Wednesday, August 17, 2011

VGR PoP Forgotten Sands

The Sands of Time Trilogy might have been closed with Two Thrones but with a new interest in the series thanks to a movie adaptation, Ubisoft thought it was a good commercial move to bring the series back in an all-new episode just for this time.

A new game was released amongst most systems. In what I like to call the "Forgotten Sands chapters" (which would have made a much better title for this game IMO).
Like Untold tales or Missing chapters, all these games across the different consoles aren't the same but instead different episodes taking place in the 7 years gab between The Sands of Time and Warrior Within.
This is a review of the "Next Gen-version" available on Xbox 360, PC and PS3.

Warning though, this is in no-way a continuation of the 2008 installment, The Tree Of Life, which has been put on hold for this episode and the Assassin's Creed franchise taking all the resources and time at Ubisoft.

VGR: Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands
From Ubisoft/Ubisoft Montreal/Ubisoft Singapore
Played on Xbox 360
Also available on PS3 & PC
Type Parkour/platformer
Year 2010

With the Sands of Time series closed in a perfectly circular and well rounded ending in Two Thrones, this chapter of the Prince of Persia franchise was supposedly perfectly sealed away and closed on a fitting final note.
But due to the movie production gaining such a tremendous momentum, Ubisoft had to release something and make some profit out of this new light shining on the series.

This Forgotten Sands game saw a multi-platform release on most current systems.
Each depicting a one of four separated storyline.
The main Forgotten Sands was developed for the much more powerful systems. It was built over the Anvil Engine, the same one powering up the 2008 Prince of Persia game and the Assassin's Creed series. Though instead of making a similarly built huge freely explorable open world with the same type of nervous and fast gameplay, they adapted it to mimic the original Sands of time/Warrior Within/Two Thrones episodes.
engine PoP2008/Assassin's Creed

How did this game far off, rushed under a year worth of development and trying to be reminiscent of the old Gamecube/PS2/Xbox games?

Me meet again, Prince...

The story sees the return of the previous hero, the Prince from the Sands of Time series.
This episode is an "interquel", it takes place during the seven year gap between Sands of Time and Warrior Within.

The Prince is back!
The story opens with the Prince arriving from the desert on a horse.
He was sent on a quest by his own father to learn from his older brother Malik leadership and how to act as such.

But once there, the Prince finds this Kingdom under attack  by some army who wants to reach the treasured buried under the Palace...
He finally meets up with Malik. Malik also wants to get in the treasure vault, believing some mystical artifacts stored there to be able to free his people from their wrongdoers. Malik convinces the Prince they have to rely on the Army of King Solomon as a last resort to save themselves. They break a magical seal...which summons creatures made of sand all accross the Kingdom! Both keep half of the the seal.

Trouble arises!

The unleashed army is uncontrollable...quickly the whole population is turned into sand and the Kingdom overruled... Malik and the Prince are immune thanks to the protection obtained from the seals.

Both get separated once again from each other... The Prince finds a strange portal to the magical lair of the Djinn Goddess Razia. The Prince discovers it wasn't Solomon's army but merely the foes that were originally sent to kill him in the first place.

To stop this madness, the Prince then must reunite both sides of the seal.
Razia gives him special abilities to face his opponents. Meanwhile, Malik's turning slowly into a pawn for the real enemy here. He thinks he wants to destroy the whole army, enemy by enemy, gathering more and more power...but he's actually being slowly becoming the demon Ratash, the real leader of Solomon's Army.
Ratash pursues both our main characters who each have part of the seal. Malik and the Prince think they were able to kill him..but Malik's under his control and becomes the host for his new body.
At this point, the objective his clear, the Prince has to defeat his possessed brother to get rid of the monster.

New locations! New characters! New abilities!

At first glance, this game's storyline seems pretty simple or even non-existent. But fact is, there's a lot more to it than it seems.
The story is clearly more Arabian Nights than past PoP games.
Djinns, King Solomon, magical artifacts and seals... The atmosphere is pretty far from Sands of Time yet fitting in that series.

Graphically the game might look good at first eye, specially the beginning around the exteriors of the palace. But once you get inside, most backgrounds look similar and kinda boring. (and with a noticeable weaker attention payed to detailed)
To be precise it's in "details" that the game seems most rushed. Human foes, which in previous games never disappeared unlike mystical creatures, disappear as well like a last-gen video game, enemies are repetitive and not that interesting, there's also so few types of them...

