Status: Completed X360 version.
Put this on your box: In Persia, no pot is safe.
Most intriguing idea: Allowing the player to change, rather than just use, the environment in the course of a platform run.
Best design decision: Requiring precision timing with the environmental powers.
Worst design decision: Putting the rewind and combat powers on the same magic gauge.
From a pure platforming perspective, The Forgotten Sands is probably the most demanding entry in the Prince of Persia series in the past decade. This isn’t apparent early on, but as the game progresses the Prince’s special powers start to require the same level of precision timing that the jumps and wall-runs do. In addition to rewinding time, the Prince can now freeze water temporarily and use it to traverse the environment. The water can go from aid to obstacle and back rather quickly, however, so the player must time his activation of the power carefully. Things get even more intense in the late going, when an additional power allows the Prince to create and destroy segments of the environment. This requires some very precise juggling. The game goes somewhat overboard with the difficulty of the timing in the late segments, which also seemed to suffer from some wonky edge detection. I enjoyed the fighting in Forgotten Sands more than any other PoP game Ubisoft has put out, although this is largely down to the Prince’s powerful elemental combat magic and the fact that most of his enemies are low-grade sword fodder.
There are a few minor things wrong here. Particularly noticeable in the early going is that to regain health and restore his magic the Prince needs to break a lot of pots. Although the Prince (Yuri Lowenthal again) cracks wise pretty often, this is a serious story attempting to cultivate a heroic atmosphere, and the pots are just so damn silly that it hurt the immersion for me. Equally silly and badly overused is the Prince’s power of flight, which allows him to jump a long distance by performing a special attack. On its own, this would have been fine, but the developers seemingly couldn’t come up with any way to use it beside populating areas with an absurd number of hovering vultures. Even underground.
The choice to use the same gauge for the rewind power and the combat magic was also a poor one. The combat powers were very strong, and to keep them from unbalancing the game it was necessary to limit their use. However, the rewind power is only useful if it can be recharged pretty regularly. Otherwise, it becomes more economical for the player to just let himself die and reload at a checkpoint, rather than risk going into a tough battle without any magic. The developers tilted the availability of magic to suit the combat skills rather than rewind, and with so little magic available it was obviously to my advantage never to use rewind unless it would force me to redo a really tough platforming sequence. One way to kludge around this would have been to use an adaptive distribution of magic in the pots, such that if you had 1 or 0 magic charges the first pot smashed would always give you magic. This would have kept the magic load low, to balance combat, while encouraging the player to use rewind freely.