Prince of Persia The Forgotten Sands: catchup review

Initially, we thought The Forgotten Sands was an adventure chronicling the efforts of eighties/nineties comedienne Sandi Toksvig and sixties singer Sandie Shaw to reclaim the fame and success they had previously enjoyed. We soon realised our mistake however, and saw that the subtitle was in fact the first indication that this latest Prince of Persia game aims to put the player in mind of Sands of Time.

The art design and plot pretend that 2008’s reboot of the franchise (which was actually quite good) never happened and, with a brief mention of Farah, leapfrogs over all the other games to connect directly to Sands of Time. With his reacquired floppy hair and unobtrusive goatee, the Prince would once again fit snugly into the world cup winning Spanish football team. They even brought back Yuri Lowenthal to voice him. Your enemies are once again made of magical sand (no, really) and the new yet familiar looking locales are dusty and ancient looking. Even gameplay has, to an extent, been lifted straight from the older title.

If you haven’t played 2003’s Sands of Time then you’re missing out. Loved by fans and critics alike, it forged the mould that all following Prince of Persia games have been set by. One of the main gimmicks is the acrobatic nature of the platforming and combat. You’ll be running up and across walls and jumping from ledge to ledge, often timing your moves carefully to avoid traps. You’ll swing from poles and jump between walls to get to higher ground, and often slow your descent by ‘riding’ cloth banners down to the ground by ripping them with your sword. We mention all this because it’s all present and correct in The Forgotten Sands.

Also present, as in every PoP game of the last seven years, is the time rewind mechanic. So long as at least one ‘energy’ slot is filled, the player can rewind time (that is, the entire game) by several precious seconds, for a second chance at a missed jump – or to again fight the final moments of a battle where the Prince died. Imagine what you could do with the power to rewind time! The possibilities are endless. You could instantly replay a particularly satisfying fart, for example.

All those enemies, and the Prince picks on the one looking for his contact lens.

TFS has a few tricks of its own, however. The first is the ability to solidify water and, as you can perform and undo this trick mid – jump, it’s used for some very clever platforming sequences. Later still in the game you gain the ability to ‘recall’ pieces of the environment which have crumbled away. The catch here is that you can only recall one part of the environment at a time which again, leads to many mid-air uses of the magic.

The one criticism consistently levelled at Sands of Time was that the combat, whilst a thing of acrobatic beauty, allowed fights to go on for longer than most players were comfortable with. This is not an issue with TFS. Although most fights involve more enemies at once than in SoT, they’re over more quickly – especially once you’ve upgraded your sword attacks, which you’re able to do fairly early on.

Here, you see, is an RPG – lite upgrade and experience system. It basically works like this: Kill loads of enemies, buy/upgrade ability once you have enough XP, rinse and repeat until comfortable. You can upgrade your health and energy bars as well as existing abilities, and there are four powers to unlock and upgrade, which consume the same energy as the time rewinding; temporary invincibility, a smart bomb – style attack, and two others which are frankly a bit rubbish.

Despite the effort put into improving combat, it’s actually ultimately inferior to the SoT system. You can’t jump from enemy to enemy with quite the same grace, and you’re rarely afforded the opportunity to use the environment to dodge and counterattack. You can still roll to avoid attacks but bafflingly, there’s no block button. This, combined with the sheer number of enemies in the later stages of the game, means that there’s sometimes no avoiding combat degenerating into button bashing.

A huge part of SoT’s appeal was the script. Especially impressive in a platform action game, it did a fantastic job of crafting the characters of the Prince and his female companion Farah. The Prince almost always only talks to other characters in cutscenes in TFS, with the result that he talks to (and jokes with) himself fairly regularly in between killing things. He comes off as mildly psychotic. That’s besides the point; despite basically copying SoT’s plot at the beginning of the game, TFS’s script quite simply can not compare. The ending, while it ties things up nicely whilst hinting at a sequel, doesn’t come close to the bittersweet conclusion of the Prince’s experiences with Farah.

The world cup celebrations in Madrid had gone a bit too far.

Much less easy to forgive is the final Krypton Factor – style water platforming section. The design of this watery gauntlet is sound, impressive even; but unexpected and highly unwelcome problems with collision detection at a few critical points ruin it. The boss that soon follows is disappointingly traditional. The bosses and mini – bosses peppered throughout the rest of the game are disappointing in a different way. They tower over the Prince; nothing wrong with that, we love a nice big boss at CG. The problem is the highly uninventive way you deal with them – by hacking away at their ankles like a demented flea.

Careful what you wish for, Ubisoft. The Forgotten Sands is a good game and yes, reminiscent of Sands of Time; but when the inevitable comparisons are made, this is one remix that falls well short of the original.


7/10

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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