Reviews// Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands

Posted 21 May 2010 17:32 by
The Prince of Persia series is, I think, the video game property that has had most re-imaginings and reboots of any game in history. If you know better, please let us know by email or in the forums. But in the lack of any information to the contrary, this is the premise I am positing, and I'm going to let it sit and fester for a while.

Of course, originating as it did as a 2D platformer in 1989, the game has had longer than most to go through these multifarious versions. But in reality, it is the last seven years, since the first serious 3D re-boot on the PS2, that the real action has taken place.

And now, the venerable series delivers yet another body swerve, as Ubisoft monkeys with the magic once more to try and deliver the right mix to deliver those all important killer sales figures. This is a wonderful example of free market economics in full unadulterated flow.

The PoP series is well known enough to have brand recognition, but has changed often and sufficiently enough to leave users unsure of whether they will love (and therefore buy) the next version. It is a series with followers rather than adherents. So each game has to prove itself anew. And to be brutally honest, the last game: 2008's cel-shaded reboot, received a mixed critical reception (5/10 from the ever-sniffy Edge, but 9.3/10 of the always effusive IGN) and only performed adequately at the cash registers.

The 2008 iteration was the first on the current generation of gaming platforms, and displayed a marked change in gameplay and graphical style. For the first time, a PoP game featured an open world, non-linear environment, which I liked in principle, but at least occasionally found frustrating in practice. An alluringly-attired secondary AI-controlled character, Elika, was introduced. She would save the Prince's ass every time he plunged into danger. This enabled the game to feature some more trial-and-error style gameplay, which was not to the liking of some players.

Overall, PoP2008 felt like a lighter, more casual game aimed maybe at a younger audience. It was beautiful, and it was fun, but it was also a little repetitious. One of the pillars of the PoP series is the fluid and acrobatic way in which the eponymous protagonist traverses the playfield. In POP2008, this was aided (or abetted, depending on your perspective) by the use of his gauntlet, that he raked along the wall to give dynamic legitimacy to his acrobatic wall running capability. It was a graphical niceness, but it somehow seemed to impede his progress, and the motion did not feel as silky-smooth and intuitive as this player would have liked.

So Ubisoft have decided to retrace their steps with Forgotten Sands, and make it echo the Sands of Time in more than just name (and maybe, just maybe, make it look a bit more like the upcoming movie). The graphics and the gameplay take a step back to the now "classic" PS2/Xbox series, though it's clearly all the more impressive for being a generation more evolved. And the game does look well. Sure the style is less distinctive than PoP2008's graphically impressive flat shaded, outlined world, but it is no less impressive.

In this game - which takes place in the interstice between Sands of Time and Warrior Within - the Prince, who is a descendant of Solomon (he of the wisdom mines), travels to see his brother, Malik, whose palace is under siege from a great army, intent on controlling another mythical and mystical army that lies buried within the palace. Although the palace's defences are great, the marauding forces are greater still and the palace falls. As it does, the Prince races against time to try and reunite with his brother, who has raised the sand warriors.
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