Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time Reader Review
The year? 2003. The publisher? Ubisoft. The sales? Virtually non-existent. The game? Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.
It shouldn't have happened.
It's been said into infinity how bad the UK's games buying tastes are, but never has it been more obvious than the winter of 2003 when three very special games were practically ignored. "What were these games?", I hear you ask. Why they were Beyond Good and Evil, Viewtiful Joe and, the one we will be concentrating on today, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was a game that had been so lovingly crafted - from the way the Prince narrates his treacherous journey, to the catty remarks exchanged by the Prince and his companion, Farah - the game just reeked of love and care. And then there was the graphics. At the time; unparalleled - it really pushed it's host system (and later the Xbox and GameCube) to new levels of graphical prowess. Super silky and incredibly shiny, the graphics were a real treat for the eyes. Speaking of technical feats how about the Princes animation? Running, jumping, leaping - everything the Prince done was belivable even the unbelivable sights of running along walls and jumping from wall to wall in an attempt to access that seemingly unreachable alcove in order to proceed.
Gameplay was nothing special, however. At least that's what your initial thoughts were. The begining of the game made you believe it was just a super-slick Tomb Raider clone with sensible controls and broken combat. Which, in a way, it was, but it was a clone that surpassed it's influence. While Tomb Raider was an immature, mediocre platformer at best, The Sands of Time was it's exact opposite - mature, innovative and although still classed as a platformer (damn pigeonholing!) it pushed the conventions of the genre to new heights - raising the bar for all who superseded it. The fact that almost two years later no game has come close to matching the grace of this title (not even Ubisoft's inferior sequels) tells you a lot. It tells the tale of an industry which is happy to emulate but not expand upon, an industry in dire need of a kick up the backside.
Now, back to that gameplay, that wonderful, wonderful gameplay. While the main dynamics of the game entertained and innovated, one area which did not - the most ridiculed of areas that Ubisoft has been at pains to mend ever since - was the combat. While not terrible in any sense of the word (that honour goes to Capcom for the original Resident Evil's), the combat was far too simplistic for such a sophisticated game. When you weren't tied up in combat you were leaping around like a mad gymnast. When it came time to dispatch some undead foes however, the Prince lay idle - he stood in one place slashing with his sword before leaping across to 'finish' an enemy by collecting the precious Sands of Time. For such a high-energy, adrenaline-fueled game (and protagonist) the combat was unbelievably slow and one-dimensional - a real let down after the high-octane fisticuff thrills of Devil May Cry a few years earlier.
Unlike that aforementioned game, combat was only a small percentage of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, puzzles were the real draw. Anyone who has played this game (if you haven't hit yourself. Hard! Very hard! I want to see blood, damn it!) will remember the feeling of dread when entering a new room - full health and sand tanks - only to wonder how in the hell you were ever going to get up to that small recess in the top corner of the room. After plenty of trial and error (and over use of your cherished sands) you finally worked and carried out the correct route. The feeling of satisfaction that accompanied this was unlike anything else experienced in a video game before. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was something very special indeed.
But as you know all good things must come to an end and in the Sands of Time's case, it was premature. Around 10 hours it was. Now I've been gaming practically all my life and if there's one thing other gamers never stop moaning about it's the length of games. To be honest I'd rather have trillions of experiences like this that last for only 10 hours than I would bad experiences with games that are far too long in the tooth (Xenosaga II - come on down!). It's a good game, and while you may have kicked through it in a day it's an experience that will stick with you for a long time to come, if not forever.
It shouldn't have happened.
No, it really shouldn't have but let's all just be thankful it did.
9 / 10