No previous experience with the Prince of Persia series is required to enjoy
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. In fact, virtually nothing will bar you
from being impressed by this extremely well-put-together action adventure game
from the studio that brought you Splinter Cell and Rainbow Six 3. In stark
contrast to Ubisoft Montreal's previous offerings, Prince of Persia is
surprisingly easy, despite the incredible acts of skill and daring that the
game's main character will routinely perform during the course of the game. As a
result, this original, visually stunning game can be highly recommended to just
about anyone. The new PC port, whose release trailed a few weeks behind its
console counterparts, is just about as impressive as the others, overall. It's a
fairly short game, and it's missing the console versions' bonus features, but
it's truly excellent for as long as it lasts.
The classic Prince of Persia series
returns in one of the year's best, most spectacular action adventure
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time takes place in a mystical Middle Eastern
setting, all bathed in soft, warm light and looking like something straight out
of a storybook. You play as a young prince who possesses exceptional athletic
and acrobatic skill. Early on in the game, the prince steals the dagger of time,
a treasure from a rival nation, as a token for his father the king. When a
traitorous vizier compels the prince to use the dagger to unlock another
treasure, a huge hourglass, everything goes wrong. The sands from the hourglass
blow forth, enveloping the kingdom and turning its guardsmen and citizens into,
for lack of a better way to describe it, "sand zombies." The prince, the vizier,
and a young woman named Farah are among the only survivors. In the prince's
efforts to undo his mistake, he'll join forces with Farah, seek out the
hourglass, and confront the vizier. The game's story takes a backseat during
most of the game, but it is bookended nicely and is framed as the prince's own
retrospection. So, for instance, should the prince fall and die at a certain
point during the game, you'll hear him say, as narrator, something like, "No,
that's not how it happened." Not only is this an interesting technique, but it
compels you to keep pressing on. You'll want to know exactly how his complicated
ordeal will unravel.
The prince's new dagger of time has other uses besides causing calamity. It's
the key to defeating the evil spread throughout the palace, and it also makes
the prince virtually immortal. In most cases, should the prince fall to his
death or be slain by a sand creature or a trap, with his last breath, he may use
the dagger to "rewind" the course of time to a point prior to the unfortunate
incident that would have ended his life. Each time you use this ability, it
costs a "sand tank," which you earn a greater quantity of as you get farther
into the game, and which you restore by defeating sand creatures. In practice,
you won't often run out of sand tanks, but even if you do, you'll restart the
prince's story from a recent location.
A highly responsive, very forgiving control scheme further ensures that at no
point during Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time will you get particularly
stuck, if at all. Though other action adventure games involving a lot of
death-defying leaps and other such bravery tend to force the player to perfectly
time his or her maneuvers and often force him or her to wrestle with issues
concerning the controls or camera perspective, Prince of Persia is set up in
such a way that it's remarkably simple to pull off all of the prince's
spectacular moves. The default PC controls are a mouse-and-keyboard combination,
similar to what you'd use with a typical first-person shooter. They work well,
though not quite as well as the console versions' gamepad controls. On consoles,
it's a bit easier to move in the direction of your foes, as the camera changes
angles and the analog control lets you move with more precision. However, the
default PC controls ultimately aren't detrimental to the game. What's strange is
that the PC version of Prince of Persia apparently only seems to support one
specific dual analog gamepad, so even if you wanted to use a dual analog gamepad
with the game, you probably wouldn't be able to.
The prince's acrobatic moves make
Prince of Persia nearly as enjoyable to watch as it is to play.
Despite the convincing look of its huge environments, the game is completely
linear, and the prince's course tends to be very clear. Doors will slam shut
behind him, forcing him to press onward, and each time you enter a new area,
you'll see a quick fly-through showing where it is you're trying to go and what
it is that stands between you and that goal. Additionally, at each of the game's
frequent save points, you'll see a "vision" of what lies ahead--a quick
sepia-toned montage of the trials and tribulations to come in the next area.
You'll soon discover that this is basically a built-in hint system. Should you
ever get stuck, just head back to a save point, watch the "vision" again, and
you'll probably figure out what you're supposed to be doing.
The prince has a great variety of really impressive moves at his disposal.
