Prince of Persia Sands of Time PS2 Review

It’s not an easy thing, bringing a game series back after many years out of the limelight. Time has moved on, people’s interests have moved with them. And then there’s the little matter of transferring once classic gameplay into 3D, whilst taking advantage of all the bells and whistles that the current crop of consoles can muster. Prince of Persia is such a beast. Those of us in the mid 20s and upwards will remember this game series with fondness. It was an action adventure in the true sense of the word, providing fluid gameplay, edge of the seat excitement and, for it’s time, excellent graphics. So when UBISOFT announced that they were bringing the Prince back, it was met by old fans such as me with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Would they succeed in recapturing that old magic?

The answer, my friends, is a resounding YES!!!

Graphics

Let’s get one thing straight right away; this is a fantastic looking game. I think someone broke into my house while I was out and turbocharged my PS2 because I did not believe it capable of anything like this. The environments are nothing short of stunning, with beautiful lighting and a huge sense of scale. That the entire game takes place in one palace is irrelevant. This palace makes the Queen’s residence look like a two bedroomed flat. Yup, it’s that big. You will not be lost for a variety of environment types, with both inside and outside locations catered for aplenty. Character animations are, if anything, even better, particularly the two main characters, the Prince and Farah. The Prince leaps, twists and turns in such a believable way that it really sucks you into the game to a degree I haven’t experienced since the sublime Ico. In fact, this game reminds me of Ico in more ways than that, but I’ll return to that later. There is no slowdown either, with everything running very smoothly.

I’m told that the PS2 version is the worst looking of the three consoles, well all I can say is that people who play this on Xbox or GameCube are in for a visual treat. I would go so far as to say this is the best looking game on PS2 so far. Final Fantasy has it’s cut scenes, Jak and Ratchet have their own fancy get ups, but for a living, breathing, believable world, the is the best yet, only rivalled in my eyes by, yes you guessed it, Ico.

Gameplay

The story in Prince of Persia does what it needs to do and has conflict and romance to keep you interested. Without spoiling it for those yet to play the game, the Prince has unwittingly unleashed the Sands of Time and must fight to recapture all manner of creatures who have been turned by the sands into monsters intent on his destruction. To help him, he has a handy little dagger that can return the sands to their former state and also help him with little things like controlling time. Don’t go wash your ears out, you heard me right!

The gameplay in Prince of Persia can be broken up into four main categories, platforming, puzzles, combat and time control. Let’s tackle them one by one.

There are some breathtaking platforming elements in Prince of Persia. The sheer size of the environments leads to a requirement for a lot of lateral thinking. The way to go is not always obvious, but is never unfair. If you look hard enough, you will be a ledge that can be reached, a pillar that can be climbed or a bar that you can swing from. These are some of the most satisfying parts to play. The controls are so precise, so responsive, that you will soon be leaping like an Olympic gymnast. The movement from bar to bar and ledge to ledge is done in such a way that it’s not hard to time the next jump and this is one of the things that makes this game so free of the frustration that other platform games often suffer from. The Prince is also armed with an array of special moves, such as wall running, to help him manoeuvre from place to place.

The puzzles follow a similar vein. They are not easy, and often require manipulation of several aspects of the world around you. However, they are always logical and this is not the type of game that will see you wandering round for a couple of hours with no clue as to what to do next. Don’t underestimate what a fine balancing act UBISOFT have achieved here, to give you the satisfaction of working the puzzle out whilst still leaving your controller in one piece and you still on speaking terms with your family.

At the start of this game, I was unsure about the combat, mainly thinking it was just too hard, with too many enemies to fight at once. However, that was down to me, I wasn’t good enough, I hadn’t worked out the intricacies of the system. At first glance, the combat appears quite limited, and the odds against you overwhelming. All I can say is give it a little time. Use the Prince’s acrobatic expertise to your advantage and you’ll soon be laughing with glee as swathes of enemies are no match for you. Once you learn it, the combat is far from limited. The Prince can use the world around him to jump from walls and roll around his foes to even up the odds in battle. Knocking enemies down with your sword will not rid you of them, though. You must also retrieve the sand from which they are formed with your dagger, and this makes the battles interesting to say the least. And battles they are, with often more than two dozen adversaries to overcome. Again, though, the developers have kept the frustration down to a minimum and you will usually have no more than four enemies to deal with on the screen at once.

