Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands(POP: TFS), Ubisoft's latest attempt to cash in on that nostalgic lust for the glory that was Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (POP:TSOT), puts you in the shoes of our beloved Prince from the original Sands of Time trilogy in a story that takes place after the events of Sands of Time and before Warrior Within. You, The Prince, are visiting your brother Malik's kingdom, and arrive only to discover that his kingdom is being invaded by a foreign army. In desperation, Malik releases an ancient sand army that decimates all except him and you thanks to the medallions that you and Malik have; and so begins the story to save your brother's kingdom.
Now the developers at Ubisoft promised us alot with this game. They promised us an intriguing and memorable story, awesome 50 enemy combat, and amazing acrobatic sequences. While the game delivered on some of these points, I feel that it was lacking in the more important areas of the game. A big let down for me was the ranting and raving of the devs that this game was the spiritual successor to the greatest POP title of all time, The Sands of Time; however, it fell flat in comparison to that amazing game.
The story of Forgotten Sands is an easily forgettable detour of unrefined narrative deja vu. Yet, another sand army let loose and a kingdom/world needs saving again. With the frequency of these creatures in this world, you'd think they'd invented some sort of immigration program to naturalize those sand people into the population and just live in some sort of blissful harmony already. But, no, they're back once again, wielding some swords, forgetting their travel visas, amnesiac to their predecessors' last trip to the human world, and they're mad about something that's not really explained exactly. In other words the story is not memorable and feels rushed and a bit recycled, which is the exact opposite of what the devs promised. The plot barely comes to a completion in the last few seconds of the game, followed only by still images after the end credits, narrated by the Prince, hinting at yet another addition to the franchise that still takes place before Warrior Within. So in shorter terms, the ending was bad and leaves you wanting more, but not in a "omg that was awesome i want more of that game!" kind of way, but instead in a "what? that's it?" kind of way.
As I stated earlier the game was pitched as a sort of spiritual successor to Sands of Time and an "in-between-quel" for the original two games SOT and Warrior Within, but it didn't feel like it at all! There is almost no reference to the events of The Sands of Time, not even a small narration. I believe the only time the Prince even hints at the similar events is early in the game after the sand army is released he says, "why is it always sand.." but other than that, nothing, no linking. Even when the Prince gets his staple rewind time ability again, his character acts as though he's never been able to do it before. In my opinion that would've been a perfect time to throw in a little rooting or connection for the games, but instead we got nothing. Honestly, it's as if the creators of this game had collectively forgotten about the plot to the original saga and didn't bother to even break out those old game manuals. Seriously, there's more information about the mysteries of the sand on the back cover of the Sands of Time than there is in this whole game. I was quite disappointed.
Another aspect of the story that doesn't help at all is the total lack of character interaction and development. Yes it's true that the old wise cracking Prince is back, but there isn't any major character development in him in the game. Also his interactions with other characters (only 2 others by the way, Malik and the female lead Razia who is some kind of long-living mystic) barely measures at the level of unfamiliar acquaintances. Particularly his interactions with the female lead Razia, they are just dreadful and lack the charm and wit of the Prince's interactions with Farah in the Sands of Time. Again, the developers promised development of the Prince's character to show why he had changed so much from SOT and Warrior Within, and we didn't get that development at all. We wanted to see the transformation from a colorful and vibrant innocent young man into a brooding and violent adult instead of just 10 hours of dry humor. However, there is a 7 year gap between those first 2 games and since the events of Forgotten Sands takes place all in about a day, I'm assuming there will be more "in-between-quels" to further develop the Prince's character. But even with that said, it is not an excuse for a lack of character depth and development in The Forgotten Sands.
