As I was playing Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands, another game kept popping into my head: with its myriad of tricky jumps, ledge climbing, acrobatic swings, deadly traps, and puzzle solving, Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands feels like the early Tomb Raider games all over again. This is a big departure from 2008’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, which one can argue, was too easy. Not so this time!
Thankfully, one positive element retained from the previous game is the ability turn back time. Fall to your death? No problem, just hit a button to reverse time and you can try it again, as long as you have enough magical power to do so. This is an integral aspect to the game – a cool feature to fool around with and one that you’ll find yourself using often.
The Prince arrives home to find his palace under siege. You have to make your way into the castle, fighting off the enemy warriors and dodging catapulted missiles to hook up with your brother who is about to do something very stupid. In an effort to save the kingdom, he uses dark magic to unleash an army of skeletons and sand creatures, led by a Demon named Ratash who promptly turns on him, attacking the palace and transforming everyone into statues made of sand. As the prodigal son returned, you will have to make your way throughout the palace, battling the demonic minions along the way.
The game uses an experience point system similar to Dante’s Inferno in that you can purchase powers from a skill tree. These consist of offensive and defensive powers of increasing levels of strength, as well as being able to increase your life bar, magic bar, and number of magic orbs. The orbs allow you to use the special powers like turning back time and freezing water.
Perhaps the Prince’s greatest skill is his sheer athletic and acrobatic ability. The Prince can run for short periods along walls to avoid deadly falls, swing on poles like an Olympic gymnast, and slide down tapestries like Errol Flynn. It may not be set on a pirate ship, but this Prince is one major swashbuckler!
The ability to freeze water is perhaps the most important power in the game. You can freeze spouts of water that jet out of walls or floors and then swing or climb on them. However, they will stay frozen only until your magic meter runs out. You’ll find many levels where quickness and timing are everything, as you have to make several jumps on frozen spouts and get off safely just before they unfreeze. You’ll also use this ability to freeze waterfalls for climbing. The game challenges you with numerous puzzle sequences that require you to press switches and make it to a door before it slams shut, or turn various cranks to move gears into place to open up a new level. It can be exasperating, especially as you turn cranks over and over, praying to find the right combination.
As challenging as this part of the game is, the combat system is decidedly Stone Age. Though you can augment your attacks with powers like Whirlwind, Trail of Flame, and Ice Blast (upgrades that you purchase with experience), the bottom line is that button-mashing is all you really need about 90% of the time. In fact, your best friend in fights is the triangle button which allows the Prince to kick and knock over enemies like bowling pins, disabling them temporarily. This is especially useful when you are find yourself completely surrounded, giving the Prince some breathing room.
The controls are generally solid and responsive, but there can be quirks to wall running if you are not precise in pushing the controller sideways instead of up. Likewise jumping, climbing a wall, and jumping backwards can be a major pain and will result in many usages of time reversal.
The levels are all breathtaking to look at, especially when you enter them for the first time and get a panoramic view, but there isn’t a lot of diversity to them, and the game does fall into a routine of run, jump, climb, swing, fight, and gain experience. The cut sequences are outstanding and do a great job of developing the story and the characters of the Prince and his brother, especially as their relationship begins to crumble over the best way to save the kingdom.
Though it may be repetitive, Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands is also great fun. It presents challenges that get trickier to solve without becoming too frustrating. Not a game of the year candidate but definitely one worth owning.
Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands; Reviewed on the Playstation 3 System; Published by UBI Soft; Rated T