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Ubisoft seems keen to press into the fans that this latest edition in the Prince of Persia franchise is as close to The Sands of Time, the lauded and oft-compared 2003 instalment, as it can be without fully remaking it in HD, even stating on the back of the box that it's 'from the creators ofThe Sands of Time'. This stems from the last game, the 2008 edition which changed the Prince in an all new direction with a beautiful artistic vision and modified gameplay which mostly strung a chord with audiences, but displeased hardcore fans of the older games back in the last-generation days. So we get The Forgotten Sands, which basically emulates what a HD version of the Sands trilogy would look like. But it also brings with it some old troubles and new ones too, meaning it fails to live to that legacy.
TFS takes place in the seven year gap between The Sands of Time and Warrior Within, acting as a bridge between those two games. Once again, you take the role of The Prince, whom is visiting his brother Malik. He learns that his palace is being attacked, and when they meet up Malik assures The Prince the solution can be found in the palace vault. This comes in the form of Solomon's army. This, however, majorly backfires, and it releases an army even more terrifying than the one already attacking. Separated, The Prince must reunite his and Malik's medallion to stop this. However, Malik is becoming greedy with power, and it seems that he is becoming lost in a gluttonous rage. It's boosted by some good voice acting, but overall this plotline is mostly background noise, and doesn't hold a candle to its predecessors, particularly The Sands of Time.
Moving through The Forgotten Sands is pretty straightforward. The game follows a mostly-linear path, with a few alternate paths for collectibles called sarcophagus. These give extra XP as well as health and energy replenishment. Most are pretty obvious, some can be spotted in cut scenes, and a couple are fiendishly hidden. Unfortunately a lack of level select means that if you miss any, then you're pretty much buggered. These make collectibles more frustrating than value-extending. This is coupled with the fact that you can blow through the game in not even 8 hours means the game is pretty poor value for money. But, to be honest, value has always been somewhat of an issue for the modern PoP games.
But those games made up their lack of value through the quality of their gameplay. Don't get me wrong, The Forgotten Sands is far from poor -it's a perfectly capable game in its own right, but it feels like a step back from previous games in many respects. But there is good - mainly, the platforming is smooth and fun as ever. It also marks the return of challenge, something which the last game lacked severely, and some of the challenges here can cause heated anger. But it's never cheap, just sometimes complex. The Prince has his standard moves - jumping, wall climbing, wall running and more. However, there's a lot interlaced with these normal moves too.
You gain many abilities, both for combat and platforming, throughout the game. The first you acquire, and a main staple of the series, is the rewind feature. If you fall down a pit of death, with sharp spikes waiting, you can rewind time to avoid this. It's a bit clunky, as sometimes the rewind feature stops when you are in seriously awkward positions and in one case, not stop at all despite running out of power. You also gain the ability to freeze water in time, meaning new walls, poles and other items are created. You later gain the ability to do a dive dash at enemies, which while technically a combat ability, is mainly used to scale large gaps. And you can even use this to jump onto vultures in mid-air. It adds some nice variety to the platforming.
Puzzles are also present and pretty fun here. The basic cog-turnings and simple gear puzzles are bit lacking at first, however, once you start to acquire your other powers, then the puzzle design opens up really well. The best are the ones which mix together platforming and puzzles. One example is later in the game, where streaming waterfalls are used to descend a long drop. However, you must tactically turn your Flow Powers on and off, while still jumping to make sure you make the jump to the next couple of waterfalls. It's much more interesting, and is definitely up there with the previous games.
Unfortunately, it is somewhat let down by a bothersome camera, mainly because it feels limited. Most areas have a locked camera, with a zoomed-in angle. It makes it difficult to time some jumps, and can also funk with the controls as it changes what direction you need to press to jump towards your next area. The camera also has a tendency to become stuck on some objects, entirely obscuring your view again. This is a major problem where distance is key, such as judging what time you need to jump in order to use your waterfall powers to move onto the next stage. It can cause some frustrations, and cheap deaths.
