No previous experience with the Prince of Persia series is required to enjoy Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. In fact, virtually nothing will bar you from being impressed by this extremely well-put-together action adventure game from the studio that brought you Splinter Cell and Rainbow Six 3. In stark contrast to Ubisoft Montreal's previous offerings, Prince of Persia is surprisingly easy, despite the incredible acts of skill and daring that the game's main character will routinely perform during the course of the game. As a result, this original, visually stunning game can be highly recommended to just about anyone.
The classic Prince of Persia series returns in one of the year's best, most spectacular action adventure games.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time takes place in a mystical Middle Eastern setting, all bathed in soft, warm light and looking like something straight out of a storybook. You play as a young prince who possesses exceptional athletic and acrobatic skill. Early on in the game, the prince steals the dagger of time, a treasure from a rival nation, as a token for his father the king. When his nation's traitorous vizier compels the prince to use the dagger to unlock another treasure, a huge hourglass, everything goes wrong. The sands from the hourglass blow forth, enveloping the kingdom and turning its guardsmen and citizens into, for lack of a better way to describe it, "sand zombies." The prince, the vizier, and a young woman named Farah are among the only survivors. In the prince's efforts to undo his mistake, he'll join forces with Farah, seek out the hourglass, and confront the vizier. The game's story takes a backseat during most of the game, but it is bookended nicely and is framed as the prince's own retrospection. So, for instance, should the prince fall and die at a certain point during the game, you'll hear him say, as narrator, something like, "No, that's not how it happened." Not only is this an interesting technique, but it compels you to keep pressing on. You'll want to know exactly how his complicated ordeal will unravel.
The prince's new dagger of time has other uses besides causing calamity. It's the key to defeating the evil spread throughout the palace, and it also makes the prince virtually immortal. In most cases, should the prince fall to his death or be slain by a sand creature or a trap, with his last breath, he may use the dagger to "rewind" the course of time to a point prior to the unfortunate incident that would have ended his life. Each time you use this ability, it costs a "sand tank," which you earn a greater quantity of as you get farther into the game, and which you restore by defeating sand creatures. In practice, you won't often run out of sand tanks, but even if you do, you'll restart the prince's story from a recent location.
The prince's acrobatic moves make Prince of Persia nearly as enjoyable to watch as it is to play.
A highly responsive, very forgiving control scheme further ensures that at no point during Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time will you get particularly stuck, if at all. Though other action adventure games involving a lot of death-defying leaps and other such bravery tend to force the player to perfectly time his or her maneuvers and often force him or her to wrestle with issues concerning the controls or camera perspective, Prince of Persia is set up in such a way that it's remarkably simple to pull off all of the prince's spectacular moves. Also, despite the convincing look of the game's huge environments, the game is completely linear, and the prince's course tends to be very clear. Doors will slam shut behind him, forcing him to press onward, and each time you enter a new area, you'll see a quick fly-through showing where it is you're trying to go and what it is that stands between you and that goal. Additionally, at each of the game's frequent save points, you'll see a "vision" of what lies ahead--a quick sepia-toned montage of the trials and tribulations to come in the next area. You'll soon discover that this is basically a built-in hint system. Should you ever get stuck, just head back to a save point, watch the "vision" again, and you'll probably figure out what you're supposed to be doing.
The prince has a great variety of really impressive moves at his disposal. Like a Mid-Eastern Spider-Man, he can defy gravity to a certain extent, by triangle-jumping from wall to wall, running horizontally along vertical surfaces, balancing on narrow ledges, swinging wildly from ropes or horizontal bars, jumping from pillar to pillar, and more. He's truly the most acrobatic character in a game, to date, and executing his moves is simple and even intuitive. The prince can't be made to accidentally fall; he'll automatically grab the ledge if you walk him off of one, and you can hang on indefinitely. A separate button is used for pulling yourself up as opposed to letting go, so there's no worry of accidentally dropping even when you seem to be hanging on for dear life. And, even when you're balancing on a narrow rail thousands of feet above the ground, should you lose your balance and tip over, you'll always catch the ledge and can pull yourself right back up. All this is maybe a little too convenient, but at least it means you'll be forging ahead rather than constantly tumbling into pits.
The gameplay boils down to two things: observation and timing. First you must figure out where it is you're trying to go, which tends to be evident from the area fly-throughs, the "visions," and the occasional markings seen in the levels that point out switches to be flipped or buttons to be pressed. Then you must get there by running along walls, avoiding traps, leaping across chasms, and more. The timing isn't difficult--there's noticeable room for error--and hitting the "jump" button at around the right time, either to roll underneath a trap or to jump at more or less the right moment, will usually do the trick.
Dozens of deadly-looking traps and sand creatures make Prince of Persia seem difficult, but it's easier than it looks.
The coolest thing about the prince's repertoire of moves is how quickly he can link them together and how nimbly he moves about, in general. The interactions between the prince and the environment are extremely convincing and really must be seen to be fully appreciated. Great, little details are everywhere. If you're standing knee-deep in water and try to run up a wall, you'll see (and hear) the prince's wet feet slip as he fails the move. If you leap straight into a wall, you'll see the prince push himself off and fall back down. Despite his superhuman balance and agility, the prince somehow comes off looking incredibly lifelike and realistic, which makes the gameplay seem all the more approachable. All the prince's moves seem logical in the context of the game, and even early on you'll learn how to tie all these techniques together. For instance, you'll have a chance to launch yourself to the other side of a wall while running across it at early stages of the game. Of further note, special commendation goes to the prince for being the fastest ladder-climber in the history of games. It's a pleasure to just maneuver this character around, which is good, since that's mostly what you'll be doing.
The gameplay in Prince of Persia largely consists of three types of actions: navigation (the most common and best type), combat, and puzzle-solving. The puzzle-solving is straightforward and typical of what you'd find in other action adventure games. You'll push some boxes onto pressure plates, figure out how to use some mysterious machines, pull some switches and levers, and that sort of thing. What makes the puzzles here, at least, seem more interesting is the presence of Farah, the prince's female counterpart, who will automatically assist with some of the puzzles and make them seem like more of a cooperative affair. Farah, who's even skinnier than the prince, can slip through cracks in the wall to reach places the prince cannot. The pair will frequently have to find ways of opening up passages for one another. This pseudo-two-player dynamic, and, in fact, the whole look of the game, is reminiscent of the artistic 2001 PlayStation 2 title, ICO.