The Arabian Knight Returns
As the sun arose, the Grand Vizier betrayed his Maharajah and signaled the forces of the King of Persia. They sprang upon the waking city which quickly fell before them and none was braver or bolder than the Persian Prince. Time and again, his blade found flesh, but his quest was not for blood but for glory. The Maharajah's Treasure Room was yet to be found, but the Prince would find its location and disarm its traps, bringing the Dagger of Time back to his father. Then, on the road home, laden with slaves, plunder, and an enchanted hourglass, the Persian Army stopped at a friendly Caliph's Palace. Here the Dagger of Time and the Hourglass of Time would come into contact, the Sands of Time spilling forth and swallowing all life. All but the Prince— was he protected by the Dagger of Time? But wait, there's one of the slave girls and where is the Vizier?
Such is the premise of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
, an action/adventure game set within the huge environments of the Palace and its grounds. With aid from Farah, the slave girl with noble bearing, the Prince must find a way to undo what was been done. For, as the Prince tells us, "Most people think time is like a river that flows swift and sure in one direction. But I have seen the face of time and I can tell you they are wrong. Time is an ocean in a storm."
The Prince faces two major obstacles in his quest: Sand Creatures and the Palace itself. The Sands of Time have made zombies of the Palace residents, from the Harem girls to the famed birds in the Caliph's aviary. The Prince can strike them down again and again, but there is no final death until the Prince uses the Dagger of Time to drain the Sands away from them. That isn't all the Dagger can do. As the Prince progresses in the game, the Dagger gains the power to bend Time—hasten or slow events, or rewind events up to ten seconds in the past.
As for the Palace, between the destructive nature of the Sands and the traps which have been enabled, it is a perilous place to visit. Luckily for the Prince, he has some fancy moves. In addition to running and jumping, he can run along a wall or run up a wall, swing from various bars and do all manners of flipping and tumbling. While all this should feel lifted from The Matrix
or Hong Kong action movies, it seems more like a natural extension of the Prince's abilities from the 2D games. Although, in those games, if the Prince fell to his death, it was game over; in this one you can rewind (or reload). Also unlike those games, the path is not always clear. Much of the fun of this game (probably eighty percent of it) is looking around the huge environments and figuring out what must be done. Is there a button that can be pressed by running along a wall? Can you leap from a broken column to a rope? Is that chasm narrow enough to leap from side to side down? There is some help in the form of visions the Prince has when he encounters Sand Portals (which also serve as Save Points) these visions show what may, or may not, come to pass.
The other twenty percent is action. Prince of Persia has the most fluid, articulated combat I've seen. Collision detection is top notch—I've inched away from enemy blades and narrowly deflected blows. Apart from just pressing the attack button, there are many advanced attacks the Prince will have to use to defeat his enemies: flipping over them and attacking them from behind, launching his self off walls, and more. More challenging, there are some enemies immune to special attacks, they'll throw you down if you try to leap over them or knock you aside.
Prince of Persia has an excellent story narrated by the Prince which allows for great payoffs like him saying, "No no, that didn't happen," if he dies or promising to pick up the story from save points. There is more character development than I expected from an action platformer, chiefly related to the relationship between the Prince and Farah, but also in growth of the Prince's character.
Graphics are breathtaking, offering huge environments with stunning detail. Prison cells have graffiti, heat from torches creates a shimmering effect, and this game passes the beautiful waterfall test. The character models move believably and have a Disneyesque level of detail—actually the game kind of feels like Aladdin and Jasmine versus the Army of Darkness. Sound is also incredible. Voice work, music, and ambient effects are all tremendous. Every element combines to create an immersive gaming experience, making this a modern classic.
My one major complaint about Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
has to do with combat. I mentioned above that creatures only die when drained by the Dagger of Time, but there are often many waves of creatures. And the Prince is always outnumbered, even with Farah's assistance (using her Bow of Friendly Fire—don't ask). So combat is slick, stylish, smooth, etc… and goes on for way too long. With the exception of a few boss battles, combat in this game only serves to lengthen game play.
Which is my second complaint. Or observation. You can beat this game in a weekend. And other than spotting a few secret areas, there aren't branching paths or multiple endings which add a replay value. Not that you wouldn't want to re-experience this masterpiece, but as DarkDove mentions, it's even shorter the second time around.
The Bottom Line
I'm still amazed at the tremendous amount of thought that went into this game. If you pay attention, you can spot how Farah is able to make her way through the Palace when she isn't with the Prince. There are incredible puzzles equal to any in a traditional adventure game. And you have to love how carvings actually add to the story, rather than act as wallpaper. All that and off-hand references to obscure Persian heroes!