Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands
If we could rewind time like the titular prince, we might go all the way back to The Sands of Time, 2002's Prince of Persia title that The Forgotten Sands apparently harks back to. Or maybe we'd go back to school and crack onto more girls or try harder in our exams to get a proper job. But let's say that we were to choose to go back to The Sands of Time on PS2 and Xbox, would we find the same game we knew and loved all those years ago or would we feel stupid for wasting the ability to turn back time on something we could pick up for a few quid second hand?
Nostalgia's a funny thing. It has you remembering the good things, while conveniently filtering out the bad. Ask anyone who played The Sands of Time, and they'll harp on about how it was the best Prince of Persia game and still is, but what they'll fail to mention are the waves of relentless blade-wielding sand demons that take forever to cleave your way through, the ever-so-slightly unfair checkpoints and intermittent rage-inducing platform jumping difficulty spikes.
None of these things return for The Forgotten Sands thankfully - save for the occasional head-scratching puzzle - which should theoretically make this the best Prince of Persia game of all time, right? Theoretically. Sadly, it's not for a number of reasons. First of all, although this isn't a direct tie-in to the new Jerry Bruckheimer-produced movie adaptation, there is a sense that Forgotten Sands may have been pushed out of the door a tad quicker than it might have been had there not been a film arriving in the multiplexes, as there are a few glitches here and there that should have been ironed out during the quality assurance process. None are particularly glaring, but when the action is really poured on and the sand minions crowd the screen, there's a brief hint of slowdown in patches, and during the final stages of the game we encountered a game breaking issue that trapped us in a room and prevented us from progressing any further.
While it's unfair to criticise a game for an issue that might strike perhaps one in every few thousand or so players, it's up to QA to pinpoint things like this and it's massively disappointing when you're enjoying a game, only to have the experience completely wiped out by a single technical hiccup. Automatic saves should really be complemented by the ability to manually save your game in order to prevent problems like this, and that goes for every game out there.
Well, that's the personal rant out of the way, so what of the actual game, occasional glitches aside? It is classic Prince of Persia circa 2002 at surface value first and foremost, which is no bad thing, and the production values are typically excellent with high quality cinematics and rich, lustrous visuals that make this one of the prettiest Prince of Persia titles since 2008's bold and colourful attempt at rebooting the franchise. It's smooth and handles just as fluidly as every other PoP game so far - limiting the number of times you'll fall to your death due to wrong footing or a careless error. And there's nothing more satisfying than seamlessly performing a fluid line across the game's gaps, columns, rotating gears, platforms and swing bars.
The game's new elemental powers might sound hackneyed on paper, but in practice, they bring a welcome degree of strategy to Prince of Persia that adds another layer of intricacy to your set of moves. The pacing of the narrative is spot on too, introducing new gameplay components at exactly the moment they're needed to inject a little variation into proceedings. Abilities like being able to freeze water to form columns, surfaces and swing points create all manner of new challenges, which are then further convoluted by the late introduction of a power that allows the prince to recall pieces of collapsed scenery to fill in essential walkways and platforms.
By the latter stages of the game, you'll be using every one of the buttons on the controller to deftly leap from pillar to post, recalling lumps of stone, freezing and unfreezing water in the blink of an eye while all the time relying upon the prince's core acrobatics. In this respect, the level design is nothing short of exemplary, presenting exactly the right level of challenge without ever becoming too overwhelming or frustrating. And being able to rewind time to put right your mistakes always helps, as you'll inevitably get muddled with the array of functions to remember and buttons to press in perfect time.
Combat is less enjoyable than the lithe wall-running and athletic leaping, consisting primarily of hitting a single face button to slash enemies into submission with your sword, or holding it down to charge up a power attack. You can kick enemies to make space, roll to evade and vault up onto bad guys to launch aerial swipes, so there is some diversity to the fighting, bolstered by powers that enable the prince to harness the elements in battle. Stone armour provides temporary protection, whirlwind knocks down all enemies in the vicinity, flame leaves a trail of fire in your wake and ice lays down a path of shards with each sweep of your blade. Combine these powers, and the prince feels pretty formidable, so you'll never really struggle in a fight. Combat is still too repetitive for our liking, and there's no sense of evolution in this regard since the preceding PoP games, which seems like an oversight or a symptom of a rushed development cycle. Being able to upgrade abilities is a nice new touch though.
With a fairly engaging storyline and compelling gameplay, Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands is a worthy addition to the series. It is nonetheless dragged down by short-lived narrative with few extras and the nagging feeling that the franchise is taking a backwards step rather than a stride forward with this instalment. It's great fun while it lasts, but once you've beaten the story and dabbled with the bonus challenges, there's very little, if no impetus to return. Rewind time though, and you could potentially enjoy The Forgotten Sands over and over again, although we wouldn't recommend it. Once is enough and frankly, you'd be better off going back and killing Hitler.