I can remember when I first played a Prince of Persia game. My Uncle Peter (RIP) had gifted my brothers and I with an Amstrad PC and a copy of PoP on floppy disk. The titular prince had white hair, pink (fuchsia, almost purple) skin and a white jumpsuit. He died a lot; at least in my hands he did. Luckily, my older brother possessed a greater level of skill with the classic, keyboard-controlled platformer; and, as a result, I got to view his first adventure in full. I have plenty of fond memories of the original, including its DRM. In order to play PoP, you had to complete comprehension questions using the game's manual. The Prince made appearances on several consoles after his PC debut, but you need not notice until the release of The Sands of Time (TSoT) on Playstation 2, Xbox and Gamecube in 2003. Not only was it one of the better looking games of the previous generation, it was also a joy to play and it truly reinvigorated the franchise. I never played the sequels to TSoT because, from all accounts, they focused more on combat, which was the weakest aspect of this modern classic. In addition, they seemed to ooze a level of cliched darkness and baditude that I found repulsive. Fast forward to 2008, and the PoP franchise was once again the recipient of a reboot in terms of both artistic and narrative direction which for me, elicited a mixed reaction. The cel-shaded visuals looked beautiful, and the platforming was (for the most part) enjoyable, but the open-ended structure and lacklustre combat (in respect to the lack of variety in both moves and enemies) ensured that I did not find motivation to complete the adventure. I must not have been the only one to greet the previous PoP title with mixed emotions, as Ubisoft has decided to return to TSoT lore for The Forgotten Sands (TFS). Released to coincide with the release of the live-action feature film, TFS is a good game suffering from a lack of direction.
Jump around - If there is one thing the Prince of Persia should do, and do well, it is to jump. Over the course of TFS, you will find yourself not only jumping; but wall running, rolling and pole-swinging across, around and through a vast, intricate castle. The ratio of platforming to combat is heavily in favor of the acrobats amongst you, and the game is all the better for it.
Art direction - While the Prince is now looking somewhat more generic than the disheveled vagrant from the 2008 reboot; the environments and some of the enemies are truly memorable. Personal favourites include the larger creatures who sport fascinatingly detailed, menacing suits of armour, and the home of your Djinn ally: Razia. Her floating palace, with fragments of structures floating in clear view is a nod to TSoT, which provides a tranquil break from the (usually) frantic action.
Mr.Dependable - While it is not the most technically or artistically proficient title on the market, TFS enjoys a consistent frame rate and very few other noticable visual hitches. There are some moments of note, such as the descent on a (massive) crumbling staircase and the Persian version of an observatory; but for the most part, the game is pretty enough with not much to make the jaw drop. Despite the scale of the environments, instances of screen tearing and clipping are sparse. Without many noticable glitches to pull you away from the action on screen, I found myself engaged for the entirety of the experience, taking very few breaks.
Short, as in dwarven - TFS is a short game, with very little to encourage repeat playthroughs. There are only two difficulty settings available (Normal and Easy), and a playthrough on Normal difficulty lasted about 8 hours. There is a God of War-esque Challenge Mode on offer, but there are only two different levels available and they offer absolutley no resistance to a prince that has been taken through the main campaign. If you refuse to sign up for a U-Play account, one of the two levels will be locked.
Easy, as in cake walk - Despite a few areas that provide a moderate level of challenge, most players should find themselves breezing through the adventure without care for their mortality. I know that this is partly due to one of the game's central mechanics (specifically, the ability to rewind time), but TFS is simple. Ridiculously simple.
Confused camera - The game employs fixed camera angles for the entirety of the single player adventure. As a result, I often found myself losing my sense of direction. Not as in, get from Point A to Point B; rather that the camera was fixed in a way that I should be pressing left and jump to jump to my left, but because of the previous fixed angle, I would have been wanting to press up and jump to what was in front of me. Sounds confusing? Try it in practice when you have two saw blades approaching you from opposite ends of a track, it can get frustrating to the point of controller destruction.
Convoluted control scheme - It won't appear so early on, when there are few abilities at your command; but when you are required to freeze water, wall scale, jump back, freeze water, and rebound jump about 3 times in the space of 5 seconds it can get a bit hectic. Especially considering that the sequence described above would require the well-timed use of 3 shoulder buttons, a face button and directional inputs (camera permitting). Let's just say you make an error in the midst of that sequence, that means you can add the final shoulder button to the sequence. What if you are required to use the Power of Flight? Then add another face button. Shit be gettin' crazy bout this time fo' sho' homeez.
The story and characters, as in what of them? - So there is the prince, his jerk of a brother and some attractive, elder god. There's also a central villain, but he isn't really given much depth, apart form the fact that he is packing some armageddon-bringing powers. You don't really care about the relationship between Princey and Malik, as they don't appear to care much for each other. Razia acts as a history teacher, but due to the cold delivery of her analysis throughout the adventure, you don't connect to her either. When it is all said and done, you don't feel as though you have achieved anything tangible, and the cliffhanger is disgraceful. It essentially concludes with: The End...... OR IS IT?!?!?! I assume (and hope) that the true conclusion will come via DLC in much the same way that an epilogue chapter was released for the 2008 iteration. If however, that is how the story ends the writers should be ashamed of themselves.
Superficial, unbalanced combat: Smash square and she'll be right mate. Honestly, save for some sequences during boss fights where you are required to mount gargantuan enemy combatants, you can mow down most enemies with mindless mashing of the attack button. To add to the farcical nature of the action, the magic powers, while visually appealing (not impressive, but pretty) completely undermine your opponents. One power (Stone Armour) renders you completely impervious to harm. This includes from boss characters as well! Up on the D-Pad is an "I Win!" button. Your enemies also lack the intelligence and attack power to cause you any trouble, so in every respect, fighting in TFS is an absolute mess.
No blood - This might sound like a petty complaint, but the prince has been bleeding since his first adventures on the PC, and bleeding a lot. If you fall into a pit of spikes, you should be impaled, mangled and dripping crimson. If an enemy combatant strikes you with a sword, you should be leaking plasma. There are a variety of sharp hazards within the castle gates, but none of them will cause you to bleed. Also troubling is the prince's merciful dalliances with the undead. Sometimes when preforming close-quarter finishers you only knee your opponents in the face, or bash them with the butt of your sword. You don't often enough stab demons, and twist the hilt to ensure their return to the afterlife. TFS lacks any real visual representation of punishment for n00bery, and in an iteration of a franchise like Prince of Persia, where I've been bleeding to death for twenty something years, that is hard to forgive.
6.5/10: Prince of Persia - The Forgotten Sands is short, easy and lacking any replay value. As a full retail purchase, this game is not deserving of your hard-earned cash. The game is not entirely without charm, but for every step forward there are two steps back. For those of you looking for an attractive platformer without a narrative (or difficult combat sequences) to distract you, this is however a great choice.
Dutch note: PoP - TFS appears to be one of the notable victims of the packed May release schedule. I picked up my copy for $39 from GAME, and several other retailers have it on special for less than half the retail price. At a budget price, you might (as I did) find yourself very happy with the game. If I paid $110 for this game (and that is the RRP), I would be very unimpressed. I liked the game and I would like to have scored it higher, but there are too many issues to give it the praise deserving of the game's best moments.