Like the proverbially overlooked middle child, Forgotten Sands quietly goes about its business largely ignored between the extremities of the over achieving Sands of Time and the angst ridden Warrior Within. Forgotten Sands is the sequel to the 2003 Prince of Persia Sands of Time and follows on shortly after the Prince’s last adventure.
Upon returning to his homeland the Prince discovers that the palace under attack and must, with monkey-like agility, jump, swing, run, climb and fight his way into the city past numerous attacking soldiers in the hopes of finding his brother, Malik, and assisting in the city’s defence.
When he finally reaches Malik, and the brotherly banter subsides, he learns that his brother plans to release an ancient force known as Solomon’s Army with which Malik hopes to sway the battle in his favour.
Nothing, of course, is that simple. Solomon’s Army is no saviour but a demonic horde named thus only after Solomon defeated them at great cost. As Malik breaks the seal undead soldiers erupt from the earth turning soldiers to sand and separating the Prince from his brother. This is the setup for the game-long chase as you try and reunite with your brother, stop him from being corrupted by this curse and finally combine the seals you each hold to lock away Solomon’s Army.
As an introduction to the game play – largely unchanged from the 2003 iteration – there is a resounding familiarity to what is occurring. Very quickly you can find yourself falling back into the rhythm of this series. Jump here, wall run there, fall to your death as you mistimed a wall jump over there... but, as the saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt.
Ubisoft appear to understand this and you are soon introduced to the only other speaking character in Forgotten Sands; an attractive female Djinn, who you’ll liaise with sporadically throughout the game so she can infuse you with the time-rewinding staple of the series, as well as new magical powers and narrative exposition.
The abilities you gain quickly grow Forgotten Sands from what feels like Sands of Time downloadable content to a new experience shaped from the Sands of Time universe.
Suddenly you’re freezing a waterfall to use as a temporary wall, or freezing a series of fountains pouring from a wall as a swing bar en route to the next area – all with a weather eye on your magic bar.
Running out of power as you are clinging to a snap frozen swing bar can create some excellent Wyle E. Coyote moments. It adds a new dynamic to the usual swinging, balancing and climbing acrobatics of Prince of Persia as you now must also consider when to freeze and unfreeze water mid-flight.
As the game moves on the Prince gains access to other comparable abilities and navigating rooms becomes a much more intricate and interesting experience that can be variously exhilarating and maddening. Occasionally leaving the rewinding of time until the Prince has slammed into a ledge or a spike pit is a good way to release some of the tension.
Sadly for Forgotten Sands the combat has taken a step back. There is no real style or combo system to speak of and mashing the attack key while occasionally rolling out of the way generally works for most of the game. There are a few enemy types and situations that can alter this play style - like shield wielding monsters that you have to kick first before mashing the attack button, or if you have an enemy against a wall or the edge of a ledge the Prince occasionally gets in an environmental killing blow.
It is a shame that the combat is this lacklustre, as Ubisoft have no qualms about putting you up against hordes of sand-mummy-warriors; but clearing out a room of 30 such creatures by mashing one key leaves a lot to be desired.
In what must have been an attempt to alleviate some of the repetition in combat Forgotten Sands introduces an experience system that unlocks fighting techniques and abilities. As you kill creatures you receive experience balls and once enough are gathered you ‘level up’ giving you one point to spend on new abilities. These range from elemental magic to increased weapon damage or larger health and magic pools. Though it is nice to leave a trail of fire behind you it doesn’t really add much to the button mashing that will take place throughout the game.
If you liked Sands of Time and don’t mind the odd rage quit, this could be worth a look - but don’t expect a big game as it can easily be knocked off in a couple of nights play. Once completed two new game types - Enemy Tides and Time Trial - can be opened up in the Challenge mode menu adding some value.
This game is not a step forward for Ubisoft or the Prince of Persia series and anyone expecting new and groundbreaking experiences need not bother. The new magical abilities add a fresh dimension to the tried and true climbing puzzles and fans of the series will be happy to note that the Prince’s old smug and sarcastic humour, taken from him when he became a whiny black-clad killer in Warrior Within, is back and still entertaining. Prince of Persia Forgotten Sands is an enjoyable romp through the widely liked Sands of Time universe with just enough added to keep it interesting.