After the Assassin’s Creed series dumped Prince Of Persia’s mechanics into a sandbox, finessed the combat system, and wrapped everything in a spiffy science-fiction frame story, a return to the Sands saga’s linear platforms and puzzles could have felt claustrophobic and maybe even a little superfluous. Instead, Prince Of Persia: The Forgotten Sands refines the franchise’s best elements while expanding the Prince’s bag of tricks and ratcheting up the complexity of his challenges—good news for fans who found 2008’s cel-shaded entry more cakewalk than free run.
But how do you release a game that’s a Sands Of Time movie tie-in if you’ve already closed the book on that game’s story arc? If you’re Ubisoft, you publish an interquel that drops players into the seven-year gap between the events of The Sands Of Time and Warrior Within. When an army of generic warriors invades the kingdom, the Prince’s brother, Malik, summons the legendary forces of Solomon, only to discover that instead of spectral soldiers, he’s unleashed a horde of undead who have something like the Midas touch. On cue, a djinn named Razia appears to dole out new abilities and plot details, but fortunately, the save-the-world boilerplate doesn’t stall the action for long, and the game quickly falls into an easy rhythm of booby-trapped corridors, vertiginous platform scrambles, and button-mashing rumbles with great waves of easily dispatched baddies.
New acrobatics and scalable surfaces are introduced, then mixed and matched under the watchful eye of a camera that shoves more than guides players to the next area. And when the Prince receives a new godlike power—like the ability to temporarily freeze water—puzzle dynamics tilt 90 degrees, as players are forced to incorporate tricky, time-sensitive maneuvers into their repertoires. That may sound daunting, but freezing a jet of water in order to swing through a freshly melted waterfall before catching a refrozen trapeze on the other side quickly becomes second nature. Of course, if the Prince just misses his target, there’s always the option of rewinding the action by a few fateful seconds.
While these puzzles feel fussed-over, with difficulty that ramps up steadily and organically, the combat comes off like a clunky, lifeless afterthought. The game’s lackluster visuals are especially damning here, and the simplistic leveling system adds little depth to encounters that never rise above slogs. Even back when developer Brøderbund was at the helm, it was clear that the swashbuckling was only there to break up the game’s real draw: death-defying leaps, close scrapes, and sticky ends.