Review by JD Fedule

"Prince for a day (or three)."

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. 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 and the potential gains of it were at the time untapped. This, among other things such as the 1 hour time limit, was what made PoP revolutionary.

So, understandably, a sequel was produced. PoP 2 was not timed, and fortunately so - the gameplay was significantly better and so were the environments and graphics. The story was shown by means of "cutscene" slideshows instead of scenes made in the gameplay engine. The puzzles were bigger and better, and things generally looked great.

Some time later, the PoP hype having dissipated a bit, a third installment was produced: PoP 3D. However, despite it's potential, it was for all intents and purposes, a flop. For various reasons, gamers just... didn't like it. It was nothing but a failed attempt to breathe life into the series again.

And now, another attempt was made by UbiSoft to restore Prince to his former glory through the Sands of Time. And restore they did. Sands of Time is almost as revolutionary as the original PoP, is a graphical masterpiece, has great SFX and music, has a great backstory, and is just generally brilliant.

What makes it so good? The innovation. Using a magical dagger obtained after the first level, Prince is able to manipulate time at will. Using the Dagger of Time, Prince can speed up, slow, stop and even rewind time to his advantage. Falling to your death? Rewind. Need time to think? Use slow. About to be beaten to a pulp? Use Mega Freeze to cut them down where they stand. And do it all in style by tapping into Prince's HUGE bank of animations (over 250 separate animations).

The story goes like this. A man known only as "The Vizier", a traitor in the service of an Indian Maharajah, has persuaded Prince's father, King Shahraman of Persia, to raid the Maharajah's castle and collect the treasures within, but demands he pick one item as payment for the information. The raid is a complete success, and the Prince, eager to prove himself to his father, sneaks into the treasure vault and steals the Dagger of Time, a mysterious artifact with the ability to control time. He brings it to his father, who is coordinating the removal of a much larger artifact, a giant Hourglass, from the vault. The Vizier reminds the King of his promise, and the King allows the Vizier to take any item - except the Dagger and the Hourglass, which inexplicably infuriates the Vizier.

Treasures in hand, the King presents the hourglass to the Sultan of Azad as a gift. The Vizier explains that the hourglass contains the Sands of Time, which carry great power. However, the hourglass can only be opened by the Dagger of Time, which the Prince has. So, the Vizier persuades the Prince to open the hourglass. As he does so, Farah, the daughter of the Maharajah (who has been captured by the King) screams at the Prince not to open the hourglass, but to no avail. Without warning, the Vizier casts a spell just as the Sands are released, causing the sand to run everywhere and engulf all present. The King and all present in the palace are transformed into Sand Creatures, and mysteriously, Prince, Farah and the Vizier are all unharmed and escape. So begins the Prince's quest to restore order to the palace...

The main form of enemy in the game is the Sand Creatures. 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 creatures consecutively, often being rushed by many at a time. Fortunately, Prince has a multitude of techniques that can turn the battle round. He can simply cut through them, or stab them with the Dagger to freeze them before dividing them neatly in two, he can vault over them while smacking them to the ground, he can rebound off walls, or, if the need arises, simply cast Mega Freeze and massacre them all. Multi Enemy Combat is superbly done, and is a snap - while pressing button combos, hold the analogue stick in the general direction of your target to target that enemy. No fiddly positioning required!

The dagger can do many things. It has five powers: Slow, Stop, Rewind, Haste and Vision. Slow does what it says: slows the action down, whether in battle or out, enabling you to think more clearly. Stop freezes a targeted enemy, allowing you to dispatch them in style. Rewind is useful if you muck up, or if Farah dies in battle (she's vital to your survival). Haste is what we call Mega Freeze - we don't know for sure whether the Prince moves incredibly fast, or if the enemies are simply frozen. What we do know is that every enemy stops moving, allowing you to warp over to them and divide them. Vision is a nice touch: when entering a Sand Vortex (which also acts as a save point), Prince experiences brief visions of the future: i.e. hints on how to solve the puzzle ahead.

