Originally Published 10 August 2010
First, the gameplay here is very much what we’ve come to expect from the Prince of Persia series. The platforming is solid, and they’ve introduced a couple of new elements to add to the standard configuration. Specifically, they’ve added the ability to freeze water without freezing the rest of the environment. This mostly is used for puzzles which end up having relatively strict timing constraints. The second new element is conditional platforms. Essentially, there are certain areas of the game which are somehow in disrepair. You can fix these areas, but only one at a time. This often means leaping from one semi-existant platform and toggling the next one while in midair. The new and classic mechanics all come together at the end of the game in the “Final Climb” which is perhaps the most challenging Prince of Persia platforming section that I’ve ever encountered.
The comabt system, however, has had the difficulty dialed way down. There were almost no fights that I really considered challenging on the Normal (highest of two) difficulty. The game gives four special power sets for the fighting system, but they are mostly unnecessary. Every fight can be beaten using only the sword and without much difficulty at that. It turns out that you can generally get three free sword swings and then roll away without being hit by any enemy in 90+% of all combat situations due to the fact that dodge rolling into an enemy interrupts their incredibly long telegraphing sequence. Nevertheless, the game generally gives you a large number of enemies to try to make it seem like you’re still under threat, even if they are essentially just fodder to slow you down.
My main problem with the game comes from its place in the larger Sands of Time setting (SPOILERS COMING; you’ve been warned). As I mentioned above, Forgotten Sands takes place between the first and second games in the Sands of Time triology, but fundamentally adds nothing to the series. The Prince now has a brother, but it doesn’t matter because he doesn’t survive to the end. He gains access to new powers, but loses them at the end, so there’s no reason to question why he doesn’t have them in Warrior Within. The Dahaka apparently hasn’t started pursuing him yet, but we’re given no explanation as to why. Given the Dahaka’s relative lack of explanation aside from “The Prince broke time and now must die”, this game could have served to expand on what the led to the Dahaka finally taking action against the prince. Instead, the whole issue is simply ignored. In fact, the only references back to Sands of Time are a few lines of throwaway dialog near the beginning of the game explicitly mentioning Farah and Azad. Without those lines, the game could simply be considered to be yet another continuity without any negative impacts or plot holes.
It is as if Ubisoft went to pains to make sure that this game fundamentally doesn’t matter to the greater picture of the Sands of Time setting. The Prince doesn’t particularly learn any lessons nor does he have any particular responsibility for the events which occur. Something bad happens due to the actions of others and he has to fix them. This is a very different theme from the rest of the Sands of Time games. In those games, the Prince is continually being subject to the results of the errors of his past. He released the Sands and everything due to that is his responsibility, whether he likes it or not, whether or not it is fair or just. Forgotten Sands doesn’t fit that mold and may disrupt the overall message of the series.
As an aside, I’ll note that this is probably the game which took me the least time to get a perfect gamerscore on of the dozen or so games that I’ve perfected. It only took one playthrough and about half of another to get all of the achievements in the game. Given a total gameplay time of perhaps 9-12 hours on a first pass and substantially less on a second one (due to memorized puzzles and enemies being mostly skippable), I suspect this would be an easy game for score boosters.
Overall, I can’t say the game was bad. If all that mattered in a game were its gameplay, it would probably get a 1 rating from me, but the fact that the story is so obviously just tacked onto a successful franchise and adds so little to an otherwise rich setting undermines the entire game in my eyes. Maybe it is also wrapped up in my disappointment that Ubisoft chose to make this game rather than making a sequel for the promising though controversial (and in my mind excellent) 2008 reboot of the series. Regardless, a Prince of Persia game comes with high expectations and they failed to meet mine.
Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands: 0