Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands Hands-On PreviewBy Jake Gaskill - Posted Apr 26, 2010
A dozen undead sand soldiers have me surrounded. No amount of wall climbing or clever time manipulation can help me. So in the absence of any other option, I take a broad swipe at the first wave of enemies, causing them to stumble back slightly. Before the remaining soldiers close in, I dish out a powerful kick, sending several enemies toppling to the ground in a humorous domino-like fashion. Three swords hit me before I manage to roll to safety. From there, I leap onto the shoulders of some poor sap and dispose of him with a deadly sword-swiping back flip. I dispense with a nearby baddie with a kick to his shield arm, which buys me just enough time to grab him and thrust my blade through his stomach. The last remaining guard stands next to a low railing. I charge him and in one swift motion, I clothesline the poor bastard, sending him careening over the railing to his doom.
And so characterizes, perhaps surprisingly, a typical fight in Ubisoft’s next iteration in their popular Prince of Persia franchise, Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands. This franchise revisiting/sprequel (sequel and prequel of sorts) fills in the seven-year gap between the Sands of Time and Warrior Within, and follows the Prince’s journey to contain Solomon’s cursed sand army after his brother unleashes it to defend his besieged kingdom.
I recently spent a few hours playing an early portion of the game which is set in and around the Prince’s brother’s kingdom. At this point in the game, the Prince has three ways to manipulate time, space and the environment. The first is the series standard rewind feature, which is self-explanatory. The second is the ability to freeze water. Thankfully, there are a whole lot of waterspouts and waterfalls throughout the kingdom for you to use. Leaping between pillars of frozen water is incredibly cool, and once you add in the timing element that comes with the water-based acrobatic puzzles, things get downright nutty. And the third was acquired just before the last preview stage and this gives you the ability to turn yourself into a shot of energy to clear large gaps. The catch is there has to be an enemy on the platform that you’re jumping towards. The early uses of this force jump were straightforward, but I have a feeling that later on, when combined with other abilities, it will definitely make for some wild, open space maneuvering.
Coming to grips with the controls will definitely cause many an inadvertent death early on, and that’s totally understandable given the complexity of the platforming. Here’s an example: run along a ledge using the right trigger, leap off the wall at the last moment with A, freeze a nearby water stream with left trigger, jump to stone pillar with A, pull the right trigger as you hit the wall to run up it, hit A again to jump a nearby ledge and to saftey. And that’s an easy scenario. It can be a lot to handle, but when you get in the zone and it’s all flowing, you can’t help but grin from ear to ear.
The Prince himself handles with the kind of exaggerated fluidity the franchise is known for; even though at times you can’t help but think about another wall-climbing, acrobatic badass with a propensity to stab people in the neck with a hidden blade. The combat has its “Hell yeah!” moments, but it isn’t quite as spectacular as the platforming. However, the special abilities add a lot of variety by giving you things like stone armor or a trail of fire that burns enemies in its path for a limited amount of time. The sheer number of enemies that you face off against definitely pushes the game into the hack-‘n-slash realm, and for the most part, it holds its own. But because the enemy crowds swarm you, it keeps the combat from having that free flowing quality of the combat in the Sands of Time, and it ends up falling somewhere between Batman: Arkham Asylum and God of War.
I played through eight or so levels, and each one was expertly crafted and contained all manner of death-dealing contraptions and puzzles. My favorite level was The Prison, which consisted of a giant chasm filled with giant lantern-shaped cells hanging from the ceiling. Obviously, as I was climbing across my second cage, other cages started to detach from the ceiling and fall into the pit below. This led to a daring dash from cage to cage as I tried to stay one step ahead of the falling cells. Needless to say, it was awesome.
Since I never got around to finishing either the Warrior Within or Two Thrones, my frame of reference for next-gen Prince of Persia games is Sands of Time and the 2008 stylish reboot. So from the moment I picked up the controller to play Forgotten Sands, it felt like I’d never left. Because I’m a fan of the series, I was already planning to toss in a penny to join the Prince on his latest adventure, and after my hands-on time, I’m definitely in for a pound.