Review by midwinter
"Praise be Allah!"
Over the past few years, UBI Soft Montreal have been cultivating themselves something of a reputation. With award winning franchises such as Splinter Cell and Rainbow Six already behind them, their resume has slowly started to read more like a greatest hits of 3d action gaming than a brief summery of previous job qualifications. As such, it was in their careful and trustworthy hands that Prince of Persia creator Jordan Mechner, sought to secure the future of one of gaming's most beloved heroes. Originally debuting on the PC way back in 1989, Prince of Persia rocketed up the charts thanks to its then incredibly lifelike character animations and compellingly addictive puzzle laced action. Sadly enough however the dream was not to last and it wasn't long before things had begun to sour. Due to a series of disappointing releases throughout the mid to late 1990's, the franchise fell into disarray as gamers eventually learned to put the past behind them. It was with a growing sense of urgency then that UBI Soft Montreal looked to turn back the clock in the hopes of making the post millennium gamer once more give a damn. And if the Prince's new ability to bend time was any example, we were certainly in for something special...
"Most people think time is like a river that flows swift and sure in one direction... but I have seen the face of time and I can tell you, they are wrong. Time is an ocean in a storm. You may wonder who I am and why I say this... sit down and I will tell you a tale like none you have ever heard."
Magical words indeed, and a fitting introduction to a game that is equal portions rip roaring adventure and dream-like fairy tale. Though the story itself may not be terribly deep, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is a solid example of how the plot can remain engaging while allowing the action to take center stage. Borrowing heavily from Hollywood classics such as Indiana Jones and, to a lesser extent, Romancing the Stone, PoP is a thrill-a-minute ride that players won't soon forget. Thrust into the middle of a brutal attack on the Maharajah's palace, we are introduced to the Prince who has set off in search of destiny. It's while exploring the lower levels of the besieged kingdom that players will find themselves confronted by the awesome power of the legendary "Dagger of Time". An artifact that, as legends would have it, allows its bearer to force their will upon the very fabric of time itself. In the face of such power however a weak man's integrity doesn't stand a chance, and as such the treacherous Vizier soon tricks the Prince into unleashing the Sands of Time upon an unsuspecting kingdom. Joined by the Maharajah's now enslaved daughter Farrah, players must embark upon a quest to restore the balance of time and vanquish the evil Vizier once and for all.
As one would expect however, sweeping up the Sands of Time and setting things right is going to be a little more involved than simply taking to the whole mess with a dustpan and broom. For standing between players and a restored continuum are some of the most lethally picturesque levels ever coded... and by Allah, that is a fact! Viewed from a third person perspective, these rendered masterpieces give new meaning to the word elaborate as the many rooms, hallways and gardens that constitute PoP's 8 hour challenge not only conceal an impressive number of deathtraps, but often represent unique little puzzles in and of themselves. And while the concept of opening new areas by pushing boxes or standing upon pressure plates may seem rather off putting, the intricately designed environment based puzzles are wonderfully creative and are sure to keep even the brightest of players scratching their heads. With flag poles to swing from, columns to climb, traps to avoid, and any number of possible walls to run across, players will want to use the old gray as much as their reflexes if they are to make their final encounter with the Vizier on time. As surely as a single misplaced step will unleash the furiously spinning blades of the next deathtrap, so will a badly timed jump to the next accessible platform. And to say that this journey into destiny seems rather daunting is an understatement of Jihad sized proportions.
It's lucky for all those concerned then that upon entering a new area, the camera invariably breaks from its position behind the player and begins its journey around, through, over and under the wonderfully detailed architecture, eventually coming to rest on the player's intended destination. Which, more often than not, is usually about seven stories straight up *sighs* the crusades were never this hard! If players are to reach the lofty heights expected of them, then they're going to have to learn how to move like a like a knife through butter... or if Farrah is watching, a Persian ninja on heat. Aiding in this quest for a buttery, almost cream-like consistency are a series of incredibly apt time flashes that briefly demonstrate to players exactly what is needed of them in order to overcome the next challenge. Shot off in rapid fire succession, the blink and you'll miss them clues serve as an invaluable guide for players while further amplifying the game's overall theme of time run-a-muck. And yes, with the knowledge of what's now to come working for you, the prospect of navigating the many pitfalls of the Maharaja's palace suddenly doesn't seem quite so intimidating. Time to strut your stuff lads...
