Written by  :  semicharm (9)
Written on  :  Oct 04, 2005
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  3.83 Stars3.83 Stars3.83 Stars3.83 Stars3.83 Stars

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Such a great game crippled by such a simple flaw

The Good

Once again you take on the role of the Prince of Persia, but instead of forging though foreboding dungeons as then the original classics, he begins the story as a young warrior that's ready to prove himself in battle with a single goal in mind, to win glory by raiding the treasure vault. Risking death traversing the decaying ruins he only finds an odd dagger, but blinded by pride he claims his prize. However, the purpose of the dagger remains unknown to the naive Prince till the Vizier tricks him into unlocking the hourglass vessel that entraps the Sands of Time, turning all within the palace into zombies under its control save three souls, the Prince, the fallen Maharajah's daughter Farah, and the Vizier. Now the Prince must find a way to undo what has been done and somehow the dagger is the key.

The passages through the palace are blocked with fallen walls, puzzling diabolical traps and hoards of sand creatures. While this task may seem daunting to ordinary men, the Prince's blazing speed and agility allow him to not only leap and swing among the ruins, but run across the walls along deep chasms, climb up walls to unreachable ledges and levers, or even leap back and forth between them up to death defying heights. (As a word of warning, he can't climb walls very well when his feet are wet. Once he's out of the water give his feet a moment to dry.) His range of acrobatic skills are crucial to beating the puzzling paths created fallen ruins and clockwork traps set to kill all who pass. Many of the locked doors will begin to close as soon as they open, so he has to be quick and cunning to dodge the spinning and swinging spikes and blades in time. All of this may seem to be to much for one man, but by mastering a few simple actions the Prince can apply the needed move given the situation and direction he's traveling.

Luckily Farah, the one of the few real characters he meets, decides to aid him in his journey to the recover the hourglass, but only after saving her life. Soon the Prince realizes that her intelligence and petite figure are invaluable to beating many of the puzzles. However, the secrets she hides leads to distrust as well.

Traps are not the only thing that test the Prince. The former inhabitants of the palace have be transformed by the sands into creatures of the undead, forced to do its biding. Luckily the Prince can quickly block and attack in any direction and even leap over to into his attackers. Some of the sand creature may seem single minded, but the undead warriors are also swift and can block many of he moves. Even tough their attacks are usually predictable they can rematerialize anywhere at any time, so he must be cautious or they can easily entrap him. Luckily, Farah will ad you in many of the battles with her lightning fast bow, and mysteriously endless supply of arrows. However, since she doesn't carry a sword and her arrows are too weak to take down some the larger brutes, she can easily be overwhelmed in the later battles, so be careful since he cannot complete the journey to the tower alone.

Even with all of their their might and cunning, they cannot defeat the undead without releasing the sands from their deformed bodies. Soon the Prince learns that the dagger can also be used to weld the Sands of Time to his command, by reversing the flow of time to undo a recent mistake, to slow time to slip though a tough situation, or to release the sands from his foes. Most importantly the dagger can be used to retrieve the sand that is released, which is required for it to preform its time bending magic.

Unfortunately, the sand creatures often guard the sand vortex, the place where the Prince can return if he were to fail at any point, so if he cannot complete the journey to the next vortex he must return to the previous one. Fortunately, if he doesn't gave up, he can often return to a closer point. Since the other points are not typically marked, it can be hard to know where they will be.

Behind the magic of the story and the gameplay, the graphics overall are stunning. The level of detail of the characters and world isn't the greatest, but they strike a fare balance and are well done. While most action games that allow jumping and climbing ledges require a simplified world geometry, and Sands of Time (SoT) still maintains a fairly complex and nearly continuous world. While there are a good number of moving objects in the world, most of it however is static, many of the objects are simple doors and traps.

