Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
UbiSoft's Montreal studio has resurrected the fabled Prince of Persia series and the result is the finest adventure game of the year.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is more than just another title in a series. In fact, the name and concept are almost the only similarities with the past titles. This prince certainly expands the concept that started it all, and Sands of Time really feels special.
It wouldn't be right to continue without explaining the significance of the Sands of Time subtitle, as it directly correlates to both the story and plays a huge role in the gameplay. The story unfolds from the prince's perspective as you play; he offers a narrative while certain events are occurring, giving his insight into what happened. When you die the prince will make comments like "no that didn't happen" or "that's not how it went." In the beginning we are treated to a tutorial of sorts, where you learn many of the prince's moves, but it's actually part of the story and shows the prince getting the dagger of time, and the release of the sands of time. These sands of time almost instantly transform all the humans into evil creatures, except for the prince, a princess, and the arch-nemesis. As soon as the dagger is in the hands of the prince the real adventure begins.
PoP's boasts extraordinarily fluid and precise controls. The controls are perfectly mapped and all of the prince's moves can be pulled off easily regardless of the situation or complexity of the move. Almost every button has two uses, but they never get mixed up. Attacking is triggered with three buttons, two for fighting and one for blocking. Other buttons are used for different things at different times, like the right shoulder button, which is used for wall running as well as blocking depending, on the situation. Many of the buttons have dual functions like this, but it never gets in the way, and is actually quite easy to get the hang of.
Killing bad guys has never been so fun in a Prince of Persia game. Combat is exhilarating and you'll find yourself looking forward to each new battle. With anything but near perfect control the battles would be utterly frustrating; prince has to fight with his sword, but must utilize the dagger of time as well. Without using the dagger to absorb the fallen enemies, they'll come back to life and attack again. This creates action packed battles since there are often four or more enemies attacking at once, so using the sword and dagger at the right times is crucial.
When the going gets really rough the dagger serves a second purpose - it can rewind, slow, or speed up time. These skills - much like combat itself - are required to survive some battles. Lose too much life? Well why not rewind time and prevent that last guy from hitting you by blocking him? This concept works very well indeed.
Platforming is equally important, if not more so than the combat, and PoP really shines. The game is wrought with puzzles, insane acrobatic platforming and typical PoP traps like spikes and saws. Many of the rooms you will encounter often use more than one of the Prince's many moves to get from point A to point B. The trick is which moves do you use, how do you time them, and when should you use the dagger - if you miss a crucial jump and wish you could do it again, then as you have at least one sand tank (you'll get more as you kill bad dudes) you can rewind to before the jump and redo it. So, say you try to jump something that you should have used the wall run on, simply hold down the rewind button, then redo as needed. This is one of PoP's best bits, and really enhances the gameplay without spoiling the challenge.
There's a great deal of planning ahead required to get through a room. The time feature turns every hallway, passage and room into a puzzle in itself. Combined with regular puzzles involving blocks, mirrors and jumping, and you've got a very deep and satisfying adventure game environment. Running on walls, swinging from ropes, avoiding traps, scaling walls, and finally climbing a pole after pulling a timed switch are all in a day's work.
PoP looks about as gorgeous as it plays. Ancient Persian castles never looked so awesome. Although you spend the entire game in the same castle, the variation seen in the different sections certainly keep you interested. You'll go anywhere from the indoor rooms like the sewers, to the high towers, to torture chambers, to hidden areas thought not to exist at all. Each area has its own flavor, yet the feeling of remaining inside the same castle is maintained throughout.
Of course after the sands of time were released it seems like the palace needs some interior redecorating. Things certainly do fall apart under your feet in this game, literally, and that looks just as good as the stuff that's still intact. The broken and run down architecture looks splendid, especially the later towers. Speaking of towers, once you get up there the view is amazing, and it is at this point you realize exactly why it has taken you so long to traverse this palace. All around though the environments are sharp. Everything is crystal clear, there is great variation, and there are organic objects to mix up all the stone and rubble you encounter. The occasional palm tree adds authenticity - you are in Middle East after all.
Other graphical touches are equally impressive. The particle effects are dazzling, and I never get sick of seeing those enemies turned to sand and sucked into that dagger. Sparks from the thick of combat, and sand from a loose or damaged ledge also add realism. The amazing rewind effects, which look absolutely cool, again contribute to make PoP visually stunning.
Character models are also impressive; as the game progresses, the prince gets wounded and removes pieces of his shirt, eventually the hole thing. He's animated quite impressively, right down to the flips, wall running and far jumps. Some other models aren't quite as detailed or smooth but still do the job. To top things off the story begins and ends with some jaw dropping CG cut-scenes.
In terms of sound PoP takes yet another innovative turn by offering as much dedication to the sound effects. Much of this game is spent without music which adds to the atmosphere. Instead, we get great sound effects like footsteps, or scratching and slapping at concrete as the prince tries to scale a wall. Our prince does have a voice though, along with the princess and the evil vizier. The voices are done well, and sound good in the game, with the appropriate echoes and such depending on the room. Remember that much of the dialogue occurs while you are moving and performing your jumps, instead of breaking up the action with cut scenes - it's nice to see an attempt to remove the movie aspect from the actual gameplay and to do something different.
Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time never fails to be an enthralling experience. Flaws like some frustrating segments, a lack of variety in the enemy designs and a rather short quest (roughly ten hours) impede what would otherwise be a perfect piece of software. Despite these imperfections I never once thought about putting the game down.