Review by Alterwolf

"A game of the year comes completely out of left field. Who'da thunk it?"

For the uneducated, Prince of Persia is basically started a sort of genre I can't seem to place a word to. It certainly wasn't the first action/adventure game, but it was the first one I remember where you had to use clever acrobatics to thwart traps and puzzles. It brought about or inspired the gameplay of titles like Out of This World, Flashback, Blackthorne, Nosferatu, etc. etc.

There were two sequels to the original (ignoring the several several SEVERAL ports of the original). The first sequel was pretty good, the second one was in 3d and sucked pretty hard. After Prince of Persia 3d I was reasonably sure that ol' princey was going to have to shuffle to the unemployment line behind Kid Icarus and the dog from Duck Hunt. I heard about a new Prince of Persia game in the making and groaned. I mean, a platformer based on an old franchise? Being done by a major American game studio? It HAD to suck!

I was totally wrong; this game came completely out of left field and smacked the gaming press right in the head.

I'm assuming you've probably seen the commercials for the game and noticed how all the game rags and websites have been swooning over it. You probably haven't played it yet either, and you're wondering if it looks and plays as slick as the commercials and mags would have you believe.

Brother, it does.

Again you're dropped into the shoes of the Prince, accompanying your father during an attack on a rival kingdom. Naturally you get separated from the group and end up in an area convenient for getting accustomed to the controls. Take some time playing around in these first areas until you become one with your controller, because you’re going to need every single move in the prince’s rather impressive arsenal if you plan on getting anywhere. One thing that may screw up people expecting a regular platformer is the fact that the prince can’t just jump whenever he wants. You can only jump when approaching a ledge or standing still, if you hit the jump button (A) any other time the prince will simply pull the old James T. Kirk shoulder roll.

The right trigger allows you to wallrun, one of the neatest looking abilities in the game. Running straight into a wall and pressing R will make the prince run straight up the wall a bit until he backflips off. Running at an angle into a wall and pressing R will cause the prince to run along the wall a fairly good distance. Letting go of the R trigger will make the prince stop his wallrun and drop, and yes, you can launch off the wall with a jump during a wallrun. You’ll be doing this a lot.

Ledge hanging is another returning staple of the original. You can shimmy along a ledge either on foot (if it’s big enough to support you), or while hanging. The A button pulls you up or makes you jump if you’re already standing, the B button makes you drop to handing or let go completely. It’s also worth mentioning the prince can wall jump quite well, so if you’re in a fairly narrow space and need to get up high, the prince can bounce from wall to wall and get up that way. Just make sure you don’t stop halfway up or you’ll fall and splat.

There’s even more to regular movement than what I just described, but if I spent this review going over every single thing you could do with the prince this review would be 3-4 pages longer.

After getting through the “learn the controls” area, you’ll get more to the plot. The prince will find the dagger of time, and his father will lay claim to the sands of time, much to the chagrin of his vizier, who desired both of those treasures for his share. The king takes the sands and the rest of the spoils of war (including a strange young woman with a glowing necklace, Oooo) to a sultan of an allied country as a gift. The sultan is puzzled by the strange glowing hourglass and asks what it does. The vizier explains that the sands of time can be released by the dagger that the prince holds, and the prince, being the idiotic trusting type happily sticks his dagger into the hourglass, unleashing the sands of time on the unsuspecting kingdom.

This naturally transforms every one BUT the prince, vizier, and strange woman into sand-filled zombies. The prince escapes immediate danger, but decides to put an end to the treacherous vizier and fix his boneheaded mistake. You also come across a companion who will help you with the various switch puzzles throughout the game and provide some pretty meager cover during battle, but I’ll leave that for you to discover the specifics of.

The rest of the plot is handed to you via short ingame cutscenes, ingame dialogue, narration provided by the prince, and visions from sand pillars that also serve as save points.

But how does it PLAY? Quite well. After you get past the relatively short learning curve, you’ll be running and jumping like a natural. It’s hard to explain exactly how smooth this game feels when you’re playing. There appears to be a transition animation for everything the prince does, and there also seems to be a very slight bit of lagtime between input and the prince actually doing something. This actually helps make the controls feel more fluid believe it or not. You’ll just have to find a demo and play it yourself to feel how it is.

