Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands Hands On Preview – Attack of the Midquel

Dan Webb
Before being plonked in front of a Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands pod last week in London, it was difficult to know what to expect. The original trilogy is often hailed as one of the true hardcore platforming games in recent memory, while the 2008 reboot couldn’t have been further away from that if they tried. Oh wait, they did! The 2008 reboot nevertheless was a great game in its own right, but more of an experience and an engaging story than anything else. The Forgotten Sands however falls somewhere in between the two. Closer to the original trilogy in terms of difficulty, but not as hardcore, The Forgotten Sands is looking to scratch that challenging platforming itch that has existed deep in our dark, soulless crevices for quite some time.

The “midquel” takes place in the 7 years between The Sands of Time and The Warrior Within, and tells the story of the original Prince, who heads back to visit his brother, Malik, for reasons unbeknown to us. Maybe he was bringing his washing over because his maid had up and left him. I mean, he is looking a bit ragged around the edges in The Forgotten Sands. Anyway, I digress. Upon arriving in his brother’s kingdom, he finds it under siege from local forces, and after unleashing a mythical force from within the palace to stop these invaders, things take a turn for the worse. “The Prince knows that when you open Pandora’s box, you have to contain the damage afterwards,” said Animation Director, Jan Sjovall. In laymen’s terms... See that army of undead sand men over there? Send them back to where they came from!

Ubisoft Montreal’s aim with The Forgotten Sands, according to Sjovall, is to combine the ambience and setting of Sands of Time, with the realistic treatment of Assassin’s Creed. Gone are the separated platforming and combat sections of the 2008 reboot as well, as the two are once again intertwined with one another. Mix in some “Hollywood moments,” new enemies and some new abilities along the way, and that’s The Forgotten Sands in a nutshell.

Our hands on threw us right in at the deep-end, map 8 to be more specific, partly to show off the Prince’s new array of special powers. Most of the special powers are element based and are used primarily for combat. For instance, your earth based power can turn all your attacks into heavy attacks and sprouts rocks on the Prince’s body so he can take more damage. You can do things like trap enemies in enclosed spaces with your fire-trail and you can use ice – although Ubi call it "solidified water" – to add more range to your sword attacks. The Forgotten Sands also has one of those ridiculous “win” buttons as well, in the form of a tornado attack, which with one button press can wipe out pretty much every enemy in your vicinity. After a while, I actually felt guilty using it, so pretty much stopped using it altogether. These powers are all upgradeable throughout your adventure, so don’t expect to start with the devastating tornado attack from the off. That’s one to earn.

The combat is a lot more free-flowing this time around, with multiple enemies on screen at once to dispatch – probably as many as 50 at times. Like with the original trilogy, the Prince can jump on these enemy’s heads to gain an advantage and combine that with a heavy or weak attack to send them back to the where they came from – presumably the underworld. Enemies with shields however have to be opened up first and some enemies can spawn minions, so the game requires you to adopt a more tactical approach at times, especially seeing as now you have a health bar and yes, you can die again. Mix in the fact that you can use the special elemental powers, and the combat is a lot more action packed than the time-based button pressing affair of the 2008 version. I must add though, these powers – including the rewind – can only be used if you have the crystals to use them. These crystals can be found by destroying pots found around the huge environments, or funnily enough, through just dying and respawning. To use them, it’s a simple click of one of the directions on the d-pad.
It should be noted that the 2008 version isn’t totally forgotten however, with various aspects brought across, including the slide, but the popular grip fall is gone, to be replaced by the more popular curtain-dagger slide; with the 360 degree pole move making a triumphant return. All of these tie into something that The Forgotten Sands excels in... platforming and puzzles.

If there is anything that The Forgotten Sands does superbly, it’s the platforming. Thrown into these vast caverns and Arabian places of wonder, the Prince will be tasked with making his way from one side of some fairly expansive environments to the other. Along the way he’ll have to wall run, flick switches, beat pressure plate timers, pull levers, avoid the general dangers of the world and more importantly, make use of one of the out-of-combat powers; the ability to solidify water – which actually has its own button. It’s definitely the most important power in the whole game from what we experienced. Seeing as it’s on a meter – that replenishes quickly through non-usage – as well, it means you have to time your waterfall wall runs and water shoot pole swings perfectly. Throw in a few switches and levers that activate shoots of water and their sources, and it’s clear that the platforming and puzzling side of The Forgotten Sands are definitely going to require the odd deft touch or two. “It’s about deciphering the path, you have to really look where you are going,” noted Sjovall. Thankfully though, although sometimes you won’t even pick up on them, there are subtle camera hints should you lose your way in amongst all the fighting.

In terms of how the Prince controls though, “The controls are going back to The Sands of Time style,” said Sjovall. So plenty of dying basically and lots of intricately timed jumps – for instance, one secret location jump I found required perfect split-second timing to make it (I did it on about my 20th attempt if you’re interested). They have also revamped the jumping from poles as well so you don’t have to shimmy around them, you can just point and jump... it works perfectly until the camera moves perspectives and you jump totally the opposite way, which it did on the odd occasion.
The rewind has been tweaked slightly for this version as well, with the power no longer tied to the dagger and you no longer having any control over when it stops. What it ultimately means is, using it takes you back to the last safe platform and even worse, it uses one of your crystals – that you use for combat. It’s pretty much rendered it completely useless if we’re being honest, considering that if you died anyway, the checkpoints are designed that you’re not far away from where you just died.

