Reviewed: June 11, 2010
Released: May 18, 2010
I’ve been a huge fan of the Prince of Persia series dating all the way back to the original PC side-scroller from Broderbund, and you can be sure I was the first person to download that classic when it made its way to XBLA a few years ago in a stunning HD remake. I still adore that game and play it at least once a year – it is a timeless classic.|
Of course, during the past 15 years the Prince made the obvious leap to 3D on PC and next-gen consoles, and while I have loved each and every installment – some more than others – nothing has truly captured the magic and the essence of the Prince of Persia saga until today. Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands is without a doubt the finest game in the modern series since the Prince started dabbling with time manipulation in the 2003 Sands of Time.
I have to admit that after the 2008 cel-shaded reboot of the franchise I was ready to give up on the Prince and any future adventures he might have, but Ubisoft Montreal has gone back to the roots of the franchise and re-imagined and rebuilt the gameplay from the ground up. Everything from the eloquent and fluid combat system to the elaborate jumping and acrobatic puzzles and especially the new elemental powers – and yes, a bit of time reversal – all combine to make this an action-packed gaming event that you will probably want to play more than once.
In this particular adventure the Prince and his brother, Malik are trying to defend against a massive invading army. They descend to the depths of an ancient treasure vault and release the Forgotten Sands, an evil power that turns every grain of sand into a deadly skeleton warrior, and there is a LOT of sand in Persia. The very nature of the story limits the Prince’s adventures to the palace and a few surrounding areas like the gardens, temples, towers, and subterranean vaults.
While not as visually diverse as the open-world exploration of the last Prince of Persia game, this latest adventure flows with a bit more logic, both in story and in architecture. As you make your way through the story you will travel to very specific locations of the city, each full of deadly monsters, traps, and dizzying acrobatic puzzles that will have you running, leaping, and swinging around the city like a seasoned gymnast.
During your journey you will take the occasional side trip to the magical realm of the Djinn (which also serves as your title screen and menu) where you will receive some guidance and some most useful magical abilities from Queen Razia. You will be granted the Power of Time, which allows the Prince to reverse time (and gameplay events) in order to avoid an untimely death due to a fall or lucky hit by an enemy in combat. As long as you have magical energy you can keep reversing time, but if you run out of the blue stuff you will die and have to restart from one of the game’s many checkpoints.
The Power of Flow is easily my favorite new ability in the game and allows the Prince to turn liquid in ice, and for being in the middle of the desert there is a surprisingly large amount of water and citywide plumbing integrated into the architecture. Horizontal spouts can be frozen and used as trapeze poles and vertical columns of water can be scaled like any stone pillar. The trick here is that you can only keep the water frozen for a limited amount of time so you must execute your jumps and reach a non-water surface before the timer runs out and the water starts flowing again.
The water puzzles get devilishly clever in the second half of the game and downright evil at the end. You’ll be freezing and unfreezing water in rapid fire succession, wall rebounding up two sheets of ice then unfreezing so you can pass through a wall of liquid to complete the sequence, and all sorts of other challenging puzzles that defy my attempts to describe them. One final room, The Climb, is your final exam of all skills learned previously in the game and will test your reflexes and your patience.
Power of Flight allows the Prince to jump then press a button to dash across open expanses to slam into an enemy, usually resulting in a one-hit kill. There are plenty of ledge-jumping puzzles that combine this power as well as several puzzles that require you to jump and dash between lengthy sequences of flying bird-like creatures, not unlike a certain God of War we all know.
And finally, you have the Power of Memory. This allows you to summon an ancient piece of architecture back into existence, but the trick is that only one shimmering piece of the environment can be summoned at any one time, so when you are standing on a piece you just made solid and need to jump to another piece you have to trigger the recall in mid-jump. It can get quite complex, especially when you start combining all of these powers into a single lengthy sequence of jumps, wall runs, and slides, and throw in a few rolling saw blades or swinging spiked logs or wall darts.
The combat system is a simple affair with kick, attack, and jump that can be combined into various combos such as the air strike. The standard attack can be held down for a powerful attack; useful against medium bosses. Kicking over a cluster of enemies can be as rewarding as triggering a stream of dominoes, especially when you send them flying off a high ledge to their doom. There are also some cinematic slow-motion finishing moves that never get old.
Killing off the spawn of the Forgotten Sands will earn you valuable XP that you can spend in the Abilities screen to boost health and magic meters or add magical attacks such as Ice Blast, Whirlwind, Trail of Flame, or Stone Armor. All of these spells can be leveled up several times and believe me, nothing is more impressive than a whirlwind at maximum power. Each new ability is based on previous choices allowing you to create your own unique upgrade path through the game, but it will likely take two passes through the game before you have the entire Abilities board filled in.
Presentation is topnotch with some superior graphics, both in the detailed and exotic environments and special effects as well as the character art and animation. The level of detail on Malik’s armor or the beautiful dress on Razia is crazy and the animations for the Prince are silky smooth and seamlessly flow into one another no matter how insane the action gets. You have minimal camera control but the virtual director does a great job of capturing all the exciting action from the best possible angles, often adding to the intensity. The Prince mirrored my own thoughts on the production when he remarked, "Who builds these things?" after one particularly stunning reveal.
The music is also perfect with all of the Persian flair we’ve come to expect from the series with an exciting and energetic score that sets the perfect mood for danger and adventure. Sound effects are realistic and easily recognizable. You’ll know what traps are around the corner before you even see them. And the voice acting stands out as some of the best I’ve heard in a game this year. The Prince is excellent, both in his interaction with other characters and his own internal musings, and Malik is noble, even when he is being corrupted, and Razia sounds eternally wise.
Forgotten Sands is a respectable 8-12 hours in length depending on how good you are at fighting and jumping puzzles. There is also a fetch quest of 21 sarcophagi that will require a strategy guide or supernatural awareness of the levels. My one and only complaint is that the game has no chapters and no way to revisit past areas without restarting the entire game. At least you get to keep your former Ability upgrades for future replays, which makes additional play-throughs easier and faster, but you’ll have to find and smash all the sarcophagi in a single pass, even if it means finding old ones over again. The Achievements are challenging and surprisingly creative and will also take multiple passes through the game to earn them all.
The Prince is back and better than ever, and Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands is the game I’ve been waiting for since the first 3D adventure back in 2003. The mix of action, combat, and acrobatics is unparalleled by any other game or franchise today. With an interesting story and unique villains and ancient lore, you will be hopelessly captivated from start to finish each and every time you play this game.