Combat is also incredibly bland. Granted, the games have never offered the best fighting experiences, but the tendency for style over substance has usually prevailed, making for some fun to pass between the platforming sections. But here, the combat has been narrowed down to mind-numbing button mashing. You only have one combo placed on the X button, along with a kick to knock down enemies. You do also gain elemental abilities, such as fire chains you drag along as you move, stone armour which prevents you taking damage, and a whirlwind which does long-range damage. But, most of these just add powers to your standard combo. The game sinks lower when you acquire a special sword, which basically kills any enemy in one hit. It's just dumb.
Graphically, the game looks decent enough. The Prince moves smoothly across the environment, making the platforming as joyful as its predecessors. The combat too, despite its blandness, moves really smoothly. Enemy models are mostly quite repetitive; however the nicely detailed Titans and other large enemies add some needed variety. Environments are also detailed, with lush greens populating the gardens and beautiful reflections in the game's water-heavy levels. The graphics take somewhat of a dip during cut-scenes, however, with rough facial animation and some choppy frame-rates. The audio is solid, with Yuri Lowentha returning to voice The Prince. Some grew tired of The Prince in the 2008 outing, but here he is much closer to the Sands of Time trilogy, and therefore more appealing.
Overall, TFS will fill the needs of a hardcore Prince of Persia fan, especially if you hated the 2008 edition and loved the Sands of Time trilogy. It provides a nice filler between The Sands of Time and Warrior Within, along with the same fun platforming we've come to expect combined with some fun new puzzle mechanics. But it is let down in several regards - a frustrating camera can dampen the joy of the platforming mechanics, while bland combat will put most players to sleep. If you're desperate for some action in the Prince of Persia franchise then this will suffice, but anyone else should probably think before they buy.
NOTE: This review is also available to read at www.ThePixelEmpire.net.
I would like to invite you all to my review of "Prince of Persia: the Forgotten Sands" (= PoP:TFS). This is the sixth PoP-game I've ever played - I started out with the very first one which I played on my Sega Master System. I then progressed - much later - to the Sands of Time-trilogy, and finally PoP:2008.
This review is written upon completion of my first playthrough, which I played on Normal.
PoP:TFS is the latest episode in the PoP-franchise. It isn't a follow-up to PoP:2008, but more an interquel in the Sands of Time-story. It takes place in the seven year-gap between Sands of Time (SoT) and Warrior Within (WW) / The Two Thrones (TTT).
The Prince is on his way to visit his brother Malik. Upon his arrival in Malik's city it seems that a war has broken out and Malik's army is retreating into the city. To save what's left of his city, Malik plans to resurrect King Solomon's Army - using some sort of seal - to help fight the invading force. Our Prince isn't too fond of that idea (with good reason), but Malik uses it anyway. After resurrecting the undead army, the seal snaps in half. The brothers get separated, each carrying a half of the seal (which protects them from the army's corruption).
While the undead army runs rampant, our Prince meets a Djinn, Razia, who explains that in order to stop the army, he has to reunite the two halfs. To help him she grants him the power of the Sands and various elemental powers.
Although it fits in the SoT-universe, I actually wonder why this game was made. I always believed the Sands of Time-story arc was marketed as a trilogy, and as such was concluded with TTT. Although I'm really fond of the SoT-story, this fourth instalment wasn't really necessary. It brings nothing new and interesting to the table (you've seen it all before and better) and compared to the other three the story is really bland.
We're once again dealing with the "happy" Prince, yes, the happy one who is once again in desperate need of a decent supporting character to boss him around and exchange clever remarks with (like Farah). Razia somewhat fits that description, but their encounters are too short and too far in between for it to really make a difference. The "happy" Prince is also not as interesting a character as the dark, sulky, egocentric version of WW and TTT.
I can't help feeling that Malik, who also gains Sand-powers, would've made a far more interesting main character.
The gameplay in every PoP-game focuses on both combat and platforming, and it's no different in this one.
The Prince has a few ways to deal with his enemies. He has his trusted sword, and other moves such as kicks and jumps and aerial slashes and whatnot at his disposal.
