Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands Review

Dan Webb

Say what you want about Ubisoft Montreal’s attempted reboot of the Prince of Persia franchise in 2008, but even the most staunch protestors can’t take away that it was one of the most charming and aesthetically pleasing games of that year. Devoid of challenge, maybe, but it was still one of our standout experiences of 2008. When Ubisoft announced it was to do a complete U-turn and return to its roots, we didn’t know what to think. It’s true what they say though; money talks and you have to ask whether the 2008 version’s relatively poor sales may well mean that it is destined to become an experiment. Or – and quite possibly more likely – Ubisoft saw an opportunity with the unrelated Prince of Persia movie coming out in the coming weeks, to churn out a quick cash-grab and that is the feeling we can’t shake. Despite The Forgotten Sands ultimately feeling rushed, underneath it all there is a great platformer waiting to be embraced.

Sand skeletons... and lots of them.

Not only does The Forgotten Sands return the franchise to its original gameplay roots, but it also brings back the old Prince and continues his story. Set in the 7 years between The Sands of Time and Warrior Within, The Forgotten Sands tells the story of the Prince; his brother, Malik; and a seriously pissed off army of the undead that Malik called upon to save his kingdom from power-hungry invaders. Everyday Prince of Persia stuff then, especially in this neck of the woods, after all an invasion by an army of undead sand skeletons led by a demonic beast is as common as the paperboy nicking your Saturday morning paper’s weekly TV guide. Yes, okay, I confess! Unfortunately though, the story in The Forgotten Sands never really takes off and does nothing to grab your attention with its stoic voice acting and clichéd plot, which actually comes as bit of a surprise considering the lush opening cinematic that smacks you in the face upon first firing up the game.

Considering that Prince of Persia is, and always will be – quite rightly too – a single player game, it’s almost essential that an engaging story is one of the main cruxes of the experience, especially if the gameplay is not immaculate. Sadly that is not the case. They couldn’t even get the pacing right and it seems like for five of the eight hours of gameplay, that the ending is just around the corner and when it does finally get there, it’s a complete anti-climax.

Say what you want about Nolan North’s rendition as the 2008 Prince as well, but the fact remains that he’s a hell of a lot more entertaining and ballsy than the almost bewildered – and whiny – old-skool Prince. “Ohhhh, what is that?” is amongst one of the character’s strong male moments and the first time where many of my startling realisations with the game ended with, “Hmmmm, I might let him miss this ledge on purpose now just to toughen him up a little. He needs it... the giant wuss.”

Rocky start, right? Don’t worry. It gets a damn sight better.

Solidify water? Don't mind if I do.

Although bringing the original Prince back – and with it, the middle-of-the-board visuals – is something that’s hard to stomach after the 2008 Prince, the one thing that Ubisoft Montreal do however pretty much nail is bringing back the equally impressive and equally frustrating platforming from the original trilogy. This in turn welcomes back something that the 2008 outing took a right slating for leaving out, and that’s the return of death.

Thankfully for The Forgotten Sands, although it can’t quite make up for its lack of gripping story and its mundane combat – yeah, we’ll get to that – the platforming is everything you’d expect from the franchise. The Forgotten Sands is made up of plenty of long-drawn out platforming sections where the buzz from a perfect execution is something that’s hard to top in any other genre. Mix that in with plenty of head-banging frustration – which is a good thing by the way – and it marks a return to the challenging platforming glory for the franchise that the 2008 edition sorely missed. Although it does hark back to the Prince of Persia of yesteryear, it does however in terms of difficulty sit somewhere between the two generations, but even Prince of Persia aficionados will find the latter parts of the game a worthy challenge.

The challenging platforming comes as a result of the game’s few new powers – mainly the restore old architecture and the solidify water techniques. Sure, there are more that involve all the other elements, but all those are involved in combat and are more of a novelty, whereas these two make up the necessary components for some stellar multi-tasking platforming action. Even the time-rewinding power that makes a triumphant return, doesn’t play that much of a part in the proceedings.

With the left trigger assigned to solidifying water for a short time, the left bumper restoring old pieces of ruins – a skill that unfortunately comes a little too late in the game if you ask us – it won’t be long until you have to rack up a combo of ten to fifteen movements to clear a tricky section. It generally can go a little something like this: solidify water, restore old ruin, wall-run on said ruin, solidify water, wall run up it, turn, jump, release solidify to go through water, re-solidify to grab on to pole... and all that’s within about 5 seconds. Nail that first time and you can’t help but grin like OJ Simpson after that fateful day in October 1995.

