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Sean Pettibone


Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands (Playstation 3)

Ubisoft's latest edition in the long-running Prince of Persia franchise, The Forgotten Sands takes place between the legendary Sands of Time and Warrior Within titles. It offers the usual mix of strategic puzzles and fighting elements along with a few new moves. Players who remember the original games will be happy to learn that the tone and style of those titles have returned with lush environments and elaborate puzzles. There's a few surprises in store this time around, such as the ability to freeze water and an elaborate character upgrade system, but this is a safe title, offering a familiar yet satisfying experience that delivers a solid mix of action and strategy.

While the last attempt at bringing the Prince of Persia series to next generation consoles offered a different take on things, with its cel-shaded visuals and weird non-linear play, the newest installment, The Forgotten Sands brings the series back to its roots. Set between the events seen in the Sands of Time and Warrior Within titles, this installment finds our hero battling against a sand-demon army while trying to escape a series of elaborate traps and puzzles. The game begins with an epic cinematic that shows his brother's kingdom under assault by enemies. They decide to use the ultimate weapon, which unleashes supernatural forces, which creates an army of sand monsters who quickly over-run the kingdom and wreak havoc wherever they go. Not wanting to make too many waves, Forgotten Sands stays true to the Prince of Persia formula and the first few levels are very much in the classic mold. The Prince begins by learning the basics such as running on walls, performing massive jumps over gaps, climbing bricks and most of the usual tricks that players have come to expect from the series.

Most of the games feature some familiar traps and obstacles that you'll need to avoid, such as spinning blades, massive logs that spin and turn at you and more. There also a few sections where the ground will collapse under your feet, which means you'll have to stay on your toes throughout. Veteran gamers will be happy to see some of the old familiar obstacles and puzzle elements return, such as leaping from giant columns in the air and swinging on a sequence of bars. While not particularly innovative, its nice to see Ubisoft bring a few of these elements back into play. As usual, when the prince defeats enemies or smashes vases, they'll release energy that he can use to increase his health or add to the number of rewinds he has stored in his inventory. It's important to collect as many of these as you can since it makes progression easier, particularly in the latter areas that become especially tricky.

While some of the more recent Prince of Persia games didn't have a good mix of action and puzzles, Forgotten Sands has good pacing and strikes an excellent balance between these elements. Each stage progresses at a fairly consistent rate as the prince moves from room to room in the vast palaces of his brother, jumping in one room and battling sand demons in another. The only fault we had were the somewhat pedantic mini-boss battles, which seemed a little out of place and felt like cheap attempts to copy God of War. Fortunately, bosses are very scattered and most can be dispatched quickly. Most of the game's normal areas offer a good mix of elaborate puzzles and fighting sequences which keeps your interest level high consistently. The puzzles sequences can be a little long, requiring multiple jumps and tasks to complete through a complex layout of poles, walls and jumps to that need to be traversed. There are also switches to pull, and ubiquitous buttons bearing the prince's family logo that usually cause a reaction in the other side of the room.

Most of the puzzle sequences feature very large drops that will instantly kill the prince, which leaves you little room for error. Fortunately, as in some of the older games, you can use your time pieces to turn back time and return to the point before you failed and try again. You only have a few of these to use at any given time, so it pays to think before you leap, and learn from your mistakes. Most of the puzzles are fairly straightforward, but others can be a little bit oblique, and require you to think and find solutions that aren't always obvious. This leads to a few areas where you might find yourself stuck in, which can be a little frustration. One area that was particularly annoying was the massive clock works which required nearly flawless timing and long jumps, which made for a frustrating section of the game that never seemed to end.

Prince of Persia's structure is a little bit different this time around in that you have a major new ability that allows you to freeze water at certain points. This helps you get to some areas where you wouldn't otherwise be able to reach and gives the game a slightly different feel than other games. Aside from this, it stays very true to its conventions, and the gameplay offers some interesting and challenging areas and puzzles. One area where Forgotten Sands innovates is in the use of water. After a few levels, the prince earns the ability to freeze water that he finds. This is quite useful in a number of sections, since he can pour it to create new sections to traverse. For example, he can use it to create bars to swing from or make pathways over large gaps. It's a fairly cool feature that's easy to use and makes the gameplay more interesting. The game itself isn't too difficult and most sections shouldn't pose too much of a problem for gamers who've played previous games.

If things get too treacherous for you, the game allows you to reduce the level of difficulty until things become very easy, but it resembles a casual game when you do this, taking all the fun and challenge away. Fortunately, most players should be up to the challenge and the satisfaction of beating the game is worth it. Another innovative feature that Forgotten Sands brings to the table is the ability to upgrade the Prince's abilities as you go through the adventure. Players collect orbs in the gameplay and these are used in a variety of ways. When you collect an orb, you can go immediately to a separate menu which allows you to select which upgrades to use on a branching menu. You begin with a few basic ones that increase your attack strength, and can use others to increase your health bar and number of rewinds you can use. This is an effective system that opens up more areas of the game as you progress. Players will also find several cool surprises and secrets along the way, but we don't want to ruin these cool features, suffice it to say exploring Prince of Persia's menus is definitely worth the effort.

The last installment of Prince of Persia tried some laudable experiments in terms of style and aesthetics. Prince of Persia's first HD installment re-imagined the series' aesthetic by implementing a cel-shaded look and anime-style prince, and more importantly non-linear gameplay highlighted by missions where you're objective was to collect scattered orbs in each level. This approach was controversial, and the changes drew mixed reaction. The Forgotten Sands takes the opposite approach and brings the series back to its origins with a more dramatic and straightforward cinematic style that returns to the more linear approach of the original game. This makes the game a little less interesting, but more predictable. The more realistic approach mirrors the recent movie and its more realistic approach makes the game feel more realistic.

This approach to the franchise is definitely a lot closer to the Sands of Time aesthetic than any game since that title. It's not as dark as Warrior Within, nor is it a brightly colored surreal anime title. The settings are fairly lush and evoke a different time and era, with a mixture of realism and fantasy that draws you into the adventure. The breathtaking views inside the palace and in other locations bring the ancient world of Persia to life in vivid fashion, and its excellent camera system doesn't intrude on the action. An effective soundtrack scores the action and brings dramatic flourishes to the gameplay without feeling intrusive or overbearing. The game's overall feel is fairly good by HD standards, but there are a few sections that don't have quite the polish that's seen in some of the more elaborate set-pieces. Despite this, the overall quality in terms of production values is consistent throughout. One of the things you'll probably notice while you're playing through Forgotten Sands is the strong sense of familiarity that you'll have. Many of the same features, obstacles and puzzles you've seen in earlier games return, though with a few twists. This makes the game feel more like a remake than a true sequel.

Reinforcing this feeling of déjà vu is the fact thar it's narrative takes place between the events of the Sands of Time and Warrior Within, which makes it's place in the overall plot feel less like moving forward and more like standing in place. While this is a satisfying approach that brings a decent game, it does have the effect of feeling a bit too constrained, almost afraid to break much new ground in the franchise. It seems like Ubisoft has gone too far in the other direction with Forgotten Sands and is over-compensating after the last Prince's negative reception. In the end, this makes for an entertaining, challenging and fun title, but one that seems stuck rewinding and reliving its past glories instead of moving forward.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: B

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