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Prince of Persia: Sands of Time Review

By Jeff Buckland, 12/8/2003

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Jordan Mechner's classic action-adventure game Prince of Persia was a resounding success and managed to be ported to all kinds of computers and consoles back in the late 80's and early 90's. Its unique visuals, moody music, and non-standard gameplay hooked players quickly, and the excellent animation looked more lifelike than almost any game at the time. Well, Mechner is done making games, but Ubisoft have put together an excellent revival in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.

PoP uses plenty of pixel shading to create some unique effects and to soften the game's edges, making it look a little like a cartoon while maintaining awesome detail. The visual appeal is one of the game's stronger points, and without the game's high-tech features, it just doesn't look, or even feel, near the same. Ubisoft knew this too - the game actually will not run on a video card without pixel shading, which means that the GeForce 4 MX series of cards won't work at all. Other than those, GeForce 3, GeForce 4 TI, GeForce FX, and Radeon 8500 and higher cards should all work fine.

The game runs at a pretty decent frame rate, although high-res modes will probably be limited to those with some powerful computers. The gameplay itself kind of depends on the action to be smooth, so if you just don't have the horsepower to play this game at least at the recommended specs, I might suggest you pick up one of the console versions of the game. I wound up finding a couple of bugs in PoP, one of which crashed the game, but it wasn't terribly frustrating or save-corrupting.

The biggest problem with Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is that this game was designed as a console title first, and a PC title second. We do get mouse-and-keyboard controls, and gamepads are supported, but the camera controls while using the mouse are difficult to work with. I found myself constantly fighting the game to put the camera where I wanted, as it forced specific camera angles at certain areas.

Combine this with an absolute method of control (pressing left moves your character left on the screen, not to his own left), and it meant I would regularly fumble the controls - and it'd cause me to die fairly often. If you have a gamepad and still want the improved graphics of the PC version, set it up for that and save yourself a bit of pain.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time has a unique visual style that I have never seen before. Combine this with the game's hazy, dream-like effects, and it's simply a wonder to watch. The art is fantastic, and the slightly comic style of the characters and enemies mixes in beautifully. This is an excellent combination of art and technology working together to make something better than the sum of the parts.

Of course, it wouldn't be Prince of Persia without the trademark fluid animations - and Ubisoft knew this. The animations here are very well done, especially for the Prince himself. Not only can he dual wield his scimitar and dagger with expert flair, but he flips, swings, tumbles, and jumps with a smoothness that is just plain cool to watch. This game is a joy to play, even though the game's tough jumping puzzles might stump you for a while.

During the game's introduction, we find out that the King of Persia is taking a trip to see the Sultan of Azad. On the way, he raids the palace of an Indian Majarajah, taking a huge hourglass called the Sands of Time - his idea is to present it to the Sultan as a gift. The Vizier of the Indian kingdom has surrendered and come with you, and says that to unleash the Sands of Time, the Prince must insert the dagger he plundered into the hourglass. It turns out that he's right, actually, but no one else knows what the result will be. And yes, the result is mass chaos that kills almost everyone around the Prince and spawns up all sorts of evil. It becomes your job to retrieve the Sands of Time and take out the tricky Vizier. The Prince still carries the dagger, which gives you the ability to control time in several ways - this is what most of the game's unique style of action revolves around.

PoP stays pretty true to the original games as far as gameplay is concerned - you will jump, flip, climb, and swordfight your way to victory. But this time, instead of fighting to save a girl, Farah will travel with you, helping you and firing her bow at enemies from a distance. She doesn't always follow you everywhere, as she isn't capable of doing all the Prince's high-flying acrobatics. Usually she'll find a crack to sneak through, and will meet up with you a little ways down the road.

Since the original games, there seems to have been a lot of hate generated for jumping puzzles. The explosion of 3D platforming games (one of the first, Tomb Raider, borrowed a lot more from the Prince of Persia classics than many gamers realize) has resulted in many sub-par jumping puzzles that require expert timing with no creative thinking. On top of this, many games also throw enemies at you that you'll need to dodge while hopping around, and the results of the jumping puzzles themselves offer little fun to the player.

Well, Ubisoft has put together some of the most rewarding jumping puzzles into this game, and while you'll still need some very nice timing, the more important thing for players to do is to figure out how to get through a set of traps or up to the top platform in the room. While it may sound like I'm making too big a deal of this, it actually matters a lot to me, especially considering how many jumping puzzles are in this game. On top of this, the Prince's own moves are really cool - he can run on walls, triangle jump between two close walls all day, climb when needed, and flip around to get to the really high spots.

This is not to say that the combat in PoP is somehow left by the wayside. While you will hardly ever have to worry about enemies hitting you while you're trying to do a jumping puzzle, the game still has a good chunk of fighting. Unlike the classic games, you will be taking on up to four or more enemies at once, all of which can block your attacks, gang up on you and all hit you at once, and even hit you while you're knocked down. While it's not hard to block, you won't be able to block once you've started an attack; you will have to choose your tactics carefully.

Finding openings in your enemies' defenses will get difficult, and executing an attack with three other guys swinging at you can get you hurt badly. And not only that: every enemy requires some sort of finishing move, and the other monsters don't always patiently wait for you to kill off the guy that's on the ground.

Despite all this, you do have many moves at your disposal. One of the best ways to kill enemies is to flip over them and hit them in the back - this can open them up to a combo that will put them right on their behind. Some enemies are ready for this, though, and will knock you out of the air, so that's where the wall-springs come into play. If you can get close to a wall, you can jump high enough up to still land a flying attack, or you can even crash right into them for a quick knock down. And this doesn't even count the special moves available that you can do with the dagger - you can slow down or stop time for single enemies or even whole groups of them. Yeah, I know what you're thinking: "Hooray, Bullet Time in yet another game." But the style with which PoP does all this is very unique, and not really like Bullet Time at all since the combat is close-in swordfighting.

Combine all this with the ability to rewind time with your dagger, and you can fix your mistakes both in the acrobatic portions as well as during fights with enemies. This helps mitigate some of the game's pretty tough action. Since there are no difficulty settings, many players will rely on this feature to get through some of the tougher sections.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time will probably last you anywhere from seven to ten or so hours to finish. The console versions of this game include full versions of the original two Prince of Persia games as an unlockable bonus, but so far I've seen no sign of them on the PC. You can search for secret items that give you a bigger "Sand tank" to work with as well as areas that will allow you to increase your maximum life, but other than these, there isn't a huge amount of replay value here. The gameplay is genuinely fun, though, and the graphics are astounding, so if that can carry you through the game more than once, then great. Otherwise, you might be better off renting this game for a console.

The voice acting in PoP is generally quite good, and the music is unique and moody. The game supports some pretty cool 3D sound, including EAX. Even without them, the sounds are wonderful - especially some of the game's ambient effects. The ambience is good enough that music is only really needed during certain scenes, and it all comes together nicely. The game doesn't have hours of voice acting, but what we get is better than average.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is a well-made revival of the classic action/adventure series with awesome graphics and jumping puzzles that are far less frustrating than you might expect. You might not want to bother playing through it more than once, though, but it's still plenty long enough to feel satisfied. In the end, this is a solid game with excellent visuals as well as some really cool action.

Overall: 90%



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