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Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands (X360)

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands (X360)

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands

The Persian Empire brought many things to the civilised world but it’s a shame that they couldn’t have come up with a design for working doors and stairs. Well, that’s at least what the Prince of Persia series would have us believe, forcing characters to have to continually scale walls and defy gravity in a manner more in keeping with Spiderman than anything else. A franchise spawned from humble platform and puzzle beginnings the games continue to remain true to that ethos, while of course ramping up the gravity, death and time defiance to previously unimaginable levels.

Central to the latest effort is the titular Prince of Persia, someone who clearly spent his over-privileged formative years studying acrobatics, parkour and rock climbing. Just as well too since when an ill-timed visit to his brother Malik sees him trying to avoid harm in the middle of war-zone these skills become very useful. When he finally does get a chance to speak to his brother it turns out in a bid to fend off the invading forces he plans to raise King Solomon’s army of the dead, which will have disastrous consequences.

Now it’s up to the Prince to not only save his brother’s kingdom but also the world. The question is will the game majestically soar through the air before landing a perfect barani or will it plummet through the air screaming before being silenced with a grisly splat?

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Although the game may well immediately leap out as being a platformer, with a protagonist jumping from level, really it has good deal in common with a puzzle game. Each level requires logic as well as skilful manoeuvring to conquer and it isn’t long before the player starts to think in these terms. This impacts significantly and the good part is that it always engages the brain and nothing is simple or straightforward. Less ideal though is that the death defying stunts that should place heart throbbing away in mouth become less fluid and exciting than they could be.

It feels easy to solve the puzzles at first; however they become progressively more difficult as the game continues requiring not just more lateral thought but use of a wide range of powers to solve. In that sense the game has a very good measure of itself. Just when the player thinks they are getting the hang of it to the point where it might become tedious, a new element is introduced that keeps the level of challenge in that healthy middle ground between the polar opposites of boredom and frustration.

The way this works is through the introduction of magical powers, such as the ability to freeze water. Where one level might require our Prince to jump from a ledge onto a column and then swing off a pole to get to where he needs, the later levels require that he does all that and have to freeze a waterfall that he can then run across into the bargain. While it might sound like a mundane gimmick on paper, the combined use of multiple magical abilities as well as the normal array of jumps and tricks does become extremely challenging. The sense of triumph when completing one of these extended sequences later in the game is not misplaced – the player has genuinely had to work for it.

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In previous incarnations it was always the case that time could be reversed in one form or another and this trend continues in The Forgotten Sands, with a few slight changes.

This time around the ability to rewind time is not infinite and is limited to a number of retires. This is a smart move on the part of Ubisoft as it adds another element of challenge that forces the player to think about what the best course of action will be next rather than simply hope for the best. This does seem a little counter-intuitive at times with the game literally displaying what buttons to press or some parts of the puzzle being a little too glaringly obvious but the balance is just about right in terms of keeping the player wanting to try and make forward progress before putting down the controller for the night.

A shame then that the other big part of the game, the combat system, has been dumbed down from the earlier games. Previously the combat was a rhythm based exercise in timing, this has now been replaced with simple button bashing that quickly becomes repetitive. While there are often a lot of enemies on screen at once, they all seem to be easily dispatched in the same way, which involves little more than holding the control stick in their direction and hitting X. The tutorial tells the player about combos and power moves and these are all too achieved by hitting X. This is especially a let-down in the graphically stunning boss fight sequences. Any expectations for something akin to “God of War” quickly ebb away when it becomes apparent that even the biggest and most terrifying of beasts can be felled by running around, dodging the odd attack and slashing at oversized and swollen ankles with liberal use of our favourite button. Such lack of complexity makes the combat feel little more than a distraction from the rest of the game and may be an issue for fans of the more challenging combat system found in previous games.

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Much like the gameplay the graphical qualities are something of a mixed bag. Some of the painted backdrops are not only gorgeous but authentic to the era and some of the level of detail in these vistas is truly impressive. Then, almost inexplicably, some of the levels seem to lack the same quality.

The character design is very good with some nicely rendered models. The bosses are wonderfully detailed and look suitably menacing, similar to the monsters brought to life by Harryhausen, just without that jittery stop motion. Indeed, the game handles dozens of enemies on the screen at once with no visible slow down or any graphical glitches, which is no mean feat in itself. It has to be said though that there would have been some benefit to adding a more varied selection of foes as the attacking hordes are often identical.

There are a good range of lighting and particle effects on display, most of them coming in the form of the Prince’s magic powers that all have an elemental basis. These add some much needed visual excitement to the proceedings and liven up sequences that would be uninspiring without them. There is a believable crispness when water becomes ice, a genuine crackle to the fire as it burns underfoot. The water effects too are awesome and definitely show what can be done on a next gen system when a project is paid special attention.

All told the game has its moments, some visually spectacular set-pieces and wonderful scenery adding to the allure of the game, yet in other areas there is a real lack of polish.

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Where previous games had been lauded for their voice acting the attempts to recreate the Sunday afternoon swashbucklers viewed in front of snoozing grandparents don’t quite reach the same level of quality as previous releases. The Prince’s comments start to grate early into the game and the tone seems off. One minute there is a genuine threat to the Prince’s wellbeing, the next there is time for some grumbling about having to scale yet another cliff-face. That isn’t to say the voice-acting is bad, because it isn’t at all. In terms of quality it is very good and the voice actors make the most of a limited script. However the decision to have the Prince giving his own running commentary about on-screen events does seem a curious one given that the game is at its best when the player is allowed to concentrate on what is happening.

The in-game sound effects push all the right buttons and there are some nice touches such as being able to hear flaming arrows zing through the air, or hearing rumbling fireballs hurtling towards our Prince from out of the distance. The bosses all roar and bellow as is to be expected from scary demons and they are certainly not shy when it comes to volume.

The music is also subtle but effective. Reminiscent of the theme tune of the original the tunes in the background, although used sparingly, all add to the atmosphere and give the game that sense of period, even though it operates completely outside of anything close to resembling real history.

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The Forgotten Sands is a very traditional game ignoring all the gimmicks and trends of 2010 titles and, in doing so, hopes to remain true to not only the franchise but also the era that spawned it. It is a brave move that should be commended even if it is only partially successful.

At its core is a central game mechanic that makes for both an entertaining and challenging experience and it even occasionally jumps up towards something that could be considered thrilling. However between these high points it is content to simply keep the player ticking over with repetitive tasks. Had the combat system been more engaging then the more repetitive sections would have been vastly improved, elevating the game an extra level.

There is limited additional value added through Challenge Mode – a time trial against waves of enemies – but this is a game that could have been so much more if it just had a little more polish.

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Gameplay 79/100 Some great and entertaining sequences. Could have been vastly improved by a better combat system and tweaks to aspects such as voiceovers and some extra work on the plot/script.
Graphics 80/100 When it looks good, it looks great but some levels disappoint.
Sound 85/100 Decent sound effects, good voice acting and subtle use of authentic music are marred somewhat by the Prince and his commentary.
Value 75/100 A fine single player campaign but compared to many titles available today there is little to draw the gamer back for more after completing.
(Not an Average)
80/100 A game that could have been so much more. It has moments which are brilliant but the decision not to hold it back for an extra month or two of extra polish has been detrimental to the overall experience.

About Author

Stuart Davidson

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