If being forewarned is indeed being forearmed, then players should have no problems when facing off against the many blood thirsty monsters that now inhabit the dark recesses of the palace. Brutally aggressive, a sudden flash of light heralds their arrival as they attack in groups, often teleporting around the map in order to keep up with the player's movements. Persistence, aggression, and power are the name of the game as these time spawned adversaries will soon have you longing for a warm prayer mat with a window view towards Mecca. It's with little choice other than to stand and fight then that players will be greeted by some of the most fluid and lifelike combat animations this side of a major Hollywood FX studio. Graceful and elegant, the smooth flowing arcs of the Prince's sword flow together as monsters rush in to attack from all sides. On guard my Prince... here they come! A quick side step to the right, a roll to the left. Now here's your window of opportunity! Leap frog the closest monster before a performing a quick mid air twist, perhaps setting yourself up to deliver the killing blow across the back of the fiend's head. Oh yeah! Farrah... are you impressed yet?
Sooner or later however everything is bound to go arse up, and when it does it's always nice to know that you've got time on your side. Whether you've just plummeted to an untimely death or have simply had your skull cleaved by a mighty scimitar, the Dagger of Time will always be there to put your sorry carcass back together again. With your life flashing before your eyes there's little left to do but cut a deal with the devil, and all it takes is a single press of the button for the Sands of Time to deliver players from harm thus giving them a second chance at getting things right. Of course, this all depends on whether or not you've had the foresight to recover enough of the sands in the first place! If you've started to believe that the presence of such a play mechanic may lessen the game's overall challenge then you'd probably be right. But then again manipulating time to suit your own needs is a 100% satisfying experience. Doubly so once some of the more advanced special attacks have been unlocked! From slowing down time to speeding up your attacks, the powers bestowed by the Dagger are as versatile as they are stunning to behold. And the added touch of being forced to strategically manage your reserves of the precious sand is a welcome addition as well...
With intelligent gameplay, fast action and a wonderfully satisfying gimmick riding shotgun, UBI Soft Montreal could have gotten away with a philosophy of bare-bones visual presentation and no one would have complained. That being said however I'm still thankful to see that all their hard work and attention to detail has been able to permeate right through the overall package. They don't call this "2003's best looking action adventure game" for nothing. The dreamlike qualities bestowed on the backgrounds are rich and beautiful to behold as even the most minor of details help to elevate PoP's atmosphere above and beyond what most of its contemporaries could possibly hope to achieve. And this good sir is no mere hyperbole. While fireflies slowly drift upwards against the down pouring rain, palm trees gently swing in the breeze to the accompaniment of a soundtrack that is guaranteed to take your breath away. Exotic to the extreme, the melodious chants and sounds of an ancient Middle East bring the game to live with just the right amount of modern cool serving to welcome players into the fold. Dare I say it, this is one soundtrack worthy of a CD release! And if that wasn't enough, the voice acting is jaw dropping-ly first class... can UBI Soft Montreal ever set a foot wrong?!
As has been demonstrated with Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time, the answer thus far has been a resounding Hell NO! For here is a game that has not only stayed true to its platform jumping sword swinging origins, but has taken the now formulatic gameplay of the past and transformed into something that could conceivably be labelled as a modern day masterpiece. It may have brought an extra dimension and a new gimmick into the mix, but in the end this next gen Prince has the same classic look and feel as its prestigious fore-bearers did. And as a reinterpretation of one of gaming's most fondly remembered classics, that's exactly what players are looking for. From the way each of the puzzles straddle the fine line separating the obvious from the perplexing, to the acrobatic movements of the Prince himself, the Sands of Time is obviously a game that carries with it Allah's own stamp of approval. The controls are tight and the camera is solid while the inclusion of the two original Prince of Persia games is certainly something that veteran gamers will enjoy. Yes, this is a connoisseur's game of choice, don't you owe it to yourself to find out why?
* While the story certainly isn't complicated, it carries with it a wonderful sense of adventure
* The elaborate level design is sure to keep players scratching their heads as they try to work out where to jump next
* Though many of the puzzles are simple in design, they can be quite challenging
* Manipulating time is a very satisfying gameplay element
* The flashes of future time are a wonderful idea
* This remake has the right look and feel to make it instantly recognizable to veteran gamers
* Graphically, the Sands of Time is one of the prettiest action adventures around
* The soundtrack is so good it's listening to again and again... on CD too if you can!
* Farrah and the Prince have been brought to live with some wonderful voice acting
* The legend HAS been reborn...
* It's not the most difficult of games
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 07/26/04, Updated 07/27/04
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