However, in the previous instalments you could carry around multiple weapons (SoT: Dagger of Time and a sword / WW: sword + possibility to dual wield swords, axes, maces, a hockey-stick and even a teddy-bear (!) / TTT: Dagger of Time + possibility to dual wield swords, axes, maces) which allowed for a multitude combos.
In TFS this is severely dumbed down to carrying only one sword at a time, which has a limited set of combos depending on how many times you can press the X-button in a row (max. of 5) and / or holding the X-button during a longer period of time to charge a more powerful attack.
The Prince also has some elemental powers at his disposal, which seemed spectacular at first but didn't really complement my playing-style.
Combat awards you with XP, which you can use to unlock new skills, more health, more Sand-slots and such and such. The introduction of these RPG-like elements seems unnatural for PoP, since finding special chambers, finding new swords and advancing through the story to get new powers got the job done in the previous games. You carry over any unlocked skills to a new play-through, making you uber-powerful from the beginning, and sadly making the combat even less appealing for future playthroughs.
Platforming and Time-Powers
Fortunately, the platforming and the new Time-powers make up for most of what's wrong with the combat. The Prince still has all his classic moves: wall-running, column-climbing, pole-swinging... and the new Time-powers complement this nicely.
The Prince can still rewind time, just as before, but that's the only power that makes a comeback.
The Prince can now "freeze" time for a limited period, so waterfalls become these massive walls of ice he can run on, water from vertical drains turns into an ice-column he can climb on, and water from horizontal drains turns into poles he can swing around.
There is also a power that allows him to propel himself forward, allowing him to bridge gaps he couldn't otherwise.
You can also bring back 'once upon a long ago' destroyed construction elements (walls, floors, poles, columns) but he can only bring back one element at a time. So if you're standing on one of those brought back elements and you have to immediately jump to another one of those, be sure to "change" it in mid-jump.
At times you encounter these insane combinations of actions you have to do, such as bringing back a piece of wall so water starts flowing again, which you can turn into an ice pole and then you have to jump from that ice pole to another ice-pole but through a waterfall (which is solid while you're swinging) so you have to stop the power in mid-jump to go through the waterfall and then freeze time again to grab on the next ice-pole... FUN!!
Sadly, this game doesn't have timed sequences like WW (Dahaka-chases) and TTT (Dark Prince, carriage rides) or challenge corridors like WW and TTT (to increase your health-bar) to break the normal chain of events. So all you do is fight, platform, fight, platform, fight, platform... which is bearable at first, but quickly becomes repetitive.
Unlike WW, this game doesn't have an alternative ending. Neither did SoT or TTT for that matter but I enjoyed those more than TFS.
Also, this game only starts with an EASY and a NORMAL-difficulty setting. I breezed through this in about seven hours on Normal, and I found it to be too easy (can't imagine how easy Easy is).
People who want to get a full 1000 on their GamerScore will have to play through this more than once (grinding for XP to unlock the achievement for al the skills, among others) though, so there is some replayability for that - if you're into achievements that is.
They've also added an achievement of shame, and award you 5 points for it. Can't wait to meet the first person bragging she/he has 1000 points on this.
After completing the game there is also a challenge room in which you have to fight eight waves of enemies, and another one with a time trial. The one with the eight waves is really, really short (beat it in six minutes), which made me wonder why they added it in the first place. And you need Live for the Time Trial, so I haven't bothered with it.
Graphics and sound
Not bad, but not great either: serviceable.
I have to admit that in my opinion the graphics and the music of Warrior Within (at that time) were superb. And no other PoP-game has ever come close to it again, or yet.
I only have one gripe with the graphics, and it's the facial features of the Prince. He doesn't look like the one I remember from the previous games at all.
+ Platforming is great
+ New Time-powers
- Story is average at best
- Happy Prince
- Combat is severely dumbed down
- Too short and too easy
I can't help feeling a bit disappointed with this title, especially since the other
games were so great.
For those on the fence, wait until you can get it cheap.
For die-hard PoP-fans, chances are you bought this one already. I'd recommend playing the other ones though.