Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands Review

By Patrick Klepek - Posted May 18, 2010

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands is, at times, an enjoyable revisit to the classic The Sands of Time, but the largely uninspired -- though still fun -- gameplay provides a stark reminder that Ubisoft moved on from The Sands of Time for a reason.

The Pros
  • The base platforming from The Sands of Time is still really fun
  • Incredible sandstorm sequence at the end that must be seen to be believed
  • The new water power adds an incredible layer of challenge (sometimes)
The Cons
  • Everything from the story to the combat to the gameplay tweaks feel uninspired
  • The difficulty is arbitrarily ramped up at the end, nearly ruining the game
  • Prince of Persia still doesn't know how to do satisfying combat

I'm an unapologetic fan of Ubisoft's Prince of Persia reboot from late 2008. Prince of Persia was a progressive step forward for 3D platformers, punctuated by its welcomed middle-finger to the “Game Over” screen. Don't get me wrong, my love for Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is profound, but I've been there, done that. Ubisoft moved on for a good reason. When it announced a return to Jordan Mechner's world with Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands, timed to the release of the big-budget Prince of Persia movie, the move reeked of cash-in.

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands

THE SANDS OF TIME HD

Think of The Forgotten Sands as a high-definition Sands of Time remix. It's different, but not. There's enough "new" here that The Forgotten Sands doesn't feel like a complete retread of where we've already been, even if nothing added to the new game feels especially inspired. The platforming remains the backbone of this franchise and despite not being given very much to work with (the environments for which the platforming segments are generated have never felt more contrived), the level designers do find ways to do wonders with The Forgotten Sands. There's a flow to Prince of Persia's gameplay, one that’s still present here, which clicks when the player is able to string together death-defying jump after jump without missing a beat. Prince of Persia, at its core, has more in common with a rhythm game than platforming. Platforming is simply the medium.

There are attempts to make the standard platforming more interesting, to limited effect. The Prince will gain access to additional powers. One allows him to freeze water, making it a usable platform. Another generates a platform out of thin air, albeit only one at a time (which makes little sense, outside of creating frustrating moments where the wrong platform appears). All of the powers are underutilized, thanks to a lack of meaningful implementation. They’re implemented for variety, not purpose. There are moments of genius for the water power, however. Remember the rhythm game comparison? The Forgotten Sands has a handful of memorable platforming sequences in which the Prince is driven forward by an attacking enemy, buildings crumbling around him, and players must perfectly time leaps from branch-to-branch, freezing water mid-jump. Every time, you’re that close to messing up…but, when The Forgotten Sands is at its best, you don’t. You just skate close. The sheer elation of reaching the end of a challenging run, one that’s enhanced by serious finger dexterity, is undeniably exhilarating because of the physicality. The biggest problem is those moments don't happen nearly enough. They shouldn’t be pleasant surprises.

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MORE JUMPING AND LESS FIGHTING, THANKS

I frown at bringing up combat because, once again, The Forgotten Sands finds itself unable to come up with a convincing reason to force the player to battle so often when the developers can't develop a decent fighting system. Is anyone’s favorite memory from any Prince of Persia game the sword fighting? Combat really didn't work that well in Sands of Time, it was arguably worse (though prettier!) in Prince of Persia ’08 and for The Forgotten Sands, Ubisoft's solution seems to be the “bigger is better” approach of throwing 50 enemies on the screen. An unnecessarily convoluted upgrade system gives players the illusion of customizing their Prince, but there's little player choice in the matter and, bizarrely, you'll experience most of the upgrades in the game's last hour. Pro-tip: powering up the ice power completely breaks the combat and I cruised through the rest of the game unchallenged. Not that I was complaining about less combat, mind you.

If it sounds like The Forgotten Sands is a series of highs and lows, that's because it is. It's a game filled with heightened moments of elation followed by stretches of frustrating mediocrity. It nearly all falls apart at the very end, too, when the game creates an unnecessary wall of difficulty by asking the player to accomplish ridiculous feats of timing totally out of line with the rest of the game. The Forgotten Sands' flow walks a very fine line, wanting to give the appearance of challenge but without breaking the player's forward momentum. When you stop moving in this game, you stop having fun. To this end, one of the final stretches in The Forgotten Sands crafts arbitrary difficulty through an uncontrollable camera viewpoint and timed jumps that rely less on skillful use of the Prince's abilities than it is blind memorization of hard-as-nails jumps.

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands

REDEMPTION IN A SANDSTORM

It's nearly almost all redeemed, however, by an amazing out-of-nowhere sandstorm at the end, one of the most energetic "oh crap" moments I've ever experienced in a game. I'm tempted to recommend The Forgotten Sands so for more people to experience this part. It almost made me want to pull out a terrible “jaw on the floor” cliché. Damn, you got me.

When the credits started to roll, I felt a bit empty. Though the gameplay's hot and cold, I enjoyed playing Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands, but compared to its inspiration, Sands of Time, or its most recent reboot, this new title is soulless. It doesn't have much reason to exist, except that there's a movie based on Sands of Time coming out, the formula from the original game is still a fun one and it's easy to make up a new story about sand. In this case, The Forgotten Sands is really “Sands of Time HD,” but that game had heart. Series fans will find reasons to like The Forgotten Sands, but, Dear Ubisoft, it's time to move on.

 

Still want to play it? Why not rent it at Gamefly?