With the award winning Ubi Soft's credibility at an all time high, we thought it wise to see whether its talented Montreal Studio has managed to successfully revive the long dead Prince Of Persia franchise.
After the lamentable effort of Broderbund to do just that five years ago, we wondered whether there was really any point, and whether anyone even cared anymore. Sure, the original was well ahead of its time, but we're talking about a 14 year-old property that most people under 20 may well have never heard of. Having said that, after the recent Angel Of Darkness debacle, maybe the timing couldn't be better.
Imagine our surprise to find that Sand Of Time is in fact one of the slickest and best looking action-adventures to have graced the PS2. Ever. Using a supremely well-realised hand drawn animation system, it's hard not to talk about it in terms of being 'a cinematic masterpiece' without fear of being rounded up and herded down the funny farm. Truly, it wrenches the series back to life in impressive style.
At its heart, its a good balance of platform trickery and hackandslash action, with a neatly implemented time shifting mechanic that elevates it above the traditional herd. Admittedly, the platforming element is a fairly well trodden area that anyone who's played Tomb Raider, Ico, or the original PoP will feel right at home with, but doesn't suffer for it. In fact, the game tends to stay on the player's side, not allowing you to overbalance too easily, and automatically grabbing ledges should you mess up, while also introducing some cool new moves, such as the ability to do a 'Wallie' and literally perform a gravity defying run side on across a section of wall.
The usual leaps of faith, ledge balancing and grabs may seem familiar Tomb Raider territory, but enable our sword wielding hero access to a pleasing amount of the intricately designed and lavishly detailed levels. Better still, these views give the game a chance to show off some vertigo-inducing moments.
Sadly, the demo build currently exposes a whole pile of camera-related issues, which may yet conspire to render the experience far less entertaining than it promises to be. Although you're given full control over the camera with the right stick, walls tend to regularly obscure your view at the most inconvenient moments, but we're confident that Ubi will kick it all into shape well before its November release. If it doesn't we'll be really annoyed.
Combat-wise, square handles most of the swipes and slashes, triangle performs the all-important finishing move, R2 handles the blocking, while X lets you dodge or jump. During our time with the game, the combat felt solid, certainly looked spectacular (especially when you run up your enemy's torso and appear behind them, swiping them with your sword), but felt a little shallow if anything from our limited experience.
Time shifting: like Blinx, only good
Apart from the luscious visuals, perhaps the most impressive thing about the game is the ability to shift time, which lets players fast forward, reverse and slow mo - useful in all manner of ways - but is only available in limited quantities. Up to a maximum of four 'suns' appear in your arsenal, and can be invoked with a stab of the appropriate button. For example, reversing time allows you to make up for the inevitable problems when performing leaps of faith, allowing you the chance to rewind to a point before you leaped to your doom.
Likewise, reversing time comes in handy if your enemies get the better of you, allowing you to have another crack. Slow mo, meanwhile, acts as bullet time, giving the player the edge in combat. Meanwhile, when your Sun Bar is at its maximum (i.e. you have all four) you'll be able to speed up time - all very reminiscent of Blinx albeit without the need for Hard Disk storage. Sure, all of these ideas have appeared elsewhere; for example rewind is just a novel way of giving you 'lives', while slow mo is bullet time for the nth time, but so far the implementation into the genre feels well-realised and fresh.
Sand Of Time has taken us a little by surprise, and although out doubts remain over whether Ubi will manage to convince the brand obsessed consumers to get excited, with the right support this could well be the best action adventure title out this year.