It’s always risky taking an old, well-loved game and trying to update it. Often the transition from 2D to 3D kills something vital. Sometimes the emphasis is too much on updating the graphics, to the detriment of the core of the game that made it so good in the first place. On the other hand, sometimes games make the transition well, and perhaps gain something in translation. I would argue that Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is one such game.
Somehow, The Sands of Time manages to evoke the spirit of the original Prince of Persia while still remaining innovative and new. From the start, the gameplay is fluid and intuitive. The introductory sequence takes you through the basics of fighting, jumping, wall-running, swinging, and so on. It also introduces you to the Prince himself, who, in his desire to please and impress his father, accidentally unleashes the Sands of Time, turning everyone into evil sand monsters.
From there, you must navigate the massive castle to find a way to make things right. Along the way, the Prince must overcome obstacles, solve puzzles, and fight monsters. Exploration and getting from Point A to Point B is the bulk of the gameplay, and the most engaging. When the Prince enters a room, the player is generally treated to a fly-by view of the obstacles ahead, giving some clue as to how to get to the next stage. It may look simple, but don’t be fooled: Finding the correct pathways and avoiding the pits and traps along the way is a challenge, especially later in the game. To successfully get around requires timing and planning, but the controls themselves are very easy to master and generally don’t cause frustration.
To aid you in your quest, the Prince can also acquire powers that allow him to manipulate time. The most useful of these powers is definitely the time-reversal power, which allows you to rewind a few seconds to rethink that leap of faith you just made. Chances are, you will use this power a lot. While the other powers have their uses in combat and the occasional puzzle, they don’t come into play nearly as much, and I ended up using them only very rarely.
Exploration and puzzle-solving are integrated very fluidly. The puzzles are logical and require thought, but aren’t frustrating. Most of the challenge is actually in navigating the environment, but there are some clever obstacle puzzles to solve as well. Unfortunately, combat seems almost like an afterthought compared to the fluidity of the experience traveling from point A to point B.
Every now and again, the Prince will come across a group of enemies and will unsheathe his sword, letting you know it’s time for battle. The combat system isn’t bad, although it also isn’t particularly deep. Different enemies require different approaches to dispatch them, so there is some strategy involved. However, some of the battles later on in the game are quite long, with a seemingly endless supply of enemies coming after you. It gets monotonous when compared with the challenge of exploring the palace. It also seems disjointed, since enemies are always waiting in one particular part of a room and combat is effectively completely separate from exploration and puzzle-solving.
The game is very pretty, with varied, sometimes enormous environments to explore and travel through. The enemies come in several flavors, and all are creepy and demonic looking. The character models are quite good, but it’s really the environments that take the cake. They’re beautiful, and there are so many different places to explore that it’s hard to get bored. The camera system is designed to shoot the action from a more cinematic angle, so that you can see where you’re going and what lies ahead as you run along walls and leap from crumbling ledges. It works great while moving around and exploring, but isn’t quite so good in combat, where it can get stuck in disadvantageous positions. The FMVs used to help tell the story are very well done.
The sound in this game is very good. The soundtrack is a nice mix of Middle-Eastern influences and modern rock. It fits very well, appropriately moody in some parts, deliberately frantic in others. The dialogue of the characters is also excellent. The Prince in particular has some great lines. He spends a good deal of the time talking to himself, which can be comical at times. Overall, the characters are well-rounded and not too cliché, and the voice acting is top-notch. Sound effects are also excellent.
Is this a game you should own? I would say that it is one of the finest action games I’ve ever played, although the ending is a bit anticlimactic. It’s not too short, but also doesn’t go long enough to wear out its welcome, so to speak. Most players will probably finish it in 13 hours or so. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is definitely worth at least a rental, if not a purchase, for those who like adventure games.