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Just in time for the movie, Ubisoft releases a Prince of Persia that is in no way affiliated to Jake Gyllenhaal...
You have to question whether Ubisoft has its priorities straight. Having (presumably) spent plenty of euros and endured months of frustration with the poorly conceived adaptation to James Cameron's Avatar, it seems the French publisher has missed out on the opportunity to have a tie-in ready for the release of Bruckheimer's Prince of Persia cinematic debut. Coming off the back of a wave of publicity and comparisons to the juggernaut franchise that is Pirates of the Caribbean, it seems Ubisoft's missed a trick by not having a digital Jake Gyllenhaal ready in time.
Perhaps naming a video game adaptation of a movie that even lifts the title of the trilogy it comes from would be a tad difficult - 'Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time - The Video Game Of the Movie That Was Inspired By The Video Game' just doesn't seem that catchy.
However there is some solace in the form of Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands. A 'misplaced' chapter in the original Sands of Time trilogy, The Forgotten Sands sits rather conveniently between the events of the Sands of Time and Warrior Within. If Ubisoft's led to be believed then the timely release of Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands is entirely coincidental. Presumably rethinking the future direction of the series after a tepid response to the 2008 reboot, Ubisoft's turned to the more popular (and just generally better) series on the last generation of consoles.
But can this '1.5' fit in nicely or does it feel as though Ubisoft's attempting to put a square peg in a round hole?
Finding the Prince in his more affable guise before Warrior Within's transformation into the angst-ridden Prince, The Forgotten Sands is very much a self-contained story with few links to the overarching storyline in which it's been squeezed. Visually the Prince is described as a cross between the two manifestations, but the result seems to be ever so slightly simian in our opinion. There's an early explanation as to how the Prince suffered his facial scar between the two chapters, but that's about it in terms of inside nods towards the Prince of Persia fanbase. Regrettably it never attempts to depict that transformation that occurred during the seven years between Sands of Time and Warrior Within. Certain elements of the task that awaits the Prince could ultimately provide the motive and reason as to why he turned into such an unlikeable rogue in Warrior Within, but for a Sands of Time fan, the lack of development seems like an opportunity missed. We'll just have to assume somebody really managed to piss him off, perhaps he stubbed his toe and he's still holding a grudge.
Of the two titles it's set between The Forgotten Sands is very much a welcome throwback to the original Sands of Time, with the emphasis resting on feats of dexterity and puzzles instead of the latter titles' action focus.
Unlike most third-person action/adventure titles, combat isn't the focus in Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands, instead it's the respite to the core blend of puzzles and platformer gameplay. If you're looking for a button-basher you might want to look elsewhere, as The Forgotten Sands' combat is simplistic and outdated. Ubisoft Montreal has attempted to expand upon the setup with an elemental upgrade system, which bestows the Prince with varying offensive techniques across Fire, Wind, Ice and Stone powers. Ultimately it's a tad shallow and doesn't really expand the combat to any sufficient degree. It does insist on throwing large number of skeleton soldiers at you, which combined with the ability to leap around on their shoulders does manage to offer some comical moments. The inadequacies, however, are again highlighted by the bigger opponents, which can be quickly defeated with a simplistic combo of charged attacks and rolls. The only battle worthy of mention is the final battle against Ratash, the general of the Sand Army, which at least manages to successfully dramatise the action to something bordering a grand finale. But if it's combat you want then there are far greater examples, such as God of War III.
Fortunately it's the platformer gameplay that is still rewarding and arguably manages to offer something that hasn't really been bettered since The Sands of Time trilogy concluded back in 2005. Amid a trend to create immersive, believable game worlds, it sometimes seems as though the art of good level design has been lost. The Forgotten Sands represents a welcome regression. It may seem like a sheepish return to a seven-year old concept, but when it's as well designed and implemented as it is in The Forgotten Sands, then the Prince's inimitable style still manages to provide fun and satisfaction.
Beyond the classic cog and lever puzzles, some of which provide more than a few head scratching moments largely followed by the Eureka! flash of inspiration, Prince of Persia's core platformer gameplay requires absolute concentration and a steely determination. Ubisoft Montreal has added a couple of techniques that expand upon the basic setup of wall-running and mid-air leaps. Initially the addition of the ability to freeze water seems pretty trivial, along with the ability to reveal hidden scenery objects granted later in the game, but soon both techniques becomes crucial elements that add further complexity to a very demanding, yet highly satisfying, co-ordination of button prompts. Ultimately it's the interchange between buttons to wall-run, freeze, and reveal hidden scenery objects that provides the hook, a beautiful exchange that requires exquisite timing and a genuine demand to have a little skill with the controller.
Thankfully Ubisoft Montreal has created the levels to truly demonstrate and demand it. There's a steady sense of progression throughout the 10 or so hours on offer, building to the final level that proposes maddeningly challenging situations such as five waterfalls in sequence, requiring a rapidly precise combination of freeze, wall-runs, jumps, and unfreeze actions. Towards the final acts you'll barely have time to blink as the game challenges your honed, razor-sharp instincts.
Like Sands of Time, The Forgotten Sands is by its very own nature a trial-and-error experience. In all likelihood it's the reason behind the rewind time mechanic that became the series' talisman, as repeated deaths would just be plainly frustrating (although thankfully, unlike 2008's reboot, you can actually die in this one). Ubisoft Montreal has tidied up a lot of the rough edges, eliminating any ambiguity and reducing the margin for error with more definitive moves and a general streamline over the controls such as jumping between pillars. Ultimately it's never the game that's failing you, but merely your own deficiencies. The Forgotten Sands is a game that will test your skill as opposed to your attention span. A reasonable amount of aptitude leads to a wonderful sense of fluidity, with distinctive lines throughout the levels that bear more in common to the older Tony Hawk's titles.