Why would anyone ever want to play a game that chronicles the transformation of the arrogant yet irresistibly charming Prince from Sands of Time to the brooding asshole from Warrior Within? Because, as it turns out, that game isn't nearly as awful as it sounds, though it's still definitely not great, either.
Maybe it was the shockingly bad new look for the Prince that casts him as some horrible amalgamation of Jake Gyllenhaal and a caveman. Maybe it was the mindless combat against hordes of identical enemies that required more patience than skill. Maybe it was the platforming that felt like it was just going through the motions, with hollow setpieces like scripted arrows that come from off-screen, even while indoors, and pose no threat to the player. Whatever it was, The Forgotten Sands' first few hours repulsed me.
But slowly, too slowly, the Prince finally began to find his footing and it felt like I was playing a proper Prince of Persia again. As I gained powers, like freezing running water to use as poles, columns, and walls, the platforming started feeling inspired. I was leaping through one waterfall and running up the next, jumping to platforms that materialized out of thin air at the last possible second, and warping to enemies halfway across the room. It looked and felt complex but became second-nature quickly and was consistently satisfying.
On the other hand, the combat is worse than it's ever been, a mindless, boring exercise in tedium that a drinking bird could sail through if you pointed it toward the square button. I became a total pacifist, ignoring all fights unless mandatory, which are thankfully sparse. It became a metagame to see how much I could avoid combat and made the game infinitely more enjoyable.
Returning to the Sands of Time universe sounds great in concept, but in practice it just doesn't work. The Forgotten Sands doesn't make a single reference to the trilogy it sandwiches itself into and feels like dull fan-fiction. The characters are unsurprisingly boring, with the Prince's brother going through an extremely predictable character arc, the female sidekick only used to deliver backstory, and the main villain simply jumps around and growls occasionally.
The real tragedy is that, as shockingly low-impact as this entry into the Sands of Time universe is, they still had opportunities to make it worthwhile. For instance, the Prince's brother gets possessed by the villain and starts slowly turning into a monster himself, looking more and more like the Dahaka that relentlessly chased the Prince in Warrior Within. "Hey, that'd be a cool twist," I thought. "It would certainly help explain why the Prince was so damn moody in that game." The game disagreed with me and opted instead for Typical Video Game Ending #3.
If you're a big Prince of Persia fan craving some fun, familiar platforming, it's worth a rental, just don't expect a return to greatness. Everyone else can rest assured that they're not missing anything.Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands / $59.99 / PS3 [reviewed], 360, PC