It's a solid basis and one that Ubisoft clearly believes to be worth pursuing again this May (especially with movie buzz in the air), but it hasn't been swept clean of old problems. Even in the short snippet of gameplay on show at PAX East, the combat feels like filler. It's competent -- and the Prince's agility adds an exciting flourish to every strike and finishing blow -- but it never feels complex enough to stand out as anything more than "that thing you do between platforming segments." That's a problem Prince of Persia often shares with Tomb Raider.
Elemental powers enhance your attacks or allow you to summon a spectacular, screen-clearing vortex, but you're still dealing with a mundane two-button attack system and an evasive maneuver. Already, the duels of 2008's game or the stealth kills of The Two Thrones seem like more interesting attempts to solve the franchise's fighting ennui.
That leaves the platforming, which does see an increase in difficulty in The Forgotten Sands. The controls mirror those of Sands of Time, with the exception of the left trigger's function. Now, the left trigger activates an instant freeze effect within the environment, which transforms waterfalls into icy walls and streams of water into poles or pillars. The effect -- one of several elemental modifiers, Ubisoft says -- is only enabled for as long as you hold down the trigger (or until your magic gauge is empty). That introduces a new, timed layer of finger gymnastics on top of the usual wallrunning, swinging and jumping, and ill-timed freezes could leave you grabbing at rain or slamming into a wall of ice when you intended to burst through a sheet of soft water. Thankfully, you can still count on time rewind to save your Persian behind.
It seems you can count on Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands to deliver a comforting update to the Sands of Time trilogy, which might be exactly what you wanted in the first place. If not, the feeling of familiarity, and of Ubisoft Montreal playing it uncharacteristically safe, can be hard to elude -- even for a fleet-of-foot charmer.