A forgettable romp
The Forgotten Sands‘ story sees the Prince return to his brother Malik’s kingdom to pay him a friendly visit. Though, unsurprisingly for the unfortunate Prince, the kingdom is under siege from a vast army hell-bent on its destruction. Malik’s plan to relinquish this new threat is to awaken a mystical army he has sealed in his palace, convinced the army will help him defeat his foes rather than oppose him. Needless to say, Malik is off the mark and the awakened army curses the land, turning everyone but Malik and the Prince into sand and unleashing a deadly swarm of sand monsters upon the kingdom. The rest of the game’s eight hours follows the two brothers as they attempt to stop this horrifying threat in the most predictable of manners. The narrative does a decent job propelling the adventure forward, but with only four characters the story is fairly slim and there’s also a big, missed opportunity to tie The Sands of Time and Warrior Within together. It feels disconnected from the trilogy, and without a constant female companion, the Prince loses some of his wit and charm, even if the original voice actor returns.
In contrast, the basic platforming fits snugly into the trilogy’s blanket with myriad wallrunning, shimmying, leaps of faith and pole swinging. Anyone who’s ever played a Prince of Persia game before will find immediate comfort in the familiarity. In fact, it sticks so closely to the series’ blueprint that the camera will pan around each new area you enter, revealing the course through each of the intricately designed levels. However, The Forgotten Sands is less about plotting your course through each acrobatic obstacle and more about performing the requisite moves. The platforming feels a lot faster as a result, though it does remove some of the complexities of working out each navigational puzzle. But there’s reasoning behind the change in the form of the Prince’s multitude of new abilities; from solidifying streams of water, to dashing in mid-air, and creating solid surfaces out of nothing. Each ability is effortlessly implemented into the platforming to give it a fresh new look as you juggle each ability to progress through the surplus of obstacles. The Forgotten Sands is at its best when you’re switching from one ability to the next, solidifying and wallrunning across a waterfall before dashing across a large gap and landing on a previously non-existent platform. It’s all very deliberate and linear, but there are definite thrills to be had and it can get fairly tricky later on – something 2008’s Prince of Persia never did.
Disappointingly, however, the changes aren’t always enough to shake that overwhelming sense of familiarity. After three Prince of Persia games you know what to expect here, so it feels like a step back for the series rather than the type of progression a sequel to 2008’s title may have offered. It’s still enjoyable, but those last few hours do get fairly monotonous, and the laboured combat certainly doesn’t help matters. The amount of enemies on screen at any one time is impressive - with fifty or so usually littering the battlefield - but with only a select few enemy designs they eventually outstay their welcome, especially when the primary means of defeating them is by hammering on one button over and over again. You can throw in a couple of dodges and kicks, but ultimately the combat boils down to a severe case of tedious button mashing. Elemental attacks shake things up a bit, but until you’ve upgraded them fully using the skill tree, they’re largely unspectacular, doing little to unsettle the Prince’s slow and samey attacks. Even the boss battles, that were so prominent and enjoyable in 2008’s effort, are ankle mashers here as you continually bash at your sizeable opponents gargantuan feet. When the same bosses appear over a dozen times, it only compounds the misery.
Visually, The Forgotten Sands doesn’t stand up to most modern releases. The environments could do with more detailed textures, and there’s not a ton of variety in the locations with most areas of the palace looking identical besides from a few minor palette changes. The Prince himself, has an odd character design that’s hard to adjust to, especially with his lion-esque face, and there are a few constant glitches that disrupt the game’s graphical fidelity and certain areas of the gameplay, such as boss characters becoming stuck behind invisible walls. These are possibly tell-tale signs of a game rushed through development to coincide with the movies release, and that’s probably the only reason The Forgotten Sands exists.
It may not be a movie tie-in but brand synergy is definitely the aim here. As a result, Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands is a decent entry in the series but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. If you’re gagging for another dose of the Prince’s acrobat prowess then there’s an enjoyable, yet unspectacular, platforming aspect here with some cool ideas. It’s just disrupted by some tedious combat and shaky presentation that do little to alleviate the familiarity of a Sands of Time “side story”.