The Prince of Persia series started in the late 80ís as some of you may remember, as it was pretty much every platform known to man. It was a fairly simplistic adventure game where you would have to save the princess from the evil vizier, Jafar (I always found it similar to Aladdin) who had tricked the sultan. It was fairly advanced and challenging for that day in age, and it provided a moderately difficult adventure, but it was an exceptional one. The sequel to it, took place right after the first one, and you were accused of being a criminal, because Jafaar had taken your shape, and you were running for your life, trying to save the day, and your own life at the same time. Both of those games were seeping with quality and they were very well done for games of that time. Things seemed to have ended on a high note for the Prince, until there was a failed revival, an abomination to the Princeís name known as Prince of Persia 3D. This failure, quality and sales-wise normally wouldíve killed Jordan Mechnerís superb series, and left it dead and buried, if it were not for Ubi Soft, who approached Jordan, looking to revitalize the Prince in a game, that Prince of Persia 3D shouldíve been. Playing the first two Prince of Persia games is not required, as The Sands of Time is a prequel to the other games in the series.
The story is vaguely reminiscent of the other games (when I say this, Iím excluding PoP3D, which I will do quite often) as the evil Vizier (no name, and I donít think heís Jafaar, who was the enemy of the other two) tricks you (instead of the sultan, like in the others) into unleashing the sands of time. Before that catastrophic event happens, the game opens with a war between two kingdoms (two sultans hate each other and are at war because of this, you are the son of one, and the girl, Farah is the daughter of the other one). You are on your way to retrieve the dagger of time from the other sultanís palace. When the vizier tricks you into unleashing the sands of time, it turns everything except for you, Farah, and the vizier into hideous (and violent) sand creatures. After fighting off some enemies you begin your quest.
The game is an action/adventure game, and thatís what you get. The action is fast and frenzied, especially when there are many enemies around. You are always with your sword (which will be replaced by bigger and stronger swords as the game progresses) and the dagger of time. The combat is fairly simplistic, and because of that, it will get old, especially when there is often a plethora of enemies who are relentless attackers. You can just plainly attack your enemies, but that alone would not be enough to keep a gamer interested, which is why Ubi Soft allows you to attack in many of varied ways. You can run into a wall, bounce off it, and into an enemy, you can jump over smaller enemies and slice them on the way over, or you can use the sands of time, which I will explain in detail later on. The attacking looks nice, but it does get annoying when you have to keep doing it to hold the enemies back so you can run to some water to refill your health. The talented guys at Ubi Soft gave the Prince 850 points of articulation (without using mocap), which is a record for videogames. The fact that he has so many points of movement makes everything look so amazingly smooth, and it helps increase the sense that your moves are more varied than they really are, which helps kill a rising sense of boredom for a while. The many types of enemies, including sand people and sand animals will give you a run for your money, as they loathe you greatly. As they have been possessed by the sands, they seem almost zombie-like, but they can move fast and teleport to get closer to you. Farah, the girl who you have ďteamed upĒ with, so that you survive longer does help greatly. She shoots enemies with her bow and arrows, mostly from afar, which is good, because she is not as strong as you, and if she dies, your game is over. Itís not too bad, when you have to start over as checkpoints are present at just the right locations, and when you save, you will get a quick vision of what is to come in your future. She isnít a defenseless weakling, and will not turn the game into a low quality, annoyance filled escort mission, as she can fend for herself most of the time. The varied enemy types will require you to develop different tactics for taking them down, which aids in keeping you interested. The Prince is not a musclehead, and developing tactics is essential, because you cannot rely on strength alone to win against your foes.
The adventure part of the game, like the action part, sounds shallow in words, but those magicians at Ubi Soft, can deliver a few moves over and over and make them seem fresh. The Prince can run along and up walls, swing on poles and ropes, jump from walls, somersault, make long jumps, and push objects, while Farah can only squeeze through cracks and jump. One thing I found somewhat annoying was that jump and roll shared the same button so you canít free jump, but itís not really a problem since the game will know when to jump, and not let you roll off a cliff. Like the other games, there are traps and puzzles which you must persevere over, in order to continue. The puzzles are fairly simplistic, and not annoying or long enough to really break up the quick pace of the game, which is definitely a good thing. Some of the classic traps like spikes have returned (no metal teeth to cut you in half unfortunately) and new traps like rotating blades are abundant in order to make the Princeís journey as unpleasant as possible. You have to use all of your maneuvers in order to avoid the painful traps (they arenít anymore deadly traps as there were in the older games) or else youíll find yourself using lots of your sand in order to go back. The level design seems very nonsensical and unrealistic, but thatís what the designers went for, in order to give the game an exaggerated feel, and it wouldnít work well, had the game been designed to copy a realistic palace. You have to execute precisely timed jumps in order to reach ladders and levers, and the level design is excellent in that sense or reflecting the ned for special acrobatics. One somewhat minor annoyance is the jump that enables you to bounce off two closely placed walls in a meticulous fashion in order to reach a higher spot. The fact that you must press A to jump, as soon as you hit is VERY annoying. I wished that it wouldíve been allowed to press A at any time and it would allow you to jump, but that is not the case. You must be meticulous and systematic when hitting A, or else you will fall, which can get very annoying. Once you get the hang of hitting A in a systematic fashion, youíll find that bouncing up the walls is a lot easier, but it takes a while to do it correctly, which is definitely an annoyance that will plague you in the early part of the game.
