Ubisoft have said that the previous Prince of Persia with their arty style and new prince is not over, but for now there's a new/old kid back on the block and Prince of Persia: the Forgotten Sands sits firmly in the ballpark of the Sands of Time trilogy, attempting to bring a return to form for the acrobatic Persian prince.
The story is set during the time of the Sands of Time trilogy and the prince has been sent to visit his brother, when he arrives he discovers his kingdom under attack and soon he's off and running across the besieged palace in an attempt to help. It isn't long before the release of a powerful force contained deep in the ancient vaults of the palace, an evil that spawns countless sand monsters and releases the genie Ratash. There's more but the rest would be spoiler country. At least it isn't a movie tie-in.
The best way to describe the new Prince of Persia is that the puzzles have been cut down to a handful, the game provides an entry level for new fans to the franchise and satisfies, just about, the old fans of PoP back in the days of the Sands trilogy. There are numerous camera cues that give you a clear indication of where to go next and what to do, the acrobatics have been beefed up quite considerably and a few tricks have been applied from Assassin's Creed here. The controls have been fine tuned and there's more responsiveness to the character's movements. Acrobatically he's quite capable and the game revolves around ever increasing acrobatic challenges, your moves unlocking as you progress further down the linear path of the story.
The combat system is not as deep as previously seen; there are a few moves, a kick, a counter and so forth. You can evade and roll out of the way of a heavy blow and leap around a little jumping off the enemies' heads and causing them pointy harm. There are more enemies on screen than ever before and when they die they leave behind experience orbs, so you can power up the plethora of things on the upgrade screen, extra health, more time-rewind orbs and more damage to your sword, new powers in combat that allow for devastating special moves and so on.
Whilst there are a lot of enemies they seem to serve as ways for the prince to pump those abilities, and offer very little in the way of resistance once you realise that you can mash your attack button and spam the same attacks, with a few variances to disarm/eliminate the heavier shielded or armoured enemies. The game lets you jump off walls and things during combat but it doesn't feel as fluid as it could have been.
There's an auto-save checkpoint system, which is generous and that cuts down on early frustration. The prince can rewind time to give him a second chance in combat and in acrobatic moves, as well as early on, he gains access to a power that allows him to freeze water to make impromptu climbable walls, poles and so on.
Half of the fun and challenge of the game, since the puzzle element has been stripped back is navigating the environments, triggering the water freeze and combining the tricky acrobatics to get from A to B avoiding the obligatory death traps on the way. It works rather well too and provides a lot of challenging gameplay in that respect.
Beyond the acrobatic sequences, boss fights, furious melee attacks and exploration that's the gameplay in a nutshell and it's like putting on a new pair of shoes, they feel like shoes but they're a little tight to begin with. You soon ease into them and hopefully they don't rub your ankles. There's a lot to like in the Forgotten Sands to be honest but a lot of it has been done before. There's a time trial and combat survival mode to enjoy once you've completed the game, but this is padding really and only adds a bit of replay to the whole package.
They aren't stunning compared to the previous PoP game, they're serviceable and they look nice (later on). There's a lot of repeat looking locations in the game to begin with but the graphics are free from texture glitches and problems in that regard. There's a sense of scale and vertigo about many of the locations and you can't accuse the game of feeling less-epic than it should, it has some nice outdoor vistas and the special effects are fairly well done too. Light and shadow have been well implemented and the character models aren't too bad either. The prince seems to share a little likeness with his movie counterpart.
If you go into the game expecting serviceable graphics then you won't be disappointed at all. The various combat powers are big and bold enough to look good as well, they are satisfying to use in combat and the bigger creatures have an air of menace about them. There are some issues with the camera as it likes to swing around in combat and often presents an obscured view, this is a minor niggle and it can be quickly reset in most places without too much trouble.
The animations are fluid enough, there's nothing wrong with them, there's no miss-keyed animation frames and the combat moves look fluid enough. The prince's combat moves are good; the acrobatic animations are fine-tuned look realistic as the prince hurls himself into oblivion to catch on at the last moment elsewhere in the level.
There are a few physics tricks in the game, the blows from your weapons seem to have a physical effect rather than feeling like you're using a feather and the kick move sends waves of enemies sprawling over in a satisfying domino-like tumble. The combat system in Arkham Asylum that simulates physical hits would have been interesting to see applied to the Forgotten Sands. The special powers have a nice physical effect and the environments react to the various events as you might expect for a PoP game, crumbling platforms, and creaking walkways and so on.
The AI does a fairly decent job at offering a challenge, there's a pack AI that is relentless and seeks to surround you, drive you into making a mistake and then you have a more calculating AI that looks for a weakness. Each type of enemy uses a different attack pattern, however it's pretty predictable and you can usually work it out quickly enough to get through most combats unscathed.
The sound design is good, the weapons clash together nicely and there's a lot of cool spot effects that add to the atmosphere.
A good quality score backs the game and evokes the Persian feel as well as working well with the on-screen acrobatics, exploration and combat.
The prince is as cocky and whiny as ever, there are some good performances and even though his one-liners soon get tiresome, the prince's actor does a good job along with the rest of the cast, especially the genie who does sound suitably 'out of this world'. The dialogue and script itself is fairly predictable along with the story. But it's to be expected with this kind of game; it's shamelessly Sinbad and evokes just the right kind of atmosphere.
The Sands of Time...
It's not quite the stunning return to form that we expected, it's serviceable and provides a welcome if vanilla return to the Sands of Time story. It will be interesting to see what Ubisoft has in store for our favourite prince in the next game, if there is a next game and I'm still curious as to our new prince from the previous reboot.
Only the Sands of Time will tell...