Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Prince of Persia - The Forgotten Sands

Brilliant platforming alone saves The Forgotten Sands from being buried in the desert.
Much Has Been Forgotten in The Forgotten Sands…
Situated somewhere in the seven-year gap between The Sands of Time and Warrior Within, our nameless hero once again finds himself amidst a terrible awakening of violent, vicious sand creatures and hideous demons of Persian lore. On a journey through the Persian deserts to visit his elder brother Malik, the Prince finds a marauding army trying to force their way into the kingdom. 

In an opening tutorial that's very reminiscent of The Sands of Time, the Prince runs, flips, and climbs his way into the castle to meet with his brother, who confides that the army is in search of a treasure hidden within the kingdom. Fighting a losing battle, Malik resorts to unleashing Solomon's Army, a last-ditch effort to salvage his people and kingdom. The Army, a mass of sand creatures bound by a magical seal, rampage through the palace, favoring no side of the conflict, but bringing destruction wherever they go.

You won't find the storytelling in this installment deserving of any noteworthy praise. It's a fairly typical tale and one that relies far too heavily on its gameplay to compensate for its mundane progression. The tedium is broken up by various encounters with Razia, a Djinn, who will grant the Prince his various new powers throughout the game. Her mission, and by association yours, is to find and defeat Ratash, the leader of Solomon's Army. 

You won't find any connections to the previous game in the chronology, nor will you see any segues into the following. The game seems to inhabit its own plane of existence with only superficial connections to the Sands trilogy. At most, you'll get an off-handed mention of Farah. Aside from that, this might as well have been an entirely original game with no attempt to bind events of the past and future together.

The Prince Has a Few New Tricks Up His Sleeve… 
While the game fails to satisfactorily reveal the missing seven years of the Prince's life, the bulk of your time will be spent doing what you'd expect - swinging from poles and pillars, running and bouncing along walls, and much, much more. The platforming is quite simply on a level nearly unequaled in this generation, perhaps only matched or bested by Super Mario Galaxy 2. 

The new powers the Prince receives, which include manipulation (freezing) of water, dashing mid-air at lightning speed, and (de)materializing ruined structures, in addition to the rewind mechanic you've come to expect from a Sands of Time-installment, make the puzzle solving and general progression through the game a constant joy. Some of the locations near the end of the game in particular will certainly give your fingers a work out.

The powers are not entirely without their technical problems, though, and this is mostly in the actual movement of the Prince. The character's responsiveness seems almost delayed when moving the analog stick, if only slightly, which can sometimes result in a mistimed power use. Even more, some of the Prince's ease of mobility has been restricted. Wall-running can no longer be done from the ground. That is to say, when running horizontally across a wall, the Prince must now jump first, whereas in previous installments, the player could simply hold down the corresponding button and the Prince would stick to the wall right from the ground level. This is only a minor, albeit personal complaint, and doesn't stand in the way of the game's fun.

Though, as entertaining as the platforming goes, the same cannot be said for combat. Not only is it primitive and mind-numbingly repetitive, but for 75% of the game, it's completely avoidable. Aside from forced battles which are required to unlock doors or progress through a level, every other battle can be skipped to allow for a game completion of under 5 hours. Should you choose to take part in the game's many battles, you'll find yourself confined to pressing one button and the analog stick in any given direction over and over and over again. 

Rarely was there a need to block or dodge, and it lacked the finesse of combat from Warrior Within and Two Thrones. As a half-hearted attempt to encourage fighting, the game sports a very mundane level up system from which you can acquire new combat-abilities: fire, wind, earth, ice. It fits the whole elemental angle they have going with the water manipulation, but you won't find any real need to get those powers with how easy the combat already is. At most, you'll just upgrade your health, the amount of sand/water powers you can use, and then throw the remaining experience into random skills for lack of something more useful. All in all, the combat is simply a means of padding out the game's time with needless tedium. I would have much preferred the game had they removed combat entirely and just stacked in more puzzles. Or at the very least, put combat to a minimum so I don't find myself trudging through the scattered sections of monotony to get to the real fun.

A Return to Persia…
As a whole, the game looks impressive. The opening cinematic is particularly exciting, if a bit…brown. The game uses the engines of both the Sands trilogy and the one used in the Assassin's Creed games and Prince of Persia 2008, and it manages to use each to their full extent. The sound isn't anything too impressive on a technical front, but special recognition should be given to the three primary voice actors, most notably of which is Yuri Lowenthal who reprises his role as the Prince from The Sands of Time and Two Thrones (not the Dark Prince).

Though his talent was there, I found the Prince himself to be more of a caricature than a character worth investing time and emotion in. The Prince of The Sands of Time was young and naïve, and through his sarcastic wit and relentless determination, we learned a lot about him as the game developed. Warrior Within was a necessary evolution in his character. However, the Prince in The Forgotten Sands just seems like a mouthpiece for random comments and nonsensical humor. There is no attempt to transition the character from his young self to the brooding Prince of Warrior Within. What's left is just an empty shell of a man, too confused for his own good.

Lastly, the game's camera is perhaps its most formidable enemy. More than any boss or sand creature, the camera will be the cause of many deaths. The camera's restricted movement often limits your field of view, or completely obstructs it with terrain. This is especially troublesome during a few sections of the game and could've easily been remedied by a free camera.

And The Verdict Is…
The Forgotten Sands is a wholly better package than Warrior Within, but in areas outside of the platforming, the game fails to reach the heights of its predecessors. I can't help but think the game was just a shameless way to capitalize on the marketing for the movie, despite neither story having anything to do with each other. With all of the flaws that Prince of Persia 2008 had, at least it was different. The Forgotten Sands tries to ride on the shoulder of its older brothers, but it can't even climb up their backs.

NAME: PRINCE OF PERSIA - THE FORGOTTEN SANDS
SYSTEM: Play Station 3, XBOX 360, PC, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS, Play Station Portable

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