Ha! Didn’t see THIS one coming, did you? I know the game’s 7 years old or so, but hey; it’s a classic, and in spite of all appearances, this IS Prince of Persia week. And, unlike Ethos, I actually managed to finish the game this week. In fact, I sat down yesterday and beat it all in one sitting. Because I’m awesome. Anyway. Um. I should probably get to the review. Though, I admit, I’m actually enjoying this little italicized intro a bit too much. I fucking miss you guys! I haven’t talked to you all week! How’s it going? Good? Good. How’s it going for me? Ah… well. Let’s just, uh. Get to the review.
-Unparalleled platforming mechanics
-Flawless level design
-Brilliantly constructed storybook-esque, Persian atmosphere
-Subtle, sweet, and engaging storyline
-Shallow, repetitive combat
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and its two sequels, are by far the best action-adventure games of the previous generation. Apologies to Kratos, Link, Dante, and plenty of other action heroes with quality games, but Prince of Persia takes the proverbial cake. It began with 2003’s Sands of Time; and while Sands of Time is (unfortunately) plagued by a rather shallow combat system, its unparalleled level design, platforming mechanics, and atmosphere set it apart as not just one of the best action-adventures ever made – but one of the best videogames, period.
I hope that everyone’s at least somewhat familiar with the story behind the Sands of Time trilogy. When it comes to time-travelling epics, it’s probably the best thing the world’s seen since Back to the Future. (And I don’t say that lightly, because I fucking love Back to the Future.) The Sands of Time is only the tip of the iceberg, but it’s still one hell of a ride. A young, unnamed Prince gets his hands on the Dagger of Time; a magical weapon with the power to (you guessed it) control time – soon afterwards, a traitorous vizier tricks him into using said dagger to unleash the destructive Sands of Time. Everyone turns into monsters, buildings crumble, sand flies everywhere – basically, everything turns to shit, and it’s all the fault of our Prince. So, with the help of the gorgeous Farah – the only other survivor of the sands – our unnamed protagonist sets out to make things right.
The storyline in Sands of Time isn’t that deep, and the game isn’t laden with cutscenes or dialog. But, really, the subtlety of it is what makes it so beautiful. I’ve written about the romance between the Prince and Farah before – remember Romance Week? They scored the #4 spot on my Love Story Hits countdown, and for good reason. There’s something universally charming about the two of them and their constant back-and-forth banter that gradually leads to their falling in love. Oh yeah, and the dialog is endlessly entertaining and well-written.
After all of these years, The Sands of Time still has the most brilliantly conceived platforming mechanics ever seen in a videogame. There are two basic reasons for this: the Prince is one of the most versatile and acrobatic characters ever seen, and the level design is, in a word, flawless. Every seamless environment is designed to allow for the Prince’s unique methods of transportation – wall-running, death-defying jumps, pole-swinging – the list could go on. But, while they may be contrived in such a way, they don’t look like they are – they look almost entirely organic. There really isn’t a single other game in the world where it’s such a joy to simply move.
Unfortunately, the Sands of Time is plagued with a shallow, repetitive combat system. Combat was drastically improved in the two latter entries of the trilogy, but it’s still pretty lame in Sands of Time. The Prince has a single-button combo attack, the ability to vault over enemies, and the ability to freeze enemies in place. It all looks freaking badass, but it’s somewhat boring to actually play. Not awful, not broken… just kinda boring.
Upon its release in 2003, Sands of Time looked gorgeous. Character models were lacking even for their time, but the beautifully inspired Persian storybook aesthetic was a literal joy to behold. And, believe it or not, it still is. Sure, it looks last-gen, and it’s pretty damn jaggy on a 42″ HDTV. But it’s the artistic vision behind Sands of Time that really defines the visual experience. Think Lawrence of Arabia, or Disney’s Aladdin. The Sands of Time presents a seamless world where it’s easy to lose yourself.
Just to round out the near-perfection, Sands of Time has very competent voicework (especially for its time) and a top-notch musical score. In fact, it’s such a good musical score, you’ll wish it appeared more often than just during combat sequences. Yuri Lowenthal has always been one of the favorites in the business, and his role as the titular Prince will always remain my favorite of his.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is, simply, timeless. It’s a game that will always be recalled with the same fondness as, say, Indiana Jones, or to cite a more similar example, Back to the Future. Sitting down and playing through the game again yesterday was the most fun I’ve had in a long, long time. If you haven’t experienced this masterpiece for yourself, I can’t recommend it strongly enough. It’s one of the definitive interactive experiences.