Though Prince of Persia fans were thrown for a loop with Ubisoft's previous venture, I was completely enamored. The breathtaking cel-shaded splendor captured my imagination and ran with it. It wasn't a challenge, but it was beautiful and graceful, much more so to me than the previous outings I was used to. I knew this kind of progressive design couldn't last, however, and a swift return to form would soon come to pass. Fast forward to the release of Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands, a throwback to the modern Prince we had grown to love, only this time without the rugged good looks, personality, or charm of the Prince seen in the previous games. And that, my friends, is only the tip of the iceberg. The series' latest outing disappoints in only a way that mundane mechanics, dated graphics, and yawn-inducing plotlines can.
Thrust into the role of a less handsome, less witty Prince who smacks strongly of yet another cookie-cutter video game hero, players make their way to the heart of Persia to rendezvous with brother Malik. Upon his arrival to the homefront, the Prince learns that invaders have begun terrorizing the land and the people within. To combat this menace, Malik decides to unleash the fabled Sands and a powerful, mystical army along with them in order to turn the tides of war. However, as one might guess, things can never truly be that simple. The Sands themselves, a tool of an ancient Djinn known as Ratash, also release the malevolent spirit to wreak havoc upon the land. Way to go, Malik! With this, the Prince sets off on another death-defying adventure in order to recapture Ratash and to put an end to the ravenous advances of the undead troops into the palace.
Once again, the Prince demonstrates his various arsenal of breathtaking acrobatics, whether they be wall-running, climbing stone pillars, or swinging from pole to pole. Fans of the previous jaunts should be quite familiar with this bag of tricks. From the bottom floors of a dungeon to above the city streets, you'll need to employ every single one of them with as much grace and finesse as humanly possible. Unfortunately, this is not always possible, and one of the reasons this outing is much less of an outstanding accomplishment as a title in my eyes. More often than not, it's a fight to get the Prince's astonishing moves to work with you. Perhaps they've becomes less rigid over the years and I overprojected, but simple actions such as wall-running aren't as silky-smooth as I felt they could have been, most notably in 2008's Prince of Persia.
For a brand that's based its legacy upon graceful leaps and gravity-defying stunts, I didn't find much to boggle the mind in this game. Perhaps it's because I've been subjected to the Prince's moves far more often than the layman consumer, but incomplete wall-runs, leaps that end in the Prince falling three stories to his death, and finicky controls just don't do it for me. In the end I felt little more sprightly than a Bouncer lumbering after Little Sisters. Combined with the confusing direction in which you must actually take jumps or wall-to-wall bounds, this all makes for a very dry and continually aggravating experience that's almost as awkward as the Prince's new look (woof).
The magical powers the Princes gains in his journey are once again the highlight of the game. The Prince starts with the ability to turn back time time, a mechanic that long-time PoP fans should be quite familiar with. Certain death can be erased with the press of a button. The rewind functionality returns the Prince to his last location before that fatal misstep. However, you're limited to using this power only a set number of times. Maxed out, the Prince's power orb meter may hold eight charges. Each use of the Time power depletes one orb. At most, you may make up to eight mistakes and erase them with the power bestowed upon you. You'll need them, so it's best to be frugal with this gift -- it's integral to your success.
Beyond the power of Time, which is arguably the most useful aspect of the game, the Prince is granted the ability to freeze water. This is nothing particularly interesting and more of a vehicle with which to propel the player further through each painfully linear level. Use waterfalls as roads and streams as poles. Yes, yes, very well. This has been done before. Quite similar to the initially exciting ability to freeze water, the Prince is also eventually granted a memory ability. Press the left bumper and he may see a particular area as it was in the past. As you can imagine, this makes for more puzzle-solving antics and less actual exciting platforming mechanics. "Remember" how a plain used to look so you can freeze the water held within. Yawn. These two mechanics are heavily relied upon up until the very end of the adventure, and a combination of the very same ideals constantly being yo-yoed back and forth becomes quiet tedious.
Fortunately, there are plenty of rounds of combat to tackle to break up some of the monotony. At least, I was prepared to say "fortunately" until actually suffering through the poor excuse for a combat system. The Prince is no slouch; he can take on up to 50 baddies at once with swords dancing and gliding through the air. Chaining sword attacks is initially exciting. However, after the first few waves of enemies lumbering your way and your attempts at cutting down the crowd, it becomes much more of an annoyance than a battle of epic proportions.
Your sword never truly feels as though it's connecting to flesh. There's little to no gore, which is quite strange considering humans (and monsters, I assume) bleed honest-to-Kratos blood. Perhaps this is just a tiny nitpick on my part, but I felt as though I were attacking a lot of combat dummies who I just happened to be able to toss screaming off of ledges. I had more fun slicing through enemies in Dante's Inferno, and that's not saying much. Even by way of the several magical abilities you may see fit to use, combat is little more than a short break between copious amounts of samey platforming. The only good to come out of unsheathing your sword is the fact that dropped orbs may be spent on the Prince's upgrades, such as health and combat bonuses -- your standard fare.
Graphically, this is the least aesthetically-pleasing Prince of Persia title that I've played. It may very well be a more realistic art style, but I can't get over how unattractive and just plain everyman the Prince looks these days. It's like someone took a Ken doll with an overtly chiseled jaw line and slapped it on a "decent" male body. I'm not one to judge superficially, but when the protagonist's face looks murky and less detailed than the supporting cast, something is wrong. The same, boring environments tend to crop up over and over. Enemies just don't look threatening. Even the various shades of tan and brown begin to blur together until they become one apathetic mess of "blah." Crisp water effects steal the show, and the cut scenes manage to be top notch, but I think now I vastly prefer the cel-shading effects of 2008.
The voice acting and sound effects are no better. The Prince is known for his wise-cracking and boyish demeanor. However, his current voice actor's lines are terrible and seem horribly forced. I was never laughing with him -- only at him. Supporting cast voice actors outshined what should have been the star performance. Game-enhancing audio such as the battle cries of enemies was also unreasonably low quality. It felt much more like a bargain bin title than the fabled next entry in the saga.
There's plenty to like about this game if you have a preference toward uncomfortably strange-looking protagonists who managed to look better in the past, or repetitive gameplay. So, I lied. There isn't much to enjoy unless you're a fan who believes the series can do no wrong. The platforming is trumped in almost any major competitor. With superior competition, why bother to pick this up? Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands' ten-hour linear campaign missteps in a way that implies that the creators saw the future when naming this title. It will be forgotten, and swiftly. Perhaps Ubisoft should go back to thinking outside of the box, just as they did two years ago with the PoP reboot.
Platform(s): Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, PC, Wii, DS, PSP