Graphics: 9 out of 10
Like many other pieces of media based around the Arabian Nights mythology (for example, the Tales of the Arabian Nights pinball table), Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands looks gorgeous. The game takes you through a succession of increasingly exotic locales from the battlements of a grand palace, through treasure vaults, royal baths, the throne room and beyond. Everything is extremely well detailed, the animation of the prince is nice a fluid (as you would hope from a game carrying the Prince of Persia name) and you will look forward to seeing where the game takes you next.
Throughout this adventure you will be given various special powers, including the familiar ability to rewind time that was first seen in the Sands of Time game. Not long after this you will be granted the power to temporarily freeze water, and from that point on you will be using it very often to turn waterfalls into walls, and spouts into columns and bars that can be clung to or swung from. It's a nifty new element to the formula which both looks nice and gives you a sense of satisfaction when you manage to successfully navigate your way to the top of a room after you were standing at the bottom mere moments before and wondering how on earth you were ever going to get there.
Unfortunately not everything is perfect, however. In some of the busier battles against the legions of King Solomon's Army, I did encounter some quite nasty slowdown. It was not just a dropped frame here and there, the game actually slowed to a crawl on more than one occasion. Until you get close to the conclusion of the game combat is not too frequent though, so the slowdown wasn't a huge detriment to my enjoyment of the game.
Sound and Music: 7 out of 10
From the little bit that I have played of the Sands of Time trilogy, I did recognise that the voice of the prince is the same (Yuri Lowenthal, who is a pretty prolific video game voice artist - chances are if a JRPG gets an English localisation, he will be playing at least one part). I thought that the voice of the prince didn't really match up with his physical appearance though, and sounded a little on the weedy side - but maybe that's just me. The musical score makes use of the sort of Arabian instrumentation that you would expect, and gets more upbeat and exciting when you are traversing your way through a trap filled room or fighting off a bunch of skeletal sand dudes. It adds to the sense of urgency and excitement nicely.
Game Mechanics: 8 ouf of 10
Now as I have said, I've only played a little bit of the previous Prince of Persia trilogy. Something about them never quite clicked with me, and I haven't felt the urge to continue with any of them, until now. It may be my imagination, but from what I recall of the older games it was not as obvious how to get through a particular room, whereas in this game as soon as I started climbing and swinging around it was quite clear to me what I was doing. It was more a test of my platforming expertise rather than puzzle solving, with the exception of one puzzle involving a giant gate and some cogs that I found really tedious.
To veterans, maybe the fact that the solution is more obvious that previous games is a bad thing, but I found it to be an improvement. I also enjoyed the steady introduction of more powers throughout the game. As well as the time rewind and water freezing that I've gone over already, you will also be able to use magical vultures to get from place to place, boost your way towards distant enemies (frequently used to cover gaps that you wouldn't otherwise be able to jump) and restore bits of the ruined environment that have crumbled away.
Besides these abilities that a doled out to you at key points in the story, your character also gains experience from slaying enemies and upon levelling up, you can choose from a range of other skills. This include increasing your health bar, the length of time you can keep water frozen for, the number of time rewinds you can have saved up, and a number of other abilities designed to aid you in combat. They are all elemental in nature so will get Trail of Fire and Whirlwind for example. I only really used these against bosses or on the odd occasion when I was overwhelmed by lesser minions, because most of the time I found I didn't need them.
The enemies that you fight throughout the game go from your common skeletal looking guys who are quite easy to dispatch, through slightly more armoured varieties, wizards that are able to summon endless hordes unless you dispatch them quickly, and huge sword wielding Titans. Your standard roster of fighting abilities include quick but weak sword strikes, a more powerful version that takes a few seconds to charge up, and a kick that can be useful in unbalancing shielded foes so that they are vulnerable to a quick stab through the gut. You can also jump on the shoulders of smaller enemies and then perform execution moves or throw your enemies of the edge of the environment to their doom (though being undead skeletal type geysers made from sand, I would say they're already quite doomed).
For most of the way through the game, the difficulty curve rises steadily so that you are getting better at roughly the same speed that the game is throwing new stuff at you. However, in the final hour the difficulty jumps up to potentially joypad throwing levels. I died time and time again during one particularly nasty section, but I persevered and got past it eventually. The end of game boss that followed was a pushover by comparison.
Innovation and Cleverness: 6 out of 10
I liked the new powers that were introduced in this time - in particular the water freezing mechanic. I also thought that the levels and environments were always cleverly designed throughout the game - awe inspiring at first glance, giving way to enjoyable platforming and adventuring.
Value and Replayability: 3 out of 10
The Forgotten Sands is by no means a long game, weighing it at around 10 hours or less, and in addition it is quite an addictive one so I found that I had reached the end mere days after I had started it. After getting to the end of the main game, there are a couple of challenge modes, but these don't last very long either - I mainly used them to that I could finish leveling up my character and purchase the remaining abilities so I could earn the Achievement that goes along with it. The game is definitely worth a rental though or picking up on the cheap (it can be found for as low as £10 nowadays).
Overall: 7 out of 10
This is the first of the modern Prince of Persia games that I have really got on with and it has inspired me to go back and revisit the older trilogy. Its fairly short length and lack of things to do outside of the main game do go against it somewhat, but if you just want a short, fun game to play through over one of the upcoming bank holiday weekends, I would recommend it.