Ubisoft's Prince of Persia series is back this week with Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands. Expanding upon the original Sands of Time Trilogy, The Forgotten Sands is an all new adventure in Persia featuring the same acrobatic jumping and combat that gamers have come to know and love. Is this new adventure in Persia worth your time? Indeed it is, let's find out why.
Return To Persia
The premise in this newest adventure has players controlling The Prince in an attempt to restore peace to his brother's kingdom. When The Prince arrives at the outset of the game, he finds his brother's kingdom under heavy attack by thousands of invaders. The opening half hour of play casually introduces players to the mechanics of what Prince of Persia games are made of -- beautiful, daring, acrobatic platforming and jumping puzzles meshed with fast paced and stylistic melee combat.
Numerous, brief cutscenes and narration from The Prince himself in-game keep the player attuned to the story. At first, your goal is to help your brother Malik repel the invaders, but, when Malik decides to unleash the army of King Solomon, things really start to get nasty. Roughly 90% of the campaign, which took me just under nine hours to complete on Normal, is about The Prince dealing with the fallout of Malik's decision.
You'll lead The Prince through over a dozen areas within the expansive kingdom, including the Throne Room, the Aqueducts, and through parts of the hidden city of Djinn. A mystical woman from Djinn helps The Prince from the start of the adventure by giving him advice and powers -- including the ability to rewind time, freeze water, and unveil her hidden memories. The Prince can also purchase four powers in the Upgrade Menu to further help his cause. These powers share the same energy meter as your time ability, so there is a balance system in there to keep you from abusing the abilities too much. I'll elaborate on the powers and upgrades a bit more later.
The flow and balance of the game is roughly 60% platforming or jumping puzzles, and 40% combat, a balance I think most gamers will find nearly perfect. To be sure, there are some trap sequences and puzzle sequences mixed in too. The trap 'runs,' if you will, are kind of ridiculous from an architectural standpoint, but you won't have a lot of time to think about that while you're timing your jumps and rolls to get through the moving spike traps. The puzzles are all about turning a crank or multiple cranks to create a new path for The Prince to go -- I found them a little forced and boring. Even God of War III couldn't break away from these silly 'turn the crank' puzzles, something I think more third person action adventure titles need to get away from. Persia has at least a half dozen, but it doesn't disrupt the flow of the game too much.
The Prince knows all about flow. He moves like water and is even able to make streams of water freeze, a huge part of the jumping puzzles in this game. To freeze water, you have to hold down LT, and there is a limit to how long you can hold LT without letting up for a few seconds to refill your meter. I don't know if water freezing was a part of the previous Persia titles or not, but it works really well here. It also brings to light how ridiculous the plumbing systems are in Malik's kingdom, but nevermind that. The Prince can freeze vertical streams of water to use like a pillar, horizontal streams to swing off of, and vertical sheets of water are used to create temporary solid walls to bounce off of (or run up).
The combination of these makes for some neat puzzles too. In several instances, you have to quickly time your hold and release of LT. For example, when The Prince is using a horizontal stream to swing off of, but faces a vertical sheet of water in front of him, you have to release LT as soon as you jump to be able to leap through the water, otherwise you will smack into it like a wall. I probably could have explained that better, but you get the idea -- it's a great mechanic for the game.
Even if you haven't played the Persia games to this point, you probably already know about the time rewind ability that allows The Prince to rewind the flow of time. This isn't used much at all in combat, although it can be if you desire, but you can imagine how helpful it is during jumping sequences or during trap runs. It literally allows you to undo a death as long as you have enough energy to rewind and you press the button (RB) quick enough. An on screen prompt appears too, so you should always have enough time to rewind if you desire. Rewinding in the middle of water puzzles can be tricky though, and this comes especially apparent during The Final Climb stage right at the end of the game. I spent the better part of an hour during this one area and died more times there than the rest of my entire adventure.
The difficulty I encountered with the tricky puzzles in The Final Climb aren't typical of what you see in the rest of the game. Truthfully, the game is rather easy both in terms of figuring out and executing the jumps and in combat. With the jumps, there is only ever one right path to take, and you'll get used to the methods available to you early on in the game and these work throughout. The combat, even when you're faced with twenty simultaneous enemies, is never that hard. The bigger, heavily armored enemies that charge like bulls can make things a bit tough, but dealing with the regular three or four types of enemies is easy. The Prince's ability to kick enemies back, or even over ledges and edges if they're close to one, coupled with the fast sword attacks makes you nearly invincible against your slumbering foes. Additionally, you can execute heavy attacks by simply holding X (which when tapped is light attack). And while the combat may not be that challenging, I have to admit it's still fun, especially after you get an upgraded sword late in the game that can slash through enemies with just a single hit.
Getting back briefly to the powers and upgrades that The Forgotten Sands offers. Players earn XP by defeating enemies and by finding (and destroying) hidden statues. XP is solely used for purchasing upgrades. Players have the choice between a handful of upgrades including increasing your health, number of energy slots, length of time you can rewind, how long you can freeze water, and the strength of your light and heavy attacks. You can also upgrade the damage dealt by your kicks and aerial attacks.
Four powers are available too, and they can be upgraded up to three times. These include the very useful Stone Armor, Fire Trail, Ice Blast, and Whirlwind. Whirlwind is used to push enemies off of you, but I rarely used it because The Prince is agile enough that it was easy to get away from swarms of enemies. The Fire Trail power is pretty cool; it literally creates a trail of fire behind The Prince as he moves, and any enemy that touches it gets lit up. Ice Blast creates directed blasts of ice in the direction The Prince swings his sword. By far the most useful of these is Stone Armor, which makes The Prince invincible for a period of time -- great for tougher combat situations and trap runs. The Powers are a nice touch but they aren't as useful as you might think.
Beyond the Campaign, Presentation
So when you've worked your way through the campaign, what's left? Well, with U-Play players can unlock Enzio from Assassins Creed to play as and you can unlock the Time Trial mode of the Enemy Tides Challenge. The normal Enemy Tides Challenge mode is actually really basic and short -- you're challenged to eight simple waves of enemies and the goal is to get the best time. There are no other variations to this and it only took me six and a half minutes to run through -- I really don't see myself going back to it. As for the campaign, it was fun enough that I could see playing through it a second
time later this year as time allows.
What about the presentation? Well, it's very good overall. The graphics are crisp and colorful, and the animation is smooth. I didn't experience any notable framerate problems, but I did have some minor clipping at times. I was actually able to re-create a gaming-ending clipping problem during The Final Climb in which The Prince's head got stuck in the ceiling. The camera, and The Prince for that matter, were literally stuck, forcing a reload of the last checkpoint. Thankfully, checkpoints are nicely scattered throughout and load times are nearly instant. And while there are over a dozen levels or stages, you can't help but notice that a lot of textures and level design elements are re-used. That's not a huge deal, but you notice it and I think that's part of what keeps the visual presentation of Persia from reaching the proverbial 'next level.'
As for the in game audio, the soundtrack was my favorite part. The effects were fine, but I wasn't a fan of The Prince's voice -- but my disappointment in him may have been as much because of his dialogue as to the sound of his voice. To be sure, this Prince wasn't as cool or likeable as the one from the Prince of Persia (2008). Another point to add is that you can easily skip cutscenes, very handy for those particular checkpoints that want to put you through the same cutscene over and over.
In the end, Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands is fun to play through, but it's far from the most interesting or deep third person title out there. I'd go as far as to say it's rather shallow comparatively, but, I can't deny how fun it was to play through.