I was excited about this game as soon as I saw the first pictures and found out that series creator Jordan Mechner was going to be working on it as well. Prince of Persia and Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow and the Flame hold a special place in my heart when I played them on my computer a long time ago. Both games were later ported to pretty much every system in existance, computer or console (the original more than part 2), so a lot of people got the chance to enjoy them. Prince of Persia 3D was not as well received, so let’s not talk about that one.
Now the makers of Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell and Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six 3, along with Mechner, have created Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. This game is already being lauded as one of the best games of the year and a possible Game of the Year candidate. Let’s see if I think so.
The graphics are phenomenal on the Xbox. I got the chance to play the PS2 demo version and I thought that looked good, but this version looks so much better. The level design and the “soft” lens used are remarkable. The main characters, the Prince and Farah, are well animated and this game just reeks of polish. Watching as the Prince does his acrobatic tricks such as running along walls, doing flips every which way, etc. is just jaw-dropping. It is obvious UbiSoft Montreal went the extra mile with this game.
Even the enemy and trap animations are smooth as butter as well. Even when there are tons of enemies around the Prince at one time the game never seems to slow down or I am not noticing it. When you use the Sands of Time the animation is also well done and I have no clue how they pull off the 10 second rewind on the Playstation 2 because the Prince can come upon his death many different ways in a given situation, yet the demo I played showed him backing up the exact way he just did it forward. That’s a major accomplishment and something I didn’t even think twice of with the Xbox since it does have the hard drive.
There is one minor problem with this game and it’s really a problem with all games of this type: the camera. Yes, the camera can give you fits from time to time. An example is when you are fighting enemies and there happens to be a tall object somewhere in the room. If you happen to hop over your enemy to slash them from behind the camera may move behind that tall object and then you can no longer see the Prince or what is happpening. They have tried to alleivate this problem a bit by you being able to press in the right analog stick to go behind the Prince, but that doesn’t always work if the Prince is close to a wall or object right behind him. It’s a minor problem and you are able to control the camera when you don’t like the angle it is currently at. There are also small parts here and there where clipping is an issue as well. It usually happens with flying enemies that may pass through walls. Thankfully flying enemies don’t take up the majority of this game.
The music, sound effects and voices are simply amazing. The music feels Middle Eastern in its sound and an extra cool thing is if you go into slow motion or haste using the Sands of Time the music will slow down or speed up as well. Slowing it down makes the most interesting of music as you change it to another RPM basically. The sounds of swords clanking, the Prince dying in any number of ways, the trap sounds, Farah’s anxious sound as the Prince comes close to death, etc. are just exceptional. Just because I was playing the Prince all the time didn’t mean that Farah felt added on. No, she felt a lot like Yorna in ICO for me (from a “I really care about her well being” perspective), a game very similar to this one except that Farah can take care of herself.
Finally, the voices. They are also spot on with English accents. Obviously, most of the people in this game would not speak English in real life, although you could make a point that the Vizier, King and Prince are schooled in English. The English accents just work in this game as you can make the case that England’s power over Persia at this time could have had an impact one way or the other. Overall this section is just spot on and it is tough to not give it a perfect score.
Control of the game is easy, much like the rest of the games in the series. The problem is you may end up doing a move that you didn’t want to do, especially in the “climb up the wall” or “run along the wall” controls. Left analog stick moves the Prince, right analog stick moves the camera, the black button gives you a first-person view (control camera with right analog stick) and the white button gives you a bird’s eye view of the area you are in. A button is your action button (jump, roll, climb up from ledge, jump over enemies), X button is the weapon button (once to pull out sword and dagger, then hit again to strike), B button is the cancel button (put away sword, drop off), Y button is used to gain sand when an opponent is down.
I have a bit about combat up there, but let’s get into it a bit more. The key thing during combat is to knock down your enemies and use the Y button to gain a Sand tank and make them disappear. You can do a variety of moves while fighting and the whole fighting sections are usually pretty easy to get through once you know what to do. If you’re in front of an enemy you can hit A and jump over them and then hit X to slash them from behind. You can press the R trigger to block an attack from anywhere (there are certain bigger enemies you cannot block, but very few) and then hit X to counter-attack after their strike. To attack an enemy you simply move the left analog stick their way and hit the X button. You can also use the A button when not close to an enemy to roll forward (push left analog stick forward) or flip backwards (left analog stick back). You can also use the Sand powers as well and I’ll get into that in the next paragraph.
The Sands of Time are a totally new experience for the series. As you progress through the game you will see glowing orbs on the ground. You hit Y and you are given another Sand tank or Power tank (used for the powers other than Revive) to use one of your Sand powers. The most common one you will use is the Revival power, the number of which you can use are the large circles in the upper left corner. If you die you can hold down the L trigger and reverse the game for up to 10 seconds (or longer if you get the ability of another time circle). This will use up a Sand tank, but you are able to try the section again. You can also use the Revival power to reverse yourself in a fight to either attack someone else or find a sliver of time during the battle where you can go back to regular time and get out of the situation.
