Review by Bill_Lange
""No, DON'T jump down there! Sigh...""
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
In 2003, the long dormant Prince of Persia franchise was reinvented by Ubisoft. With its brand new storyline, acrobatic adventuring, and innovative use of the ubiquitous "time powers", The Sands of Time became a critical success. Unfortunately, critical success does not always translate into commercial success (as fans of Beyond Good and Evil can tell you). The game simply did not move many copies, even after being paired with the blockbuster Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell as a two-for-one deal. It evidently did well enough to warrant a sequel, 2004's Warrior Within. Two years after the fact, I decided to see what all the fuss was about. I found a solid game, fun but far from perfect.
Sands' visuals have stood up to the test of time. As the game is set mostly in a Persian castle many years ago, the areas the Prince visits reflect the architecture of the time and place. Ubisoft did a great job creating real-time light sources, shadows, and wind effects that bring their world to life.
The character models are a bit cartoony, but move with grace and fluidity. In particular, the deadly dance that occurs during combat is especially beautiful. The Prince's appearance gradually changes over the course of the game, his uniform becoming torn and ripped, until finally he loses his shirt entirely.
<Sounds and Music>
The sound effects do their job well, with no problems to report: swords clashing, traps thumping, etc. The music really shines, though. A blend of Middle Eastern music and heavy guitars, the score kicks up when the Prince enters a battle, creating a great ambience to hack up creatures.
The voice acting is a bit hammy, the characters sometimes taking their lines over the top. The Prince's British accent is oddly out of place, but works somehow. However, I personally found it difficult to hear what the characters were saying without turning down the other sounds.
<Storyline and Characters>
In The Sands of Time, the game is ingeniously presented as a story, told by the Prince in some tavern long after the fact. You guide the Prince through his tale, which takes place in ancient Persia. On a raid of another kingdom, the Prince discovers a huge hourglass full of magic sand, and a mystical weapon known as the Dagger of Time. His father, King Shahraman, offers the sand as a gift to a friend, and his sinister vizier tricks the Prince into releasing the Sands of Time, transforming everyone except the Prince and the vizier, who are protected by their magical artifacts, into evil Sand Creatures. Your quest is to escape the fortress, and to recapture the Sands of Time.
Not a very meaty story, but chances are you're not playing this game for that. The characters are also pretty sparse; the Prince discovers a slave girl named Farah, and the two attempt to escape together. I did like the fact that the Prince isn't just another musclebound moron. He uses his agility far more than brute strength. However, this game isn't character driven; it's all about the gameplay. Which brings us to...
<Gameplay and Controls>
Essentially, The Sands of Time boils down to two gameplay types: exploration and combat. You explore for awhile, and then you fight for awhile. Lather, rinse, repeat. The adventure part of this game is great. The Prince is an unnaturally nimble guy, and this works to his advantage when he needs to climb, vault, and swing his way around the fortress. The controls are responsive, and with a little practice you'll have him running on walls, balance beam walking, and leaping around like an British-accented monkey.
Oops, you screwed up. Thanks to you, the Prince just jumped into a chasm, got tenderized, stabbed, crushed, etc. Game over, right? Not necessarily. The aforementioned Dagger of Time isn't just an ordinary weapon. By holding or tapping a button, you can activate a number of time-oriented powers, such as Rewind (let's not jump there next time), Slo-Mo (useful for dealing with groups of baddies, more on that later), Pause (freeze an enemy in midair and slice 'em in two), and Fast Forward (turns you into a human blender). Of course, these powers aren't free. To use them you need to recharge the Dagger's sand supply in...
Combat, unfortunately. The fighting system is easily the weakest part of this game. The Prince has many techniques in his arsenal. A one-on-one fight is a thing of fluid grace and beauty; the Prince can vault over the enemy, landing several blows with his scimitar, and seamlessly backflip to defeat it with his Dagger. The problems begin when the game starts to throw several at you at once. Sometimes, there's a helpful water fountain nearby to regain health during a fight, but don't count on it. The Prince simply cannot handle more than two baddies at the same time. Attempting to do so is suicide.
Perhaps this is intentional, to force the player to think strategically. My question is the following: WHY THE %$&! HAVE AWESOME SWORD SKILLS AND TIME POWERS IF YOUR CHARACTER CAN'T EVEN HANDLE A GROUP OF GRUNTS?!
When faced with four or five Sand Creatures at once, your only option is to run away, and try to handle them individually. (Which usually doesn't work, as they can teleport over if you're too far away.) Of course, they swarm you, and begin to attack simultaneously. Time to bust out your awesome time powers. Hey, you just knocked one down, great! Too bad his pals keep knocking *you* down, refusing to let you suck up their buddy into your Dagger. Wha--but I had a full life bar ten seconds ago! Well, I'll just Rewind... and... yup, I died again. Game Over, want to retry the same damn part? Welcome to hell.
(Sound of controller slamming into floor/wall/TV screen.)
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is a 9/10 adventure game and a 5/10 slice-em-up game. Put 'em together, and what do you get? Lots of exploring fun, with frequent moments of extreme frustration, and maybe a broken controller. Oh, and 7/10 overall. If you'll excuse me, I need to call my anger management coach.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 06/23/05
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