Admittedly I was a huge fan of the 2008 Prince of Persia, but the fact remains, it was devoid of challenge. The Forgotten Sands however is one of the most frustrating and immensely satisfying platforming experiences that we’ve had in some time. Ubisoft Montreal have a neat and pretty game changing ability to solidify water that is not only interesting, but always seems to offer a challenge somewhere along the way. There were a few issues with the camera and the animations of a few moves seemed a little robotic at times, but nothing a little extra layer of polish couldn’t sort out. If you’re looking for a challenging platformer this year, this may be it. However, when the game ships this May, prepare to die… a lot.

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands is currently scheduled for a May 2010 release.
  • this game looks soo good.... cant wait
  • So the Prince doesn't have a name, but his brother is lucky enough to have one?
  • @#2 - The Prince has never had a name =P
  • I hope this is way better then the last one. Loved the others ones.
  • I thought his name was Altair? What a second... ~Bryce
  • @ Webb: His name is jake gyllenhaal. lolololol
  • Lol, I wish they could intertwine their games such as PoP and AC into one big conspiracy story thing. Naybe this prince is an anvestor of someone, huh???
  • So not a cartoon look this time?
  • I love this game since the beginning and I am a huge fan this will be mine day one.
  • looks sooo goood they did the right thing and went back to the roots, can't wait
  • @3 Haha I know he never has. I just wanted to point out that The Prince has never been given a name yet they went along and gave his sibling a name.
  • @8, wikipedia is your friend, use it -.- Cant wait for this game tho, the new prince of persia was a horrible boring cartoony kids game mess. Old PoP ftw!
  • It's animated anyways,so it is still technically a "cartoon." Looking forward to trying it at least. I don't platform much,but the 2008 PoP was great in terms of platforming when you started flowing through obstacles.
  • midquel?? how do you pronounce that??
  • You could 'point and jump' from the poles in the original trilogy as well, and it suffered from the same fate - the camera perspective suddenly changing and you jumping back on yourself, or worse, into a huge pit of death.
  • @14 you pronounce it like sequel, but with 'mid' instead of 'see' funnily enough...
  • @Webb, you are right he never has a name. Except when it comes to Disney and have to screw it up and give him a crappy name. In the movie his name is gonna be Prince Danskin( unsure about spelling) but it means Trickster in Persian.
  • @8 This "cartoon look" you speak of is called Cell-shading and it was actually created to resemble a comic book, not a cartoon.
  • Still a virgin to the Prince of Persia series. This one looks promising!
  • It's nice to know that they've been working on this one for awhile. When i first heard that it was announced, i thought it was just a tie in game to the movie coming out in may. It's nice to know that they have been working on this one for a couple of years now! I'm actually pretty excited to play it now.
  • I love how the article mentions last gen's entries as the "original" games.
  • Been playing Prince of Persia since the Sands of Time and although this does look good I have to say that I'm a little disappointed that they didn't just create a sequel for the new PoP. I mean it seems that they just went back to the SOT trilogy because they wanted to boost sales, they finished the SOT trilogy (very well actually) so to add a midquel rather than a sequel to the 2008 addition is sad. There's still hope at least for a sequel after this game, what with the awesome conclusion at the end of POP (2008).
  • I actually loved the 2008 PoP game. And was hoping the next PoP game Ubisoft worked on was the sequel to that game. Oh well, this game looks promising, none the less.
  • maybe he had so many clothes he left some at his aunts house? Anyway.. I do enjoy a bit of PoP in any format, so am looking forward to this!
  • Oh My God I love Prince Of Persia! Sooooooo glad they're going back to the original design and style though, the cartoony one was kinda gay :S Can't wait!
  • Do we get to find out what turned the Prince on to Godsmack and why he let his mom cut his hair? But in all seriousness, I really did love the Prince of Persia series on the Xbox, PS2 and Gamecube. The 360 and PS3 'self-titled' game was kind of a weak effort if you were to ask me.
  • But I still enjoyed and beat the one on 360. But I missed the intense action of fighting and the platforming didn't feel so damn repetitive on Xbox and PS2. This one better not disappoint!
  • My wife is so exited about this game (me to, but not as much as she is), I don't know if she'll buy it right away or wait for the price to drop a bit.
  • I'll give this a shot, eventually. I just hope they will make sequel to 2008 PoP. Such a cliffhanger and we have to wait few years more to find out what happens....:-(
  • This looks good i hope the Dahaka is in this one i miss those chases. :)
  • I'm am disappointed they got rid of the PoP 2008 cel shaded style that was so awesome. Also the idea of having to go back to being a lonely prince is a bit... meh! Erika was the best character ever and the control system for moving and fighting was amazing with an extra character. I doubt this game can be any better than PoP 2008 :(
  • Im interested in this. I really loved the last prince of persia.
  • I picked up the 08 POP cel-shaded one at the weekend for £4 and i am thoroughly enjoying it hope this one will be as good...
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