The Prince of Persia has taken an interesting journey in the last handful of years. Critics look back fondly on 2003’s The Sands of Time for its combination of heartwarming storytelling, simple yet addictive combat and groundbreaking platforming. The sequel, Warrior Within, sold a lot better but its more mainstream approach of blood, sex and angst was perceived as an artistic betrayal of Sands’ elegant beauty, and its aggravating combat didn’t win any awards either. The cap to the trilogy, Two Thrones, made a glorious return to form by mixing Warrior Within’s combo fighting with a satisfying speed kill system, putting an emphasis back on platforming and wrapping up the story with one of the most satisfying conclusions in modern gaming.
Two Thrones pretty much shut the door on the Prince from Sands of Time, tying his serpentine story arc together beautifully. The 2008 Prince of Persia reboot met with a lukewarm reception, however, and with a Sands of Time movie hitting theatres this year, Ubisoft couldn’t resist revisiting the Sands trilogy. The result is Forgotten Sands, an interquel that takes place in the seven year gap between the first game and Warrior Within.
An undisclosed amount of time after the incident in Azad, the Prince is sent to his brother Malik’s kingdom to get some pointers on leadership. Upon arriving the Prince finds his brother’s paradisical city besieged by a neighboring army, and Malik hell-bent on unleashing an ancient horde of sand demons to turn the battle in his favor. After a combat and movement tutorial through the city the Prince catches up with Malik, but despite the Prince’s warnings (he’s obviously seen this kind of thing before), Malik unlocks the demon-filled vault. In short order the sand army rampages through the city, turning all humans into stone statues. Led by their satanic commander Ratash, the sand army quickly becomes the main enemy of the game.
This really isn’t a big departure for the series—sand demons were the main bad guys in all the previous games, but here the combat makes several changes. Instead of fighting a handful of enemies or just one in a focused duel, Forgotten Sands throws dozens of skeletal soldiers at you at once, sometimes upwards of fifty at a time. Being surrounded by slavering ghouls is rather thrilling at first, adding a touch-and-go element to the combat, but unfortunately the fighting quickly grows bland.
The single criticism that popped up in most Sands of Time reviews was aimed at its supposedly repetitive combat. True—there weren’t a lot of moves or sword techniques, and that’s why the cumbersome combos were the main emphasis in Warrior Within. Still, Sands at least added some nuance to the fighting with flashy aerial moves that combined the Prince’s free running with cold-steel death, or devilishly satisfying finishers that, when timed right, would suck impaled sand monsters straight into the Prince’s dagger.
In comparison, Forgotten Sands’ combat is banal. You’ll be mowing down crowds of enemies with straight button-mashing most of the time. There are a few acrobatic moves, notably the iconic attack where the prince vaults up and over an enemy and stabs him on the way down. You can also leap from enemy to enemy to cross a crowd, which is pretty cool, and kick into a large group to topple a dozen skeletons at once. That said, you can’t launch yourself off walls or do a spinning attack out of a vertical leap. You can unlock a few magical powers, based on the game’s “four elements” theme, like a crowd-scrambling whirlwind or waves of ice that fly off your sword. It’s just not as lively or frenetic as it should be, though, and I’d like to see the developers expand the idea in the future. Crowd combat could be really cool, especially if they put a few of the flashier aerial moves in or implemented a persistent version of Two Thrones’ speed kill system.
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