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Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands (Xbox 360) artwork

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands (Xbox 360) review

"Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands is the closest Ubisoft has ever come, and probably ever will come, to replicating 2003ís brilliant The Sands of Time. It certainly took them long enough to figure out that this is what weíve always wanted; Ubisoftís habit with this series has been to try something new, be taken aback by criticism, and then revert to formula when they realize that what they created never needed to be tampered with. "

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands is the closest Ubisoft has ever come, and probably ever will come, to replicating 2003ís brilliant The Sands of Time. It certainly took them long enough to figure out that this is what weíve always wanted; Ubisoftís habit with this series has been to try something new, be taken aback by criticism, and then revert to formula when they realize that what they created never needed to be tampered with.

That itís taken so long to get here is ultimately Forgottenís biggest problem. This is now the fifth game that the modern incarnation of this series has produced, and the dizzying acrobatics that define these games isnít as revelatory as it once was. Sands took us all by complete surprise, whereas Forgotten is precisely what youíd expect it to be. It makes you wish Ubisoft hadnít spent so much time putzing around with Nolan North and that Dark Prince character, because if they hadn't, perhaps Forgotten would still have felt fresh.

Itís still a lot of fun, though, for the same reasons Sands and (to a lesser extent) The Two Thrones were. Thatís not surprising, given how much Forgotten pays homage to those titles. It more or less pretends the 2008 reboot never happened Ė fine by me Ė and has Yuri Lowenthal reprising his role as last console generationís gallant Prince. The series returns to its linear roots, and most of the game is set in an enormous palace rendered in various shades of brown. The lionís share of the script has the Prince making humorous quips to himself or exchanging banter with a female sidekick (who for some reason has a Russian accent). Itís a very familiar experience, to understate it.

Where all of this familiarity becomes a good thing is in the platforming, which is as smooth, tight and exhilarating as it ever was. When Sands was released seven years ago, I commented to myself that you could be floored watching the Prince pull off these sensational acrobatic feats, only to play the game and again be floored by how deviously simple it all is to control. The Princeís parkour abilities Ė running along walls, swinging from poles, sliding down inclines Ė make for platforming sequences that look incredibly complex at a glance, yet become second nature in practice. The best games make players feel like superheroes, and the Prince of Persia series has its own extraordinarily effective method of doing so.

The old control scheme is back, too, much to my relief; incorporating the right trigger into wall-shimmies feels infinitely more comfortable than the 2008 versionís large automated system. The old time-reversal mechanic, that wonderful innovation of instant-death platforming, also makes a welcome return and gives players a cautious pat on the behind. Thereís always room for error, but not too much error.

Forgotten has a few new tricks up its sleeve, too, and they really expand upon the parkour platforming, giving this title an identity all of its own by the second half of the adventure. The most prominent of the Princeís new abilities is the power to solidify water by slowing down time Ė which doesnít make much sense, I guess, but go with it. This starts as a way of incorporating new objects into the environment Ė a waterfall becomes a wall, a fountain spout becomes a pole, and so on Ė but becomes increasingly more urgent as players are called upon to change the flow of water often in the middle of a platforming sequence. For example, youíre swinging from a stream of water, you jump off, and then youíve got to release the left trigger to pass through the waterfall that separates you from the platform youíre trying to reach. Stuff like that.

Man, you should see some of the things youíll have to pull off by the gameís final act. All four of the shoulder buttons play a vital role in Forgotten, and your index fingers will be given quite an exercise: Youíre running along walls with the right trigger, youíre changing the flow of water with the left trigger, youíre literally summoning pieces of scenery out of thin air with the left bumper, and time reversal is mapped to the right bumper. Forgottenís camera is constantly sweeping over extended gravity-defying jumping puzzles that look impossible to complete, and itís such an empowering feeling to turn that skepticism on its side by pulling it off perfectly. And if you screw up, hey, rewind and try again.

Now then, the elephant in the room. Show of hands: Who plays Prince of Persia games for combat?

Way back when I played Thrones for the first time, I commented that combat is always the biggest problem with this series, and that future iterations would be better off without any action whatsoever. Stick to what the series does consistently well, I say. Forgotten does have combat, and itís all the worse because of it. Even the few steps forward that the swordicuffs in previous games have explored Ė such as stealth kills in Thrones Ė are ignored here in favor of simple, clumsy button-mashing. Itís not even distinct anymore; this is just God of War without the style, depth or brutality.