Like a Mid-Eastern Spider-Man, he can defy gravity to a certain extent, by
triangle-jumping from wall to wall, running horizontally along vertical
surfaces, balancing on narrow ledges, swinging wildly from ropes or horizontal
bars, jumping from pillar to pillar, and more. He's truly the most acrobatic
character in a game, to date, and executing his moves is simple and even
intuitive. The prince can't be made to accidentally fall; he'll automatically
grab the ledge if you walk him off of one, and you can hang on indefinitely. A
separate key is used for pulling yourself up as opposed to letting go, so
there's no worry of accidentally dropping even when you seem to be hanging on
for dear life. And, even when you're balancing on a narrow rail thousands of
feet above the ground, should you lose your balance and tip over, you'll always
catch the ledge and can pull yourself right back up. All this is maybe a little
too convenient, but at least it means you'll be forging ahead rather than
constantly tumbling into pits.
The gameplay boils down to two things: observation and timing. First you must
figure out where it is you're trying to go, which tends to be evident from the
area fly-throughs, the "visions," and the occasional markings seen in the levels
that point out switches to be flipped or buttons to be pressed. Then you must
get there by running along walls, avoiding traps, leaping across chasms, and
more. The timing isn't difficult--there's noticeable room for error--and hitting
the "jump" key at around the right time, either to roll underneath a trap or to
jump at more or less the right moment, will usually do the trick.
Dozens of deadly-looking traps and
sand creatures make Prince of Persia seem difficult, but it's easier than it
The coolest thing about the prince's repertoire of moves is how quickly he
can link them together and how nimbly he moves about, in general. The
interactions between the prince and the environment are extremely convincing and
really must be seen to be fully appreciated. Great, little details are
everywhere. If you're standing knee-deep in water and try to run up a wall,
you'll see (and hear) the prince's wet feet slip as he fails the move. If you
leap straight into a wall, you'll see the prince push himself off and fall back
down. Despite his superhuman balance and agility, the prince somehow comes off
looking incredibly lifelike and realistic, which makes the gameplay seem all the
more approachable. All the prince's moves seem logical in the context of the
game, and even early on you'll learn how to tie all these techniques together.
For instance, you'll have a chance to launch yourself to the other side of a
wall while running across it at early stages of the game. Of further note,
special commendation goes to the prince for being the fastest ladder-climber in
the history of games. It's a pleasure to just maneuver this character around,
which is good, since that's mostly what you'll be doing.
The gameplay in Prince of Persia largely consists of three types of actions:
navigation (the most common and best type), combat, and puzzle-solving. The
puzzle-solving is straightforward and typical of what you'd find in other action
adventure games. You'll push some boxes onto pressure plates, figure out how to
use some mysterious machines, pull some switches and levers, and that sort of
thing. What makes the puzzles here, at least, seem more interesting is the
presence of Farah, the prince's female counterpart, who will automatically
assist with some of the puzzles and make them seem like more of a cooperative
affair. Farah, who's even skinnier than the prince, can slip through cracks in
the wall to reach places the prince cannot. The pair will frequently have to
find ways of opening up passages for one another. This pseudo-two-player
dynamic, and, in fact, the whole look of the game, is reminiscent of the
artistic 2001 PlayStation 2 title ICO.
The entire game has a beautiful look
One of the key differences is, unlike the female character in ICO, Prince of
Persia's Farah isn't a complete liability in battle. Armed with a bow and
arrows, she'll help you pick off the droves of sand creatures that you'll
occasionally encounter. Just be sure to stay out of her way. Make no mistake,
though, the prince will still do most of the work when confronted by enemies.
The combat in Prince of Persia, like virtually everything about the game, looks
extremely cool. And, like other aspects of the game, it's quite easy.
Unfortunately, it's also a little shallow.
Technically, the prince has a wide variety of combat moves. His scimitar will
do most of the talking, while the dagger of time is used mostly for finishers.
The prince can use his blades to deflect his opponents' attacks and can then
quickly counter either with the scimitar or dagger. There's no lock-on targeting
system, but just by moving in the direction of an opponent, the prince will
automatically attack that target. You can use this to effectively battle groups
of enemies, which will have the prince dancing and somersaulting around while
kicking and slashing at all nearby foes, like a kung fu action hero. He can also
stab his enemies with the dagger to freeze them in place, setting them up for a
cool-looking finishing move. Better yet, the prince can vault over enemies,
slashing them on his way down. Additionally, he can leap off of walls to execute
deadly diving attacks, or he can surprise enemies with turnaround flips from
walls. Meanwhile, his enemies will mostly just stand there, looking mean. And
that's the main problem. There's a decent variety of enemies, and they have a
great look to them, but they're not much of a challenge. Even if they manage to
hurt you, the dagger's rewind power can negate the damage, as can any pool of
water in the vicinity (of which there is usually one), as drinking water is how
you recover your health in Prince of Persia.
