I distinctly remember a time, nearly 20 years ago, when I would sit down to play the original Prince of Persia on a regular basis. I remember playing the game through the first time and being wowed by the aid of the little mouse, amazed by the shadow created upon jumping through a mirror, and perplexed by the seemingly impossible jump over a great deal of open space (I was young and had never heard of a "leap of faith").
From that moment to this, the franchise has always captured my imagination and every entry into it is one that I have looked forward to with great expectation. Although I was initially quite skeptical at the whole "mucking about with time" notion that has played such an important part in the no longer correctly named Sands of Time trilogy, it only took a few moments with the original Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time to be utterly convinced of how great the Prince could still be more than 10 years after his original appearance. While the Sands of Time set of stories have had its ups and downs, the newest of the titles, Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands, is more down than up.
The problem with the game doesn't lie within its story, which starts off with the Prince going to visit his brother and arriving at the same time as an invading army. In order to try to fend off the overpowering hoards, the Prince's brother unleashes an army that he believes to be that of Solomon. Unfortunately, the army – which is made of sand – actually fought against Solomon and once unleashed now wants to take control of the world, starting with the Prince's brother's castle. The medallion that was used to unleash the Army is also, the Prince learns from a mysterious woman, the only thing that can re-imprison it. Unfortunately, the medallion was broken into two pieces, one ending up with the Prince and one with his brother. While it ought to be perfectly simple for the two to reunite the medallion, the brother's half has caused him to become mad with power and unwilling to relinquish it.
In addition to being able to rewind time in this title, the Prince also learns to control some of the elements over the course of the game. He can do things like freeze water and summon tornadoes. These powers are granted/enhanced in two ways. First, they come from the mysterious woman, a Djinn named Razia. Then, after defeating enough enemies, the Prince gains enough points to power-up the abilities (as well as his strength and life).
Between the power-ups and the Prince still being the best Parkour guy around, all the pieces are there to create a compelling Prince of Persia title. However, that doesn't happen. The game is horribly marred by bad camera angles, puzzles that make no sense, and a terrible feeling of repetition to every battle against minions (here's a hint – button-mash like there's no tomorrow and you'll be fine).
Initially, it seems as though the camera will pose no issue whatsoever in the title. When the game opens you can use the right analog stick to adjust the angle to whatever you might please. Quickly though, the camera takes on a mind of its own, forcing itself into certain angles, stopping your ability to change the angle whenever its relevant, and providing deceptive points of view that cause you to miss jumps because of the odd angle you see things at. It is almost as though the ability to rewind time exists in this game solely so that you can try things again after the camera angle convinces you have something lined up that you don't, or, worse, the camera decides to whip around 90 degrees as you're taking your run up to the jump, causing you to miss the leap in a manner that would be embarrassing could you have possibly ever predicted that the camera was going to opt to swing so wildly.
Some of the puzzles that Forgotten Sands puts forward are quite interesting, and it's still a great deal of fun to swing wildly all around a room in order to pull various levers to open the right path. However, other puzzles feel only half developed. For example, relatively early in the game there is a puzzle that requires you to turn levers which rotate toothed bars for a gear to turn along. As with almost every other time that you have to turn a lever in the game, it can be either pushed or pulled to rotate to the left or right. And, as with almost every other lever in the game, whether the Prince ends up opting to push or pull the lever seems to have very little to do with what direction your moving him – push the lever 90 degrees and then keep moving in the same direction and the Prince has a horrific tendency to pull the lever back to its original position rather than continuing in the same direction.
In the case of this particular puzzle, the gear stops moving even though it appears as though it could easily continue onto the next toothed bar. The problem appears to lie not within the real-world physics of the problem, but rather a single solution having been provided by the developers and the game forcing you to find that solution, blocking you for no apparent reason from utilizing other – far more obvious – solutions.
With the Prince preparing to make his first big screen Hollywood adventure on May 28 and therefore with an opportunity to bring the legend to a whole new group of potential fans, one would have hoped for more from his latest video game adventure. The Prince still runs, jumps, and swings like a champion; he still has to dodge blades and spikes; and he maintains his wry sense of humor. The graphics here won't wow anyone, but they are moderately better than the sound. In the cutscenes lips are not completely in sync with the dialog, and during gameplay there are definitely moments when you strike a pot with your sword (in order to get more health or magic) when the sound of the sword strike is not in sync as well.
The game is completely linear, but rather than that line being obvious, you do feel as though you're discovering it as you go, which does make it feel as though you're not being forced in one way or another. Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands is an enjoyable addition to the franchise, but it is certainly not the best nor the brightest.
In fact, I was all set to give this game a three out of five star review ("average" according to our scoring rubric) until I made a second run-through of the title, looking for any and every extra I could find. My search got me most of the way through the game until, attempting to execute a jump to a platform that I had to recreate with a button push (it's part of the whole playing-with-time thing), the platform failed to solidify… repeatedly. That, like turning levers, is just one of those things that fails to work correctly. But, no problem, I was just going to keep trying over and over again, something that is possible as there are unlimited continues. What knocked this game down one star point is the fact that upon continuing I was put back to a place that could not be escaped from as I had already passed through it once — a gate closes behind you the first time you pass through the corridor and my continue did not result in the gate reopening. Forgotten Sands has an autosave feature as well and it's the only type of save allowed. Once the game got continued, the autosave kicked in, saving my progress in a corridor that was closed on both ends. For this reviewer, that is completely unacceptable — requiring players to start the game from the beginning because the autosave and the continue feature locks them in a closed room with no possibility of escape (and after they died because something failed to materialize repeatedly that should have) is sloppy work and a gross disappointment.
Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Violence. This game can also be found on: Nintendo DS, PC, PSP, Wii, and Xbox 360.