Xbox | GameCube | Game Boy Advance | PlayStation 2[/c]
Prince of Persia: Sands of Time (herein referred to as POP) is the latest of a long running franchise that dates back to the golden days of Sierra Games. I remember playing games like King's Quest and Space Quest because my father thought that they were not only fun but also educational. Then came along Prince of Persia, which was all about action. Prince of Persia was a side scrolling adventure game where you hopped, hurtled and hustled your way through mythic Araby. With the decline of these classic adventure games, Prince of Persia was swept away by the merciless sands of time. Ubi Soft Montreal, those wily Quebecquois Canadians, have delved deep and resurrected this classic title and not only kept the original's flavor and greatness but also expanded upon current adventure gaming standards in ways only Lara Croft could strive for only to trip over her obnoxious bust-line.
POP is truly a high profile title. This review has been written based on the Gamecube version however POP is available across all platforms. Usually games of this design suffer from not being able to capitalize on the various system strengths of being released across several platforms within a very close timeframe. I cannot comment on the PC version, but the Xbox and PS2 versions deliver very high production values as does the Gamecube version.
The game begins with an epic battle in India where you follow your father's armies to lay siege to a massive city. The first thing you notice about POP is the depth of visual design. The architecture of the surrounding levels, while rather linear, is fully realized. Buildings are formed and constructed to not only create a compelling gameplay experience but also to look and feel functional. After getting used to the various maneuvers you will find that each environment is very interactive. Each room is laden with atmosphere. Sun shines down over a burning horizon as you run across ramparts. Meanwhile volleys of fiery arrows arc overhead. Cavernous corridors are dark and foreboding with wavering tapestries, cobwebs and massive statues carved into walls. POP's linear nature lends to the degree of detail in each area you trek through. The time spent on this game reflects a level of craftsmanship one wishes for in a game's overall design.
In terms of gameplay, POP enjoys a control scheme and design that mirrors the depths of the game's overall environmental aura. The Gamecube controller is a perfect fit for this game. The analog stick is precise and predictable. The camera stick actually works well and you can switch into a first person mode to figure out lines through each room. POP's nature as a platform adventure game is evident as the large A Button serves as the jump button and the little B Button is for attacking. Indeed, POP is a game about acrobatic exploration and experimentation. You begin the game with extraordinary acrobatic abilities to run along walls where you can wall jump up two stories and grab a ledge only to shimmy along it until you can drop down into a beautiful oasis of belly dancers. I lied about the belly dancer part, but the rest you really can do. This is all wonderful, but POP doesn't enjoy its truly great gaming experience until you acquire the Sands of Time.
Max Payne took Bullet Time into gaming for real and inspired many designers to incorporate similar features. Bullet Time game play is neat and very cinematic, especially if pulled off properly. The only problem now is that we've done that and been there and simply flying across the screen in slow-mo with pistols akimbo just doesn't cut it anymore. Ubi Soft Montreal knows this. In a simple premise, POP makes use of a stunning game play design the likes of which could easily be mistaken for cheating. You see, with the Sands of Time you can rewind the game. For instance, if you are making a long series of jumps from pillar to pillar and over a ledge, you may find yourself falling short of the final platform. This all too common occurrence means you have die, reload and start over and over and over until you nail the timing of that last gap. To say the least, this can get tiresome. POP maneuvers intelligently around this by allowing you realize your error in judgment and rewind. You rewind back to a certain point and adjust your angle and land the jump. You may use this in battle as well. The trick is that you have a finite amount of rewind time and thus you must be sparing in its use. You also do not have multiple in game saves but rather save points so as not to make POP too accommodating.
On the visual front, POP is simply wondrous. The majesty of mythical Persia is highly stylized and developed into a vibrantly crafted world. Textures are distinct and varied from world to world. The use of ambient light effects adds to the visual flavor rather than overpower it. Aliased edges are not very common and I did not detect any hints of texture tearing through the game. At first I thought that there was some dithering issues, but the sleepy and soft edges of the game's introduction are done with purpose. Characters are animated with smooth and lifelike motion. The Prince moves with agility and grace, however his fleet feet sometimes leave you wondering "What the Hell did he just do?" NPC's amble and maneuver around you to attack from all angles in a realistic fashion. While at first there is not a wide variety of a foeman to smite, all of the models are thoroughly rendered and animated. Later on, after the story develops, you will encounter some creatures that remind could be straight out of some as of yet written Indiana Jones script. While these monster lack visual variety, they are thoroughly thought out characters.
If there is one discernable weakness to POP, it would be with the sound. To be fair, this fault lies more in the Gamecube than the game. I found the music and voice acting to be less than clear and the volume to be very low. While Gamecube does offer emulated surround sound, this feature was not very striking. The music fits the overall feel of the game very well, it's just not reproduced as well as I would have liked. The voice acting is competent and well scripted for a game which again echoes the overall high production values of this game.
In the end, POP is a top flight title for all the systems it appears on. The most striking aspect of this game is the unity of its high production values. No corners were cut on this project. While most games excel at one aspect and falter in another, POP strives to achieve in every aspect. Playing the game over and over may be a different matter as I would not want to play this game front to back more than I have, but the full length ride is satisfying enough. The gameplay is solid and innovative. It is graphically stunning. The music, while muted, compliments the rest of the game design. The use of the rewind button is clever and implemented well into a game that would otherwise be frustrating. All of these parts added together leave the gamer with a game of truly high adventure. There is substance backing this game's overflow of style, which in today's saturated adventure game market, makes this title stand out. If you own multiple platforms, I would recommend trying it out before settling on one. If you only have a Gamecube then you simply must add this one to your library as it is that good. POP deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence as Wind Waker and Metroid Prime.
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