The “Prince of Persia” series has been around for quite some time, but one of its most recent incarnations, “The Sands of Time” trilogy, garnered most of the praise and acclaim that the Prince has so far seen.
The plot of the trilogy involves the mystical sands of time and a magical dagger that can turn back time. This is also the basis for the recent Jeremy Bruckheimer film, “The Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” which is in theaters now and is (in my opinion) a pretty good popcorn flick, though it certainly won’t win any Oscars.
Thankfully, Ubisoft decided not to make “Prince of Persia: The Movie: The Game,” despite the plots of the game and film being different enough to allow for that absurd possibility. But much to my dismay, they didn’t make a sequel to 2008’s fanasy-heavy “Prince of Persia” either, which featured an entirely different story and cast. Instead, in order to attract more people who plan on seeing the film, they went back to the much-loved “Sands of Time” saga.
“Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands” for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 takes place in the missing years between “Sands of Time” and “Warrior Within” on last generation’s consoles. The nameless prince has gone to visit his brother who, under attack by enemy forces, decides to release a fabled army. This, unsurprisingly, ends up being a bad move.
Thing is, the story here barely matters, which is kind of a shame. The Prince in “Warrior Within” is very different from the Prince in “The Sands of Time,” so in setting “The Forgotten Sands” between those two games, you would think there’s a lot of room for exploration of the character and everything he went through. But the developers completely missed the boat. The game doesn’t even end with a hint of the events to come.
In fact, oddly enough, the infamous Sands of Time don’t even really play a role in the plot. Your powers – including the classic time manipulation – come from a completely different source altogether. This among other things make the story feel horribly out of place.
The gameplay, though, is pretty solid, if unoriginal at this point. All the trappings you would want from a “Prince of Persia” title are here, including a ton of wall running and leaps from platform to precarious platform. This is still a formula that not many other games attempt, much less do well (the closest comparison would probably be another Ubisoft series, “Assassin’s Creed,” which allows for plenty of building scaling), so a new game is always a welcome addition to fans of the style.
That being said, I certainly found “The Forgotten Sands” to be enjoyable. I loved the original “Sands of Time” trilogy, as well as the 2008 fantasy reboot, so I’m always up for more parkour mixed with sword slashing.
The game requires the usual precise jumps and careful moving around the environment, but not to worry. If you make a bad jump and plunge over the edge of a tower, you can always rewind time a bit in order to go back and fix your mistake. This is the twist that made the original “Sands of Time” such a success, and it still works here.
This isn’t a complete rehash, though. The Prince has a few new skills, both for traversal and for combat.
The combat skills, though fun to use, aren’t terribly original or exciting, so I’d rather focus on the ones that matter.
This time around, you can manipulate the environment in certain ways. Most notably, you can freeze water and use it to your advantage. For example, if you see spouts of water streaming out the side of a building, you can temporarily freeze them and use them to swing on. Similarly, if you see a waterfall, you can freeze it and run on it as if it were a solid wall.
These freezing powers are accessed by a mere press of a button, and water will stay frozen until you let go of the button, or your power runs out. Later on, this makes for some really tricky (but really fun) sequences in which you must quickly make water solid, liquid, and solid again, depending on whether or not you need to run on it or fly through it.
Another environment power you get later in the game is the ability to “recall” areas of the environment that should be there, but have fallen to ruin. At first, this feels like a total contrivance. You can obviously see where the object in question is supposed to be, and it just seems like a hassle to require the player to press a button in order to interact with it. However, the levels evolve in such a way that this skill seems more important and more entertaining, and by the end I didn’t mind its inclusion.
The controls feel pretty good, and for the most part do their job perfectly. However, I did encounter a few issues where the game would simply not do what I told it to. One of these cases was when I wanted to backtrack a bit in a level, in order to search for a hidden object. As the game was designed for me to go forward, not back, I had a real struggle getting the camera positioned the way I wanted, and then I was unable to make the Prince go exactly where I needed to go, resulting in a few very frustrating deaths. This isn’t a problem for most of the game, which doesn’t try to limit where you go in the world (forward or back), but problem areas certainly exist.
Another such area was near the very end of the game. A certain piece of environment absolutely refused to be “recalled” unless I was positioned exactly where the game wanted me to be, which wasn’t at all where I wanted to be myself. Not only did this result in more frustration, it also resulted in a terrible, terrible glitch that almost forced me to replay through the entire game from the beginning. Part of this stems from the fact that this is only one save game available, and it only ever auto-saves. There is also no form of level select or anything. Kind of a bummer if you want to go back to a favorite section or something.
“The Forgotten Sands” isn’t terribly long – easily under 10 hours – but it is enjoyable. The main problem, though, is that it’s nowhere near as remarkable or memorable as former games in the series, such as the original “Sands of Time” or 2008’s “Prince of Persia.” At times, it certainly feels like a game that they rushed through in order to release it alongside the movie. While it’s certainly better than most movie-related games, and a pretty enjoyable “Prince of Persia” adventure, I do feel like the Prince deserved a little more respect with this game. It could have been better. Instead, it might be more worth a rental than a $60 purchase.
The Wii version of “The Forgotten Sands,” interestingly, is a completely different experience – from story to gameplay. Ubisoft sent us a copy of it alongside this 360 version, so we’ll have a review of that in the future.