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Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands super review

Great

When we first found out about Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands, it was impossible to not be skeptical. After closing out the Sands of Time trilogy and dropping wads of cash on a flashy new reboot for the franchise, publisher Ubisoft just suddenly decided that the character was too good to let go? And this decision just happened to coincide with the feature-film adaptation of the first game?

Right.


Above: Purely coincidental! 

This had “bullshit tie-in” written all over it. Still, Ubisoft repeatedly assured us (and everyone else in the gaming press) that Forgotten Sands wouldn’t be a movie game, and that its release date was a coincidence, even though it’s hitting shelves exactly 10 days before the film’s release. Suspicious as these claims seemed, they were backed up by some slick gameplay demonstrations that gave us hope that Forgotten Sands wouldn’t be crap, even if its redesigned Prince sort of looks like what you’d get at the center of a Venn diagram made up of his old appearance, Jake Gyllenhaal and Eric Stoltz in Mask.


Above: Gross 

Now that the game is out, there’s one burning question to be answered: Did this turn out to be a worthy sequel to the Sands of Time franchise? Or is it just a vapid rush job?


Moment of truth

The short answer to both of those questions is “yes.” Forgotten Sands isn’t quite as meaty as previous games in the series, like The Sands of Time or even The Two Thrones. Where those games focused on exploration and treated their environments as giant puzzles, Forgotten Sands treats them like demanding obstacle courses; thanks to the liberal use of fixed camera angles and a very deliberate approach to level design, there’s usually very little doubt as to which path you’re supposed to take.

Even the solutions to the big, open puzzle rooms will quickly become obvious once you’ve found the critical first handhold. The challenge, then, comes not from figuring out where you’re supposed to go, but from carefully timing each move through the obstacles ahead of you, whether they’re a series of wall-mounted buzzsaws or a chain of objects that require magic to become useful (more on that later).


Above: That’s not always true, though; the massive Astrolabe is one hell of a platform puzzle

On the other hand, holy Christ is Forgotten Sands fun. It might not have the depth of its predecessors, but it takes everything that was good about them and streamlines it into an adventure that rarely slows down and never really gets frustrating. Your path might be clear and linear most of the time, but it’s a blast to traverse, and taking out most of the guesswork means you’re free to blindly chain together acrobatic moves so quickly, it’s impossible not to feel like a badass when you nail them all.

That said, it’s important to stress that you’re not just randomly pushing buttons to make the silly man do the cool things. Unlike the 2008 Prince of Persia reboot, which boiled almost every action down to a single button press, Forgotten Sands brings back some of the sense of control that made the Sands games fun – which is to say that A) you have to hold down the right trigger to run across walls again, and B) you can once again reverse time whenever you’ve missed a jump or otherwise made a stupid mistake.


Above: It’s hard to tell without seeing it in motion, but this is what rewinding time looks like
 
Forgotten Sands also fixes one of the biggest irritations from previous games in the series: jumping while hanging from a ledge. In the Sands trilogy, hang-jumping enabled players to jump straight up, sideways across a vertical gap or straight backwards, which frequently resulted in rewinds and/or deaths if you messed it up. This time around, hitting jump only ever results in a direct 180-degree leap away from the ledge you’re hanging on, while scrambling up or sideways are now handled by the wall-run. It takes a little getting used to, but it means a lot fewer cheap deaths.


Get your kill on

That just leaves one other longstanding problem from the Sands of Time series: the combat. While the 2008 reboot addressed this by turning fights into elaborate, combo-heavy duels against single opponents, Forgotten Sands takes the opposite approach and pits you against mobs of sand zombies. Not only does this work surprisingly well, but it introduces a whole new dynamic to the fighting: crowd control.

The zombies will continually try to surround you (which, to be fair, puts them all within easy button-mash striking distance), but in addition to slashing away wildly at them, you can jump onto their shoulders and hop across them to safety, or just roll out of their way. It’s not quite God of War, but it’s surprisingly fun for a series in which combat was too often a chore.

