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Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (Xbox) artwork

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (Xbox) review


"The brainchild of Jordan Mechner is undoubtedly among the icons who defined the term "oldschool"; Prince of Persia is right up there with Sonic and Mario and the like. The original Prince of Persia, released in 1989, was a masterpiece of technology and even now, despite technological advances, the original game still looks great and plays very well, even in the context of the new generation. There are two things about PoP that stuck in the mind: one was the fighting system, and the other was Pri..."



The brainchild of Jordan Mechner is undoubtedly among the icons who defined the term "oldschool"; Prince of Persia is right up there with Sonic and Mario and the like. The original Prince of Persia, released in 1989, was a masterpiece of technology and even now, despite technological advances, the original game still looks great and plays very well, even in the context of the new generation. There are two things about PoP that stuck in the mind: one was the fighting system, and the other was Prince's hugely realistic move set. From the running and jumping to the skidding and fighting, everything looked near perfect. This was due to the creators experimenting with Motion Capture technology, which was still experimental at the time, its potential benefits untapped.

I believe that Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, a 2003 game, will be as highly regarded in 202x just as well as Prince of Persia, a 1989 game, is in 2008.

Sands of Time is almost as revolutionary and certainly as brilliant a game as the original PoP. It combines solid gameplay with fluid and intuitive controls. It provides a breathtaking backdrop that is at once bleak and lonely yet hauntingly beautiful. And its two main characters are well written and well acted.

The game is set primarily in the palace of the Sultan of Azad, which is visited by the Prince and his father following a successful raid on a nearby castle. The Prince is tricked by a cunning Vizier (why is it always a Vizier?) into using the Dagger of Time to unleash the titular Sands of Time upon the palace, turning all present into monsters, and must find a way to undo the damage. It's a simple but effective way of setting the story in motion. It provides a reason for the palaces traps to be activated (providing the majority of the obstacles for the Prince), provides a large structure for the Prince to navigate, and also provides the explanation for the game's main innovation - the Prince's ability to rewind time.

Said ability, gained and explained early in the game, is designed for the purpose of making the Prince's trademark acrobatics more approachable. Running along walls and making death defying leaps is all very well but tends to provide a great many opportunities for failure, which, in the context of most videogames, means a lot of time spent reloading saves. The ability to simply rewind out of a missed jump and try again takes a lot of the punishment out of the tricker platforming segments without sacrificing the challenge or the satisfaction of overcoming them. It is a simple enough mechanic - mess up a jump or die some other way, hit rewind, try again. You have a limited but sufficient number of charges for this ability, and recharges are plentiful.

Platforming provides the bulk of the gameplay in Sands of Time, with most of the game's rooms set up as "get from A to B" challenges. The Prince has a large range of useful (and beautifully animated) free-running techniques he can use to achieve this goal. This includes the standard running jumps, running along or up walls, swinging from poles, and combinations of these. The controls for these actions are simple enough to grasp - a button for jumping, a button for wallrunning, and anything that can be grabbed is grabbed automatically, with the result that even the most frightening of chasm-crossings play smoothly and fluidly. Many rooms can appear indecipherable at first, but all of them have a way of intuitively working themselves out once you start down the correct path. While some of the puzzles you solve have a definite whiff of "let's put an obstacle course here!", there are a good deal of gems too, these being either particularly ingenious puzzles or those that blend in naturally with the game's environments, themselves beautiful.

What parts of the game are not taken up with platforming are taken up with fighting. Unlike the original, combat in Sands of Time is very much a hack 'n' slash affair, with a few simple nuances. The Dagger of Time has a central role in the game's battles, being the only weapon that can completely defeat Sand Monsters, and providing the Prince with some more offensive time manipulation abilities for use in battle. The Prince's combat abilities are as easy to control as are his acrobatics, and there's even some overlap between the two. With sword drawn, sword attacks, dagger attacks, acrobatics and time controls are all usable, and can be mixed into simple and intuitive combos, examples of which include vaulting an enemy to strike from overhead, or launching off a wall or column for a powerful attack. As the game progresses, the Prince will gain the ability to freeze foes in place and slice and dice at will, first individually, then en masse for maximum carnage.

The main form of enemy in the game is the Sand Monsters. These are humans corrupted by the Sands who now want only to kill people. Similar to Zombies in the way in which they cannot be killed by normal means, but otherwise not the same at all. To remove them from existence, the Prince must knock them to the ground and stab their sand filled cores with the Dagger, draining their life force and allowing the Dagger further control of Time. You will often find yourself fighting 10, 20, 30, or 40 monsters consecutively, often being rushed by many at a time. Multi Enemy Combat is nevertheless easy to handle - you can easily direct your attacks toward whatever enemy you like, even in a big crowd.

The general progression of the game will be this - enter a room, fend off a small troop of Sand Monsters, which will reveal a puzzle, which you then solve, and move onto the next area, with optional plot progression and such.

The Prince has one more ace up his sleeve: humour. The story is told in first person narrative (from the Prince's point of view). These narrations provide the majority of the available insight into the Prince's character, and he does not disappoint. Besides employing a small window in the fourth wall to explain away the interactive nature of a story that is being narrated ("No, wait, that's not right... I didn't fall. That's not what happened..."), the Prince's frequent speeches paint a picture of a young, cocky and arrogant individual being forced to appreciate the magnitude of his errors... or sometimes he just does funny rants about the ridiculousness of his situation. Either way, he is an excellent character.

For all its qualities, this game does have one shortcoming: replay value, or, to be more specific, the lack of it. The game, on the first playthrough, took me about 9 hours to complete, and 5 hours the second time. After that, there is nothing to do except play again and try and find all the little upgrades for health and sand charges and such. The only real (and very appreciated) bonus is the inclusion of the original Prince of Persia as a bonus unlock (and on the US Xbox version, Prince of Persia 2 as well), as well as a neat easter egg - the first level from the original Prince of Persia in the Sands of Time engine. These are nice bonuses, but they don't add all that much lasting appeal to Sands of Time.

Verdict

+Fluid, intuitive controls and gameplay
+Engrossing, captivating, haunting atmosphere
+Brilliantly written characters
+Excellent graphics and music too

-It's just a tad short.

You'll have a blast playing this, as a platformer, as a story, as a continuation of Prince of Persia. It's all around fantastic, and its only flaw is how quickly it's all over. You may easily find yourself wanting to play through again, be it immediately, or a few months on - because this is one of those games that stays with you. Either way, you owe it yourself to own this game, and to remember it even as you line up outside your gaming retailer of choice waiting for the launch of the PlayStation 5 or whatever it is they're up to in 2020.

Rating: 9/10

Fedule's avatar
Community review by Fedule (December 06, 2008)

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