Monday, May 30, 2011

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands

Although the platforming in Enslaved: Odyssey to the West was mostly decorative, it got me in the mood to play a PS2-style Prince of Persia game again, and luckily The Forgotten Sands was just sitting there ready for me to play it. And while the game definitely felt like Ubisoft cared more about getting it out quickly than polishing it to a shine besides the nice jump to HD visuals for the Sands of Time sub-series, it was still a very entertaining game, at least when you were running on walls and jumping from object to object.

The game supposedly takes place between the first and second in the Sands of Time trilogy, although it doesn't make a particular effort to fit into that story besides giving the prince the limited ability to go back in time and mentioning a couple people like Farah. The prince is visiting his brother's kingdom somewhere, and he gets there during the middle of a siege on his castle, which gets interrupted when his brother foolishly unleashes yet another sand-based evil power he didn't understand, which awakes a bunch of monsters that turn everyone except the two brothers (protected by amulets) into sand. So the prince has to save everybody, while picking up new abilities over time and trying to keep his brother from being corrupted. It's pretty standard middle east fantasy stuff, and while it doesn't hurt the game, it didn't make me want to finish it either - I kept playing because I liked the gameplay, not because I gave a crap about why things were happening. Not a big deal for a video game to have a boring story, but it did feel like a step down after a few previous Prince of Persia games spent so much time developing relationships between the Prince and another character. The supporting characters here didn't have much going on.

The platforming is where it's at, and the game delivers, feeling pretty familiar to fans of the series, even if the controls aren't quite the same. The prince can jump and run up and along walls and grab poles and ledges and beams, and he has to use these abilities to avoid deathtraps and traverse otherwise impassable terrain and solve elaborate yet simple puzzles. He quickly gains the ability to reverse time for several seconds to undo mistakes, and later powers such as freezing running water so he can use it to aid his acrobatics, eventually upping the complexity of his stunts to a level I don't quite remember the previous games reaching. The strength of the series has always been making the prince climb and leap all over the place, and they do a great job of recapturing that here.

Unfortunately, the combat is definitely not up to the challenge, though at least it doesn't seem to obstruct progress as often as in previous games. Still, for a series that's always had issues making fighting monsters as interesting as running around, to see them produce the least fun system they've had yet was pretty frustrating. The new system consists of swatting away large groups of boring enemies with a very simple combo system and a few elemental powers that you can buy upgrades for, but which fail to provide much entertainment to the dull process of whacking a bunch of ineffectually aggressive bad guys until they all fall down. The boss fights are boring also, rarely anything more than hacking at some giant dude's feet while he takes swings at you and you get mobbed by a bunch of generic enemies at the same time. Eventually the game integrates attacking enemies into the platforming, but it never becomes a particularly interesting element of such, and you're left with yet another wasted attempt at making this side of the series nearly as fun as the other.

Like I mentioned a bit before, the production values of the game are decent enough in comparison to the older games, and The Forgotten Sands definitely feels like a budget title more than pretty much anything else I've played on the PS3. While it has better platforming than the last attempt at reinventing Prince of Persia, that still had a look of its own that only this generation of hardware could produce, while The Forgotten Sands looks like they just bumped up the polygon count and lighting effects. The voice acting is nothing special, the music is forgettable, and the sound effects are unreliable at best. It's a fairly buggy game too - repeatedly things that should have worked didn't, and it seemed to get sloppier as it went on. If this had been positioned as a AAA title it probably would have been massively disappointing, but knowing that it was basically pushed out to coincide with the movie and paying less than $20 to get it a year later, with expectations in check, I was mostly pleased with the game. I wanted some fun acrobatic platforming, and I got it, even if everything around it wasn't quite up to snuff.

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