Zombie grunts aren’t your only enemies, either; as you progress through the game, you’ll run afoul of shield-bearing creatures (who have to be stunned with a kick before you slash them), sand wizards who can summon more zombies until you kill them, beefier zombies (who we’re going to guess are called “brutes”) and huge, charging behemoths that can only be hurt by charged power slashes after they’ve crashed headfirst into walls.


Above: Or, failing that, into each other 

Every once in a while, you’ll even face down against some super-tough giant with a big sword and an arsenal of knockdown moves. While these fights are visually impressive, winning them rarely takes more than knowing when to roll away, and when to persistently hack at their ankles until they drop to their knees, stunned, and leave themselves open for a finishing aerial slash.


Above: Even main villain Ratash is kind of a pushover – until he starts throwing knockdown fireballs while you’re trying to climb, that is 

Part of what makes combat enjoyable is that, as you earn experience, you’ll be able to unlock and improve magic-based moves that enable the Prince to blast out waves of ice, leave a fiery trail that burns anything that touches it, summon a set of stone armor when his health gets low and – most useful of all – slam the ground to create a whirlwind that knocks enemies down at first, but eventually gets powerful enough to just disintegrate them.


Above: Wheee! 

Combat powers aren’t the only special abilities the Prince has up his sleeve; as the game unfolds, he’ll also unlock the ability to temporarily freeze jets of water, turning them into poles he can climb or horizontal bars he can swing from. Here’s a look at how it works (along with a quick demonstration of powered-up combat):

 

Later in the game, the Prince will also be able to air-dash at distant enemies to reach the platforms they’re standing on, and late in the game will even have to “recall” missing chunks of ruins (which appear as shiny outlines) so that he can use them to get where he’s going. The game’s absolute best puzzles force you to use all these abilities in rapid succession, something that – again, when you pull it off just right – looks amazing.


Oh right, the story

Story and character have always been vital parts of the Prince of Persia series, so we should probably take this opportunity to say why the Prince gets all these cool powers, and why he’s fighting sand zombies again. An interquel set between the events of Sands of Time and its maligned sequel, Warrior Within, Forgotten Sands begins with the Prince traveling to see his older brother, Malik, only to find that Malik and his palace are being invaded by some unidentified army.


Above: Not much of a family resemblance, really

To fend off the invaders, Malik awakens the ancient Army of Solomon sealed away beneath the fortress, which turns out to be a cursed, disease-like plague of zombies that multiply whenever they touch sand. The Prince and Malik – protected by a magical pair of amulets – then have to work to contain and ultimately destroy the menace.

Since the Prince and Malik spend most of the game separated, however, the Prince has to rely on a second ally for help: Razia, the centuries-old queen of the Djinn, whose pocket dimension the Prince stumbles across while seeking refuge from the zombies, and who lends the Prince some of her powers.

By Prince of Persia standards, the story is light, predictable popcorn fare – quick, entertaining and ultimately kind of forgettable. But at least the four major characters – the Prince, Malik, Razia and Ifrit villain Ratash – are well-realized and interesting. Malik, introduced as a masked badass, is surprisingly likable (kind of like an older, tougher version of the Prince, actually), and while Razia starts off detached and cold, she gets pretty endearing by the end. Ratash, meanwhile, just shows up periodically to howl gibberish, but he’s at least fun to fight.

Of course, the real standout is always going to be the Prince, since we spend the most time with him, and actor Yuri Lowenthal – who voiced him in Sands and the underrated threequel Two Thrones – does a good job recreating his old charm, complete with all the introspective, insecure moments when the Prince starts talking to himself during gameplay.

So ultimately, this isn’t a cheap movie game, but it’s what a tie-in game should be: 10-12 polished hours of fast-paced, mildly challenging fun with high production values. It even recaptures some of the charm that made the Sands of Time trilogy great, and its puzzles, while more linear than ever, are also some of the best the series has produced so far.

Oh, but watch out for this glitch. We didn’t run into it while we played, but we don’t want anyone else to, either.


Is it better than…?

Prince of Persia (2008)? Yes and no. As fun as Forgotten Sands is, it lacks the 2008 PoP’s wild inventiveness, vivid level design and open-world exploration, and ultimately the reboot just feels like a bigger game with more cool things to see and do. On the other hand, if you were pining for more time with the “original” Prince and thought Elika was a poor alternative to time-rewinding powers, Forgotten Sands will be more your speed.

