Ubisoft's Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is a brilliant update to the classic Jordan Mechner adventure title that features a nearly flawless mix of puzzle solving and action. The biggest change this time are the Prince's time shifting abilities which let you rewind time, freeze the action or fight enemies in slow motion. These effects give SOT cool Matrix-style edge without feeling gimmicky. Prince of Persia's famously touchy controls have been simplified, making the game feel less imposing and difficult. Breathtaking visuals transport players to an evocative land, with challenging level designs, seamless character animation and beautifully rendered worlds. There's a high-degree of polish evident throughout with incredible aesthetics and brilliantly balanced gameplay making The Sands of Time one for the ages.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time for the Xbox is an outstanding title that lives up to the legacy of previous games, while moving the series forward in may surprising ways. As the game begins, we are introduced to a young Prince, who is on a journey with his father to find treasures amongst the ruins of an abandoned castle. The Prince finds a mysterious Dagger of Time hidden in one of the buildings and is subsequently tricked into giving an evil Vizier control of a the mysterious Dagger of Time, which the Vizier uses to unleash the Sands of Time. When released, these sands cause evil to be unleashed over the land that turns the king and most other living things into sand. After these horrific events, the prince takes back the mysterious and powerful dagger and is spared their fate. He finds himself alone in the largely empty castle as a consequence of this mistake. His mission is to avenge this act of betrayal, eventually facing the evil Vizier. However, he is not alone, a young princess Farah also survived the curse and will help you along the way. Additionally, the Prince has been granted unearthly powers that allow him to bend time and space itself, which he can use to his advantage. The adventure begins inside the walls of the now forbidden castle, which is full of adventure and surprises.
While the cutscenes are more elaborate than previous games, and the bullet-time special effects are viscerally thrilling, the underlying gameplay remains faithful to the classic Prince of Persia formula. Sands of Times mixes strategy, puzzles and combat modes with great deal of sophistication. The level designs are massive with challenging puzzles creating an engrossing and challenging game that should challenge even the best players. The sands of time have released Sand Demons, an army of undead foes who will battle the prince at every turn. There are many types of these demons with the two main types being human and animal. They attack you from all sides at once, and you have to unsheathe your sword to attack them. Additionally, you can attack them when frozen using special moves, or can turn back time if you take too much damage. However, you have to collect the sands from them as they die, or they'll respawn quickly. These battles can be quite challenging but the prince can jump over foes or strafe out of range of their attacks. The earlier foes are relatively easy to defeat, but later on the enemies become absolutely fierce, requiring repeated blows in order to dispatch them permanently.
While you'll face many foes, the palace is a challenging foe in and of itself. There are loads of vexing puzzles, impossible gaps and hidden traps to traverse. Most of the massive multi-tiered levels usually require you to think ahead and examine the layouts beforehand. Many areas require players to perform tricky jumps between multiple platforms that can be surprisingly tough. Players will also have to shimmy across ledges and make perfect leaps to other platforms. This is harder than it sounds because the next platform isn't always visible, which can make things tricky. For example, in order to escape from one chamber, the Prince has to swing from a bar, run up a wall, then jump to a second or third higher bar. There are also many areas where you'll have to jump between columns. Positioning the Prince at the right angle here is important, otherwise, you'll plunge to your death. Players will also face elaborate puzzles that range from relatively simple to nightmarishly complicated. One of the most impressive aspects of Sands of Time lie in the 'visions' the Prince receives between levels. These dreamlike sequences reveal the paths and obstacles that lie directly ahead. The cutscenes in Sands of Time reveal significant information about what lies ahead, so it's a good idea to pay attention to them and not skip ahead. Unlike many other platform titles the game is more cerebral, so it's a good strategy to take your time and think before you leap. The early levels are relatively straightforward, later levels become more complex and introduce potentially deadly traps and obstacles such as spinning spikes. The developers have created an excellent balance between action and strategy and the game's levels unfold at an excellent pace, creating a deeply satisfying gameplay experience. Sands of Time's level and puzzle designs are nearly flawless and its complexity and difficulty should keep even veteran players challenged throughout.