Your enemies are slow enough to allow you to drink your fill without much
worry. They'll teleport in close to you and crowd you, but they attack slowly
and rarely, and most are very vulnerable to vaulting attacks or off-the-wall
attacks. Some tougher opponents will bat you aside if you try to vault over
them, so the off-the-wall attack becomes the main viable option, effectively
limiting the variety. And, as the game wears on, you'll fight larger and larger
packs of foes, so the combat will get pretty repetitive before the game is done.
Late in the game, you'll acquire a sword that obliterates any sand creatures it
touches, and, by then, it makes for a very refreshing change of pace from the
rather drawn-out fight sequences that have come before. Nevertheless, it's worth
reiterating that, like all other aspects of the game, combat in Prince of Persia
controls very well and looks terrific.
The prince has an excellent variety of
moves at his disposal.
Another issue with the game, in addition to the combat and the relative lack
of difficulty, is suggested by that special late-game sword. It's basically the
only new trick of any real value that you get during the course of the game.
While you earn a longer health bar and more special ability slots for your
dagger as you get farther into the game, you will have seen essentially all of
what the gameplay of Prince of Persia has to offer in the first couple hours of
play. A couple of elements--the tightrope walking and the rope swinging--are
saved for later, but the game doesn't really give a clear sense of character
advancement or heightened challenge as the action carries on. In fact, you
probably won't even realize when you're in the middle of the game's climactic
battle against the sand creatures as it's pretty much the same as the last few
fights you'll have fought.
Prince of Persia is still a pleasure to play through--for the 10 or so hours
it takes to get to the finish line--largely because of the game's extraordinary
look. The character models for the prince and Farah actually don't look great,
but the rest of the game most certainly does. You'll quickly notice a very slick
motion-blur effect that's used when the camera suddenly changes direction. In
other games, these types of perspective shifts are typically annoying rather
than stylish. Other details abound, such as how sand and dust kick up from the
prince's feet wherever he goes. But the highlight is, of course, the animation.
The prince looks like he wouldn't have been out of place in the movie
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, with his incredibly agile and graceful
moves. The Middle Eastern setting combined with the Hong Kong-style action gives
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time a truly unique look. The environments and
soft ambient lighting effects used throughout the game are also
fantastic-looking, and the PC version of the game, on a high-end system, is
capable of producing visuals that are superior to any of the console versions.
We did experience some graphical issues with some of the bells and whistles on
systems with certain ATI graphics cards, but switching to the "medium" special
effects setting eliminated these problems. Apart from this, the game ran stably
An unparalleled presentation and
frustration-free gameplay make Prince of Persia easy to recommend to anyone with
an interest in games.
Excellent audio rounds out this altogether impressive game. The actor who
provides the prince's voice fits the role perfectly, creating a likable yet
brash personality for the character that's the perfect foil to Farah's
cool-headed determination. The banter exchanged between the two characters can
be very amusing, and though the two really don't have time for their
relationship to develop, it's still plausible that one does. The ambient sounds
in Prince of Persia, from the sound of the prince's footsteps on various
surfaces to the rush of wind when he's outdoors, are also completely believable.
One fairly clever puzzle late in the game completely depends on your ability to
hear the game's clear, realistic audio. A memorable musical score, which
combines traditional Middle Eastern sounds and instrumentation with a hard rock
edge and some nice chorus vocals, also fits the game extremely well. There's
just one problem: For the most part, you only hear the music during battle. It's
possible that the fast-paced themes would have been conducive to recklessness
during the game's running and jumping sequences, but it's a bit of a shame that
such a good soundtrack is only heard on relatively rare occasion during the
The console versions of Prince of Persia offer some bonuses, in addition to
the main adventure, of which the most notable is the inclusion of an unlockable
port of the original version of the game that started it all. Unfortunately, for
some reason, these bonuses have been omitted from the PC version (which retails
for less, as if in exchange). Still, perhaps you remember the original Prince of
Persia, which influenced games like Tomb Raider and pretty much every other game
in which you can grab on to ledges. The original game presents a stark contrast
with the new installment of the series in just how punishing it was. On the
other hand, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is a game that can be
recommended wholeheartedly. It looks fantastic and features responsive controls,
some original play mechanics, a good story, and plenty of thrilling adventure.
In the simplest terms: Do not miss out on this game.
By Greg Kasavin
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