Monday, February 21, 2011

Review: Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands (Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Wii, PC)

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands is a classic example of a great game that was released at a bad time, since gamers were either flocking to Red Dead Redemption (released the same week) or writing it off as a tie-in to the Prince of Persia movie released around the same time. This is rather unfortunate because people are missing out on a great game that is both a return to form for the Prince of Persia series and one of the hidden gems of 2010.

The Forgotten Sands is neither a remake or a sequel/prequel, but rather it's placed in the seven year gap between the events of The Sands of Time and The Warrior Within, the former game being an undisputed masterpiece and the latter being rather lackluster by comparison. You assume the role as the titular prince who, upon visiting his brother Malik's kingdom, finds himself caught in the middle of an enemy invasion in which the kingdom is being destroyed for a treasure the army wants. His brother knows decides to raise an undead army to aid him
in his fight, but as we all know, raising such evil is never a good idea and the kingdom is soon overrun with all sorts of creatures made out of sand. The game is comprised of two essential acts, the first involves finding your brother to reunite two pieces of an ancient seal that can vanquish the evil, and the second part involves chasing down larger enemies. As stories go, The Forgotten Sands is fairly predictable and somewhat heavy on the cliches, but it's serviceable for the game and it sets you up for some amazing platforming sections. Just don't expect the strong narrative and emotional connection that we got with The Sands of Time, as this is fairly "by the numbers" and somewhat flat by comparison.

As you would expect, the centerpiece of The Forgotten Sands is the platforming segments which are very linear but also provide plenty of excitement and challenge. In the beginning of the game, you learn the basics of wall-running and combat, but the difficulty ramps up once you are given a variety of powers that allow you to manipulate the environment and get from point A to point B. These powers include the ability to rewind time to recover from a misjudged jump or a brutal hit from an enemy, the ability to freeze water and use it as surfaces to climb on, the ability to fst jump through the air and take down enemies, and the ability to restore pillars and ledges that have been destroyed. You are eased into using these powers, but the latter stages of the game
require you to use all of them in tandem in order to progress through the environment. This makes for some challenging and immensely rewarding platforming, though the game has it's fair share of trial and error as well. The 2008 "reboot" of the series was extremely easy, since you had a partner who prevented you from dying, however that has been abandoned in The Forgotten Sands. You do possess the ability to rewind time and correct mistakes made, but this is not in infinite supply and you are guaranteed to die a lot, especially in the more complicated stages where mistakes are easier to make. Still, with risk comes reward and you feel accomplished when you get through a particularly difficult area.

Combat also plays a big part in the game, as you will often find yourself slashing through seemingly endless waves of enemies and a few boss fights thrown in for good measure. The combat is hit and miss, since you can use a variety of fighting moves and powers to brutal effect, but the combat is fairly easy and the same enemies turn up over and over again. Those looking for an intricate combat system and a wide variety of enemies might be disappointed, but using the powers given is beyond satisfying when it all works out. As the game progresses,
you unlock the ability to use ice, fire, wind and stone armor, all of which can be upgraded as you earn kill points. The impression laid down by the first levels in the game leads you to believe that the combat is strictly button-mashing, however this only works on the easier enemies and strategy becomes essential to survival. Some enemies have shields, others are impervious to basic sword blows, and you will need quick dodging reflexes to survive in some areas. The combat, while being unremarkable, is still fun and occasionally thrilling.

Visually, The Forgotten Sands is a departure from the cell shaded graphics of the 2008 game and it returns to the realistic look of The Sands of Time. Some have claimed that the graphics look dated and uninspired, however I felt quite the opposite and I think the game looks fantastic. The environments and character animation are intricately detailed and the cutscenes are gorgeous to look at. The game is very cinematic and linear, and the graphics and level design were made with this in mind, so don't go into this expecting an open world experience. The sound is equally good, with a wonderful orchestral score adding mood and feeling where appropriate, and the voice acting is also first rate with the voice talent from The Sands of Time returning. Prince of Persia games in recent years have had a reputation for being stunning in both the audio and visual departments, and this game certainly doesn't disappoint. I did notice some graphical stutters, camera issues and the occasional audio out of synch, however this is not frequent or severe enough to be a concern.

While it's not the masterpiece that The Sands of Time has proven to be, The Forgotten Sands is a worthy entry in the Prince of Persia series that I think more people should check out, especially those who are hungry for more platforming titles like the Uncharted or Assassin's Creed series. The game is a solid mix of platforming and combat that balances very well with a fun, albeit unremarkable story that provides some intrigue but is mainly there to transition you from level to level. If the above sounds good to you, your time with this game will be very well spent indeed.

Rating: 8.5/10

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