Iíll tell you what, though: If the combat in Forgotten can be credited with one thing, itís for not slowing the game down. Even Sands came to a dead stop whenever the Prince was forced to draw his sword. Here, dozens of enemies can fill the screen at any time, yet the Prince slices through them with such astonishing ease that most battles, no matter how intimidating, are over in a flash. Plus, a newfound experience system and skill tree represent a feasible reward for your work. I donít want to give the impression that the combat is good, but at the very least, itís quick and painless. This is probably the first Prince of Persia game in which I wasnít outright dreading every single enemy encounter, so, yíknow, baby steps.

Maybe itís still a little hasty to call Forgotten a modern incarnation of Sands Ė the simplistic story is nowhere near as charming, and itís too short to leave a lasting impact Ė but Iím pleased to see the series return to form, and an end-of-credits promise to continue exploring this Princeís story makes me all the more excited. Of course, knowing Ubisoft, theyíll probably experiment for the next entry before coming to their senses again. If thatís the case, enjoy tradition while it lasts.

Suskie's avatar
Community review by Suskie (June 12, 2010)

Mike Suskie is a freelance writer who has contributed to GamesRadar and has a blog. He can usually be found on Twitter at @MikeSuskie.

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aschultz posted June 15, 2010:

[rotw stuff]

It's tough to discuss a sequel without going to a laundry list, and I think this game does it very well: identifies the good games and why they're good, and the bad predecessors and why they aren't. I think it also captures disappointment at the developers choosing the entirely wrong new direction to go in, and how once they start it can't be reclaimed, and it makes a good case for more of the same. I'm saddedned by the experiments in conformity you describe as it is so different in spirit from the original PoP. The review touches on the stuff we don't quite know we want/don't want in sequels in general and even points out how PoP's attempts to get in line with traditional genres resulted in some weird choices and dead ends.

Now to grammar police/minor points:

"what they created never need to be tampered with" -> "never needed" or, better, "they got it right the first time" to avoid that ending with a preposition snafu. shows acrobatics is used with a plural verb.

Stuff like "I commented to myself that you could be floored" rings slightly hollow--perhaps "watching the Prince perform...floored me. Then realizing how simple it was on replay (something else than floored me.)

Also "Man, you should see some of the things youíll have to pull off by the gameís final act." OK, conversational voice is up to the writer, but this feels the wrong sort of conversational--of someone tugging on my sleeve to get me interested instead of being interesting. It's another riff that's engulfed by the fun stuff that follows, thankfully. I'd also ditch the "y'know." Maybe I have a ton of the reviewing equivalent of personal space. But it seems this review is strong enough without it. Maybe I just get upset by this because the rest is so interesting and I know you have the ability to put the other stuff fully in your own words. What you've got is more than good enough, of course.
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Suskie posted June 15, 2010:

Ha. I honestly don't like this review, precisely because I thought it was too plain. You really don't like my casual reviewing style, do you?

Anyway, thanks for the feedback. I get the feeling that you don't follow current games very closely so I would have guess that you'd have trouble following what I was saying here, so I'm glad you at least found it tolerable.
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aschultz posted June 15, 2010:

Plain can mean just plain good. What others find plain, I might not. You know that professor/teacher who INSISTED biology or chemistry or physics was beautiful, especially in the laboratory, even though you never got experiments to work right?

It was scary once I realized some of them were right. And I think with writing, there are times it is better off ornate, and times it isn't, and sometimes plain stuff can alert us to something we missed before--because it is not too focused on itself. I think it requires a great leap of faith to write something relatively plain and hope it holds up. People won't be dazzled and they may rip it right away.

I generally look for a combination of addressing the game and what games should be. I can't say for sure what I want, and I'm pleasantly surprised when I find something I haven't considered. In fact, it's good when something that seems plain shows you something you weren't expecting. Sometimes, it's easier to learn that way, or have confidence you'll learn other stuff, because it's good to know there's straightforward stuff out there that you can still get a lot of mileage out of.

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