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Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands
Graphics: 7.4
Gameplay: 8.1
Sound: 7.7
Control: 7.9
Replay Value: 7
Rating: 7.8

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was one of my favorite games from the previous generation, and got me very much hooked on the franchise. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Warrior Within but The Two Thrones was a return to total greatness and the first PS3 iteration, Prince of Persia, represented a departure from the norm…but a damn good departure. Now, Ubisoft returns to the Sands of Time format with this sequel and any fan of the series will immediately recognize the style, presentation and gameplay. But in fact, it’s so much like Sands of Time, it actually feels a little dated. There are a few small technical glitches and overall, the game is plenty entertaining, but that’s not the overriding issue. Thing is, after playing through the majority of the game, it has become painfully obvious that Prince’s biggest downfall is the enduring sensation of blandness. It’s bizarre: the game really is very solid and all that expected goodness is there. And yet, it still seems…meh.

If we compare the graphics to most games out there, The Forgotten Sands doesn’t look too bad at all. In fact, the visuals are quite good. But if we compare it to other AAA titles of the generation – and let’s not forget that Prince installments are expected to be among the elite – they’re a disappointment. There just isn’t a great deal of clarity or sharpness; the general level design is decent but hardly anything new, and the it almost seems as if Ubisoft took a step backwards. It’s hard to say, though, as the last title was cel-shaded… It’s tough to compare the two but I honestly believe the last one was more impressive in terms of artistic achievement and general appeal. I mean, the animations are smooth, the coloring is good, and there are some definite highlights in the form of certain bosses and special effects (gotta love a few of those magic spells), but there’s nothing to get excited about. We do get some brilliant CGI, though, and although hardly prevalent, it’s worth mentioning.

The sound is a much in the same boat; we’ve got better-than-average voice acting, cool effects, and a fitting soundtrack, but once again, it all feels a little subdued and too understated. Plus, the sound would cut out entirely several times during my play time, which is a definite flaw, and the balance isn’t quite there. The music will almost always take a backseat to the combat and even platforming effects, which sort of detracts from the overall experience. Action games really need sharp, prominent sound in terms of both effects and soundtrack; awesome recent examples would be God of War III and Bayonetta. Here, everything sounds as if the developers should’ve applied one more coat of polish, which would’ve enhanced our immersion and enjoyment. I must reiterate that I’m not talking about major drawbacks or shortcomings; I’m merely talking about a simple lack of intensity…in other words, not much of a “wow” factor in regards to either the graphics or sound.

If you played Sands of Time or indeed, any of the three console installments that arrived last generation, you know exactly what to expect from The Forgotten Sands. Appropriately enough, it plays a whole lot like Sands of Time and I say “appropriately” because this really is a sequel. To drive that point home, the Prince even mentions Farah a few times during the course of his new adventure. Therefore, expect a bunch of puzzles, a whole lot of acrobatic platforming, and instead of those one-on-one duels from the last Prince, hordes of enemies that require a dose of strategy to eliminate. The combat itself is about as simple as possible but you’re not exactly invincible and early on, the game forces you to do a bit more than hack ‘n slash just because you can die so easily. But it doesn’t take long for you to become more powerful, and the source of most of your power comes from magic. This is one of the few significant gameplay upgrades in the game, and your magic also governs those nifty Sands that can rewind time.

So yeah, no more Elika to save your ass immediately when you fall; just like in Sands of Time, if you’re about to die after falling from a great height, hit the R1 button and rewind time to just before you made the mistake. If you’re out of magic, you die and start from the most recent checkpoint. That’s familiar but as I said, the magic aspect is new and adds a much-appreciated dimension to the straightforward fighting mechanic. You gain new Powers by earning experience from defeated enemies, and you can choose from a branching tree inside the menu: on the left, you’ve got the chance to expand your health bar and buy Powers that are more related to strength and physical ability and on the left, you can increase your magic pool and get neato stuff like Whirlwind. It works pretty well and it encourages you to take down every enemy you see (and you don’t always have to). The fighting is relatively smooth and although I’m convinced there’s a small delay when it comes to the Prince’s basic movement, taking down swarms of foes isn’t too challenging.

The problem lies in that aforementioned blandness. It’s just a little repetitive and although the Powers add some flavor, it still doesn’t get your motor running, you know? Maybe it’s because God of War III, Bayonetta and Dante’s Inferno have spoiled me for flashy, refined action, so this doesn’t really stand up to the current competition. I think that’s what is most important- if The Forgotten Sands had come out a year or two back, it would’ve been far more revered; it’d be worthy of a higher score. But now…it’s a very competitive environment. And when there are drop-outs in the sound, some camera issues that can indeed plague big battles, what I perceive to be a lack of inherent quickness on the part of the Prince, and a lot of less-than-impressive moments, we find ourselves a tad bit underwhelmed. On the flip side, a few of the boss fights are cool and really, the fundamental basics are solid and fun. You’ve got your inventive puzzles, the fantastic platforming elements, and a reliable and fluid control scheme.

Therefore, it’s difficult to not recommend the game based on the positive factors alone. I’m just afraid it’s going to pale in comparison to recent experiences. However, big fans of the series should most certainly be satisfied; they may not see this as a step backwards but more of a return to prior greatness. I just miss the frills we’ve come to expect; I miss the Light Seed collecting from the last entry, I miss Elika, and I even miss the one-on-one duels just because they felt new and fresh. I have often said how much I despise the elitist critic mentality that says “if it doesn’t do anything new, it’s not worthy of an elite score.” I really do hate that. But it’s not that this game doesn’t do anything new; it’s that it falls short when we stack it up against the competition, and that’s a downfall regardless of innovation (or lack thereof). The platforming alone is enough to make the title in question worth playing, but as far as a $60 purchase is concerned…well, like I said, you’d have to be a big Prince fan.

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands is a good production. It does its job well. It presents the gamer with a stable, fluid foundation and builds upon it with nice pacing and even an addictive, “I gotta get through the next part” feel. But the combat is definitely sparse, the Powers aren’t as electric as I had hoped, the graphics and sound needed an update to reach top-notch status, and the whole thing just feels too much like yesteryear. Plus, with a relatively short 6-8 hour quest, I can’t see spending the full price of admission. However, the pluses are obvious and if it’s definitely worth playing, so maybe you should put it on a birthday list or use some trade-ins towards it. Either that, or just wait until the price tag falls.

5/22/2010   Ben Dutka