The game's signature this time around is its unique use of time. While other games have tried to implement similar techniques, none have so successfully integrated this into the main game. Whenever the character makes a mis-step, you can recover using the sands of time, and rewind to the point immediately before your mistake. However, you have to be careful not to stop the reverse mode too quickly, otherwise you'll just be reliving the same mistake again. Timing the rewinds is a bit tricky at first, but gets easier as you move along. This makes things less frustrating than they could have been. When you go back in time, any energy you have lost during that time is also returned to you. Be careful, since the Dagger of Time holds a finite amount of sand and once you lose all your energy, you have to return to the start of the level. There are two ways that you can increase the amount of energy in your Dagger. The first is by plunging it into a dust cloud or by collecting it as it rises from defeated foes. The prince collects it by plunging his dagger into them. Still, you only have a limited number of slots to use, so be careful.
The Prince himself is quite athletic and has a number of impressive abilities. In order to traverse each level, he can swing on bars, jump over large gaps, hang from and move on ledges and even run on the sides of walls. The controls make performing all these moves a snap, the trick lies in knowing when to use them. In order to move n in each level, you have to use some of these abilities simultaneously, which makes things trickier than they seem. Fortunately, the game includes onscreen text that helps you figure out some of the trickier areas. The controls are surprisingly intuitive unlike previous games. Players move using the right analog stick and control the sands of time and the dagger using the face button. The smartly designed interface comes alive thanks to the context-sensitive right shift button which is used to run along walls, released to jump when swinging on bars, and to perform blocks during combat. While the default camera angles are excellent for the most part, there are a few points during the game where you may want to change angles, to either see where you're headed or to get a general lay of the land. You can change your viewpoint manually with the right shift button or can press down on it which brings you back to a default angle. Unlike previous games that were marred by touchy controls, The Sands of Time is much easier to play and generally gives players more leeway. This interface allows many of the more complex tasks to be completed with surpising ease, allowing you to concentrate on the puzzles and action, instead of spending all your time trying to master the controls.
The gameplay is beautifully designed but the icing on the cake lies in the amazing visual landscapes that Sands of Time transports players into. The graphics are flawless throughout and the Xbox version really shines with smooth textures, detailed character models and elaborate level maps creating a cohesive, authentic environment. Everything is filtered through a soft-focus lens that gives the game a gauzy dreamlike quality. The character animations are remarkably lifelike and fluid with the Prince's animations giving him a startlingly lifelike appearance. The game's expansive levels are rich in detail with great attention given to even the smallest details, such as hanging banners that sway realistically in the air as you pass through them. There are also dynamic water effects and brilliant light sourcing used to bring the cursed palace to life. The audio also excels with excellent voice acting bringing the character's vividly to life, though the Prince's snobbish British accent seems a tad out of place. An evocative Eastern-influenced soundtrack compliments the action sequences by adding drama, while the lack of music during the puzzle sequences underscores the prince's isolation effectively.
While the previous attempt to bring the series to 3D failed to live up the classic series standards, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time does the franchise proud. The game's balance is a perfect blend of action and strategy with an engaging story that unfolds at a good pace. The controls are simplified with an intuitive yet sophisticated interface allowing players to perform a variety of elaborate moves relatively easily. The game's action sequences are quite intense in their own right, and the time shifting abilities are integrated seamlessly into the game, making them feel natural, not gimmicky. From a visual standpoint, Sands of Time is beautifully designed and richly detailed, creating an evocative, expansive series of environments that transport the player back in time. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time isn't a retro rehash, instead it updates the classic elements of the series intelligently and adds surprisingly cool new elements that make for a sleek, contemporary game that feels fresh. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is a sometimes challenging, yet richly rewarding title that ranks as one of the best console adventure titles to date.