Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands

Too close. The gap between the release of the fourth installment of the Sands of Time series and the new Prince of Persia movie is too close for the game to not reek of another rushed movie cash-in. As the game booted up, my eyes narrowed down and the curses readied themselves to fly off the tip of my tongue at the first signs of a final product that does not meet the high standards set by the series in the last generation. But as I vaulted, swung and wall-ran my way through the besieged city ruled by the Prince’s brother, the realisation hit me – I was having fun! Despite its short development period, could this game be a worthy addition to the Sands of Time series?

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The game is set in the seven year interlude between the stories of Sands of Time and Warrior Within. It doesn’t take too long for the camel poo to hit the sandstorm, as the Prince’s brother unleashes an ancient army, whose purpose was both forgotten and misunderstood. It is up to the highly acrobatic (and slightly gay) Prince of Persia to set things right.

From a gameplay perspective, the newest entry in the series could not have dissociated itself any further from 2008’s excellent reboot of the franchise. If the latter’s platforming was a simple and free-flowing affair, this one will have you wrapping your fingers around the controller in convoluted ways you could have never imagined. The time powers are limited to rewinding time, and additional powers, apart from the usual acrobatic moves, are the ability to freeze water (who’s presence is overly convenient across the game) and later in the game, the ability to recall missing pieces of the environment one at a time. These options allow the developers to create platforming challenges that stay fresh right through the game. While it may be tricky, and some segments may require some very precise timing and juggling of button presses, it is never unfair and there is a real sense of accomplishment after completing a segment.

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The same can’t be said about the combat. It has always been a bee in the bonnet of the Prince of Persia series, and the simplistic button mashing affair in The Forgotten Sands stands as a stark contrast to the brilliant platforming. Again a step away from 2008’s Prince of Persia’s highly stylized timing based one-on-one combat, the game throws multitudes of enemies at you and lets you mash your way through them, sprinkled occasionally with a dodge roll or an acrobatic attack. But there’s a genuine attempt to provide a diverse experience. The camera pans in to focus on the most stylish kills, and there are a bunch of magic attacks based on the four elements complete with an upgrade tree. There’s also some enemy variety to mix things up – enemies with shields need to be knocked off their guard before they can be attacked, and there are magi who keep summoning monsters until they are killed.

So many options should suffice to give an interesting mix in combat, and to its credit, it takes a little time before it turns into tedium. The problem here lies with the core. The enemy AI is simple, and button mashing works way too well to even bother with the tools you have at your disposal. You’ll use your magic attacks here and there, even roll out to dodge once in a while, but you’ll seldom be threatened in combat situations, be it against the hordes of enemies or the boss encounters, which roughly follow the same strategy throughout the game. In fact, the bosses are quite a letdown in the game, especially in light of the last entry in the Sands of Time series – The Two Thrones, which featured diverse bosses that required an interesting mix of combat tactics, acrobatic finesse and timing.

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The wide open vistas and the colourful hand-drawn art style are also gone, making way for a grittier look amidst the Middle Eastern art style similar to the previous games in the Sands of Time series. It’s a strictly linear affair, with only one path between the starting point and the objective. But that isn’t a bad thing, partly because of the clever level design that maintains its high standards right through the adventure, and partly because of the diversity in environments. From prisons to rooftop gardens to royal chambers to an ancient city, the game keeps shifting the scenery around you in not just the way it looks, but also the nature of platforming challenges thrown at you.

The graphics are average at best, and considering how beautiful Assassin’s Creed 2 looked (not to mention, it was an open world game), it is surprising that The Forgotten Sands does not match up even though the two share the Anvil engine (cough… rushed to meet movie release… cough). The sound design also matches the graphics in its mediocrity, and while it is adequate, it lacks any personality to stand out. Lack of personality, in fact, extends to the entire game, and that also has a lot to do with the fact that the Prince makes a solo journey across the game. The presence of Farah and Elika in previous games worked very well, building an emotional connect with the characters that was as much a part of the experience as the gameplay itself. So while playing the game is still as much fun, the lack of any ladies for the Prince to charm leaves a void in the experience.

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Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands is a perfectly good reminder of what gamers may have missed if they never got a chance to try out the series in the previous generation. At times it’s a Sands of Time déjà vu; and I mean it as a compliment. But that is the best compliment I can give it. Throughout this review, I’ve used the previous games in the series as a yardstick for The Forgotten Sands. For all its great platforming and excellent level design, it only matches the precedent set by other games in the series at times and falls short at others. Ultimately, its fate is sealed amidst the titular sands.

(+) Diverse level design
(+) Platforming is fun and challenging

(-) Boring combat that relies heavily on button-mashing
(-) No story to speak of; dull characters

How we score games

Title: Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands
Developer/Publisher: Ubisoft Montreal/Ubisoft
Genre: Action
Rating: 16
Platforms: PS3 (Rs 2,499), Xbox 360 (Rs 2,499)
Reviewed on: PS3

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