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Developer:
Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft
Platform: PC (reviewed), Xbox, PS2, Gamecube
Release Date: November 2003

by Nimish Dubey




More than a decade ago, Jordan Mechner made a game featuring a turbaned man running through dungeons, making death-defying leaps, evading traps, and dabbling in more than the odd bit of swordplay with enemy soldiers – all to get back the woman he loved. The graphics were pretty ordinary by modern standards, the story was not exactly one to rave about, and the music sounded downright tinny. But at that time (an age in which PCs had single-digit RAM and hard drive space was counted in terms of mega-, rather than giga-, bytes), it was considered path-breaking. It sold copies by the thousands, became a cult in its own right, and remains extremely popular to this day.


We are talking, of course, of Prince of Persia – the game that, according to many people, laid the foundation of what is called the “fight-jump-solve” genre. Like most successful games, this one, too, spawned a sequel that enjoyed a fair degree of success. And then it kind of disappeared, leaving the genre at the mercy of the less elaborately clad and more elaborately curvaceous Lara Croft. A 3D version of the game was attempted in 2000 but came a royal cropper, as it had enough bugs to cause an epidemic and, in spite of being visually more appealing than its predecessor, lacked its addictive and effortless gameplay. And, come to think of it, maybe a Persian Prince speaking with an American accent did not help matters!


So, there matters rested until 2003 when Mr. Mechner decided that it was time to get the Prince really back into action. And this time there would be fewer bugs, a better storyline, and more compelling gameplay. The result was Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (POPSOT).


The game comes on two CDs and installed without any problems on my system (AMD 64 1800+, 512 MB RAM, GeForce 5200 FX with 128 MB VRAM, Windows XP Home). It played reasonably well, although it did start stuttering the moment I pushed the resolution beyond 800x600. It was also relatively stable, compared to the infamous POP 3D, which subscribed to the “a crash a session” philosophy. Mind you, it is not averse to the odd crash or two, especially after you have tweaked its graphics settings.


Once launched, the game is guaranteed to deprive you of speech for a while. It is drop-dead gorgeous! In terms of sheer eye candy, this has got to be one of the most beautiful games ever. The environs are produced in loving detail – whether they are temples, palaces, royal chambers, or hidden passages. Light and shadow effects are brilliantly rendered and quite a few of the objects in the environment react to you – curtains flutter when you go through them and water ripples when you step into it. There were times when I was so busy gawking at my surroundings that I quite forgot about the enemies at my heels or the mission I had to fulfill. The main characters are well drawn and even the cut scenes, while not being in the Diablo 2 class, are more than satisfactory. The background score, with its Middle-East strains, is awesome, and the voice acting is excellent – hearing the Prince saying, “No, no, I don’t remember that happening” or something on those lines every time you die adds a touch of amusement even to death.


The story of the game is a fairly standard one, but has a few twists in it. The Prince and his father invade India and triumph in a key battle, thanks to the treachery of one of the enemy’s ministers. In the course of this battle, the Prince comes across a strange but magnificent dagger. The minister asks the King for the dagger but the King refuses, allowing the Prince to keep it. Among the spoils of victory is a massive hourglass containing what the minister claims are the Sands of Time. The Prince and the King move on with their booty to another kingdom, this one an ally. Needless to say, the King decides to flaunt the Sands of Time, upon which the minister (who has tagged along, scowling) tells him that the hourglass can in fact be unlocked using the dagger the Prince has in his possession. The Prince thrusts the dagger into the hourglass... and all hell breaks loose. His father and their soldiers are turned into demons who attack every human in sight, the palace cracks and crumbles and... you guessed, it is up to the Prince to set things right.


Doing so involves the inevitable mix of leaping, running, and swordplay. However, the developers have managed to shove quite a few stunts up the Prince’s sleeve. For instance, he can run along walls, do rebound jumps off them (shades of Sam Fisher in Splinter Cell), and swing on beams. Swordplay is refreshingly simple, with the mouse doing most of the fighting. Also, when the Prince confronts a host of enemies, the final one to fall does so in glorious slow motion – the Wachowski brothers would be so proud. Along the way, the Prince also picks up a sidekick, Farah, an Indian princess with a limited wardrobe and unlimited archery skills, adding a touch of teamwork to the adventure and also lending a much-needed hand with adversaries who had clearly never reaped the benefits of population control.


But the biggest twist to the gameplay is brought about by the dagger – it allows the Prince to turn back time. And that can be quite handy, especially if one has just received the thrashing of one’s life at the hand of some gigantic gentlemen (or devils) or has fallen off a cliff. However, the dagger’s ability to turn back time depends on the amount of sand in it – you can keep filling it up from banks of sand floating around at different places or, more spectacularly, from the bodies of the enemies you have killed. The dagger also gives the Prince a few other attacking options, such as slowing down and even freezing enemies. Of course, he does not need to resort to the dagger every time he takes a hammering – there are a number of handy water pools and fountains that can bring his health back to normal levels.


The game is not all swordplay and acrobatics, however. There are a few interesting puzzles thrown in and the Prince often finds himself having to roam about a bit to find the way to the next step - which could well be a few feet above him! Most of the puzzles are generally of the ‘throw a lever here and open a door somewhere’ variety, although some of them make matters more challenging by restricting the amount of time for which a door will be open or a button compressed. There are also booby traps – the trademark Prince of Persia spikes are very much there, as are viciously revolving thorned pillars and treacherous footholds. Almost all the action takes place in gorgeous 3D, although there are a few instances when the developers subtly shift to an arcade model – generally when the Prince has to hang from ledge or leap from one ledge to others.


The only blot on this gorgeous game’s landscape is the absence of a good game-saving system. One cannot save the game wherever one wishes, but instead has to rely on the game to save itself at certain locations. While the dagger of the Sands of Time does let the Prince turn time back, virtually acting as an earlier saved game, the number of times the dagger can be used is limited. And when the Prince comes up against some of his bigger enemies or confronts a really tough puzzle, the dagger does not really suffice. Many is the time that I shut down the game in frustration when my dagger ran out of sand – there is only so much repetition one can take, no matter how gorgeous the surroundings! And all the constant fighting and jumping can get a bit monotonous.


That said, I did find myself coming back to POPSOT again and again, for it does most of the gaming basics rather well – it mixes a decent storyline with relatively simple gameplay, breathtaking visuals, and good sound effects. While it is not particularly long and does not have too much replay value, it keeps one entranced while one is playing it.


A bit like The Matrix, really. The film, not the game!


Final Grade: 77%


System Requirements:
Minimum: Windows 98/ME/2000/XP
Pentium III 800 MHz or faster
256 MB RAM or greater recommended
GeForce 3 or equivalent video card with 3D support
DirectX 9.0 or greater
1.5 GB hard disk space


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