"One of the most famous game franchises of all time returns in quite possibly the best game yet"
If you have been playing games for over a decade then it is likely that you have at least played Prince of Persia once. Available on just about everything from Atari consoles to Gameboy's, Prince has really done the rounds and in the last decade numerous companies have tried to recapture the magic by either remaking the classic or trying a completely new storyline. Until now they haven't been the best games released but Ubisoft and Jordan Mechner together just may change that later this year.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is a quasi prequel/sequel to the original game. The story will be split into two distinct areas. A prologue/tutorial section where players will learn how to play the game as well as discover the legend behind the sands of time. This is set in India and the Prince has decided to take over a kingdom to appease his father, inside he discovers a magic dagger which hold the key to the sands of time, and the storyline basically revolves around this dagger and the effect it has. After the Prince returns to Persia, he is tricked by a Sultan into releasing the Sands of Time which cause chaos throughout his lands. From then on, its up to you to defeat the enemy, find a girl named Farah and return the kingdom to its former glory.
After the prologue, load screens will no longer occur. Like Metroid Prime, the game dynamically loads the environments as players progress through each area. This increases the immersion level ten fold. Even at a BETA stage this game is looking very polished. According to Ubisoft, the game has been in development for three years and it shows.
Like Sam Fisher in Splinter Cell, no motion capture has been used for the Prince. This has allowed the developers to create some incredible moves for the character and some excellent combat animations. For instance, like in the original Prince of Persia, the game will feature many jumps. There is usually two ways to do this, either try and do a running jump or use the special button (R1 in the current build) to run across the walls ala Trinity in the original Matrix film. This mechanic can also help when solving puzzles. One puzzle asked the Prince to retrieve the dagger from the top of a statue. This involved utilising moves such as running up walls, jumping from wall to wall as well as many others.
Puzzles like in the original Prince of Persia will be a core component of the game but many players will have to think outside the square to solve them. One puzzle I encountered was to reach a ledge that I could not reach with a normal jump. Instead four pillars were in the room and a series of jumps between each one at different heights were required to move further into the adventure. Whilst the game will not automatically give hints to the puzzles, if a player happens to step near a useful object a few small hints may be given. Other puzzles included dodging moving spikes, jumping across on a rope, hitting a button and then somehow landing back on the rope to continue.
As the name implies, The Sands of Time are a key component in the game. With the dagger in hand, they allow the Prince to control time much like in Blinx the Time Sweeper on Xbox. To gain the ability to use these time controls, once an enemy is defeated, the Prince gains more sands by sticking the dagger in the enemies corpse. These time controls can be used at any time. A few times I was falling but the rewind function helped me get back on to the ledge.
One area which is quite impressive even at this early stage is the AI. Some one on one fights may last a little while, and if you're not on your guard more enemies may join to help their friend. If fighting more then one enemy at a time, the Prince will adjust his actions. For instance he may smack one in the face, turn around and swing at the other enemy. One nice effect is when the Prince jumps above his enemy, swings around and cuts them down in one foul swoop.
As the game progresses (the current build has a level select, thus I was able to see levels from many sections of the game) the AI become increasingly tougher as do the puzzles. Whilst there are only a few true boss characters the player will come up against, the main "boss" sections of the game will be puzzles that players will have to solve.
As you'd expect in a Prince of Persia game, the environments are set in a historical Persian city. Gameplay features both indoors and outdoors, and sometimes a combination of the two. Water will become your best friend in the adventure, as drinking water replenishes the Prince's health. The areas are multi-leveled and from what I could see exploration is very much encouraged through each area. Whilst there is a main goal to pursue, how you get there in some cases will be entirely up to the player. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is using the JADE engine, which is also used in Beyond Good & Evil.
Graphically, the game is looking superb. The Playstation 2 build didn't feature any slowdown, and the draw distance was quite astonishing. From the top of buildings it was possible to look right across the landscape (the game even encourages this by having first person and landscape views). The Prince animates really well, as do the enemy characters. The lighting engine is from Splinter Cell, and thus some incredible effects are achieved. Jumping from wall to wall dirt crumbled to the ground. It is small effects like these that should put Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time a cut above the rest at release.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time looks like it will return the POP franchise to its former glory. If what I have seen is anything to go by, not only we will have a new superb third person action title on the Playstation 2 but a highly addictive one owing to the no load screens. Ubisoft is currently expecting to ship the game on PC and Playstation 2 in November 2003 and a separate GBA version in the same month.