The platforming isn’t without its downfalls though, and it’s the odd time where the camera shifts to a static viewpoint and then decides to switch angles at the most inopportune times that will frustrate the most. Granted, the controls aren’t pick up and play either, and sometimes you’ll be cursing the ridiculous accuracy required by the game to make a jump – something that isn’t really a matter of skill, because you don’t actually have control of the camera at these odd moments and so is frustration born out of sloppy game design.

Then there is the downright ridiculous sensitivity of the wall-running. Get too close and the Prince won’t wall-run. Stay too far away, and it’s the same result. It’s not usually game-breaking, but when you’re sliding down a slope to near death and holding the wall-run button in preparation of the edge, the fact you are too close to the wall to wall run it seems bizarre and more often than not ends in certain death. Otherwise though, The Forgotten Sands is an excellent platforming title with a bevy of thinking-man puzzles mixed in for good measure.

The Prince whips up a storm.

With the title going back to the roots, unfortunately so does the combat. It’s not that the 2008 version’s combat was that amazing – it was decent, but they recycled enemies way too often – it’s that Ubisoft’s answer into making the combat more difficult this time around is to throw more enemies at you to bash the attack button at. The combat is plagued with slow animations, awkward camera angles, plenty of frame-rate issues and a bunch of underlings that are no match for your levelled up elemental attacks. I’m not 100% sure when Prince of Persia became a button mashing exercise, but that’s what happened here. For me, it’s surely the signs of a rushed – and short – development cycle.

As far as achievements go, The Forgotten Sands is a proverbial gluttonous goldmine, giving out achievements like Gary Glitter give out candy. Just playing through the relatively short story is enough to net you in the region of 800 points, with the others just a matter of putting in the time and effort to unlock all your powers and find every sarcophagus. There are a few for the hardcore that involve defeating a couple of the bosses without taking a hit, but the fact that they’ve pulled a POP 2008 on us again by recycling the same tiles spoils what little thought they actually put into it. Incidentally, kicking one of Ratash’s underlings off a ledge with the trademark “300” kick and netting an achievement is one of the finest memories I have of the game. We need more achievements like that.

Whilst it is refreshing to see the challenge put back into the Prince of Persia franchise and the return of the excellent – and testing – platforming is a breath of fresh air, the rest of the game seems to have not been given the same love and attention. The combat is nothing short of woeful – and glitchy – and the story is so flat and uneventful that is makes Bayonetta’s plot seem like a wonderful hand-crafted masterpiece spawned from the mind of a sane person. With little-to-no reason to replay the relatively short “story” and the combat-challenge mode enough to entice you in for one quick turn, Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands ultimately looks like a game that was rushed out to capitalise on the upcoming Disney film and Jake Gylenhaal’s finely chiselled pectoral muscles. That being said, it’s definitely worth a whirl in the ol’ console, if not to just recapture the glorious platforming sections of yesteryear in their upgraded glory. Just don’t expect anything as defining as it was many moons ago.

A subdued performance by the Prince is saved by the classic Prince of Persia/Arabian Nights original score that gives the title an edge of authenticity.

The visuals are definitely a step back from the 2008 version of the franchise. It’s still a pretty decent looking game though, with wide open environments leading the way, but some awkward animations and relatively bland character models hold it back from greatness.

It’s an easy enough game to pick up and play, but one that may provide novices with some real thinker moments. The platforming can get intense – just how we like it – and the combat is easy enough – you mash one button pretty much – but you won’t be playing The Forgotten Sands for its combat.

A definite mixed bag here. While The Forgotten Sands delivers a great platforming experience, the rest of the package just isn’t up to scratch. Single player game, with a lukewarm story and mundane combat isn’t exactly the best way to persuade potential punters.

Ubisoft strikes again by recycling the same old achievement tiles for every damn achievement. It also feels like they dialled down the achievements to make it more appealing to the mass movie-going market... oh, and the self-certified achievement whores out there.

Prince of Persia is a franchise with an identity crisis, and very much like the Prom Queen of your senior year, is now desperately trying to get back to her heyday. In its younger years, the POP franchise was loved and heralded as one of the hottest properties on the block. After a few years out of the limelight, even a reboot wasn’t enough to win back the same kind of attention the franchise once had. Posing more questions than answers, the franchise is now like the 40 year old ex-prom queen turned high school soccer mom, who spends her lunchtimes trying to woo the lads with her sagging breasts and varicose-vein ridden legs. Ultimately rushed, The Forgotten Sands hasn’t done much to change the classic POP formula in its 5 year absence and a combat style that was once accepted back then, is now light years behind what we expect now. The platforming and puzzle aspects have had a slight tweak with the inclusion of a few new powers, although the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality shines through there, but everything else screams, “THERE IS A POP MOVIE OUT SOON! WE NEED A GAME!”

What now? Oh! I know! How about a reboot of the franchise!? Oh wait... we’ve been here before... And so has Sonic!

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