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Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Review By: Jared Black
 
Developer:  Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher:  Ubisoft
# Of Players:  1
Genre:  Platform
ESRB:  Teen
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card, Dolby Surround Pro Logic II
Date Posted:  1-28-04

Although never a big fan of the Prince of Persia series, the great deal of positive buzz surrounding this title convinced me to give it a try.  Iím glad I did, because Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is one of the few games in this hardware generation to successfully combine old school gameplay and challenge while at the same time utilizing new hardware in innovative ways.

The storyline is a simple one.  The prince accidentally unleashes the Sands of Time curse on the Sultanís kingdom, and must journey to fix it or else suffer at the hands of the monsters the curse has created.  To do this he must venture forth through a vast castle filled with monsters, traps, ledges, ropes, ladders, and other obstacles.  Ah, but this prince is no ordinary fellowÖheís as acrobatic as gymnast in Olympic history.  The prince can run up walls, run horizontally along walls, hang from ledges, shimmy across ledges, climb ladders, balance on wooden beams, jump great distances, and much more.

Along the way heíll also meet a gorgeous young lady, who ends up working with him as he moves through the castle.  But is her motive pure, or does she have her own agenda?  Told through a variety of cutscenes and in-game dialogue, this simple storyline is effective because it really lets each characterís personality shine.  Not only will the two exchange words as the player plays, but the prince will also talk to himself frequently and relay his feelings to the player.

Just as important as his acrobatic skills, by using the Dagger of Time the prince can control time itself.  Of course it must contain sand first, which can be retrieved from sand clouds scattered throughout the castle or from defeated sand creatures.  This will most commonly be used to rewind time (up to 10 seconds worth), undoing a deadly fall from a ledge or swing from a monsterís blade.  The prince can also slow down time for everyone (giving him a distinct advantage in combat), freeze enemies, and fast forward through time to dispatch enemies in record time (no pun intended).  This ability to control time gives the player a great sense of liberty, allowing him to explore the gameís massive environments and take risks that otherwise would not have been taken.  The dagger also has one other power, which is used at each save point.  That is, the power of visions.  This power gives the player a glimpse into the princeís near future, offering hints on how to take on the next set of obstacles and enemies.  It really is an excellent feature.

Amazingly, even with all of the abilities the prince possesses Ubisoft somehow managed to maintain a great deal of challenge in the game.  Rewinding isnít always the answer to failure in combat or a fall off a ledge, because after repeated use it becomes useless (either due to a lack of sand or frequent use resulting in little time to rewind).  Challenge is also found in the gameís many puzzles, which are similar to those found in other adventure games.  In one room the prince may be asked to position mirrors to light a particular emblem, and in another he must hit a number of switches in succession to advance.  Unlike nonsensical adventure games such as Myst, the player can always solve the puzzles simply thinking through them logically.  What a novel concept.

Combat is really this gameís only weakness, although itís still ahead of most other adventure games.  Although the prince has a number of cool moves to dispatch foes with, his move set is pretty much the same for the entire adventure.  As a result, towards the latter third of the game combat becomes more of a chore than a joy.  It also hurts that the variety of enemies isnít that great, and no one likes killing the same guy over and over.  Zooming in to see the prince stab a bad guy up close the first time is cool, but by the fiftieth time the player is left wishing the game would just leave the camera alone.  Speaking of which, while perfectly fine in exploration the camera has trouble keeping up in combat.  Itíll frequently get stuck on walls and objects in the environment, and requires constant adjusting by the player throughout each round of combat.  Make no mistake about it; the combat system is overall a joy for the majority of the game.  Faults like these stand out though when the rest of the game is so polished.

The graphics make full use of the PS2 hardware.  Environments stretch on and on, truly making the player feel small and feats as simple as making it to the top of a tower seem important.  They arenít bare either, as plenty of benches, water troughs, fences, vases, and other objects abound.  Thereís plenty going on too, with crumbling walls, falling lanterns, very nice looking torches, and swaying curtains using the ďSplinter CellĒ effect.  Character models are a little lacking in polygons, but make up for it with excellent use of texture mapping and sheer style.  Animation is top-notch, as the prince displays total fluidness of movement and everything else moves believably enough.

In addition to the previously mentioned dialogue, sound effects also add a lot to the gameís atmosphere.  Although I wish there were a bit more variety (for example, a crumbling wall wouldnít sound exactly the same every time), each sound effect is done well and sounds realistic enough.  The music score is excellent, with an Arabic score accented with a bit of Rock Ďn Roll.  Both styles are blended together really well, and gives the music the hard edge needed to complement the princeís mad skillz. 

HIGHS:

  • Everything the prince does is silky-smooth, and that everything is a whole lot of stuff.  While many games are still celebrating their heroís ability to hang from a ledge, for the prince itís a very basic move.  Not even gamingís best ninjas can keep up with this guy.
  • The graphics are phenomenal.  Environments are huge and intricate, with a nice bit of diversity throughout the castle grounds.
  • Excellent music score, mixing Middle Eastern tunes with modern rock.
  • The voice acting is good, with lots of dialogue (and monologue) that add personality and humor to the characters.
  • The original Prince of Persia can be unlocked, as well as another nifty bonusÖ

LOWS:

  • The quality of combat doesnít quite match the exploratory parts.  Itís a bit one-dimensional, with only a few types of enemies and the same (albeit cool) moves over and over again. The camera also has trouble keeping up.
  • A little on the short side, although perhaps thatís for the better since the combat doesnít have a chance to grow stale.
  • Occasional framerate stutters.

FINAL VERDICT:

An excellent blend of fluid (if somewhat repetitive) combat, intuitive puzzle solving, innovative control of time, and plenty of style make this game a must-own.  A near-perfect mix of old school substance and new school flash, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is an instant classic worthy of any gamerís attention.

Overall Score: 9.2

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