Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Game Review: Prince of Persia: the Forgotten Sands

Having been a huge fan of the Prince of Persia series on the last generation of consoles (in my mind, one of the finest trilogies available for the xbox/PS2), I was really looking forward to Ubisoft's latest addition to the 'Sands of Time' story, which places itself between 'Sands of Time' and 'Warrior Within'. After the disappointment of Prince of Persia 2008, I was eager for the series to return to its roots and deliver an magical experience of fun combat and inventive platforming puzzles. What is it they say about being careful what you wish for?

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands plays out very similarly to its predecessors, primarily consisting of exploration and puzzle platforming (the highlight of the series in my opinion), combat and, as always in this sort of third-person adventure game, the occasional puzzle. I'll never quite understand why games developers feel the need to make gamers jump through these quasi-intellectual hoops every so often. I understand the need to create variation and challenge the mind as well as the reflexes, but when the puzzles are as simple as 'turn crank until platform A and B are aligned' it seems more of a chore than a game. In any case, these moments only occur every so often.

The combat is simple, with many of the options available to you in the previous games removed. Gone are the wall attacks and counters from Sands of Time, exiled is the multi-faceted 'free-form' fighting system of Warrior Within, banished are the speed kills of Two Thrones. Instead, a simple combat system is implemented, with the only options being sword or kick attacks. You can still jump on enemies to execute acrobatic aerial attacks, different magic spells are available and there are context sensitive moves that automatically occur if you attack an enemy close to a wall or ledge, but combat still feels limited, especially compared to the earlier entries in the series. Ubisoft seem to instead put the emphasis on the amount of enemies you fight at once, which at times can certainly be impressive, but what's the point in allowing the player to fight dozens of enemies at once, if it's no fun to do so?

While you may think at this point I absolutely hated the game, I haven't covered the most important aspect of the game yet: The platforming. As ever, the style of puzzle platforming that the Prince of Persia innovated is present and as strong as ever, with beautiful environments hiding intricate and enjoyable free-running sequences that trump anything in Prince of Persia 2008. The Prince's new ability to control the elements (well, just water really) creates some interesting and thrilling situations, forcing the player to freeze and unfreeze water spouts and waterfalls in mid air. My only concern is that for a game that uses water so often, the water effects are pretty dire. There are no real-time water physics, and water seems to appear and disappear in mid air (also, for a desert palace, they seem to waste an awful lot of water!).

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands does indeed return to the series roots, but almost to a fault. Many of the environments are directly lifted from scenes of its predecessors (the castle siege, the hanging gardens), the graphics do not seem next-gen and I often felt that this game could run on an original xbox, and many of the features that made the series great have been removed (the immersive narration was a feature I particularly missed). It is an enjoyable game, but apart from a spectacular set-piece towards the end, falls sort of my own high expectations. In short, it is a game with glimpses of brilliance and worth at least one playthrough to those interested in filling the gaps in the Prince's story. I'll give it 7 sand dunes out of 10.


CeX Rathbone Place, London

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