The Queen Razia offers some interesting mechanics to the series that keep the player in pretty familiar ground yet bring in new nice gimmicks to play with.
The game feels and plays kinda similar to Assassin's Creed controls or the 2008 PoP episode. Meaning it's more in the lines of parkour rather than "classic" acrobatics. Yet they made so the gameplay would feel "similar" to Sands of Time. Read that sentence as it tries to imitate but it isn't as tight and the same as SoT gameplay was. It doesn't feel the same, it tries to be so.
Everything got simplified to.
From platforming to combat.
No need to keep a button pressed to run over walls, little details are made automatic (others are "fixed", like jumping from a place like a column, no need to turn around it to face your objective, just press the direction stick). Combat is made "free style", you can face armies of dozen or more foes without a guard button, it's made faster and more agile, thanks to a melee system which takes some getting used to though.

Why is it always corrupted people turned into giant monsters...

The seal makes the Prince able to absorb the power of the enemies once defeated (or inside jars you can break around, never saw as many breakable jars in any past Prince of Persia game for that matter..).
It helps the Prince regain energy for the special abilities or his health bar.
Razia powers at first only serve to regain the time control ability from Sands of Time (from a plot perspective, bringing back the ability he couldn't have outside the Dagger of Time/Warrior Within storyline) but quickly this water Goddess gives the Prince new powers. Like the ability to "stop" water (freeze it really) or bring back elements from the past. Which is mostly used in the environment to progress, featuring in later parts some real smart puzzle elements.

The gameplay is kinda too simplistic at first due to the new Engine. It never quite feels like the Sands of Time trilogy, but some update to the gameplay doesn't annoy me much.
It's the over simplification that is kinda too bad.. Walls you can climb into or walk across are heavily marked.
The game doesn't feature a proper classic HUD, and is usually void of any indications (the lightly charged HUD menu disappears) like most current next gen games. So they tried to make things relevant and obvious in-game instead.

There's a sort of RPG-ysh system to manage your progression. Besides Razia's mystical powers, the game features 4 core elemental abilities which serves as power-ups during the playthrough. Fire, Ice, Wind, Earth. You can purchase abilities like shields or offensive upgrades, which all branch out in a chart. You buy those with the experience aquired.

The game is sort of linear, like the original Sands of Time rather than the open world 2008 game or the huge island explored in Warrior Within. But it isn't much of a problem since you'll spend your time going all over the palace in a natural progression.
There's some big giant bosses like the series often features. The game takes full use of the new engine by bringing in up to 50 foes on screen at once.
You'll have to mast the new combat system sort of inspired by the way Altair or Ezio fight in Ubisoft's other acrobatic franchise.
There's some QTEs again, back as finish moves during the bosses like in past games.

The game is mostly about platforming.
Warrior Within fans worry not, combat is still plenty, the fighting sequences will have you on your toes since it gets harder if you do not embrace the new system.

On the puzzle aspect, they're well thought, some later ones gets pretty impressive, it really shows Ubi's got used to it after all these Prince of Persias.
The platforming is kinda simplistic at first and gets more challenging during the game. But trying some earlier parts again, it was pretty weak at the start...seems Ubi tried to make this game a bit too much accessible (because of the movie no doubt.)

The music is easily the best aspect of the game. It was composed by Michael Bay's own favorite music composer, Steve Jablonsky no less!
It's sort of in-between Prince of Persia (2008) and the live Sands of Time movie. Beautifully orchestrated, epic. Simply amazing to listen to!

What more to say?
Purists will like the Prince being voiced once again by Yuri Lowenthal.
And fans will love Ubisoft's own "achievements/points", allowing through their own network, UPlay, to buy features like an Ezio skin.

Overall, I have to admit, I really wanted to dislike this game at first.
It seemed rushed, totally improvised. Plus Ubi put on hold the sequel to the 2008 game I loved.
But the fact is...the game was kinda better than what the marketing and general reception made me believe it to be.
It got generally undeserving bad receptions. When it is genuinely good.
Not perfect, sure. But playable and fun - which is more than enough to me.

The game was made for a more broad audience, mainstream and unfamiliar with the series in mind.
It is really simple, you'll almost never die even in huge unending combats against waves of enemies thanks to an incredibly strong and fast character. Plus, like all of Ubisoft's PoP, there's no real death impact or consequences. (life system, etc..)

It is meant to work as both part of the Sands of Time trilogy AND as a pseudo-sequel to the movie as well. Which explains the redesigned Prince. With a face similar to the SoT Prince of the darker WW Prince AND the live action Prince from the movie too. (he looks quite ugly and different on the boxart for some reason though...)

I see the game as a sort of reimagining of Warrior Within for the movie version. There's a big focus on melee combat with the new "crowd control" system. You'll go through various similarly remade environments as seen on the island in WW, from the clocktower to the gardens, ruins, catacombs and other similar places. And the color and tone is not that far from that game too. Also, the Prince is sporting his WW inspired battle armor again. (did he wear that throughout the 7 years gap up until WW??)

Rushed? Probably.
Not inspired? Sure.
But a nice game, if you're a fan, that deserves to be played through. Give it a try, you might like this addition to the series.

I give it:
 1.5 / 3 Quacks!

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