The most painful thing in the world is widely believed to be child-birth, I would however contest this. Those trick chewing gum packets that hold inside a lethal metal snapping device instead of sticks of gum would make any full grown man cry for his mother. This would be an example of a nasty surprise if you will.
A nice surprise, for me at least, was Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. You see, I was not at all excited by its announcement, anticipating another 3D platformer to give 60% and forget about, filing it next to the latest Indian Jones and Tomb Raider titles. Fortunately, I was quite, quite wrong.
Prince of Persia has been quite a remarkable title since its creation back in 1991; it has spawned only a couple of sequels, both highly forgettable, and yet has remained in our gaming conscience as an original classic. Sands of Time is the game that the legend of Prince of Persia, along with his huge baggy trousers, deserved to get.
The game begins with you, the Prince, obtaining a magical dagger, within what is essentially a tutorial, that allows you to rewind time…suffice to say the dagger also contains a much darker side to it which reveals itself within the games early stages. You will end up fighting for your life within the Maharajahs palace though after the dagger releases the sands of time, turning all around into zombies.
Sands of Time features two main sections to its gameplay, first there is some incredibly intense swordplay, and secondly, some tense puzzle/trap related sections. The combat really shows off the games stunning animation as the Prince flips and leaps out of the reach of enemy blades. The wide variety of animations means things don’t get as dull as they should, as really the system is very simple, with only a few buttons used. You are pretty much always outnumbered though so straight forward hacking doesn’t work, you have to be nimble on your feet, bouncing off walls or (in one of the coolest moves I’ve ever seen in a game) running up your opponents own body, flipping over his head and landing behind him.
The real meat of the game though is found in negotiating your way through the palace. Traps are lying everywhere for you and avoiding them sets up some hugely satisfying moments, you get allsorts to deal with, razor discs, snapping claws, giant blades, spikes… you name it, you have to jump over it. Most rooms will leave you pondering at first as the route through them is not always obvious, and then when you do realize, two things hit you, great satisfaction and disbelief. Some of the moves you have to pull off are outrageous and yet look awesome when you pull them off. Prince might be asked to run across a wall, spring off it at the exact correct moment, grab hold of a bar, flip round it, somersault off and grab hold of a crack in the wall all in one move.
For me, the thing that sets this kind of gameplay apart from what you might see in Tomb Raider is the game engine. Prince of Persia is fluid, fast and exciting where Tomb Raider feels slow and rigid in comparison. Tomb Raiders engine uses a very rigid grid/block system, you know if you take a certain number of steps back you can get the perfect run-up, you know if you can make a jump or not, everything is structured. Prince of Persia is nothing like this, you are often never sure about what you are planning on doing until you have tried it, it’s far more dynamic.
Earlier I mentioned your ability to control time; this is not the same sort of thing we saw in Blinx on the X-Box however, a far more simplistic system is in place. Provided you have enough sand saved you can rewind time, this is useful if you just fell about 100ft off the top of a tower. It’s basically a way to offer an extra life. The dagger can also be used in combat to paralyze an enemy temporarily and is also essential for killing them outright.
For a console developed game, Sands of Time looks very good indeed, I have already said the animation is of the highest order and indeed the rest of the games visuals are up to scratch. In fact, some of the visual design is just stunning, the strange world made of fairy light bridges is just draw dropping, reminding me of Lothlorien from Fellowship of the Ring. The Maharajahs palace looks good too with lots of detail. Everything seems engulfed in a blurred filter which may sound odd, but in practice gives the whole game a dreamy feel. I was slightly put-off by the enemies though; their models seem no-where near as detailed as the Princes and seem slightly out of place. Running at 1280×960 with 4xAA on an Athlon 2400+ with Radeon 9700 gives very impressive results, throw in a PS2 adapter and pad and you have a great little set-up.
A great adventure with enough brain work and enough action to please both schools of gaming. Easily the best platform game I have played in a long while, like I said, I got a nice surprise.
OVERALL SCORE: 84%