This game delivers a fantastic story with exciting gameplay. Read this review to find out why you should own it.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time has been gathering all sorts of hype since its debut at the 2003 Electronics Entertainment Expo. Ubi Soft has taken the aging series and given it a brand new life. Though it is a short game, The Sands of Time is an absolutely must play for its fluid, exciting gameplay and breathtaking story.
The story takes place in the distant past, and the Persian army has just sacked the castle of the Indian Maharajah. The prince of Persia has taken as a trophy the Dagger of Time. The army also takes the magical Sands of Time. Returning home, King Sharaman presents the sands to the Sultan as a token of good fortune. Then, tricked by the Maharajah’s traitorous Vizier, the prince uses the Dagger to open the hourglass, unleashing the sands of time across the Sultan’s palace. Now the prince must take matters into his own hands. With the help of the Maharajah’s daughter Farah he must return the sands of time to the hourglass and set right what he has done wrong.
It is a truly epic story, and it is delivered wonderfully. The entire game is told by the prince in past tense. After saving your progress, he remarks, “I’ll start the story from here next time.” Other such things are muttered throughout the game, such as “Shall I go on?” while the game is paused and a multitude of phrases such as “No no, it didn’t happen that way” when the prince dies. All of these various phrases help emphasize the story’s style wonderfully. Much of the story is delivered through in-game conversations between the prince and Farah. The two talk to each other constantly and this really forms a strong bond between the player and the characters. They have so much personality. By the end of the game you will truly care about them, which is something not many other games can accomplish, especially in the adventure genre. It’s wonderful to see the relationship between the two of them grow throughout the game.
But what is an epic story with no action? The Sands of Time delivers in the action department excellently. The prince is far from your ordinary every day royal socialite. He moves with the grace of a ninja and fights with the strength of a warrior. Throughout the game, the prince will be running on and up walls, as well as swinging on poles and ropes. He’s also an accomplished balance beam walker. These are just some of the prince’s many moves. The truly amazing part about all of this is the fluidity with which it’s all done. The controls are highly context sensitive, which is a mechanic that is extremely useful but also open to a lot of problems. If the controls perform the wrong action in a certain area it could be game over. The Sands of Time uses some of the best context sensitive controls ever seen in a game. The R trigger performs no less than seven different maneuvers, and all of these can be strung together in fluid combinations. It makes for an amazing experience when then prince runs along a wall, steps on a switch and then jumps on a platform that has sprung out of the wall, then repeats this sequence with escalading difficulty four more times in a harrowing action sequence.
Along with all of these acrobatic stylings, goes combat. While not as tight and focused as the platforming sequences, the combat is still quite good. The Sands of Time have covered the entire palace and turned its inhabitants into monsters that only the prince can destroy. The game uses a multi-enemy combat system in which the prince will often be surrounded by a horde of enemies. By simply pointing the control stick in a certain direction, the prince will strike that way. This system allows the prince to constantly attack three or four enemies at the same time. Not only that, but he can also vault over most enemies by jumping towards them. This will cause the prince to run up his foe’s chest and swing around to deliver a punishing blow from behind. However, the prince cannot win by simply hacking with his sword. In order to defeat his foes, he must draw the sand from their corrupted forms with the dagger. After downing an enemy, or after vaulting over one, the prince can perform a finishing move with the dagger which will dispatch an enemy for good, as well as refill some of his sand tanks.
The Dagger of Time comes not only with the ability to kill sand monsters, but is able to shift time itself. The most important of these time control abilities is the power of revival, which lets the prince rewind time to avoid a fatal flaw, or even bring him back from the dead. The dagger starts with four “sand tanks” (this number can be increased later on). By using a sand tank, the prince can rewind time up to ten seconds to save himself or Farah. As he combats enemies, the dagger will develop “power tanks.” Drawing sand from two enemies will fill one power tank, which can be used for various things. First is the power of delay, which slows down time. This gives the prince an advantage in combat, and it also makes it easier to get through some of the palace’s deadly traps. Next is the power of restraint which will stop time completely for one enemy. This power is excellent for taking out some of the game’s bigger baddies. The last power tank ability is the power of haste which speeds up time for the prince so much so that it has practically stopped time for everything else. This ability is a life-saver in combat situations with tons of sand monsters. The prince can warp around the room taking out enemies as if they were frozen.
The last power is the power of destiny. Scattered about the castle are large columns of glowing sand. By stepping into these columns, the prince can see into the future. These sepia-toned, whisper filled visions show the prince a series of events which will be approaching very soon. These columns also act as save points. The visions are very helpful for remembering what it is you are supposed to do next after you restart a saved game.
Sand monsters are not the prince’s only adversary. Early on, the prince is convinced to turn on the palace’s defense system. Doing so unleashes tons of diabolical traps throughout the palace. The prince’s journey will be blocked by rotating blades, giant circular saws and spiky columns. Getting through these traps wouldn’t be too hard, excepting the fact that most of the time it is a race against the clock to make it through a closing door at the end of the gauntlet. Most of these trap sequences will take two or three tries to accomplish, and they are one of the hardest parts of the game due to the time constraint.
There are a few down sides to The Sands of Time however. Thankfully, they are not from the variety that makes a game bad. The first is the game’s lack of challenge. From start to finish, the game’s difficulty doesn’t climb very much. It takes a small jump about halfway through, but even after this, the game is still quite easy. The ease of the game comes from two things. First, the prince is very agile. Because of this, he makes most of his jumps, and often grabs on to ledges if he’s just out of range. The bigger culprit however, is the dagger of time. The ability to rewind time, while amazingly cool, makes it so you won’t be dying from falling much, unless you are out of sand. More often, death will occur in combat while the prince is heavily surrounded, especially against the larger enemies that cannot be vaulted over.
The other mark against the game is its length. Experienced players will be able to finish The Sands of Time in less than ten hours, and average players will finish the game in about that time. This game could have easily gone on for five or maybe even ten more hours. From a story standpoint though, it would be absurd to have the game go on for much longer than that.
Denis Dyack, head of Silicon Knights, often talks about the future of video games, where the hardware will be so advanced that fancy graphics won’t matter anymore. It will be the developers and games that deliver the best stories that will be hailed as the best. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time exemplifies this vision perfectly. In the end, this game is not about harrowing platforming sequences, dodging vicious traps, or being victorious while outnumbered eight to one in combat. This game, as explicitly stated by Farah in The Halls of Learning, is not about that at all. It’s a love story. Sure it’s full of all the action of a Jerry Bruckheimer film, but the game is just a vehicle to deliver the wonderful story. The Sands of Time delivers wonderfully with its Arabian Nights influenced story. At the same time, it brings together solid controls which make the game’s jumping sequences a joy to play. You may pick up Prince of Persia for the killer gameplay, but the story is what will keep you coming back. This game is like an excellent short story. Every once in a while you’ll pick it up again to relive the breathtaking adventure.