Combat is fun but quite difficult sometimes, since you’re always outnumbered. You’ll be fighting sand-zombies for most of the game, and they teleport around next to you should you get too far away. They also respawn very fast, so you don’t get a breather until every last one is gone. Combat controls are pretty easy to get into. You press towards whatever enemy you wish to attack and hit X for a regular sword attack, or Y to stab with the dagger of time. Pressing A makes the prince dodge in whatever direction you’re pressing, and if you’re pressing towards a close enemy, you’ll vault off of them over their heads for a free hit. You can also lunge into or over enemies off walls, and counterattack, but I’ll leave that to the game to teach you.

Now, the dagger. The dagger has two meters associated with it. Sand tanks and power tanks. Sand tanks are used to rewind time with the L trigger. If you miss a jump and die, get killed by an enemy because you dodged in the wrong direction, or simply wish to redo something, hit the L trigger and hold it. The small circle in the upper-left hand corner of your screen will display how far you can rewind, simply hold L until you’re back to the moment you wish to redo. Each time you do this it empties one of your sand tanks. No sand = no rewinds. Power tanks are used when you use the dagger’s special abilities. Stabbing most enemies with the dagger of time will cause them to be “time stopped”, which makes them turn gray and completely helpless, allowing you to dice them to pieces with your sword and destroy them permanently. The second technique allows you to slow down time, which puts the enemies at a slight speed disadvantage and allows you to carefully pick out your attacks for a short period of time.

The ultimate move is time acceleration, which requires you to have all of your power tanks and sand tanks full. This empties your power tanks out completely, but accelerates the prince through time so fast it’s like everyone stops moving, allowing you to practically teleport from enemy to enemy and dispatch them with 1-2 hits apiece. You can easily take out 10+ enemies instantly with this move, so use it when you need it.

You replenish your power and sand tanks by absorbing fallen enemies with the dagger of time, which is the only way to make them go byebye for good without killing them during a time stop or acceleration. Absorbing enemies also lets you get more power tanks. Sand tanks are built by absorbing a “sand clouds”, which emit a telltale hum when nearby.

The trap dodging/acrobat switch pressing sessions and combat are kept quite separate. The game flow usually goes switch puzzle-fight-switch puzzle-fight-switch puzzle-fight. Predictable, but nothing really to complain too much about. You’ll be begging for more jumping puzzles after the intense fights.

Everything I described up to this point is just smooth as butter in practice. The acrobatics and fighting are done just right so you don’t get sick of one or the other easily, and thanks to the time rewinding dagger and ample save/checkpoints you should be able to get through the game without breaking your controller.

My only real issue with the game is the sometimes not-so-helpful camera, which will hide behind pillars during battle on occasion, or zoom out to unhelpful angles when you’re trying to make a tricky jump combination. The non-stop barrage you suffer during fights is a bit overwhelming at times too, since later on you start running into blue wearing enemies you can’t vault over to safety, which usually means death if you get surrounded, are out of sand, and aren’t near a wall so you can launch-stab or vault off of.

The gameplay is good enough that I shouldn’t really have to talk about the graphics or sound, but nonetheless they are important to most people. The graphics are beautiful on the Xbox (and I’m sure they’re equally impressive on PS2 and GC), and take advantage of the 480p display assuming you have a good enough TV and the Xbox AV kit. The texturing and models are great, the particle effects are impressive, and I find the corona effect used for lighting very beautiful. This game impresses. The sound is just as impressive, with nice voice acting (nevermind the English accents), awesome music, and pretty good sound effects. The visuals and sound will match the gameplay assuming you have the hardware for it, trust me.

Framerate isn’t really an issue from what I can tell. I’ve only been able to see a very small handful of framerate hits, and those are usually when the camera goes places it shouldn’t go, like very very close to heavy particle effects. I only mention this because a game rag said something about PoP having framerate problems. I’m about as big of a PC loving graphics whore you can get, and it didn’t bother me at all.

In the end, it’s up to you though. PoP lacks some replay value in my opinion since while it’s all awesome the first time around, it gets less interesting after you know where all the traps and items are, and what to do. Thankfully the Xbox version has both of the original Prince of Persia games as unlockables, so that’s some incentive to keep the disc in. Find a demo or go see if PoP is running in the demo booth at your local EB or something and give it a shot. You’ll like it.

Recommended. Game of the Year Material for sure.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 01/12/04

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