Until, that is, a movie based on the franchise was due in theaters and happened to draw from the Sands of Time motif. The Forgotten Sands certainly isn't a movie game (aside from its conveniently timed release), but it hasn't sprung from a well of creativity, either.
Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands stars a caveman-faced Jake Gyllenhaal stand-in that performs all of the moves you might remember from the Sands of Time games – minus some of the grace. From the moment the gameplay started, I was struck by just how stiffly he moved and how unnatural his leaps were. He also whines a lot for a supposed hero, especially one that carries over directly from The Sands of Time (which precedes The Forgotten Sands in terms of plot).
The modern, 3D Prince of Persia games have always struggled with combat – its mechanics and pacing – and, if anything, The Forgotten Sands seems to have learned nothing from its predecessors (and it's even forgotten some things). Gone is any hint of stylish, elegant dueling with enemies. There's no blocking or parrying. Just swarms of enemies, sometimes as many as 20 at once. It's possible to leap onto them, perform a powered-up slash and then evade, but there's no flow to the combat. It is, more often than not, a button masher. Even the "boss encounters" were easily completed by simply using a magic attack (there are elemental abilities that are powered up via XP from defeated enemies) repeatedly and spamming the attack button.
It's an echo of the past, a reminder of the good and the bad.
The Forgotten Sands is pretty enough, but never evokes a sense of awe the way the previous Prince of Persia (or even The Sands of Time) did. If you can slog through brown and grey majority of the game, you'll find a few nice sights every now and again. Otherwise, save for the opening assault on the palace, it's a very restrained presentation, especially in comparison to the heights reached by Assassin's Creed (from which the graphics engine is borrowed).
And that brings me back to where I began. This isn't the next great Prince of Persia. It's an echo of the past, a reminder of the good and the bad. If you have fond memories of The Sands of Time or The Two Thrones, hold onto them. Go back and play those games. Relish the original's elegance and the third game's improved pacing and combat -- The Forgotten Sands will only remind you that they are better games.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 retail version of Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands provided by Ubisoft.