It's been quite a few years since the last installment into the Prince of Persia "Sands of Time" series, with the last iteration being The Two Thrones in 2005. The Forgotten Sands is actually the fourth iteration in this Prince of Persia canon, and it takes place between The Sands of Time and Warrior Within. Despite this information, it's actually quite insignificant as nothing is really referenced in any great detail from any of the other titles - an interesting decision indeed.
Having finished up in Azad, the Prince decides to visit his brother, Malik. He arrives to find his brother's kingdom under siege and the battle is not going very well. In a desperate attempt to win, Malik uses a seal to summon a mighty army in the hope that he can control it and save his kingdom. Unfortunately, the truth behind the seal has long been forgotten and a terrible evil is unleashed upon the world.
It's a plot that seems plausible given the nature of the game, but it also lacks any real depth. There are essentially three characters in the game - the Prince, Razia and Malik - but the development is very basic and predictable. Players won't be challenged by it and there certainly aren't any surprises to be had, as most of the story is explained before it even happens - not exactly a move that builds any kind of suspense or willingness to be engaged.
To counteract this evil force, the Prince gains assistance from Razia. She is a Djinn from the era of King Solomon and as such, can grant the Prince mystical powers. It's not really explained why she doesn't just grant the Prince all the powers at the same time, but due to the nature of progression, new powers are granted at different points of the game. These abilities are what make Prince of Persia different from any other platforming game out there and indeed other Prince of Persia titles, but since the initial power granted is the ability to rewind time (preventing countless annoying deaths), the early stages will feel very much like any other Prince of Persia title.
The second power, the ability to slow down the flow of water, actually adds a lot to the gameplay. Streams of water become poles, which can be used for swinging, or leaping from, and timing becomes - sometimes annoyingly so - extremely crucial. Despite this power being obtained relatively quickly, it doesn't really become all that challenging to use until the climax of the game - earlier usage is very obvious and requires minimal skill. The other two powers feel weak in comparison, especially the power of flight. This allows the Prince to effectively teleport-attack an enemy from a distance and its role in puzzles just feels even more forced and implausible then the rest of the game. It's one thing to question why a kingdom would be designed in such a way, but it's another to expect enemies to conveniently appear in locations which are perfectly suited to the ability's usage - like birds that just hover in a specific location and don't even attack.
The final ability allows the Prince to remember missing elements of scenery, but he can only remember one at a time. It initially feels very cheesy, but its usage in conjunction with the Prince's power over water actually makes traversing the various platforming puzzles rather entertaining. It's just a shame that the power to control water has much more dominance than the power of memory, and that both of these powers can only really be used to create four objects of interaction - vertical pole, horizontal pole, wall or ledge. The puzzles are challenging, but not because they require much thought. Almost every puzzle contains the same elements, so it's more a question of timing than applying any logic about what needs to be done.
Aside from the four primary powers, there are also four other elemental powers which can be used to enhance the Prince's combat abilities. These can be levelled up using acquired experience and they are actually quite necessary too, as the combat in The Forgotten Sands is pretty boring and, well, forgettable. The Prince can perform a normal attack, strong attack and a kick. Normal attacks and strong attacks can be used in combination with each other, but saying the game has a combo system would be very flattering. Using the elemental powers at least spices things up a bit, as the Prince can create stone armour, or send enemies flying by punching the ground to create a whirlwind effect. However, despite combat often taking place against hordes of enemies, the diversity required to defeat them is almost non-existent. One type of enemy has a shield, which needs to be kicked away, and another requires the usage of strong attacks. All other enemies can be defeated with the basic attack, and most can also be stunned when they're attacked or rolled into.
Despite The Forgotten Sands using the Anvil engine, which was also used on Assassin's Creed II, it really looks quite dated. The graphics are poor and the animations are rigid and slow. There's also very little consistency, as the power to stop water only affects the puzzle elements. All other forms of water, like water ripples or fountains, still act as normal and it's very disappointing. The game also retains its annoying camera, which forcefully tries to hint at where players need to go next and can lead to some annoying moments, especially during combat. Glitches are also present with some of the puzzles, as the controls aren't exactly tight - something which is made even worse due to the precise nature of the platforming element. If the Prince isn't close enough to the target element, he'll simply just fall to his death, sometimes when he should have made it. The only really good point about the presentation is the voice acting, as Yuri Lowenthal makes a successful return as the voice of the Prince.
Even with the different puzzle elements, Prince of Persia manages to be a short game, that's generally quite repetitive. Combat will really start to feel like deja vu, especially when some of the bosses use exactly the same animations. Upon completing the game, no new difficulty is unlocked and all players can do for replayability is play the Challenge Modes. There are two available, but they clearly won't keep players occupied for very long and it means The Forgotten Sands has limited replay value.
Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands really doesn't do the franchise justice. It has some interesting new puzzle mechanics, but so much more could have been done with them. It's the key problem with The Forgotten Sands, a lack of depth. The story is shallow, the puzzle elements are shallow, the combat is shallow and it also has next to no replay value. Add to that poor presentation, and The Forgotten Sands feels like a game that was rushed out the door simply to tie-in with the big budget Hollywood release, instead of a standalone product as it's billed.