Of course, you can't just casually stroll in and Mega Freeze at will: The Dagger has a tariff. For each enemy you kill, you fill up a Sand Tank. One Sand Tank lets you rewind once. As you dispatch your foes, Sand Tanks grow Power Tanks. Once a Power Tank is created, it can be filled by first filling all Sand Tanks, then by dispatching foes again. They fill up slower than Sand Tanks, one "kill" only gives you half a tank. Power Tanks are good for freezing enemies, or casting slow once. If you have as many Sand Tanks as Power Tanks AND have all Sand Tanks and Power Tanks full, then, and only then, you can do Mega Freeze. This drains all your Power Tanks but not your Sand Tanks. New Sand Tanks are obtainable from extracting sand from Sand Clouds scattered around - 8 clouds = one new Sand Tank. Careful though, because once you gain an extra Sand Tank, you need another 16 kills before you can Mega Freeze again. You can regain health by drinking water from ANYTHING (yes, even drains and sewers), and there are some special Magical Fountains scattered around that extend your health capacity.

The main game element, however, is in puzzle solving. This could mean simply getting through a corridor while dodging swinging blades, or directing light beams around the room. Puzzles take on a huge number of forms and will require EVERY single ability Prince can pull off to solve them. Some are intuitive, some require timing, some require thought, and most require you to fend off a small troop of Sand Creatures at some point. Sand Creatures are not the only form of annoyance - Bats will try and pick you off while precariously balanced on a thin beam, and vultures will swoop down on you from above. Scarabs form a minor annoyance but are pretty easy to kill. Farah can help you by squeezing through small cracks or under doors. She can also activate switches to help you, and can fend off enemies from a distance with her bow. She ain't perfect though: wander too close to her target and she may miss and hit you instead. If you need another POV, a first person camera and a landscape view are a button press away at all times. As you progress through the game, you will obtain new swords that can break down walls and such, eventually obtaining a sword that can instantly down enemies. The puzzles and combat are hugely entertaining, and the backstory and CG scenes are superbly presented.

The Prince has one more ace up his sleeve: humour. The story is told in first person narrative (from Prince's point of view). Every now and then, you get some vaguely funny speeches, usually the Prince talking to himself. "Oh yes, finding my way to the baths will be so easy, I'll just ask the first Sand Creature I see, shall I? Excuse me, could you direct me to the Baths, please? Oh, of course, don't mention it, I used to be a bath attendant when I was alive... STOP TALKING TO YOURSELF!". The various features that are present in all games (pausing, saving, etc) only provide more opportunities for the Prince to slip in remarks such as "shall I continue my story from here if we get interrupted?" when saving, or (somewhat brilliantly), when you die, you hear "no, no, no, wait. That's not how it happened..." or "no, wait... I didn't fall... no... let me start again".

But beware: Nothing is perfect, and this game has one serious 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 get more Sand Clouds and more Magic Fountains. There are, however, two VERY nice features on the game: THE original Prince of Persia, and, on the US version, Prince of Persia 2. In games with Prince of Persia 2 included, it's behind a wall, and that's all I'll say. Finishing the game gets you PoP1. In games without PoP2, PoP1 will instead be found behind the same wall, and you don't get squat for completing the game. These will provide a few extra hours of play, but it's not much.

So...

Gameplay: 10. You WILL love this game, no matter what.
Graphics: 9. The sheer number of animations is outstanding, as are the cutscenes.
Sound: 9. Regular rock with just a sprinkle of eastern style, and great Voice Actors.
Replay: 3. I hate to have to say this, but this is a Rental game if ever there was one. I will be returning this game tomorrow and collecting my money back... and will then buy another game to review!

The Verdict: 9. I say, rent this game and spend a few days in ecstasy. It'll be worth it.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 05/26/04


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