In the game industry, many developers will try to take the easy way out when trying to make a hit game by getting the license to an old 2D favourite, and making a lazy 3D translation for it. Red Orb Entertainment did this with Prince of Persia, making a lazy sequel Prince of Persia 3D in 1999. The game sucked - bad. To add insult to injury, Avalanche Software and Mattel came together in 2000 to make another 3D Prince of Persia entitled Arabian Nights for the Dreamcast. This was also horrible, and drove the last nail into the Prince of Persia coffin - or so we thought. Ubi Soft announced earlier this year that they had acquired the services of the Prince of Persia creator Jordan Mechner, and that he would be acting as the designer and creative consultant for their new Prince of Persia game, subtitled Sands of Time, to be produced at their Montreal studio (responsible for Splinter Cell). Can the combination of the original creator and a talented development team revive the Prince of Persia series? Read on to find out.
In the war torn lands of Persia, a king, his son, and their army go to plunder one of the last final kingdoms. While rummaging through this kingdom's treasure room, the young prince discovers a mystical dagger. A new advisor to the king, who betrayed the plundered kingdom, asks for the dagger as his reward, but the king allows his son to keep it. The king and his armies move on to another kingdom to present them with a gift - the Sands of Time. Knowing what the sands are capable of, the new advisor tricks the prince into unlocking the hour glass with the dagger. Everyone in the palace, bar the advisor, the prince and a captured princess from the last kingdom are transformed into sand zombies. The prince vows to take revenge on the advisor, but also wonders how the captured princess survived the attack, so he begins his journey trying to track down the girl.
Gonna go Back in Time
Sands of Time starts out with a prologue/tutorial level, where you take part in an attack on a palace. This sequence of events is quite impressive (albeit heavily scripted), and helps the player to get a grip on the wide variety of moves they will have at their disposal during the game. The prince has a lot of moves, and you will use every single one of them throughout the game - you will also have to combine them to get through certain tricky situations later on. The prince is very agile, as he can run up and across walls, swing around like a gymnast, make massive jumps, and more. Some of the moves that the prince can utilise need to be seen to be believed, and really do put other platformers to shame.
Arguably the most impressive features of Sands of Time extend from the prince's special dagger. Powered by the Sands of Time (drawn from defeated enemies and special draw points), the prince can manipulate time and perform special attacks on his opponents. Messed up a jump or have been defeated by an enemy? No problem - just hold R1 in, and the game will rewind through the events of the past 8-10 seconds, effectively giving you a second chance to not mess up. The prince can slow down time during combat to give him an advantage in being able to deliver pre-emptive attacks, and see enemy attacks coming. Finally, the prince can stab opponents with the dagger, and they will essentially be frozen in time, vulnerable to the prince's strikes.
The general flow of gameplay is very good throughout the game. Sometimes however, it almost feels like you're manipulating a cutscene, as you can only do forward jumps at ledges, and fights only occur in certain areas and so on. There's only usually one option for progressing in most parts of the game, which sort of limits variety. Fighting in the game is impressive thanks to the variety in the prince's moves, such as being able to vault over opponents and strike, bounce off walls for wall attacks, block while knocked to the ground and so on. To defeat enemies, you must stab them with the dagger to recover the sand. Recovering health lost during the game is done by drinking water. Water is fairly conveniently located throughout the game, though you might find yourself missing a fountain or puddle, and being forced to progress through a section with minimal health. There are a lot of puzzles spread throughout the game - everything from massive chains of obstacles requiring precision timing in regards to jumping and swinging, to more traditional puzzles such as lining up mirrors to aim sunlight at a certain point. Hints to solving these puzzles are given away via visions which occur when you save the game.
The only weak link in Sands of Time is the length of the game. Most people will be able to reach the end within about 8-10 hours, though additional time may be added if players become stuck, which can happen given some of the puzzles in the game. As a reward to people who complete the game, the original Prince of Persia has been included as an extra, and should extend your playing time by a couple of hours.
Sands of Time is a phenomenal looking title; a mix of a beautiful art style and some impressive technological achievements. The game world is massive, with traditional Middle Eastern style palaces, mixed in with a heat haze to give a somewhat realistic look. The geometry and architecture of the levels in the game are really good. The environments are prone to damage - bridges collapse, walls fall down, and so on - these events are scripted, but they still look really good when they happen. There's a huge amount of special effects in the game too, mainly to do with lighting and shadows. Beams of light extend from cracks in the walls, droplets of water leak from the ceiling, the screen blurs in slow motion and rewinding - all of these extras are very impressive. Character models aren't the most detailed you'll see, but the modeling and animation on them is quite impressive. Watching the prince run across a wall and jump onto a bar, and swing around like a gymnast will make your mouth water. Unfortunately, due to the Playstation 2's limitations, there is a lot of slowdown throughout the game, mainly in areas where there are a lot of particle effects. Progressive scan is supported, for those with state of the art televisions.
The soundtrack of Sands of Time is an enjoyable mix of traditional Middle Eastern instruments (such as the sitar), with the occasional modern western guitar riffs and drum beats working in the background. It might sound weird at first, but it gets better as the game moves along. Voice acting is really good. The prince is telling the story of his adventure while you play it, so he will describe the events as they happen. If you happen to die during the game, he will say something along the lines of "No, that's not how it happened". The characters have a posh tone to their voice, indicative of their royal status. Sound effects are good, as they're clear, crisp and can be affected by the environment. There is no surround sound support, however.
Prince of Persia: Sands of Time is an excellent experience - while it lasts. If you're after a game that looks good and plays great, pick it up immediately. Most gamers should be wary of the length of the game and the framerate drops, as these are the only minor down points of the game. Gamers without a Playstation 2 should be wary that the game will be available on the Gamecube and Xbox early next year, with enhanced graphics, a more solid framerate and extras that weren't in the Playstation 2 game. Ubi Soft have done an excellent job of reviving what was thought to be a dead series by producing one of the best games of the year.