Review by Korubi

"What Ubisoft created in 2003 was an inventive living and breathing world where a fully realized 3D Prince could shine."

The last time a good Prince of Persia game released was in 1993 with The Shadow of the Flame. Six years later Red Orb Entertainment attempted to bring the Prince back with their release of Prince of Persia 3D for the PC. 3D's graphics and mechanics were top notch, but the stubborn camera and sluggish controls made it almost unplayable. Fortunately, Ubisoft translated the Prince magnificently onto the Xbox, PlayStation 2, and GameCube with the Sands of Time. What Ubisoft created in 2003 was an inventive living and breathing world where a fully realized 3D Prince could shine. The Sands of Time is an action game with platforming at heart, with an intriguing storyline to boot.

The Sands of Time takes place in a decorated Middle Eastern environment that feels like scenery taken right out of a story book. You play as a Prince who is athletic and acrobatic. The Prince's father is at war with a foreign land and the Prince is along for the ride. During battle the prince sneaks into the castle and deep into a secret vault where he discovers the Dagger of Time. When the Prince brings the dagger back to show his father, he finds him having won the battle and marveling in front of a huge golden hourglass. The King's adviser suggests that the Prince unlock an even greater treasure by plunging the dagger into the heart of the hourglass.

However, by doing so, the Prince accidentally unleashes the horrible Sands of Time. Upon arousal the Sands transform everyone into sand zombies except the Prince. Throughout the game you'll uncover the hidden powers of the Dagger of Time and learn to use it skillfully in order to undo the Prince's tragic mistake.

The Dagger of Time aids the Prince in both combat and platforming. To get from place to place the Prince will have to use a variety of his acrobatic moves in combination, like wall-running, swinging, or leaping. If you fall off of an edge, or an enemy kills you, you can use your dagger to literally rewind time. However, this power is limited and you'll have to constantly refill it by retrieving Sands.

Early in the game you meet up with Farah, the daughter of your father's enemy. Farah realizes the severity the damage caused by The Sands of Time, and decides to help the Prince contain them. She will help you out of some tight spots and eventually becomes the Prince's love interest. The Sands of Time has you fighting your way through the castle, eventually reaching the highest room in the highest tower in a bid to destroy the hourglass. You can only accomplish your goal with the help of Farah. Because of her size she can slip through cracks, and crawl into spaces the Prince cannot. By doing so, Farah can hit a switch or unlock a door that the Prince would otherwise not be able to reach.

The combat system is simple but intuitive. When you approach an enemy the game initiates combat with an automatic lock-on system. The Prince has a basic light and heavy hit along with a block command. The block move proves extremely effective because it blocks mostly all hits in the game. During combat, you can use the analog stick to evade or to quickly get behind an enemy for an unsuspecting blow. The system sounds overly simple, but in practice feels naturally engaging and complex.

Once you get the hang of the combat it starts feeling effortless until the difficulty spikes tremendously a couple hours into the game. Your enemies constantly block, and you are no longer able to deflect all of their attacks. You must resort to using wall combos, such as running up walls to get behind an enemy in order to give them a quick slash. This specific aspect of the game can get repetitive and boring fast. Luckily, the combat is not The Sands of Time's strongest point, and is more than made up for by its graphical and story-telling elements.

You will enjoy yourself most when you are platforming and figuring out some of the intricate puzzles and booby traps that are strewn throughout the palace. Most of the puzzles involve manipulating light by moving around objects, like mirrors or pillars, in order to open an entrance into a new area. Aside from puzzles, you'll encounter disappearing platforms, rotating saws and spiked pillars. The levels are designed so you'll have to use all of the Prince's acrobatic techniques in tandem.

What really sets The Sands of Time apart from any action game out there is the atmosphere it creates. The Sands of Time paints a wonderful picture with every little detail, without boasting polygon count. The way a little bit of gold dust glistens in the light, and how the dagger glows a deep blue add so much personality to the game. Moreover, the Prince is a surprisingly deep character. Throughout the game you'll find him talking to himself when him and Farah are separated. Rather than using cut scenes you hear the Prince's actual thoughts while playing. This makes the game feel more immersible and believable.

The background music and sounds add to the believable Middle Eastern environment in the Sands of Time. Whether it's birds chirping or the sound of saw blades, every sound adds to the overall tone of the game. The music always matches and contributes to the mood. When you find yourself in a peaceful environment outside the music will sound light and mellow. When you initiate a fight, the music quickly transitions into a faster and heavier melody.

The Sands of Time is of standard length, running at around 10 hours on your first play through. However, you can unlock the original Prince of Persia released on the PC and will most likely want to play the main game over at least one more time. The relationship between Farah and the Prince will keep you interested throughout, leading up to one of the best endings of any action game to date.

If you are one of the lucky few that owns both an Xbox, PS2, and GameCube, you have a choice between which version of the game to buy. While the Xbox version of The Sands of Time has slightly better graphics, the PS2's four shoulder buttons provide for a litlte better control. The GameCube version on the other hand has a few graphical bugs that do not show up in either of the two games. You can't go wrong with either the PS2 or Xbox version, so choose based on what you find more important.

If you're looking for a game with heavy combat and not a lot in between, The Sands of Time is not for you. The Sands of Time offers genuine enjoyment via platforming, character development, and engaging atmospheres. Ubisoft brings us an indelible action game that we can only hope will be an example for other developers for years to come.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 08/29/06

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