Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands (Review)

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Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft
Reviewed On: PlayStation 3
Release Date: May 18, 2010
Copy obtained via PlayStation Plus

I’m torn on Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands.
It’s one of those games that falls in that awkward space reserved for the “not quite good, but not quite awful either” category. There are a few things I greatly enjoyed, and a few that I found horrendous, but for the most part it’s a completely forgettable title that isn’t worth the time or money to experience.

The Forgotten Sands is a return to the timeline established in the Prince of Persia Trilogy on the original Xbox and PlayStation 2, but it requires absolutely no knowledge of the events in those games to follow. Taking place in between the first two titles of the trilogy (I believe the cool kids call this an interquel), The Forgotten Sands once again finds the titular Prince on an adventure to stop a dangerous supernatural force. If you played the previous games (or, pretty much any action-adventure game), then you have a pretty good idea of what to expect.

The Forgotten Sands introduces us to a new member of the Prince’s family, his older brother, Malik. When a supernatural force, known as Solomon’s Army, attacks Malik’s kingdom and turns citizen and soldier alike to sand, Malik vows to defend his home and fight off the attacking forces. Of course, since he’s family, the Prince decides to help with this crusade. Unfortunately, what could be a great story of family ties and standing up against impossible odds quickly devolves into one of the most boring and cliché ridden stories I’ve ever encountered in a video game.

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In many ways, The Forgotten Sands feels like a rehash of the first game in the trilogy. Whether it’s the way certain parts of the plot play out, how the characters interact, or even the way the levels are designed, there’s a strong sense of déjà vu waiting for those who played 2003’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. It’s been over ten years since I’ve played that game, but The Forgotten Sands brought memories of it back in full force, and not in a good way. I literally felt like I was seeing and playing things I had already experienced. There wasn’t much of a sense of awe and wonder from discovering something new, and when there was it was quickly lost when the feeling of déjà vu kicked back in mere moments later.

On the plus side, The Forgotten Sands did do one thing correctly by bringing this all back. It reminded me how much I love the Prince as a character. He’s a little cocky, naïve, and occasionally arrogant, but he also has a warm heart and a sharp sense of humor. The way he narrates during calmer moments is interesting, and his attitude and sarcastic wit gave me more than a few good chuckles throughout my time with the game. The Prince is a flawed hero, for sure, but he’s also one that’s easy to love and root for.

Unfortunately, the same thing can’t be said for the rest of the cast of characters.
Malik starts off full of promise, but I ended up losing interest in him very early on. He possesses the same cocky attitude and sense of humor as his brother, but the game only seems to explore these elements of his character within the earliest portions of the game. Malik becomes the stereotypical older brother who thinks he’s better than everyone else in a rather jarringly short amount of time. I was practically angry too. Here’s an interesting character that could have a cool dynamic with our favorite Prince, but then he’s stripped of all personality and turned into a cookie-cutter version of a character we’ve all seen a hundred times over.

There’s also the mysterious woman, Razia, who grants the Prince his powers.
Razia is a strange individual who seems to understand this supernatural army more than anyone else. She warns of an evil Djinn, named Ratash, and gives the Prince abilities to stand against him and his army. I found Razia to be an intriguing addition, but she spends the majority of the game barely being of any consequence or influence to the story. Sure, she grants you with the means to navigate and fight, but she never does much as a character. She does have a slight moment of importance later in the game, but it feels forced and ultimately unnecessary.

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Lastly, there’s Ratash, who might be one of the worst villains I’ve ever seen in a video game. He has no personality, he doesn’t speak, and his only reason for being here is because the game needs a villain. He isn’t that intimidating or scary, he’s just a big brutish monster that smashes things. I mean, I don’t even know what else to tell you about him because there isn’t anything for me to really work with. I guess he’s a monster, and monsters are supposed to be scary, right? Whatever, let’s move on…

One of my last big complaints comes in the form of the games audio.
You see, for some God forsaken reason, The Forgotten Sands has the worst preset audio mix I’ve ever heard. The music and sound effects completely drown out the voices, and I had to enter the options and turn those two sliders almost entirely down just to hear the characters speak. It also doesn’t help that there’s no ability to turn on subtitles, which I consider to be an important addition every game must include.

