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Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Platform(s): Game Boy Advance, GameCube, Movie, PC, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Xbox
Genre: Action
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: Nov. 12, 2003 (US), Feb. 20, 2004 (EU)

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Xbox Review - 'Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time'

by Corey Owen on Dec. 11, 2003 @ 12:57 a.m. PST

Players take on the role of the Prince in the exotic, mysterious world of ancient Persia. Using groundbreaking animations and innovative time-control powers to recapture the Sands of Time, the player's role is to restore peace to the land.
[c]Buy 'PRINCE OF PERSIA: Sands of Time':
Xbox | GameCube | Game Boy Advance | PlayStation 2[/c]

Prince of Persia is the latest game from Ubisoft's Montreal studio, the same studio that brought you last years smash hit Splinter Cell and the more recently acclaimed Rainbow Six 3. In a trend that is sure to continue Ubisoft delivers another excellent title that gamers everywhere are sure to enjoy. You will take the role of, oddly enough, the prince of Persia as he battles his way through the sultan's palace in an effort to undo the terrible plague he has unleashed. Duped by the evil Vizier, the prince lets loose the sands of time from a giant hour glass using the Dagger of Time. This does not have the desired effect though and turns the resident of the palace, both man and beast, into mindless zombies hell bent on destruction. The Vizier's minions then cart the hour glass off to the top of the palace and the prince gives chase.

The Dagger of Time's resume isn't limited to unleashing destruction. It also comes packed with a host of beneficial features. The combat is composed of attacking with both the prince's sword and the dagger. All of the combos will be performed using the sword, but to finish off the enemies you will need to strike them with the dagger while they are down. The dagger has other, more impressive features in its arsenal as well. You can slow time down to get the jump on your foes in battle or it can be uses to slow down time selectively. If you stab an assailant with the dagger while they are on their feet they will go into a super slow motion fall. This allows you to attack other enemies or finish that one off without fear of retaliation. At any point in the game you can rewind time up to ten seconds to undo some mistake you have made. This is very useful when you mess up in battle or mistime a jump. It can even be used post mortem to revive the fallen prince. The last power the dagger grants is haste. This will allow you to speed time up for the prince or freeze the enemies completely depending on whose perspective you look at it from. Haste is the most potent of the dagger's powers, but it is also the most costly.

The abilities of the dagger are tied into "sand tanks" which determine how many times they can be used. Most of the abilities use only one tank, but haste will use them all so it must be used sparingly. The tanks can be refilled by felling the downed opponents with the dagger or by finding sand clouds throughout the palace. After you find eight of theses clouds you will be granted another sand tank, thus giving you a greater number of uses.

So now you know all the many uses of the dagger, so what? How do these powers pan out in the game? Well, the combat is user friendly and very fluid. You will only need one button to perform a barrage of attacks on the sand beasts. You can easily change directions mid combo and attack the other enemies encroaching on your position. This is very important as you will find yourself surrounded during almost every battle. The dagger becomes critical at these time and your survival hinges on its use. You may need to freeze enemies or in extreme cases invoke haste. These powers must be used with the plethora of evasive maneuvers to ensure your survival. You can vault over enemies and then attack them on your way down. If you are near a wall the prince can run up the wall and flip over the whole group. He can also push off the wall and perform a flying attack or leap out and attack from behind. You can roll under attacks or back flip away to re-orient yourself for battle. Blocking can also save you in a tight spot. If you block the attack you can then perform a counter attack, which in some instances is the only way to defeat an enemy. Some enemies have attacks that can break your block or bypass it altogether so get used to the evasive maneuvers.

Combat isn't the only aspect of Prince of Persia. In fact, it takes a backseat to the platforming aspect of the game. All of those acrobatic moves the prince can perform in battle translate over to helping him navigate the palace. To get from one room to another is never as simple as waling through a door. Instead you must run along walls, leap over spiked pits, swing from ropes, leap from columns, flip from poles and so much more. He's got more moves than an Olympic gymnast and all of them come in handy at one time or another. When you enter a new area the camera will fly through the path you are supposed to take eliminating some of the guess work that some platform games carry with them. If you are still confused about how to proceed, each save point will show you a glimpse of the future, courtesy of the dagger of course. If you still don't know where you are going then you can change the camera to give you a better look. The game is played in a 3rd person perspective, but there are also first person and landscape views. First person allows you to look in any direction you want, while landscape view will show you the entire area you are in from a distance. The latter of these two views will give a good idea of the obstacles between you and your goal and can usually clear up any confusion about where you need to be.