Prince of Persia: Warrior Within? Yes, if only because there’s no Godsmack on the soundtrack. Forgotten Sands might not be everything fans were hoping for, but it’s at least a better, more lighthearted sequel to Sands of Time than this brooding, ridiculous nightmare was.

 


Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time?
Yes and no. Gameplay-wise, Forgotten Sands is a much tighter, more fluid experience, and the current-gen production values certainly don’t hurt. But the original Sands has a charm that’s extremely difficult to top; this was the game that not only introduced us to the Prince, but that told a surprisingly powerful tale about growing up, taking responsibility and, ultimately, denying yourself the thing you want most because it’s the right thing to do. And while we like seeing more of that Prince, instead of Broody McGrowlerson up there, it’d be a damned impressive sequel that could top the original – and this isn’t it.


Just for you, Metacritic!

Lighter, more focused and ultimately more linear than its predecessors, Forgotten Sands never quite feels like a “real” Prince of Persia game, but its popcorn plot and slickly designed, trap-filled environments make it wildly enjoyable anyway.

May 18, 2010

More Info

Release date: May 18 2010 - Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, DS, PSP
Jun 01 2010 - PC (US)
May 21 2010 - Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, DS, PSP
Jun 01 2010 - PC (UK)
Available Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, DS, PSP, PC
Genre: Adventure
Published by: Ubisoft
Developed by: Ubisoft Montreal, Ubisoft Quebec City
Franchise: Prince of Persia
ESRB Rating:
Teen: Violence
PEGI Rating:
16+

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32 comments

  • kazime - June 27, 2010 10:27 p.m.

    @TomMishkin Btw, Godsmack was only at the intro and the credits. All the other music belongs to Stuart Chatwood who in my opinion did an amazing job, fitting music for the dark atmosphere of the game. But of course not everyone can and should like that kind of music and gamestyle. But I think it was very fitting with the PoP. After all, as much as the series is built on puzzles, the fight is there from the very first game (2D times, not 3D and yes there is at least 1 game in 3d before SoT named Prince of Persia 3d if I'm not mistaken, there may be one another game also though I'm not sure). And the fight at the first game was really hard.
  • kazime - June 27, 2010 10:17 p.m.

    That "is it better than" section is completely... wrong. First thing is that 2008 PoP was a terrible and terrible and terrible game. Yeah you could roam a bit in the maps for a minute or so, but so what ? The gameplay was too linear, the fights were based on the same 1 combo, and except the bosses there almost weren't any fights at all... 2nd, Warrior Within was imho the best of the series. The free-fight system was awesome, we were really free with many possibilities and especially dual-wielding, the fights weren't as tough as the first game (especially where you fight your father in PoP-SoT) the music was awesome, and I'm not talking about Godsmack's two songs of course, the wonderful ingame musics that I still listen, and will listen even when more years pass. But the best part of the game was its dark-atmosphere and story. You can't even compare the last 2 games ('08 & '10) to Warrior Within. I agree on the beauty of the Sands of Time though. Although a bit difficult, that game was also very good.
  • Xerxes667 - May 31, 2010 4:38 a.m.

    oh and the re-design of 'The Prince' looks like something I scraped ff the bottom of my shoe yesterday, and i live in Egypt, so you can imagine how gross that might have been.
  • Xerxes667 - May 31, 2010 4:36 a.m.

    seriuosly with franchises like Assassins Creed and UNcharted out nowadays who really needs more PoP? these games take the core gamepley of PoP and refine it so it actually works. Its better to get a game tat does something right rather than a game that does everything poorly.
  • volrath46656 - May 27, 2010 5:50 p.m.

    I'm also rather frustrated by the amount of criticism Warrior Within continuously receives. It's treated like a garbage sequel when it actually sticks out in my mind as one of the better games I've played over the last decade. Get your heads out of your asses, and find an actual bad game to criticize.
  • IcarusLeonardo - May 23, 2010 9:52 p.m.

    Seems like its gonna be a long long time till a "real" Prince Of Persia comes along.
  • Ravenbom - May 21, 2010 3:39 a.m.