Fortunately, The Forgotten Sands doesn’t completely mess up everything.
A huge portion of the game is sent traversing the environment via crazy parkour moves. Running up and across walls, jumping gaps, and swinging on poles is a fun and engaging way to move about the world. As you gain new abilities, your traversal options continue to expand. You can freeze water so that you can run up fountains and waterfalls. You can dash great distances in the air to land on far away platforms. You even have the return of the iconic sand that allows you to rewind time in case you miss a jump and risk falling to your death.

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Some of the best moments in The Forgotten Sands come when you’re being forced to navigate through long stretches of dangerous hazards. Switching between these abilities to safely make it through and building up the right rhythm while doing so is incredibly satisfying. It is worth noting that there are areas where the game has multiple obstacles in close proximity and has a hard time detecting how you’re trying to navigate through them. There were several moments where I could have sworn I jumped to a particular location only to end up shooting towards somewhere a little further off and falling to my death in the process.

There’s also a healthy amount of puzzles, but they’re unfortunately a mixed bag.
For the most part, they’re nothing more than a lever or two that need to be pushed or pulled in the correct order. I cruised through most of the puzzles in the game without any difficulty whatsoever, but there are a few sprinkled throughout that require a little bit of thought. Those puzzles typically found you having to utilize your powers in such a way to move objects in the environment around, which is actually more difficult than it sounds. One puzzle in particular had me rotating segments of a statue to have them all face the same direction, but I don’t feel comfortable telling you how long it took me to figure it out.

And while there are a few set pieces and locations that are visually interesting, the game constantly recycles its own areas and has others that are far too similar to the locales from the first game in the series.  I could have sworn I had seen some of these throne rooms, hallways, landings, and baths before…and I was right. I saw them 13 years ago on the original Xbox.

The last huge feature in the game is combat, which is also one of the areas of the game that’s the most frustrating. The sand soldiers in the game come in multiple variations (swords, shields, clubs, etc.), but it honestly doesn’t feel like there’s much variety. Most enemies can be destroyed by just hammering the attack button repeatedly, but some require to be (literally) kicked around a bit before taking damage.

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Killing enemies grants you experience points which, when you collect enough, allow you to level up your stats and abilities. This allows you to have more health, deal more damage, use your abilities more often, and even unlock new ones. Some of the unlockable abilities are ridiculously overpowered, such as Stone Armor which grants you invulnerability for about 20 seconds. There’s also hidden sarcophagi throughout the world that can be destroyed for massive amounts of experience points, but all this did was guarantee that I was a powerhouse by the end of the game and virtually incapable of dying via combat. In fact, I even beat the final boss of the game without taking a single hit thanks to these abilities and upgraded stats.

It would have been cool to see more enemy variety or to have had a more balanced leveling system. I constantly felt like I was just fighting wave after wave of the same enemy for the majority of the game, but it was the ridiculous abilities and upgrades from leveling up that I feel really took the fun away from the game. I just didn’t feel like there was any challenge when I could destroy virtually any enemy in only 2-3 hits. What’s so unfortunate is that The Forgotten Sands shows a lot of promise in combat, but doesn’t know how to use it. If the combat was a little more complex, difficult, and void of the ridiculously overpowered leveling system, I honestly would have liked this game a lot more and been willing to look past some of the other issues.

FINAL VERDICT

I really wanted to like Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands.
I’m already a fan of the series, its main character, and its fascinating story, but The Forgotten Sands feels like a huge step back. The majority of the characters are weak and unlikable, it feels like a rehash of what came before, the audio is a technical nightmare, and the traversal segments, environments, and combat could have used a little more work before release. While there are a few cool features in the game (such as the puzzles and abilities), you’re better off skipping this one and spending your time and money on something else.

– Zack Burows

 

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