Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands Hands On Preview – Attack of the Midquel
Written Wednesday, March 24, 2010 By Dan WebbView author's profile
Before being plonked in front of a Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands pod last week in London, it was difficult to know what to expect. The original trilogy is often hailed as one of the true hardcore platforming games in recent memory, while the 2008 reboot couldn’t have been further away from that if they tried. Oh wait, they did! The 2008 reboot nevertheless was a great game in its own right, but more of an experience and an engaging story than anything else. The Forgotten Sands however falls somewhere in between the two. Closer to the original trilogy in terms of difficulty, but not as hardcore, The Forgotten Sands is looking to scratch that challenging platforming itch that has existed deep in our dark, soulless crevices for quite some time.
The “midquel” takes place in the 7 years between The Sands of Time and The Warrior Within, and tells the story of the original Prince, who heads back to visit his brother, Malik, for reasons unbeknown to us. Maybe he was bringing his washing over because his maid had up and left him. I mean, he is looking a bit ragged around the edges in The Forgotten Sands. Anyway, I digress. Upon arriving in his brother’s kingdom, he finds it under siege from local forces, and after unleashing a mythical force from within the palace to stop these invaders, things take a turn for the worse. “The Prince knows that when you open Pandora’s box, you have to contain the damage afterwards,” said Animation Director, Jan Sjovall. In laymen’s terms... See that army of undead sand men over there? Send them back to where they came from!
Ubisoft Montreal’s aim with The Forgotten Sands, according to Sjovall, is to combine the ambience and setting of Sands of Time, with the realistic treatment of Assassin’s Creed. Gone are the separated platforming and combat sections of the 2008 reboot as well, as the two are once again intertwined with one another. Mix in some “Hollywood moments,” new enemies and some new abilities along the way, and that’s The Forgotten Sands in a nutshell.
Our hands on threw us right in at the deep-end, map 8 to be more specific, partly to show off the Prince’s new array of special powers. Most of the special powers are element based and are used primarily for combat. For instance, your earth based power can turn all your attacks into heavy attacks and sprouts rocks on the Prince’s body so he can take more damage. You can do things like trap enemies in enclosed spaces with your fire-trail and you can use ice – although Ubi call it "solidified water" – to add more range to your sword attacks. The Forgotten Sands also has one of those ridiculous “win” buttons as well, in the form of a tornado attack, which with one button press can wipe out pretty much every enemy in your vicinity. After a while, I actually felt guilty using it, so pretty much stopped using it altogether. These powers are all upgradeable throughout your adventure, so don’t expect to start with the devastating tornado attack from the off. That’s one to earn.
The combat is a lot more free-flowing this time around, with multiple enemies on screen at once to dispatch – probably as many as 50 at times. Like with the original trilogy, the Prince can jump on these enemy’s heads to gain an advantage and combine that with a heavy or weak attack to send them back to the where they came from – presumably the underworld. Enemies with shields however have to be opened up first and some enemies can spawn minions, so the game requires you to adopt a more tactical approach at times, especially seeing as now you have a health bar and yes, you can die again. Mix in the fact that you can use the special elemental powers, and the combat is a lot more action packed than the time-based button pressing affair of the 2008 version. I must add though, these powers – including the rewind – can only be used if you have the crystals to use them. These crystals can be found by destroying pots found around the huge environments, or funnily enough, through just dying and respawning. To use them, it’s a simple click of one of the directions on the d-pad.
It should be noted that the 2008 version isn’t totally forgotten however, with various aspects brought across, including the slide, but the popular grip fall is gone, to be replaced by the more popular curtain-dagger slide; with the 360 degree pole move making a triumphant return. All of these tie into something that The Forgotten Sands excels in... platforming and puzzles.
If there is anything that The Forgotten Sands does superbly, it’s the platforming. Thrown into these vast caverns and Arabian places of wonder, the Prince will be tasked with making his way from one side of some fairly expansive environments to the other. Along the way he’ll have to wall run, flick switches, beat pressure plate timers, pull levers, avoid the general dangers of the world and more importantly, make use of one of the out-of-combat powers; the ability to solidify water – which actually has its own button. It’s definitely the most important power in the whole game from what we experienced. Seeing as it’s on a meter – that replenishes quickly through non-usage – as well, it means you have to time your waterfall wall runs and water shoot pole swings perfectly. Throw in a few switches and levers that activate shoots of water and their sources, and it’s clear that the platforming and puzzling side of The Forgotten Sands are definitely going to require the odd deft touch or two. “It’s about deciphering the path, you have to really look where you are going,” noted Sjovall. Thankfully though, although sometimes you won’t even pick up on them, there are subtle camera hints should you lose your way in amongst all the fighting.
In terms of how the Prince controls though, “The controls are going back to The Sands of Time style,” said Sjovall. So plenty of dying basically and lots of intricately timed jumps – for instance, one secret location jump I found required perfect split-second timing to make it (I did it on about my 20th attempt if you’re interested). They have also revamped the jumping from poles as well so you don’t have to shimmy around them, you can just point and jump... it works perfectly until the camera moves perspectives and you jump totally the opposite way, which it did on the odd occasion.
The rewind has been tweaked slightly for this version as well, with the power no longer tied to the dagger and you no longer having any control over when it stops. What it ultimately means is, using it takes you back to the last safe platform and even worse, it uses one of your crystals – that you use for combat. It’s pretty much rendered it completely useless if we’re being honest, considering that if you died anyway, the checkpoints are designed that you’re not far away from where you just died.
Admittedly I was a huge fan of the 2008 Prince of Persia, but the fact remains, it was devoid of challenge. The Forgotten Sands however is one of the most frustrating and immensely satisfying platforming experiences that we’ve had in some time. Ubisoft Montreal have a neat and pretty game changing ability to solidify water that is not only interesting, but always seems to offer a challenge somewhere along the way. There were a few issues with the camera and the animations of a few moves seemed a little robotic at times, but nothing a little extra layer of polish couldn’t sort out. If you’re looking for a challenging platformer this year, this may be it. However, when the game ships this May, prepare to die… a lot.
Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands is currently scheduled for a May 2010 release.