The moon slivers to the right of the big circles are used for the other powers. There’s the Power of Delay (slow time, tap L trigger instead of holding it down for Revival…Prince still moves at same speed), the Power of Restraint (freezes enemy during battle with the Y button, then you slash twice and the enemy is gone) and the Power of Haste (Power tanks have to be full and once used all are gone, hold R and hit L during battle and you are able to attack in super-speed). There are certain times where the last two will be used, but for the most part you will be using Revival and Delay in the game.
Overall the controls are easy to get used to. The only problems I had where running up a wall (hold forward + R trigger) versus running along a wall (hold a diagonal direction + R trigger). I often did one and not the other and it cost me a Revival tank. Some of the running on the wall and then jumping off to catch a ladder or ledge were difficult, but nothing that ruins the experience. Jumping off of walls with no ledges takes a bit to get used to as well. You hit a wall and can jump off of it if you hit the A button at the right time. There will be a place early on where you have to use this ability and a few places here and there the rest of the game. You can also use the Slow power to make these sections a bit easier.
As usual for the series, this is a story of a Vizier’s plan to take over the throne and a Prince that stops him. This time however there are some differences. The Vizier is obviously sick and dying, he gets the Prince to release the Sands of Time from the hourglass which turns everyone in the court except for the Prince, Vizier and Farah into a sand creature. The Vizier spouts off that the Prince has started a chain reaction that only the Vizier can fix, but he must have the Dagger of Sand. The Prince obviously doesn’t give it to him and he escapes. The rest of the game is spent fighting off the sand creatures, solving a lot of puzzles, doing cool acrobatic moves, Farah helping you and you saving her, etc. The cutscenes in the game are really well done and they tell the story well. In fact, the story is told by the Prince, who is obviously looking back at this adventure because every time you die he says some derivative of, “No, no…that’s not how it happened” and whenever you save he says, “I’ll continue my story from here.” It is obvious that you are just controlling what the Prince has already gone through, but boy is it fun!
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is a game of set pieces. You happen upon a yellow stream of sand coming from the ground and the Prince has a vision of what is to come (this is quite cool), with all the traps shown and the Prince going through them. You then come into the set piece itself. There is a certain way to go about finishing the area, but the beauty is in figuring out how to get there. You’ll dodge traps such as rotating swords, spinning columns with spikes, spikes hidden in the ground, etc. You also have the walls, bottomless pits, distances too far to fall, etc. Even though I died many times I had a heck of a lot of fun doing acrobatic moves around the area. Running along a wall, jumping to a flag staff, swinging around it and jumping to the next flag staff…it was just exhilarating. Farah even helps you here and there squeezing into small cracks, unlocking doors to help you on your way, fire arrows at enemies as you do the down and dirty stuff, etc.
A cool thing I forgot to mention in the Control part is how you go about refilling your health. If you find anything with water in it (fountain, pool, waterfall, etc.) you can hold down the R trigger and drink water from the source. This will increase your health. The only problem is that water can sometimes be hard to find and you may be stuck in a place for a while with little to no health, but you will eventually make it through the area…I believe in you.
As you go through the game you will get some better swords and it makes the game a tad bit easier, but you will still find tons of fun and playtime in this game. This game is just well put together and even some of the harder puzzles never got me frustrated to the point I wanted to throw the controller at the TV. The comparisons to ICO, a game I immensly loved, are easy to make. The art style, the cooperation between the characters, the engaging story, etc. all point to ICO. Even UbiSoft Montreal has said that they took a lot of ideas from ICO because it was that damn good of a game. I dare say that this game is better than ICO though. It’s far longer (10-20 hours), has a more engaging storyline because most of the characters actually have English spoken dialogue and the castle is more alive in Prince of Persia: Sands of Time than the one in ICO. The action pieces are even better. I had a lot of fun slicing and dicing enemies and using the Dagger of Sand to my advantage.
This game could very well be the Game of the Year. It’s tough to stack it against a heavy RPG like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, but this game is far more easy to pick up and I can see even your everyday gamer who isn’t into heavy RPGs liking this game quite a bit. Heck, it even got my wife’s attention. Certain games do that (Jak II, Kingdom Hearts and ICO for instance) and that’s a great litmus test for how engaging a game can be.
As I said above, this game is about 10-15 hours long (results may vary though) and that’s a pretty good amount of time to base a purchase of the game on. Along with this you are able to unlock and play Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow and the Flame (the best of the old games in my opinion) as well as play the first Prince of Persia game in an updated Sands of Time way. Arguably this game is also a good one to play through again because it is just that fun to play and to watch the Prince do his acrobatic moves.
This game is also very forgiving. The ability to use the Sand powers, especially Revival, will make this game more appealing to those people that don’t play a lot of games. Yes, some sections (especially in combat) can get frustrating and you can be low on health a lot of the time without water around, but you will eventually make it through whatever area you are on.