Atop all of this are detailed textures and soft lighting, which mostly make up for the simple underlying geometry. In fact the texturing of the models doesn't fall far behind those used in to scarce prerendered cutscenes. The world textures are also fairly detailed, but tend to be in monochromatic browns. However, when the world is mostly made of sand and sandstone, there really isn't much one can do. However the lighting does make up for some of the lack of color of the textures, especially in the indoor scenes such as the well. Also the shading and lighting used give it a nice soft somewhat cartoonish feel. After, this is no ultra realistic gore-fest like Doom 3. It's also in the little details where the game really shines. No, I mean literally. The Sands of Time really glow as they float like a soft fog over the floors of the rooms and halls and the dagger even glows in response whenever the Prince wonders near.

One of the elements that would have really ruined the game is animation, but SoT doesn't disappoint. The animation of the Prince is extremely fluid throughout all of the many moves he can preform. He smoothly follows through from one to another with out pausing and it seams that most actions can be interrupted if appropriate to do so. The animation of the other models doesn't fall far behind. One thing that seamed to be missing was facial animation during the game. The Prince's face doesn't seem to move at all when he speaks. At least the in game rendered cutscenes are better. Last, but not least the cloth animation was great. The wall banners fold, shift, and waft as the Prince touches against them or as he pushes them out of the way as runs along the wall behind them. Too bad that's about the only time you really get to see it in action.

The sound and voice overs in the game are great. The sounds are of good quality and the acting is simply top notch. The music in general was great, but I think that it would have been better with they didn't stray so much away from arabic motif with the electric guitar. I know they were going for a harder modern sound, but I would prefer that they didn't.

The Bad

First and for most, the one thing that completely ruined the game for me was the character control scheme. I've played a good number of PC adventure and action games and of the two kinds of control schemes commonly used, character and camera relative, the use of camera relative movement in SoT was by far one of the worst decisions I've seen in a long time. This isn't necessarily a bad thing for an action game, but SoT had to take it one step farther with dynamic camera movement. While sometimes being cinematographically eye catching, in others it becomes painfully clear why every other 3D 3rd person action game I've ever played almost always used character relative controls. I tried in vain to find any way to fix this simple mistake, but alas the option was nowhere to be found.

Most of the time you can at least control the camera to do whatever you wish, but often times it decides to reposition itself on it's own accord and occasionally refuses to move regardless of how bad the angle is. Typical case in point, the prince is on a ledge with the camera pointing let's say north and to the east you can see a pole and a hole in the facing wall the he has to swing to. Now the camera at this point might own its own either decide to swing around to the west so that you can't see the obstacles ahead or swing slightly to the west just enough at last moment so that instead of dashing across the wall toward the pole, continuing to push the right control button will send him climbing up the wall matrix style. Again when as soon as you make it up to the hole, camera swings around behind you to point east, showing you what lays beyond, but the shortly after you push the up button to run inside the camera will suddenly position itself on the other side pointing west. If you're not fast enough to stop or push down instead to account for the abrupt change in camera angle, the prince will spin around to match the new camera angle and run back out the hole again. Having to constantly readjust your prospective of how the controls move the prince through a hall when dodging traps is annoying, but having to do it constantly during battles is just ridiculous. A number of times when I tried to vault over a lesser sand creature to get out a sticky situation the camera would swing around enough that at the last moment that the up button when send the price vaulting over a staff man instead, which would in turn readily fling the prince to the ground with an overhead swing. Also in a few occasions the camera would get stuck with a section of wall or curtain between it and the prince such the view of the prince and his assailants was complete obscured.

My only other real complaint is about the save game points. I know that its a common, and antiquated, crutch commonly used in console games, yet it's a point that's often overlooked when porting games to the PC. At least they manged to integrate the logic of the save game point into the game better than most games I've played recently and even give you a bonus by showing you the path ahead.

The Bottom Line

I really wanted to like the game and often found this unique pole and sword swinging action/adventure to be a real blast, until I found myself caught between a battle with hoards of sand creatures and the constant disorientation induced by a runaway camera with a mind of it own. It's really sad to see a such a great game humbled by such a simple mistake.