Once you have an idea of where you are headed you will need to invoke all of the prince's maneuvers to get there. It may seem like a daunting task, but the game is surprisingly forgiving. The prince will automatically grab ledges if you fall from a platform and if your jump is a little short he stretches out to grab the target. If you happen to miss completely there is always the rewind feature to bring you back to the start of the jump. Even if you run out of sand tanks and die the save points are fairly frequent so you won't have to do much over again. All of these features safeguard against the normal frustration platformers can carry with them, but they also make the game a little too easy. A better balance between the normal drop to your death at the last second and the overly protective system they have in place could have made this the perfect platformer.

Prince of Persia also has some puzzle elements with a unique twist that add a lot to the game. A lot of these puzzles are simply pushing boxes onto switches, but some of them are more unique and will require the aid of the beautiful vixen Farah. She will accompany you along your journey through the palace providing backup in battle and helping you to navigate the palace and its many booby traps. She is able to fit through small cracks and under narrow gates that the price is too large allowing her to reach switches and release doors for him. Sometimes they will both need to work together to operate switches and levers to gain access to the next area. After completing a puzzle or meeting up after getting separated they will often exchange some humorous banter or other dialogue to progress the story.

While not the main focus of the game, the story is pretty good and will keep you engaged. In a unique twist on conventional story telling the whole game is actually a story the price is retelling. When you die and have load a save game he will say things like "Wait, that's not what happened" and after loading "Now, where was I"? At many points in the game he will remind you that the story is a retelling of past events and it is done very well. It really breaks new ground in story telling and does so in a way that any format other than a videogame couldn't possibly do. You will want to find out what happens next and because the game is never overly challenging or frustrating you won't want to put the controller down.

The games beautiful graphics and jaw dropping animation will bring the story to life that much more. The atmosphere is very authentic and much of the architecture is taken from real world examples. Muslim art and architecture of the middle ages were obviously references, but there is a lot of original flair as well. Raphael Lacoste and David Chateauneup the lead Artist and Level Designer respectively, have done an outstanding job of bringing the world of Prince of Persia to life. The character models are also well done, but really makes this game is the animation. Within minutes of playing you will already begin to see the amount of detail that went into the prince. All of his moves are a sight to behold and will have you picking your jaw up out of your lap. They flow together seamlessly without a hint of stutter of choppiness. This is no small feat considering how many moves he can tie together. He and Farah also have idle animations which will kick in if you fail to more for awhile. The prince will brush the dirt from his clothes and Farah adjusts her hair and clothing. The animations are so good they alone justify playing this game. There are also the occasional fmv cutscene, while well done they simply can't compete with the in-game animation. You have to see it to believe it.

The audio backs up the stellar visuals perfectly and solidifies the Middle Eastern theme. All of the music has the distinctive style you would expect in a game set in Persia. The sound effects are spot on and can add a lot of life to the environments. Running across sand, stone, water, and all the other surfaces will produce appropriate sounds. Little touches like watching the prince try to run up a wall after wading through water, only to slide down because his feet are wet and hearing each sound timed perfectly to the animation further showcase the detail that went into creating Prince of Persia.

As little as there is wrong with this game I must warn you it is very short. Most people will be able to beat this in under12 hours and veteran gamers can probably do it in under 9 with ease. The original Prince of Persia and Prince of Persia 2 are unlockable, but most likely only hardcore gamers will give these titles the time of day. They also included a segment on the making of the game that I was really excited about until I saw how short it was. Most games don't even include something like, but hopefully others will follow this lead and really show gamers what goes into making great games. This game could have been perfect if only it were longer, but as it stands I would still recommend that everyone give Prince of Persia a well deserved look.

Score: 9.0/10


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