Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Written by Charlie Sinhaseni on 12/31/2003 for PS2  

Buy this game. Seriously, buy it now. That’s all I really want to say about Ubi Soft Montreal’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time but then again, that wouldn’t make for a very good review now would it? Allow me to rephrase this then in a manner that is more time and space consuming than the aforementioned. Never have I played a game that’s so unique yet at the same time is so familiar. A game that is so unique yet at the same time is amazingly comfortable and recognizable. It’s like falling in love with that special someone, you know you’ve felt it before yet the experience feels entirely new and refreshing. This is exactly what playing Sands of Time feels like, it’s like falling in love all over again, but instead of loving a woman you’re loving one of 2003’s best video games.

Our premise isn’t anything new here. A good-natured son tries to do everything in his power to get into his father’s favor. Upon retrieving an age-old artifact he inadvertently sets off a trap that turns those around him into sand. Now the weight of the world is upon his shoulders to reverse the process and restore order to the land. Throughout the course of the game you’ll travel through a wide variety of locales including some palaces, underground caverns, an outdoor aviary and more. Prince of Persia’s storyline probably won’t be winning any awards for originality but that doesn’t matter too much, it’s the gameplay that will really keep you coming back for more.

Those who were old enough to experience the original PoP probably remember the insane amount of jumping puzzles that populated that title. Well they’re back but in all of these years our hero has learned a few new tricks that make this game all the more enjoyable. In addition to performing the usual leaps and jumps that we’ve become accustomed to in our platformers our hero can also perform a number of gravity-defying maneuvers. Think of a Middle-Eastern version of the Matrix and you can begin to comprehend the scope of our hero’s arsenal. He can run up walls, run alongside walls, jump off of walls, swing on poles, sidle along walls and more. While these all sound gimmicky they’re all utilized in practical ways that make them seem more like an integral part of the gameplay instead of a lame afterthought.

Unlike some action and platforming games, our hero’s awesome moves are more than just style and flair. They’re all a crucial part of the game’s numerous jumping puzzles. At times it gets pretty insane, you’ll find yourself running along walls, hopping off of that wall onto an adjacent ledge, jumping off of that wall and then running along another wall so that you can hop onto another opposite ledge. It’s insane yes, but the manner in which it comes together is truly a work of art. At the same time the controls are so smooth and intuitive that you feel like you always have complete control over the situation. You’ll think back and say to yourself “how in the hell did I just do that” but at the same time you’ll brush it off as if it were nothing, thanks to some of the best controls that we’ve ever seen.
When you’re not trying out for the circus you’ll be saddled with a pretty functional combat system that does an excellent job of catering to multi-enemy combat. Instead of opting for the lame right analog stick-based combat system employed in titles such as Blade II PoP goes for a very simplified directional-based system. It’s simple, simply point the left analog stick at a character and hit the button to attack. Fluid gameplay allows you to attack multiple enemies at once too so that you can keep them in check, black ninja style. If that’s not good enough the prince can also jump off of walls to attack and vault over enemies to attack them from behind. Early on the in the game you’ll also acquire a dagger that gives you the ability to control time.

With the dagger you’ll be able to manipulate time to your liking. So let’s say you misjudge a gap and you fall to your doom. In most games you’d be dead and you’d have to start over again. In Sands of Time you can use the dagger to reverse time for up to 10 seconds, giving you another chance to attack the gap. This also helps in combat too; let’s say you’re getting worked over by a number of enemies. Well you can reverse the time so that you can go back through the sequence and regain your health again. You’ll also be able to do a number of other cool things with the dagger such as slowing down time and using it as an offensive weapon to slice foes in half.

You can be sure that you’ll face plenty of puzzles but they’re all well done and make a hell of a lot of sense. Yes, there is an abundance of those lame crate puzzles that were done to death in the Tomb Raider series, but somehow this game makes them seem logical and worthwhile. I never really felt like I was performing a chore when I was pushing these crates over the switches. It felt like a vital part of the game and there was a logical reason that I was doing it. To make things even better you’ll never really feel lost throughout the course of the game. Even though the game places you into some pretty imposing situations with some massively large environments, the game does an excellent job of showing you where you need to go and what you need to do. Even in the harder puzzles there are subtle hints that will help guide you through the process. If that weren’t enough for you the game is segmented into various save points. Walking into a save point gives your player a vision of what’s to come, clueing you in on what you can expect and how you can go about solving the upcoming puzzles. This makes all the difference when you’re placed in a huge room where a single switch rests atop a lonesome ledge. Instead of wandering around for 20 minutes and feeling lost you’ll be able to attack your goal right away without lollygagging around.

One of my favorite gameplay aspects is the ability to pull the camera out to get a better overview of the situation. With the simple press of the L2 button the button pans out and showcases the action in a quasi-Resident Evil style camera. When playing in this view you get a better idea of the layout and your current status. From this point you can choose to play from this vantage point or go back to the traditional 3rd person camera that the game defaults to. You can also press R2 button for a first person view. This helps you look at precarious ledges and various points that you need to travel across.You’ll want to scour the environments too because this is one hell of a looker. This is a beautiful game that does an excellent job of taking advantage of the PS2’s hardware. This year’s next ‘big thing’ is motion blur and Prince of Persia delivers it in spades. Whether it’s to zoom out to give you an overview of the landscape or a quick camera shift to show you some impending danger the motion is accompanied by some slick motion blur that really is amazing to behold. Some of the character models could use a little bit of work but the visuals are pretty spectacular for the most part. What really makes this come together is the artists’ decision to go with a filter that gives everything a subdued look. It’s almost the equivalent of putting some Vaseline on the lens of a photographer’s camera. As a result most of the rough edges and weaker elements are concealed, making for a very beautiful package.

Some of the audio could have used a bit of work though. While the voice work is pretty good it doesn’t really match the time period too well. Our heroes sound more British than Persian and it really shows in the game’s numerous narratives. Most of the sound effects are above average and do an excellent job of accompanying the environments. I really enjoyed the numerous sound sound effects and the way that the audio mix changed in regards to my surroundings. The music is appropriate and does well to complement the current situation, whether it be tense or relaxed.

While PoP is one of the year's best titles it's not flawless. It's simply too easy, mainly as a result of the game's forgiving nature. If you accidentally wander off of a ledge your hero will always grab onto it, allowing for you to pull yourself up. There are far too many checkpoints and they're placed far too closely to one another, making the game a bit too easy while also disrupting the flow and pacing of the game. Most of the enemies are also very simple-minded and can generally be defeated with the jumping slash combination. If you play video games at all it's highly likely that you'll never really feel challenged by this title, no matter how imposing the situation may be. These are small nitpicks though that don't really do too much to debilitate this title.

There’s no doubt about it, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is one of the best, if not the best, games to come out this year. Everyone out there who has some extra Christmas cash left over should not hesitate to pick up a copy of this title. Never has combat and puzzle-solving come together so beautifully. One of 2003’s best and one of the best games available on every console.
If you’re looking for the pinnacle of PS2 action platformers then look no further than Prince of Persia. If the insane puzzles and unique gameplay elements weren’t enough, it features some pretty lush visuals and an entertaining combat system to boot.

Rating: 9.4 Excellent

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.


About Author

Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.

It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.

It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.

When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."

As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.

When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.

Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile

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