The sands of time is another extensive portion of the gameplay, which plays a large part in the gameplay. The sand can slow, stop, reverse, and speed up (although I never did use speed up for some reason, I donít think I got it) time, and the one youíll be using most is the reversing time feature. If youíve ever played Blinx: The Time Sweeper, youíll know the basic gist of time control, only this game delivers it in a much better and more easily accessible manner. In order to use your sands in different ways, you use different variations of pressing L. Your sand is not infinite, and it can be refilled from finding glowing sand spots or taking the sand from an enemy. Using the dagger on enemies is similar to Buffy The Vampire Slayer, because you must first beat up your enemy, and then use Y to take their sand and kill them. Itís important to keep a fairly vast amount of sand with you, as youíll never know when you have to go back and redo something, because you were killed or hurt.
Youíd expect a game made from the developers of Splinter Cell and Rainbow Six 3 to be beautiful, and while it doesnít look as good as either of those, it definitely holds its ground and looks damn good. The levels are highly detailed and the draw distance is excellent. The textures are good, but could be better, although thatís not something youíll be noticing too often in the heat of battle. If you look around in first person view, the levels seem somewhat flat and lifeless, which couldíve been avoided if bump mapping were used to improve texture quality. The lighting is excellent and this game also takes some Splinter Cell elements and improves upon them, such as the realistic movements of curtains and drapes. There are not many human models after the sands of time are unleashed, which is why you, Farah, and your enemies look so good. As the game progresses, the Prince becomes more and more beat up, and he will lose parts of his armor, which just further shows how detailed the game is. The water looks excellent and it will react to your footsteps in it, and after you walk in it, you will drip for a little while. The environments are varied and lavishly detailed, and that helps set the mood of the game. Such vast amounts of minute details in the game adds to the immersion factor, and shows you that the developer went all out in making their game look excellent.
The sound this game does an excellent job of emulating medieval Persia. The musical score is excellent and does a great job of reflecting the immersive atmosphere that is presented to you. Weapons will clang, spikes will ďfwishĒ, feet will hit ground, water will trickle, objects will smash, and each of these has an individual and excellent sound to them. The sound effects are excellent and everything sounds realistic. The voicework in this game is not very frequent since you are by yourself a lot of the time, and thatís a shame since it doesnít suck! All of the characters sound realistic and believable, not like underpaid, unenthusiastic, monotone characters that often plague some videogames. The voicework sets the mood, and it even sounds distant when a character is further away, or echoes when theyíre in a tunnel. Emotion is shown excellently by the characters, and itís emphasized immensely through the last parts of the game.
The controls are fairly fluid and responsive, with the exception of L, the button which uses the sands of time. Iíve had very minor troubles with different controllers when trying to use L, after Iíve fallen off a cliff, or something of the sort. Sometimes, the button just does not want to register, and you end up using all your sand and dying. This problem is VERY minor though, as it only occurred around 3-5 times throughout the entire game. There is only one attack button, but the wide variety of animations help keep things fast, fluid, and entertaining. The control layout is as follows:
Left Trigger - Block
Right Trigger - Use sands
Left Thumbstick - Move
Right Thumbstick - Rotate camera
B - Put sword away
X - Attack
Y - Use/action
Black - First person view
White - Landscape view (see everything)
Xbox owners walk away with the best version once again! Itís always nice to hear that the most powerful console is not ignored when it comes to special features. Although originally planned to have a groundbreaking Xbox Live feature, that was canned in favor of Live aware, which basically allows gamers on Live to see that you are playing PoP and send you game invites. As an exclusive extra, the Xbox version also includes Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow and the Flame as well as the original Prince of Persia, which all versions include. A feature exclusive to the Xbox and GameCube versions is a ďmaking ofĒ featurette, which details all the steps on how the game was made. The main game is only about 10 hours long, which is a bit shorter than the average 15 hour single player games which we see quite a bit of. After I beat the game, (which has a superb, mindphuck quality movie ending) I wasnít in the mood to play it again, but after waiting about a week, I felt an urge to play it again, and to try and get the ďspeed upĒ sand power. The main game itself is such a delight to play, which is probably the main reason why it wonít be a chore to play it again.
This game is most definitely a GOTY candidate, and I would put it right behind Metal Arms. As a fan of the two original PoP games, I fell in love with this one almost instantly. The combat is great, running on walls is tons of fun, and the game is just such a joy to play. Excellent graphics, sound, controls, gameplay, and extras make this game a worthwhile investment of your hard earned cash. Youíll probably want to replay this game, as itís just so much fun to play. Itís not too hard or too easy, and it just shines in so many categories, itís literally hard to stop playing. The world needs more solid action/adventure games, and PoP is a top quality one that shouldnít be missed by anyone. The inclusion of the two original games only further extends the life and fun factor. This is one of the best action/adventure game in a long time, and easily the best one this year.