Gameplay is the savior of this game, and even in the gameplay aspect there are a few problems, but first the strengths! One thing the devs promised on and delivered was the return of the awesome acrobatic sequences that made POP:TSOT such a landmark game in the action/adventure/platforming genre. As mentioned earlier you can rewind time again, which definitely helps since the acrobatic puzzles are more challenging than ever this time around. Other than the traditional time rewind the Prince has new tricks up his sleeve to help him traverse his world. He can now freeze water to make waterfalls into walls, water spouts into swinging poles and columns but only for a limited amount of time. This creates for some tricky situations as you will need to solidify and re-liquify water constantly and with perfect timing, while swinging through the air. For example, there will be portions of the game where you need to swing on a frozen spout to a ledge but inbetween is the now frozen waterfall, so you'll have to release the water freeze ability (L2) right after you let go of the pole, but no sooner or later because you will then fall to your death. This is a very simple example as most acrobatic sequences are about 4x that difficult at least, but all are ridiculously entertaining. On top of being able to solidfy water, later on in the game you will gain the ability to reconstruct pieces of the landscape that are no longer there, but you can only reconstruct one section at a time; so in a way it works like the water freezing. Combine both reconstruction skill and water freezing and you're treated with some of the most entertaining acrobatic sequences ever. By the end of the game you will be using every button on your controller to get through acrobatic sequences, so your fingers will be doing some acrobatics of their own. The great thing about the acrobatics in this game is that the devs got the mix just right. It's not exactly "whatever" easy, but at the same time not "toss my controller at the wall" difficult, they found that sweet spot. The only gripe I have is that I wish there was more acrobatic sequences in the game since that was the most enjoyable part of the game for me.
The combat of the game was another entertaining aspect of gameplay. At first the combat seems super simplified and not very entertaining. However, once the sand army comes along and you start getting in 50 enemy battles every other room, you start to enjoy yourself. But, the Prince doesn't really have any variations in his attacks. All his sword swings look pretty similar, and you have a kick button...and that's it for his core attacks. I was expecting the fluid vaulting attacks from SOT and Warrior Within, but they were nowhere to be found. You can still do a vault attack variation but it doesn't flow at all. After each vault attack you have to reposition and set it up again if you want to do it to the next baddie, making the action very static and destroying the overall flow of the combat. It's all a bit too Dynasty Warriors for my taste. Something that does help the combat however, are the Prince's new elemental abilities. The Prince can use fire, water, air and earth during combat. The earth element surrounds you in regenerating rock armor making you invulnerable for a limited period of time. The water element allows you to shoot out trails of ice in the direction of your attacks. The fire element makes you leave a trail of flame everywhere you step, and the air element creates a blast of wind that knocks your enemies to the ground making for easy kills. So there were a variety of things you could do with the elemental powers, but the fire and ice attacks were pretty much useless. I primarily used the earth shield and wind blast which at it's highest level makes a badass tornado that sucks enemies in and deals damage. Also the fire and ice powers looked TERRIBLE, graphically speaking i mean. They look almost as if they were drawn in by elementary school kids with very fat crayons, very subpar for this generation of gaming. The devs also boasted epic boss fights, but where were they? Other than the final boss fight, which looks amazing by the way, there are no real other boss fights to be found. Everytime a new type of enemy is introduced it is like a sub-boss fight, but other than that, there's no real boss fights to be found. This left me thoroughly disappointed also.
Earlier I mentioned that some of the elemental attacks looked horrible, well, unfortunately alot of the game does not look so pretty. Starting with the Prince's character model, it looks like they tried to do a hybrid SOT and Warrior Within Prince and it ended up looking like a very generic looking ogre. Nothing is distinct about him, and his character model is not detailed well at all. As for the set pieces and environments, some are very beautiful and have a nice dream-like silky-ness to them, but others are just bland and look like they are straight from a last generation game. A very memorable scene is the last boss fight sequence, I won't spoil it for you, but the lighting and texture of the sand and the sun shining through the sand storm are done amazingly, and it's a shame that the rest of the game doesn't look as pretty.
The game has a decent soundtrack, not as memorable as say God of War III, but it fits the moods well. The sound effects however, are not so great as the hits from your sword sound a little like wiffle bat hitting a pillow rather than a sword slicing through hardened sand and stone. The freezing effects of the water sounded and looked amazing though and was one of the consistently good things throughout the game.
As you can see from my review for every good thing I have mentioned about the game there is also a bad thing to go along with it. With a under-developed plot and characters, so-so graphics and a combat engine that could use work, Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands fails to deliver on the level I expected it to. However, the acrobatics and elemental acrobatic puzzles were loads of fun and made the game more than worth playing for me, and we have to give Ubisoft some credit there. My final verdict is 7/10 for this one, it's a fun experience and I did enjoy playing it, but the rewards fell short as far as plot completion. If there is to be another in-between-quel following Forgotten Sands, hopefully Ubisoft refines their efforts more.