You may have noticed already that the lack of frustration in playing this game has been mentioned a couple of times already. A major part of this is also the games biggest innovation: the ability to control time. I remember reading a while ago that Blinx on the Xbox could only achieve this because of the inbuilt hard drive. Well, when that burglar was fiddling with my PS2 he obviously installed one of these as well, because this is all present and correct in Prince of Persia. Let me explain further. You wonder if you can make the leap to that far pillar, so you decide to try. Oops, you can’t make it after all and the Prince is hurtling towards the floor below. No problem, just press and hold L1 and the action will rewind a full ten seconds and you can try again. Feeling a little overwhelmed in battle? Just tap L1 and the game goes into slow motion, giving you more time to plot your moves. You can also see flashes of the future to help you plot your route, or freeze time completely for a limited period. It works very well and soon becomes second nature. Use the power wisely, though, because it’s not unlimited. You have to recharge the dagger by retrieving sand from sand clouds you will find scattered throughout the Palace, or by reclaiming the sand from fallen enemies.

Sound

Prince of Persia has a great score to accompany the action, with the tunes fitting the events of the game very well. Exploration and puzzle solving are usually accompanied by softer, slower music. Get into battle, though, and the music becomes higher tempo, adding a frantic edge to the combat. The voice acting is very good, although I did question why the characters spoke in a perfect English accent. Aren’t they from Persia? Apart from this minor detail, though, the sounds work very well and there’s little to criticise.

Lifespan

This is where things get a little stickier. Prince of Persia is, whichever way you look at it, a short game. When I finished, there was a little over 10 hours on the game clock. This is only such a problem because the game is so damn good you don’t want it to end. However, once you finish it, there is little reason to replay it and, as is usual with this type of game, there is no multiplayer element to extend its longevity.

There is, though, the full version of Prince of Persia 1 to unlock. This is, no doubt about it, a nice little extra, but looks outdated now and how many will want to play this after playing the new version I am not sure.

Overall

Prince of Persia is a superb game, standing shoulder to shoulder with Ico as my favourite games on the system. Oh yes, Ico….as I said earlier, this game has quite a few similarities with Ico and that is quite possibly one of the reasons I like it so much. The sheer scale of the environments, the exploration, the puzzle solving….they are all there. As is having to protect a female companion from harm for the vast majority of the game. Granted, Farah is of a lot more practical help than Yorda, joining in combat with her bow and often going off and pulling levers and opening doors on her own. But the feeling is the same, the panic when she shouts for help, knowing that if she dies it’s game over. Unless you rewind time that is, and stop yourself making such a silly mistake again.

I am confident in saying that any who invest time and money in this game will not be disappointed. Well, you may be a little disappointed that it’s over so soon, but while you are in the Prince’s world, it’s an unforgettable journey.

Score Summary
Graphics Gameplay Sound Lifespan Overall9.5 9.5 8.5 7.0 9.3

Second Opinion
By Johelian
13/01/04

The game is absolutely beautiful, with some of the nicest animation for a character I have yet seen in a game; every movement the Prince makes is perfectly natural, and the moves at his disposal will have you grinning smugly as you wall-vault over them and stab them in the back. The puzzles are miniature works of art, and are a great change from just needing a quick-trigger finger to progress. The voiceovers are nice too, with some great humorous dialogue – though why the Prince has a plummy English accent is beyond me. But hey – who cares?)

I found a couple of things that I quickly got frustrated with though; firstly, the battles. While some degree of skill is needed to get the full benefit of any set of manoeuvres, the fact that the Prince auto-targets the nearest enemy means that his position constantly changes. This allows for some irritation as you try to flip to safety, but end up leaping at another enemy and getting hit. The water-drinking animation is also painfully long, and cant be stopped once it has started so running to get a quick health boost mid-battle often results in being caught off-guard. Finally, the length of some of the battles will no doubt begin to annoy as wave after wave of enemies come after you. This, coupled with the fact that you have to guard Farah who cannot take a lot of damage, can make battles an irritating experience.

Lastly, the camera has a tendency to “stick” at certain points of the game; while this has been done largely to give you the best view of your next move, losing the ability to rotate it can bet annoying. I also had a few battles when the camera disappeared into a wall, leaving me staring at a nice texture while bashing at the controls.

All in all, this is a masterful game that will no doubt come as an initially aggravating experience for fans of all-out action games, but will quickly win a place in the heart for its wonderful game play.

9 out of 10
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