    I was laughing so hard that I was actually crying when I saw that Venn diagram.
  • bonerachieved - May 20, 2010 1:39 p.m.

    Did not expect this to get that high of a score.
  • zer0hvk - May 20, 2010 11:55 a.m.

    nice review, I'd love to give tat game a try, might rent it later on. And yeah, I agree with everyone else, wtf's up with his face??
  • CombatWombat101 - May 20, 2010 6:06 a.m.

    Oh and also I agree with the Warrior Within hatred. Sure, it had pretty good combat for a PoP game, but that emo douche was so damn hard to put up with. Sure, you might get cranky if a demon is chasing you for an extended period of time... you might also get cranky if you inadvertently lay waste to your entire kingdom, but he managed to stay pretty chipper through SoT, no?
  • CombatWombat101 - May 20, 2010 6:03 a.m.

    @ TomMishkin: Just throwing it out there... PoP went 3D long before Sands of Time. Anyway, as far as this game goes, Christ the Prince looks ugly as balls. Aside from that, I'll probably rent it when I'm done with Alan Wake and RDR; as much as I love PoP, this just doesn't look like it warrants a full-price purchase.
  • gamingfreak - May 19, 2010 10:52 p.m.

    Why do you guys at GR hate PoP:WW so much? The music always got me pumped and excited to fight and you would be cranky too if you were being chased by a monster for seven years. Anyways, I will defintly play this game since the SoT games are some of my favorite games. P.S. Did the Prince get hit by an ugly bus or somethin'?
  • tigvoo - May 19, 2010 8:42 p.m.

    Wow, those graphics are amazing. I really need to upgrade my x486 Windows 3.11 system! www.web-anonymity.cz.tc
  • TomMishkin - May 19, 2010 1:41 p.m.

    I just don't get what the problem with Warrior Within was. OK, so the Prince was a bit of a douche and we were forced to listen to Godsmack all the time, but the gameplay was on par with The Two Thrones (best PoP game since it went 3D with Sand of Time, IMO), the setting was great and oozed with atmosphere and charm, the puzzles were the most challenging in any PoP game I'd say, the Dahaka bits were loads of fun and also the Dark Prince b*llsh*t was funny as hell. And I had a great time just traversing the gothic-castle-thingy the game was set in, just for the sake of exploring it. Stop the madness, re-play Warrior Within and find out what a great game it was!
  • philipshaw - May 19, 2010 11:34 a.m.

    Looks okay but RDR is out
  • joabbuac - May 19, 2010 10:50 a.m.

    This one came by surprise didnt think it was coming out so soon. Did not expect it to succeed either
  • crumbdunky - May 19, 2010 10:25 a.m.

    @theSuburbiaRuins-mate, the combat is what it is. When did ANYONE buy ANY PoP game for the fighting in any case? Last time out I DREADED the dull combat and , at least, this time you look to have a little control but, like with games like Yakuza, I'm guessing there's possibly a little bit of a case of "the more you put in.." with this one. Sure, it's never going to be DMC3, GOW or Bayonetta in the fisticuffs stakes but you get a few options to mess about with and that should mean you can make it fun if you want. Adapt to the pace of it(though last time out being faster while blocking REALLY pissed me off!)and you should be able to put up with the fights rather than seeing them as a drag to be slogged through. Just try to do it all with a little style to entertain yo'self! Oh, BTW, I was also shocked that Mikel didn't point out the fact it looks abut on a par with GOW2 visually(PS2 version) and below it's HD makeover! Seriously, Ubi, and ugly PoP game? What are you thinking? Whatever, looks like the perfect rental friom where I'm sat-as a series fan it irks me to say that but rarely has a game seemed more l.ike gfreat fun to play through once but nowhere near demanding enough to live with.
  • speno93 - May 19, 2010 8:11 a.m.

    good review butr it feels like a 9 review and i think that's what the game should'vw got.
  • TheSuburbiaRuins - May 19, 2010 5:40 a.m.

    The combat is atrocious, all you do is press attack, attack, kick, roll, repeat.

Showing 1-20 of 32 comments

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