back (but not stop) time. In this chapter the capability doesn't come from a dagger found in The Sands of Time, but from a Djinn who bestows upon the Prince various powers throughout his journey. While the hook in The Sands of Time unsurprisingly revolved round time manipulation, some of the new abilities in The Forgotten Sands actually trump powers in terms of how they affect the title's core gameplay situations.

The "Power of Flow" allows the Prince to solidify water for a short period of time, which leads to some extremely clever platforming and puzzle opportunities. Waterfalls can be turned into walls to run across, or a fountain can be turned into a pole to climb. Another power, the "Power of Memory" allows the Prince to "recall" certain areas in the environment from the past, to use for platforming and puzzles, but only one piece at any given time. Using these powers (sometimes in tandem) and the environment, Ubisoft crafts sensational platform and puzzle situations, some of the best seen in the series to date.

The "back to basics" approach to combat is also taken here, with a one button timing-based system system similar to that found in The Sands of Time. In The Forgotten Sands, the Prince can now use a kick to push back (or knock over) enemies and create some breathing room to launch into larger combos, taking out sizable crowds of enemies. Combined with acrobatic attacks and context sensitive "finishing moves" (an enemy gets toss off a ledge, or pummeled against a wall), the game's fighting system is relatively uncomplicated yet gratifying. A host of other offensive and defensive powers, like the Whirlwind attack and the Stone Armor, can be thrown into the mix to spice things up a bit, as well.

For all of the key gameplay mechanics that are nailed, unfortunately The Forgotten Sands is visually uneven. I'm not talking from a technical standpoint, as the game's engine is more than competent, particularly apparent when looking at some of the title’s striking lighting effects. And some of the game's environments are staggeringly designed and realized; the game's closing action sequence, for instance, looks as magnificent as it plays. On the other hand, the same thing can't be said about the titular Prince. The design of the young warrior may be the most offensive thing in the game -- on the unsettling-face spectrum, the character falls somewhere between a Neanderthal and a Cabbage Patch Kid.

The Forgotten Sands also falls short in the narrative department, the main problem being that it's not particularly notable. Whereas The Sands of Time had you chasing around a mysterious female (and later, interacting with her and building a memorable relationship), The Forgotten Sands has you running around after your older brother to clean us his mess. The whole thing feels a bit empty, more of a "going through the motions" tale that lacks the character and sense of wonder found in the original trilogy.

Even with those flaws in mind, The Forgotten Sands is a solid action-platforming title that comes rather close to re-capturing the feel of 2003’s The Sands of Time. While it misses the mark of nailing the same sense of magic and wonder of the original trilogy, fans who had missed this style and approach in 2008's Prince of Persia offering should welcome this new-yet-familiar adventure with open arms.

Score: 8.5 -- Great (8s are impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.)

[Note: My experience with The Forgotten Sands was almost entirely free of noticeable bugs or glitches, with one exception that I'd be remiss in ignoring. The title features an auto-save system with one game save per profile; there's no way to manually save your progress. Late in the game, I had missed a jump and fallen to my death... at which point the game decided to auto-save. When the game re-loaded, I found myself caught in an earlier area, and the game wouldn't trigger doors I would need to progress. I was trapped.

Unfortunately, this happened late in the game and I had feared all of my progress was lost. Not quite the case -- I discovered that The Forgotten Sands makes a "back up auto-save" that can only be accessed if your primary save is corrupt or deleted. Once deleted, the game successfully loaded the back-up, which only found me losing a few hours of progress. 

I mention this to fully disclose my experience, but note that I feel it was an isolated incident that I couldn't repeat had I tried.]

Nick Chester, Former Editor-in-Chief (2011)
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