Thursday, August 5, 2010

Game: Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands

I read once on the internet that games published by Ubisoft tend to drop in price quicker than many other games. I never really paid attention, and then the newest Prince of Persia game (subtitled The Forgotten Sands) came out in May prior to the movie release from the franchise, and has since seen its price free-fall. Console games this generation release at 59.99 usually, and maybe within 6 months depending on a game's sales, the price will slowly move down. The Forgotten Sands was on sale this week, less than 3 months after release, for 19.99. It's normal price hit 39.99 some time ago. I decided that I could live with paying that amount for a game that new. Having finished it, I can safely say that it was worth every penny of its sale price, and probably more. It's a very fun game that is not without its faults, but nonetheless an excellent entry into the continuing series.

I must admit here that I am not an avid PoP fan; I own a couple PS2 games but have never played them. The Sands of Time, 2003's edition, is widely regarded as the best of the decade. The Forgotten Sands is a part of that story, taking place after Sands of Time but before Warrior Within. The Prince arrives at his brother Malik's kingdom to find it under siege, and must find a way in. As Malik is forced further and further into his fortress by the advancing army, he desperately unleashes King Solomon's Army from its legendary tomb in an effort to turn the tide. Unfortunately, it is learned that the imprisoned army was not King Solomon's host, but his enemy's. The story thus revolves around the Prince and Malik's attempts to close the tomb again, while battling Ratash, a rebel Djinn who seeks to destroy humanity.

The newer Prince of Persia games generally consist of 3 elements: platforming, puzzles, and basic combat. In a way, games like God of War have advanced some of those elements far beyond what Forgotten Sands brings to the table, but where games of its ilk are heavily combat-oriented, PoP games focus much more on wall running and avoiding diabolical traps.

Platforming

The platforming component in Forgotten Sands is excellent. While not being terribly difficult, in later stages the precise timing really ramps up and takes some mental calculations to figure out. Mostly consisting of ledge jumping, wall running, and a few neat tricks, it's quite intuitive and only becomes a bit of a mind bender when the Prince's new powers come into play. Each major ability is smartly assigned to a single button, but a player must be comfortable with the controller because he will often have to switch from one button to another on the fly. The controls are quite responsive and for the most part, falling to my death was my own mistake after pushing the wrong button.

In this iteration, aside from being able to rewind time to avoid a grisly end, the Prince gains the power to freeze water, turning spouts into bars to swing on and cascades into solid walls from which to leap. Using this ability becomes important very early on and by the end of the game, it's mostly second nature. There is another ability that shows up much later, but comes to have no real bearing and feels a little padded.

Puzzles

Aside from determining the best course of action through the various deadly traps - saw blades, axe pendulums, and swinging spiked bars that never seem to lose momentum despite having no visible means of maintaining it - the puzzles in Forgotten Sands are pretty straightforward. For some reason, the people who designed the castle thought putting door-opening switches in the walls requiring substantial depressive force, so you'll be doing a fair share of pushing a switch and then high tailing it for whatever opening you managed to just release. Most of the puzzles come in the platforming itself, especially in later areas where freezing water must be turned on and off repeatedly to continue.

Combat

It's a good thing that combat isn't really emphasized in the game, because it's sadly underdeveloped. The Prince has two attacks, basic and power. He can achieve an ongoing combo of sorts, but it doesn't amount to anything. The enemies are all slow-moving wussies who telegraph their attacks a week ahead of time, giving the player ample opportunity to avoid being hit. Dodging and jumping to safety only go so far, though, as at various points one finds himself facing dozens of enemies at once. Usually the result of a mage-type who continually spawns new enemies until they are killed, these sections are actually somewhat fun, and absolutely essential for several achievements. Only the heavily plated juggernaut enemy caused much consternation, mostly because I wasn't sure how to defeat it. Simply put, it's nearly impossible to actually die in the combat here.

The Rest

Visuals are above average, cut scenes look good and, with one massive glaring exception late in the game, just long enough to advance the narrative. The voice acting is a particular strength of the game, though the writing fails to deliver much impact.

As mentioned, the game has some faults. The first is on the technical side - the camera sometimes becomes very unruly. For the most part, it works well, pointing the player in the direction they need to go. Sometimes, however, while trying to spin the angle around (which is only sometimes an option) ends up fighting the camera's auto function, leaving the player totally clueless as to location of the enemies they are currently fighting. Oddly, especially in 2010, there are only two difficulty settings - Normal and Easy. Beating the game doesn't unlock anything new. I can safely say that as a beginner in the franchise, Normal was pretty simple. I died, sure, but a lot of it was trial and error. I just didn't feel challenged at almost any point.

A Challenge Mode exists, and has both Time Trial and a sort of Survival mode in which the player fights successive waves of enemies, but feels really unnecessary. The biggest sticking point is that the game times the player during the challenge, but apparently is only useful for competing against oneself, as no online leaderboards exist. With just the one challenge anyway, it probably wouldn't be all that interesting.

The good news is that despite claims of a 6 hour single player, I found it to be much longer, probably closer to 10. There is a point in the game where it appears that one is near the end, and then the game pulls a Return of the King and just keeps going. Tedium sets in a little, but for the most part the game remains fun. Achievements are easy to get, with only a handful requiring much extra effort - I managed 37 out of 40 over the course of playing, plus an extra hour or so.

For a low price, one really can't go wrong with this game. Interestingly, the Xbox/PS3 version differs dramatically from the Wii version, which differs dramatically from the PSP verison, which is itself differentiated from the DS version. My particular playthrough was on the 360, but I also have the Wii version due to the only real similarities being the title and core gameplay. The powers of the Prince are completely different.

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands is a great entry to the series, and a good game on its own merit.