Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands
Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands is such a sad game. It isn’t really that bad, and it aims high, but it just isn’t that good. After a failed reboot, the developers sought to resurrect the franchise by bringing it back to its roots. And though it stays true to form and feels just like Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, it just isn’t a whole lot of fun to play. Despite high production values, it doesn’t seem like a whole lot of thought went into the game’s design, leaving behind a mindless and monotonous adventure that players, even franchise fans, can feel comfortable ignoring.
Once again, we assume the role of a time-controlling Arabian prince. In this adventure, our hero sets out to visit his brother Malik, only to find his brother’s kingdom is being sacked. Malik, desperate to save his people from annihilation, unleashes a sand army that had been locked away for millennia. Once released, it becomes clear quite quickly that neither Malik nor his gymnastically adept brother is capable of controlling the army when the sand people start killing the few remaining people left alive. From then on, it’s up to the Prince to find a way to stop this ancient evil once again.
Though released at around the same time as the mediocre Prince of Persia film, the two thankfully aren’t tied together. Even still, though marginally better, the lack of a direct tie-in doesn’t help the game all that much. Classic Prince of Persia gameplay returns to the entry, offering occasionally clever, mostly basic, platforming to keep the player entertained in-between fights against dozens of sand soldiers and an occasional boss here and there. And it almost goes without saying, but players will still have to employ Prince of Persia’s classic time mechanics – the ability to pause and rewind the action on screen.
Part of what I think made the previous Prince of Persia games so enjoyable was that, while the platforming was often very challenging, it was because it required the player to actually think about how to approach each segment. Sadly, the “ah hah!” euphoria rarely hits in Forgotten Sands. The level design is incredibly straight-forward and basic, with the exception of a handful of challenging, interesting segments dotted over the 7 hour experience. One such level, “The Final Climb,” requires absolute precision and technique, forcing players to freeze time, flip and leap across massive chasms under tight time restraints. I failed – quite a bit – but it felt great when I finally reached the top.
Unfortunately, few levels match this. Most of the time, you’ll follow a fairly obvious path, even on the higher difficultly levels where some more obstacles are put in your way. There was also a more pressing matter, at least for me – there’s a general purposelessness to the game world as a whole. There’s very little continuity in terms of the world’s design. You’ll have little idea of why you’re going to the next place other than you haven’t been there yet. And several set pieces just don’t even make any sense.
The stage “The Works” is a prime example of this. It offers some generally interesting platforming, requiring players to navigate three challenging levels as they work their way to the top of the structure. The name implies that it is some sort of forge, and the sheer size of the structure, combined with massive gears the player has to navigate over and through, imply that it produces something very large indeed. But we don’t see what it creates or how it creates anything – it is just a jumble of machinery and flooring and circular saws following tracks in the wall and nothing more. This level in another game would be fine if the creators weren’t trying to build a cohesive world that we’re to imagine is a Persian kingdom. As it is, this and several other stages in Forgotten Sands just don’t make sense within the greater game world and pull the player out of the experience.
When players aren’t navigating treacherous platforms, they’re engaged in frequent combat. At times, you’ll square off against upwards of fifty enemies at once with your scimitar and some magical abilities. The game feels at time a bit too much like Dynasty Warriors, forcing players to mash mash mash on one button while sometimes rolling out of the way (not often). The best battles should be against the larger enemies that the sand army throws at you, but sadly, these are pretty weak as well. The most massive enemy, armed with a huge sword and with legs as thick as tree chunks, appears intimidating until players realize they can stand under his feet and hack away without harm. The best Forgotten Sands ever challenges players with is wave after wave of enemies, which quickly grows old.
Despite absolutely striking graphics, Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands just isn’t very much fun. The platforming segments don’t present much of a challenge and the combat doesn’t either. If the Prince of Persia series is ever to be resurrected, the developers should start by looking at the developments that other games in this genre have made. Uncharted provided players with challenging platforming across a coherent game world. God of War III gave us challenging, epic hack-and-slash gameplay that made us forget that we were pounding the same buttons over and over again. Prince of Persia is a great series with a lot of potential, but the developers just didn’t hit the mark with this entry.