Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands

Post-Launch Review
Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands (PC)
Developers: Ubisoft Montreal, Quebec, Singapore, & Casablanca
Released: May 18 2010 (consoles) / June 12 2010 (PC)


Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands is a third-person action-platformer which takes place between the previous games Sands of Time and Warrior Within. The Prince is sent to learn leadership from his brother Malik, but finds the palace under siege by a massive army when he arrives. In his desperation, and despite the Prince's warnings, Malik releases the Army of Solomon, a legendary magical force with as many soldiers as there are grains of sand. The army devastate's Malik's kingdom and corrupts him, leaving the Prince to look for a way to stop the sand army and save his brother.

At Launch

Forgotten Sands was fairly well liked by critics, receiving average review scores of about 75%. Many reviewers felt the game was very very similar to Sands of Time, with some calling it an HD remake. Opinions were divided on whether that was a good thing, but critics acknowledged the many mechanical improvements from Sands of Time. Some felt that the game was too short and combat too simple.

Post Launch

There may have been updates, but I can't find them, so I'm assuming there weren't any.

The Good

New Powers
In addition to the reverse-time ability, you also get the ability to time-freeze water. At first this seems like just a minor platforming gimmick that requires an extra button press instead of just putting a pole there, but as the game goes on there are much more interesting water puzzles, which will require some thought and good timing.
You can also spend experience on four other magical powers, each of which is optional. There's one that leaves a damaging flame trail behind you as you move; stone armour that blocks all damage for a short time; an ice blast that extends the reach of your sword; and a whirlwind to knock enemies away. These all draw from the same energy reserve as the time control power, so you have to balance the use of your combat abilities with your get-out-of-death-free card.
Experience System
Speaking of experience... each enemy you kill grants you XP points (with the exception of minions summoned by stronger guys). What's nice is that this is explained in the game, and is actually a major plot point. The two halves of the seal possessed by the Prince and Malik can absorb the energy of defeated sand zombies, granting additional power. I won't explain why this is so important, but trust me, it's actually a thing. Also I just like it when the game bothers to tell you where these magical powers are coming from.
No, this is not Malik.
Prince Malik
In a structural move suspiciously similar to Sands of Time, the Prince quickly finds himself one of only two survivors of a terrible sand-related disaster. But this time the other is the Prince's brother, Malik, a renowned leader and commander. There's some good interplay between them, and they seem to genuinely care about each other despite some disagreements.
Streamlined Movement
The Prince's movement is a bit quicker than in previous installments, and as a result he feels more fluid and acrobatic. Some of the faster animations look a little awkward, and brick climbing could stand to be a little faster to match other moves, but overall climbing and jumping feel quite nice and smooth.
Last Levels
The last couple of stages do an excellent job of making you feel very badass. Highlight for spoilers.
You get a fancy magical sword which can one-shot all standard enemies, which lets you just burn right through huge crowds, and feels great after some challenging fights earlier on. Even the giants are easily dispatched with only a few sword blows.
Just before the final boss battle, you find yourself jumping and swinging your way through a massive sandstorm, occasionally battling on large chunks of the palace which have been torn off. That's awesome.
The final boss could have been better, but still manages to provide a few distinct stages which help to keep things interesting.

The Neutral

Forgotten Sands of Time
Forgotten Sands is extremely similar to Sands of Time, in a lot of ways. There's a magical-sand-apocalypse, only the Prince and one other survive, the Prince gets magical assistance from a mysterious being hidden behind magical doorways, it's set in a palace, etc. If you liked Sands of Time you'll probably like Forgotten Sands.
Oddly, the ability to block enemy attacks has disappeared. Instead you can only diveroll to evade attacks. Perhaps to compensate, enemies are a fair bit slower, which unfortunately means that combat mostly turns into a click-until-they-die affair. One enemy type has a shield which must be kicked aside, but that's the only real complication to the very basic combat system. It's not that combat is bad, just that it's not particularly good.

Oddly enough, when I say the camera is a problem, I don't mean the controls are awkward. The issue is that at many points in the game, the camera moves to a certain spot and stops. There's no free look, so you can't look around. To be fair, in those sections, there tends to legitimately be no other way to go, so it's not like the camera is hiding alternate routes. But I'd like to be able to check for myself, rather than trusting the game.

The Bad

I bought this game during the December Steam sale of 2011. At the time I was having a problem with my laptop's networking, where it would be connected to a network but Windows wouldn't recognize the connection. It meant that I could use the internet and Steam just fine, but a few specific things wouldn't work (like streaming media to an XBox or setting up a home network). During that time, I couldn't launch the game at all because it required not only internet access but for some reason a recognized network connection.
I'm not sure that problem still exists, but even if you don't encounter it, the game will still pause if you lose your internet connection while playing. It's better than quitting to menu, but still frustrating - especially if it happens in the middle of an acrobatic maneuver and you fall to your death when the game resumes.
Even worse - if it interrupts during combat and you're madly clicking mouse 1 to attack, you'll accidentally hit the Quit button, which will immediately close the game. ARGH.
PC Settings
You may have noticed that some of my screenshots are lower-quality than others. Why is that, you ask? WELL.
The graphical settings aren't found in-game. Nope, they're in a harder-to-find place. When you start UPlay, beside "play", there's an arrow for a dropdown menu. The game settings are found there. That's a little annoying, and I didn't even realize you could change settings until halfway through the game.
The other problem is that many users experience problems with the resolution setting, where it goes back to the default when you try to change it. There is a simple fix which involves editing registry files.
Time Control
The djinn grant you the power to turn back time. Why? So that it still feels like Sands of Time. There's no narrative reason to have this ability at all. You use "energy", which is also used for the other optional powers (but not water control). The ability itself is fine and works exactly the same way as in Sands, but it feels tacked on here.
Jars and Urns
In Sands of Time, you replenished health by drinking water, which was only found in certain locations, and is a neat idea for a game set in a desert where water represents life. You refilled your time ability by absorbing the sands of time from defeated enemies. In Forgotten Sands, you gain health and energy by shattering jars. I don't know what's supposed to be in those jars, but it's a weird abstraction for a series that usually explains things so well.

The Verdict

Recommendation: maybe.
Forgotten Sands is a solid game with a decent story. The problem is, fitting it between two parts of a trilogy means that by necessity, the game can't tell a story that both ties into the plot of the trilogy and is important to the trilogy's plot. As a result, Forgotten Sands is a standalone adventure which has absolutely no relevance to the overarching plot. It's also very similar mechanically and structurally to Sands of Time, but with a few new elements and small tweaks, and without the awesome framing device of the Prince telling his story (that's referenced at the beginning but is quickly abandoned). If you're a fan of the series it's worth playing, but it's not a good place to start your Prince of Persia adventures - Sands of Time is still my favourite and the best jumping-on point.

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