Say what you like about the last Prince of Persia - at least it was a genuine attempt to take the series somewhere new. Sadly, for every one of us who loved the gorgeous cartoon graphics, the fast-paced, frustration-free platforming, the epic set-pieces, the imaginative storyline, there was some miserable grump who wished Prince of Persia would go back to the way it was.
Well, be careful what you wish for. This new Prince of Persia, released to tie-in with the new Jake Gyllenhaal movie, is a return to the Prince, style and setting of the Sands of Time trilogy, but - in true Arabian Nights fashion - that turns out to be both a blessing and a curse.
As we're feeling nice, let's kick off with the good stuff. Firstly, the old prince is back, and while it's a bit off that he only has a passing resemblance to his earlier self - or indeed Jake Gyllenhaal - the Persian palace setting and the basic gameplay are straight from The Sands of Time guide book. There's none of that vaguely automated platforming the doubters hated from the 2008 reboot, and the controls pick up pretty much where 2005's The Two Thrones left off, with just the odd tweak here and there.
The emphasis is predominantly on wall-running, leaping, pole-swinging, column-climbing and banner knifing acrobatics, with plenty of switch and lever puzzles, mostly involving huge, trundling mechanisms, in for good measure. If you liked this sort of thing in The Sands of Time, the last couple of Tomb Raiders and Uncharted and its sequel, then there's a very good chance you'll like it here. And if you're new to the Prince - maybe drawn in by the movie - then you'll find the basic action very satisfying.
Of course, it wouldn't be Prince of Persia without a little magic. The plot this time revolves around a mythical army of demons imprisoned by the wise King Solomon and foolishly let loose by your elder brother in the defence of his kingdom from aggressors. Luckily help is on hand from some friendly Djinn who imbue you with magic powers. First you'll get the sands of time, enabling you, when things go wrong, to reset your progress to a point before your demise.
Later on you get the ability to solidify water, turning water jets into poles or columns and waterfalls into walls you can climb. Later still you get the ability to restore chunks of scenery to their rightful place. The game makes the most of these abilities, with some thoughtful puzzles that rely on you freezing and unfreezing the H20 in a heartbeat or combine your powers, and these are arguably the freshest element in the game.
Most importantly, The Forgotten Sands hasn't entirely jettisoned the less hardcore approach of the 2008 Prince. The stealth kills of The Two Thrones are nowhere to be found, generous checkpoints combined with time-control make catastrophic failure a rare event, and even the combat - now focused on trashing hordes of dumb monsters rather than single, smart opponents - is easy going. While you have additional and upgradable magical abilities to help you beat back the evil army, you'll find you don't even really need to use them most of the time.
For much of its running time, The Forgotten Sands is a slick, enjoyable romp that's hard to dislike. Ubisoft never stints on production values, either, so it's no surprise to find yourself staring at graphics that give the old Prince's visual style a spectacular HD spin, or hear a sweeping orchestral score fit for a movie.
The problem is the old "seen that, done that" phenomenon. For all its new features, and for all that it boasts glorious HD graphics, it's hard not to feel that you've played this game before, and that last time it had something a little more special up its sleeve. The more the game goes on, the more the grand chambers of the palace blur, the more the fights grow tiresome, and the more you start wishing for some big flourish of imagination.
We suspect this is going to be a bigger issue for those who played the Sands of Time trilogy than it is for any newcomers, but this doesn't really feel as much like Prince of Persia 2010 as it does a reskin of The Sands of Time with the combat tidied up and a few new features bolted on. What's worse, it hasn't got the charm or personality of that first Prince of Persia remake. The storyline has just enough oomph to keep things moving, but this isn't a game that you would have bet on inspiring a Hollywood blockbuster.
In many ways The Forgotten Sands combines great things from both the classic Sands of Time and the 2008 reboot; it's fun, good-looking and plays like the old ones, but has the pace, polish and less hardcore approach of the last Prince of Persia. Sadly, it hasn't got the invention or the magic of either game, making it a decent game for fans of the old games or the new movie, but not a defining new chapter for the series.
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