Review by MSuskie

"Bad pun alert: A game of kingly proportions."

I'm really no that into the Prince of Persia series – although it's very good, I really haven't played too franchise games, as much as I'd like to have. So I really didn't know what to expect from Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (which is, as far as I know, the first successful 3D game in the series). It got rave reviews (especially an almost fanboyish following from IGNcube's editor-in-chief) and was hyped to be one of the best games of the year. And Sands surprised me, because it wasn't exactly what I had imagined it to be, despite the fact that Sands stays true to its 2D roots. And as a result, yes, Sands is one of my favorite games of the year.

Other games in the series really didn't have much of a story, so I guess Sands is a big step up in that regard. The story of Sands involves a prince (of Persia, of course) using a mysterious dagger he uncovered from some ruins to accidentally let loose a curse in a gargantuan palace, turning all but a select few of its inhabitants (the Prince being one of them) into mindless zombies. From that point on, the Prince finds himself traveling through the enormous palace in search of a way to undo the curse. The entire game of Sands is presented as if the Prince himself (who, surprisingly goes unnamed during the quest) is telling you the story. His narrations are present throughout, and whenever the player dies and the game goes to the “Game Over” screen, you'll hear the Prince saying something like, “No, no, that's not what happened. Let me start over.” It's really a brilliant method of storytelling that works to an extent that makes you wonder why it” not used more in videogames today.

Not too long after the aforementioned disaster that makes up the plot, the Prince runs into a young princess named Farah who was also mysteriously unaffected by the curse. They soon team up and engage in the entire rest of the gamer together. What follows is another interesting storytelling technique, a love/hate relationship between the two of them using clean, well-written voiceovers during the actual gameplay itself. Sometimes they communicate to help each other solve a puzzle or gain access to a new area, other times it's just chitter-chatter used to develop their relationship. Regardless, it's very enjoyable and is used to make for a more immersive experience.

Now, the highlight of Sands is the fact that the majority of the game is spent doing the stuff the Prince is good at – acrobatics. Using a simple, easy control scheme, Ubisoft has allowed players to jump, flip, hang, tumble, swing, run along walls and just about anything else with the greatest of ease. The masterful level design has players using their abilities to their fullest, and offering up some of the most enjoyable, satisfying platforming mechanics ever seen in a game. You'll be able to do things that you've never done – or thought you'd be able to do – in any videogame before, and the ability to pull them off so easily really is a treat. The palace of Sands is riddled with chasms, skinny ledges, traps, crumbling walls, and anything else that sounds dangerous and tricky, and Ubisoft demands the player use their skills to all their might in completing Sands. Now, on occasion, the camera leaves your control and goes into a usually-annoying fixed position that can hamper gameplay, but it will rarely get on your nerves.

One of the most interesting features in the game is the time-traveling element. And no, I don't mean you'll be able to travel ten years into the future or anything fancy like that. However, by holding down the left trigger, you can use the mystical dagger – which accompanies you throughout the entire game – to reverse time, preferably to fix a mistake you made. Misjudged the length of a gap? Slipped off of a ledge? Missed a target platform? No problem – just hold down the left trigger and you'll easily be able to undo these mistakes. And you'll need to – many of Sands' platforming elements require precision, and precision is hard to handle in the game. Now, there are obviously only a limited number of times you can use this ability, but it will most certainly come in handy.

As far as platforming goes, Sands is flawless. In fact, I will even go so far as to say this is some of the most fun you'll ever have playing a game. However, Sands is unfortunately without flaws.

The biggest of which is the battles system, or more specifically the battles themselves. I thought the game's battle system was fairly good – you have the option to use your sword (to attack enemies, duh) and your dagger (to stun enemies or deliver an Eternal Darkness-esque finishing blow), as well as the standard jump and block abilities. However, the battles themselves are poorly laid out. Instead of spreading out enemies so you don't have to face too many at once, Ubisoft instead put them in large clumps of as much as a few dozen at a time. You'll only even battle, say, four enemies at once, but during some of these battle sequences, enemies are constantly respawning, to the point where you're screaming at your TV, begging for it to stop. And in the lack of a proper targeting system and the fact that most enemies have little (if any) differences other than diverse appearances, and you've got a major flaw.

My only other big problem is a lot like the one I had with another Ubisoft game (Splinter Cell) and that is that Sands is way too linear. All of the puzzles and platforming elements have very specific ways of getting through. It's a truckload of fun the first time around, but after playing through the title once, I had very little obligation to do so again. Still, you can see Ubisoft's effort here. There are some worthwhile unlockables at your disposal if you tire of the main game, and the Xbox Live downloadable content looks promising, though I have yet to touch it.

Pros

+ Interesting plot, with brilliant methods of storytelling.
+ Great characters brought to life with perfect dialog.
+ Platforming mechanics work very well.
+ Exercises in platforming are incredibly enjoyable.
+ Play control makes some things easier than they look.
+ Excellent level design.
+ Gorgeous graphics.
+ Good (if somewhat forgettable) soundtrack.
+ Great voice acting.

Cons

- Battle system is sketchy, and battles are poorly laid out.
- Very linear game with no exploration elements.
- No replay value.
- The camera can sometimes become a nuisance.
- One really annoying “puzzle” towards the end of the game.

Overall: 8/10

I really, really enjoyed Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and would recommend it as an immediate must-buy. However, it's also far from the perfect masterpiece some have made it out to be. As much as I adored the platforming elements and such, I just can't ignore the tedious combat sections and the lack of any reason to play through the game again. Still, it's a beautiful, fun game that should certainly be experienced by anybody, and since it's one every console, you have no excuse to miss this one.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 08/25/04


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