Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Every now and then, we play a game that feels a little bit different. Exuding confidence and style, they are hard to forget or stop playing. They stand proud above the competition, benchmarks in their own right and examples of what can be achieved. I’m not just talking about good games, I’m talking about ten out of ten games - the best of the best. The Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is one of these masterpieces and your game collection shouldn’t be without it.
Let’s go back to the beginning. The Sands of Time is a follow up to the Prince of Persia series that debuted in 1989 on good old DOS. It was followed by an Amiga port a year later with appearances on the NES, SNES, Genesis and Game Boy as well. The series continued with a sequel on DOS in 1993 and a 3D game on Windows and Dreamcast in 1999 and 2000 respectively. Not an EA-style multiformat plastering, but the series has certainly been around a while.
The Prince of Persia’s storyline is not vital to the game, but something that many gamers will appreciate. It goes something like this: Amidst the scorched sands of medieval Persia, there is a legend spun in an ancient tongue. It speaks of a time borne by blood and ruled by deceit. It is within this war-torn land that a young Prince discovers a magic Dagger. Drawn to its dark powers, he is lead to unleash a deadly evil upon the reaches of his father’s vast kingdom. Aided by the wiles of a seductive princess (every game should have one) and the absolute powers of the Sands of Time, the Prince stages a harrowing quest to reclaim the palace’s cursed chambers and restore peace to the very fabric of Time itself. He must treat these dangers carefully, however. Because in this world, there is only one rule. Master the sands… or be buried. You don’t have to concentrate on the storyline at all if you don’t want to. To be honest, the first time I played it I was so overcome that my only impression of the plot was that there was a load of platforming to be done, a tasty princess to save and a load of bad guys to be slain. Game on!
The Prince of Persia throws you straight into the action from the beginning. Selecting ‘new game’, you are given instant control over The Prince, who you move into a palace of some sort, thus starting a cutscene which explains the story. After this, the first level begins with The Prince in a pitch battle, and I mean a pitch battle! Think of one of the sieges in The Lord of the Rings, but in the Middle East. It soon becomes apparent that the game is a mixture of platforming and fighting. Right from the word ‘go’, you’re skimming up walls and vaulting over multiple enemies, slicing them into pieces in the process. ‘Awesome’ would be an understatement.
The Prince is no ordinary guy. Think of a mix between Indiana Jones and Neo; someone who can run along walls over stakes and using his acrobatic skills to outmaneuver his opponents. He moves quickly, overcoming obstacles with skill and precision, dispatching enemies with lethal strikes. He doesn’t talk much, but that’s probably because most people he meets are dead before they can utter a word. The Prince is damn cool, a smooth character and a true hero who you’ll follow into battle any day.
The platforming half of the game is a fully developed entity, not an add-on to the fighting element. The Prince has so many moves at his disposal that almost any object can be leapt over, under or round. The variety of ways The Prince can move opens up so many possibilities that you’ll look at levels differently than if you had a conventional character. Most games limit you to scaling adjacent blocks, ladders or other items, but The Sand of Time allows you to bend the rules and skip along walls to far away platforms and ledges. He can also run directly up walls to a certain degree, allowing him access to objects usually out of reach. The game allows you to bound up ducts from one wall to another and backflip off surfaces. On top of this lot, combinations of most animations can be used, giving the player a new found sense of freedom of movement.
The Prince is not unopposed in his quest though. Various enemies attack him in groups, but our hero can easily handle them. Vaulting over them, rolling around them and bounding off walls into them, he slices them up into tiny pieces effortlessly. The controls are simple; square attacks them with your sword, ‘X’ jumps, rolls and vaults, R1 blocks and triangle retrieves sand (more on that later). There’s no need to manually change The Prince’s focus, as this is done seamlessly by the game, even when there are hordes of enemies out to get you. Using combinations of these moves, you can vault over enemies or off of walls while attacking them. The Prince has one more trick up his sleeve though, that little dagger of his.
Using the magical dagger, The Prince can control time itself. Once you have it, holding L1 will rewind time for up to 10 seconds, sending you back into the past so you can undo your mistakes. This, and other time controls are limited by how much Sand you have though. Enemies who are made from this Sand can be struck down, but only die when you stab your dagger into them and retrieve their Sand. More of this equals more time control. Tapping L1 results in a slow motion effect, giving you a slight but important edge in combat. The Prince can also freeze time for a targeted enemy or for the whole world. In addition to this, visions give him insight into the future, hinting to the player how the level can be overcome. Time control thankfully isn’t as overused as it is in titles like Max Payne and it adds another layer of spice and variety to the gameplay.
The Prince of Persia’s levels are some of the best platforming levels I’ve ever seen, conveying a real atmosphere and giving the feeling that each location is part of somewhere or something bigger. They don’t seem to be the copy-and-paste rubbish you get in some games, but thought out, individual journeys. Some of the levels are on a huge scale, requiring breathtaking stunts from The Prince. The first time you see him jump five meters from one 30 meter high pillar to the next, you’ll see what I mean.
The game’s visuals are superb, especially for a PS2 game. Textured are detailed with lighting and shadows accurately modeled. The Prince moves with purpose, with the smooth animations highlighting his acrobatic skills. The larger, open levels are always filled with activity, some of it unreachable; part of the bigger picture. Visuals aren’t just graphics though, there’s also the camera to consider. In most 3rd person games, the viewpoint becomes a problem, but not here. Prince of Persia does things differently and this is no exception. The camera hangs behind our hero most of the time, but it switches to a better position when you need to navigate obstacles. It zooms in and out automatically and if it does get a bit stuck then the right analogue stick takes care of that. However, the game also allows you to toggle a first person view with R2 which you can look around with whilst stationary and lets you zoom the camera right out with L2 to give an overall picture of the level. It sounds so simple, but it makes such a difference in game. There’s just no way you’ll ever end up not being able to see what you’re doing or where you’re going. Genius.
Audio isn’t overstated in The Sands of Time as it is in games like Manhunt because there’s really no reason. What it does do though, is to compliment the gameplay and visuals, helping to create the game’s medieval atmosphere. The Prince’s voice is occasionally heard, which sounds authentic. During cutscenes, the audio backs up the storytelling with good voice acting and special effects. The game’s sound is nothing revolutionary, but it certainly does its job well.
As with all titles in the genre, once you’ve completed the game, there’s only a limited amount of replay value to be found. However, Prince of Persia is such a delight to play that you’ll just keep coming back for more. Got a friend round for the afternoon? Show them this and watch their jaw drop (then getting drunk and playing EyeToy is optional).
The Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is superb, there’s no better way of putting it. It’s one of the great things in life, the things that make you smile at the end of a bad day; BBC television, Honda adverts, the PS2 marketing campaigns and anything made by Apple. So elegantly put together, it excels in everything it does and is a true benchmark in the genre.
Ten out of ten