Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands
If You Were to go by the traditional representation of a Middle Eastern prince, our acrobatic hero would have a vast beard, a massive harem of dusky young maidens and the finest jewels, palaces and riches available.
Instead, our favourite Persian (besides Zarathustra) lives an essentially nomadic existence, with only a horse and a sword for company. And just like Jessica Fletcher, wherever he goes, disaster, perturbation and despair are only seconds behind him, usually in the form of some kind of ancient curse.
Our Prince is on his way to visit his elder brother Malik, who he discovers is being besieged in his ludicrously oversized palace city. The battle is going badly and Malik is getting desperate, and seeks the assistance of a mystical armed forced sealed deep in the bowels of his citadel. See if you can guess what happens next. These events fit in the period between Sands of Time and Warrior Within, acting as if the last game didn't exist. In practice this means playing r Forgotten Sands is like playing a slicker Sands of Time.
In many ways, this is a great thing. The Sands trilogy is fondly remembered, so giving the fans what they want is a sensible thing to do. It's been tried, tested and found to succeed so after the relatively experimental "you can't die" approach of the last Prince of Persia, it's good to see a return to classic roots for the series. Time can be rewound and the tension of actually being allowed to fail has returned. Something that was missing from Prince of Persia, where your female ally would save you every time you screwed up a jump.
While what worked in 2003 still works now, having no actual progression, bar the ability to freeze water a bit and a more exciting combat system, isn't really good enough.
Annoyingly, things that did work well in 2009's Prince of Persia have been stripped out like using a companion's attacks to assist you in combat or in making huge jumps, and the hub-based mission structure.
Sands Of Time 1.5
The Forgotten Sands still presents you with increasingly big rooms with conveniently placed levers, poles and columns to jump between and, while the action is exceptionally fluid, you'll be intimately familiar with the concept of deja vu after only a few hours of play. Admittedly, it's inherently difficult to change such a successful concept without losing something, but to basically run away screaming from evolution like this is a bad sign for the future. Game development should be about evolution and pushing boundaries, not just about playing it safe and chasing the easy dollar, pound or euro.
Things aren't all the same, though Combat has been improved since Sands of Time, with a Batman: Arkham Asylum-style setup where huge numbers of enemies advance slowly forwards, while you try to chain together a fluid series of attacks, dodges and special moves (see Powers That Be). This works well, with huge swarms of skeletons being despatched with swift sword strokes and acrobatics, but it suffers from the same problems that afflicted Rocksteady's release. You still get locked into animations too often, causing you to take unnecessary damage, and sometimes things can degenerate into farce as you roll around frantically while your health recharges. There are also too many of the boring big brute enemies that rush you with a charge attack, smash their heads against walls, causing them to remain concussed just long enough for you to hack at them from behind a bit. Word to any game developer out there - these are overused: please stop cramming them into your games.
None of these points stop Forgotten Sands being a fine game. It's an unapologetic remake of Sands of Time, a back-to-basics action/platform game that will delight any who play it. It's just not original and after seven years, more has to be expected than what Forgotten Sands provides.
Perhaps the most interesting thing to arise from this game is the question of where the series goes from here, if Ubisoft are so scared of change.
Don't forget that Forgotten Sands is carrying Ubisoft's much-maligned DRM system, where your PC has to be online at all times in order to play the game. Your saved games are also stored online by default. However, this can be changed if you want.
Download Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
'Interquel' is a bastardisation of English Ubisoft PRs invented to describe this new Prince of Persia game. Its release is being timed to coincide with the release of the blockbuster Prince of Persia movie coming out next month. You've probably heard about it already, as your female friends have likely been spamming their Facebook feeds with pictures of the film's Prince - Jake Gyllenhaal - sporting a washboard stomach and chiselled pecs.
We won't be anywhere near an cinema in May though, if Ubisoft get their way. We might just be pinned to our chairs, fixated by the site of a non-Gyllenhaal Prince vamping it up on our monitors in classic, non cel-shaded Prince of Persia style. Interestingly enough, the game's plot isn't that of the film, instead it goes all the way back to the Sands of Time trilogy, which ended in 2005 with The Two Thrones. This one, The Forgotten Sands, goes further back, as it's set between the events of the first (Sands of Time) and the second (Warrior Within) games. Hence 'interquel'.
Story-wise, this means the developers can't do anything too dramatic with the universe. After all, how would they then explain everything getting back to 'normal' in the second and third games? So, instead, the Prince is sticking to his tried-and-tested scenario - the kingdom is under devastating attack, and timewarping sand is needed to save everyone.
As such, he can rewind time straight away. There's no messing about with contrived explanations of why you haven't got access to the time warp powers, you just do, right from the get-go. It'd be boring (aka 'the same') if he just did the same things as before, so Ubisoft are giving him a load of new elemental powers to learn throughout the rest of the game. One of these will be a freezing ability, so, for example, you could stop a water fountain in time so you could climb it. This is a water-based power, so we're interested to see what the other elemental ones bring in terms of gameplay-changing mechanics.
As well as these core powers, there are also some more minor abilities, which can be obtained from a Djinn named Razia. This guy will operate as the obligatory salesman/shop guy that every action game released nowadays seems to need, setting his stall up in an alternate dimension. Not the handiest of places, but it makes it easy to explain how the Prince can access him at any time.
The other core thing about the new Prince games (aside from parkour) is the combat. There'll be no shortage of it in The Forgotten Sands. At times, you'll be fending off up to 50 enemies at once, although the emphasis won't always be on killing them all, but on evasion and crowd control. Summoners conjure up fresh enemies as long as they're left alive, so prioritising enemies on sight is essential here. It's going to be a quick-paced affair, with no blocking at all, so you're going to have to be nimble if you want to avoid taking damage.
Powers bought from the Djinn can also be used, such as Shield (a wind based power capable of knocking back enemies) which can be fully upgraded to Tornado, a room-filling blast that kills those nearest to you and knocks others to the floor. Toppling enemies is key to success here, as once foes are in the dirt the prince can quickly assassinate them.
Elemental magic suggests interaction with different elemental areas - fire suggests lava, earth forests and so on -though so far only the usual gamut has been on display, your baths, prisons and palaces. What we know is that, potential DRM issues aside, this could be a shot in the arm for the series after the less-well-received previous game.
We're certainly more enthusiastic about it than we are about the film, at any rate.