|05-25-2010, 06:41 AM||#1|
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[360/PC] Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands Review
Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands Review
Title - Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands
Platform - 360*, PS3, PC. Different versions available for DS, Wii and PSP.
Developer - Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher - Ubisoft
ESRB Rating - T (Teen)
MSRP - $59.99
Editor - Michael "DoctorFinger" Chauvet
The Forgotten Sands is what the English majors call an "interquel." Set in the multi-year gap between the original Sands of Time and it's sequel, The Warrior Within, you play The Prince (as always, no further name is given). You're visiting your brother Malik just as the unnamed Middle Eastern kingdom he rules is being invaded. When all seems lost, your brother tries to awaken the "Army of Solomon", a magical widget which is supposed to summon an unstoppable army. Of course it ends up summoning an unstoppable army of sand monsters and their Djinn master. The Prince and his brother end up each holding half of the key needed to re-imprison the monsters, but through a series of increasingly contrived events the two can never get closer than speaking distance. Seriously, there are at least a dozen incidents where you and Malik are feet apart, but some crumbling edifice or another keeps you apart. You're eventually aided by the Razia, a good Djinn determined to help the Prince rescue his brother's land.
I could do that, I just choose not to
Gameplay is best described as acrobatic action platforming. The Prince can run across walls, swing from poles, shimmy up columns and scoot across ledges. Most of the game is spent using this agility to navigate a series of increasingly complex and difficult puzzles. You enter a room, see a doorway/switch/lever you have to reach, and attempt to discern the best way to get there or you're forced to run a corridor loaded with moving deathtraps. The acrobatic puzzles are the best part of the game. They start out fairly easy, but the difficulty ramps up sharply after a while. About an hour into the game, you once again gain a set of time-based powers. First among these powers is "Rewind." Tap the right bumper and time itself will roll backwards, allowing you to avoid myriad grizzly fates. As you progress you'll gain more powers. "Flow" which lets you turn water sold, allowing you to form waterspouts into pillars and waterfalls into solid walls. "Flight" lets you rocket ahead into an enemy. "Revert" lets you return specific sections of the level to their former, non-destroyed glory. Once you start getting the powers the fun factor does increase, and The Forgotten Sands is at its very best when you're using all the powers to traverse a particularly hairy section of terrain. But things bog down when doing some of the numerous other puzzles. Most of these involve a series of cranks which have to be turned in exactly the right order to complete a path. After practically flying through the air, standing there flipping switches isn't enjoyable.
The sense of speed and agility felt in earlier installments of the series is still present, but it doesn't feel as smooth or pervasive. It doesn't help that the camera seems ill suited to the tight spaces you spend so much time traversing. A game so reliant on split second timing needs a smarter and more responsive camera. The relative dearth of magic power in the game adds to the frustration. A game based on such timing needs some sort of safety net, be it Elika's insta-respawn in the reboot or the time rewind function here. However you never seem to have enough magic power to use the rewind function in the tough puzzle spots. Magic should be a rare commodity in the combat portion of the game, but throw me a freaking bone here, Ubisoft! I shouldn't have to run through some of the longest, most complex puzzles in the game mistakes-free because I used magic in the battle directly preceding. I spent the better part of an hour and a half stuck on three separate sections of particularly tough platforming, not because they were that difficult, but because the lack of magic power forced me to run them completely error free. Not fun.
Get used to fighting skeletons, because you'll be fighting a lot of them.
Combat also fails to excite. Jumping, dodging, slashing and kicking are mapped to the face buttons. You can do a pair of leaping strikes which do more damage, but for the most part the base combat is extremely repetitive. Interesting things from previous iterations of the series like complex combos, flowing combat and stealth kills are all gone. As you level up you gain access to a quartet of magic attacks which can be leveled up, but only the Whirlwind attack - which knocks down any regular enemy near you - is of any real use. It doesn't help that there are only about half a dozen normal enemies. After about 20% of the game you've seen just about every enemy, the only thing that changes as you progress are the sheer numbers.
Camera issues also pop up frequently in combat, with changes of perspective causing you to lose track of your character and the camera occasionally embedding itself in walls to completely obstruct your view. By the end you're regularly fighting 50 enemies at once, but even then it's not much of a challenge. Foremost among the combat system's sins are the bosses. All three of them. One mini-boss you'll fight roughly every 30 minutes, a big boss you'll fight every hour or so, and the end boss. After the first encounter the bosses will be accompanied by varying amounts of cannon fodder foes, and sometimes you'll fight two of the mini-bosses at once. That's it. The boss you fight just before the end is substantively the same as the boss you first fight about 4 hours into the game. Things do improve for the better with the final boss, but that encounter still isn't memorable or for that matter challenging. But wait, at one point in the middle of the game you'll actually use your acrobatics in a boss battle...or so you think. Soon you realize that it's just another way to break up the same boss fight you'll have 5 other times in the game.
For a kingdom set in a desert, there sure are a lot of conveniently placed water spouts for me to magically traverse
The only major bright spot comes at the very end of the game. The last 15-20 minutes includes some truly great gameplay and the only stand out visuals in the game. A long sequence of platform puzzles requiring split second timing almost makes you feel like you need a third hand, but it never veers into frustration. If the other 95% of the game had even a sliver of the inspiration found at the end, The Forgotten Sands would be a real gem.
Playing this game in a vacuum, it may seem like a fun ride, and if you've never played one of the modern PoP games it can be enjoyable. But taken in the context of the games preceding it, The Forgotten Sands fails on just about every level. 2008's rebooted Prince of Persia (my review of which can be read here) had this wonderful aesthetic about it: pseudo-cel shaded graphics, bright colors and an almost universal sense of flowing motion. The Forgotten Sands has no unique style whatsoever. Environments just look like hi-res ports from 2003's Sands of Time. Colors range from brown to tan to gray, with few exceptions. Structures all look recognizably Middle Eastern in design, but set around these giant clockwork mechanisms. But the buildings you see in the first few minutes of the game are almost identical to the ones in the closing moments and every other point in between. The dream-like dimension Razia inhabits has more color, but it's static and unchanging throughout. Latter games in the Sands trilogy introduced more complex and compelling combat systems. They're ditched here for a mediocre leveling system, with a few spells thrown in. Where combat in previous games was strategic, here it almost always devolves into a button-mashing morass. Compelling characters and decent story are replaced by...well not much. The Prince is the only character given more than a few lines, and even the Big Bad is less a character than just an evil force of nature. Only three characters get spoken lines: the Prince, his brother Malik and the good Djinn Razia.
The power of wind
The Forgotten Sands takes every advance, innovation and creative choice made in the last three Prince of Persia games, and promptly forgets them. They're replaced with bland, uninspired and dull choices. It's not really bad - the platforming can be lots of fun later in the game, and the last level is a blast - but if you've played and enjoyed any of the modern Prince of Persia games then you'll notice the lack. If you haven't played any of them, well they're likely cheaper than this lazy attempt to cash in on the movie.
Score: (3 out of 5 Cogs)
Michael says, "A competent, but thoroughly average entry in the series. An attempt to cash in on the big budget movie coming later this month, redeemed only slightly by an awesome final few minutes."
* Review based on Xbox 360 version of the game, which is substantively identical to the Playstation 3 and Windows versions of the game. The versions available for the Wii, DS and PSP differ significantly, and this review is not meant to cover those versions.
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