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Prince of Persia is a franchise that began in 1989. I had never heard of the franchise until Sands of Time came out which apparently is a reboot and was so successful it returned the series to prominence. I remember seeing some kind of commercial or video ad around the time it came out because I remember seeing the protagonist running on walls and thought that was interesting. Regardless, I never did play the game when it was in its heyday. For some reason, this memory resurfaced recently and I thought to myself I should probably check it out at some point. But what really cemented my decision to play it sooner rather than later was the fact that apparently it’s recognized by many as one of the greatest games of all time. That’s what the internet tells me, anyway. I then had to decide which version to play and let me tell you, that was a bit of an adventure.
Developed and published by Ubisoft, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was released for Game Boy Advance in October, 2003, PlayStation 2, GameCube, and Xbox in September of that same year and PC that December. For this review, I played the PC version. The first time I tried playing it, I wanted to use a controller and even though I got the buttons mapped, I was struggling and getting annoyed. I then learned an enhanced version of Sands of Time along with two of its sequels, Warrior Within and The Two Thrones, were released for PlayStation 3 in the Prince of Persia Trilogy 3D. So I got that.
I played the PS3 version for about ten minutes and I don’t think I’ve ever heard such terrible audio mixing in a game before. I can tolerate a generic enhancement or remaster as long as the gameplay and basic elements remain intact. The way I look at it, it’s just nice being able to play a classic on a modern system and in widescreen. However, the audio in the PS3 version is so bad I had to stop. Seriously, it’s like grating on the ears. If you want know what it’s like to play the game in a tin can or metal room, play the PS3 version. Not only that, but the dialogue volume is way too low on the default settings and from what I understand, the music is somehow fucked up but I don’t think I got far enough to notice. After failing to find a solution, I decided to move onto the Xbox version.
I had purchased the digital version during a sale and figured I’d settle for that since it’s Xbox One X enhanced and I could play it on my Series X. After about twenty minutes of playing, my friend noticed I was playing it and I told him about my experience with the different versions and he did a little research and conveyed to me that, according to the internet, the PC version seems like best version to play. That really wasn’t news to me. I was just looking for an easy way to play the game with a controller and with the right button prompts. But I decided to try it again anyway. So after our little discussion, I reinstalled Sands of Time and revisited the game’s PCGamingWiki page to find fixes for any issues and to figure out how I could play this properly with a Series X controller. It should be noted that the PC version does not feature any of the Extras included in the console versions like the “making of” video and first two Prince of Persia games which need to be unlocked.
I did install a Widescreen Fix and XInput Plus which needs to be properly configured to enable both triggers to work simultaneously in order to use one of the powers in the game. Although, I don’t know if it worked and was probably unnecessary in my case because I found a file for an Xbox 360 Controller Layout in one of the game’s Steam guides which I guess mapped the buttons differently. In the end, it worked out well and the only issue I encountered was an extremely sensitive right stick which controls the camera. But I was able to resolve that by adjusting the sensitivity in the Steam controller settings.
Set in the 9th century, the story opens with a Prince narrating to an unseen character about his adventure. The Prince and his father, King Sharaman, along with his father’s army are travelling from Persia to visit Azad and they pass through India. The Vizier of a local Maharajah, wanting to prevent his death by utilizing the Sands of Time, convinces Sharaman to attack the kingdom where the Sands are stored. The Prince manages to obtain the Dagger of Time and the Vizier tricks him into unleashing the Sands of Time, turning anyone not protected by the Artifacts of Time into monsters. The Prince escapes and allies himself with Farah, the daughter of the Maharajah, and together they travel around the palace of Azad on a quest to undo the damage he caused and prevent the Sands from covering the world. Ultimately, I think the game tells a decent tale and I like tone and atmosphere. It’s filled with action, adventure, fantasy, and romance.
The Sands of Time is an action adventure game, I would even say it’s a platformer. The player is put in the shoes of the Prince and must navigate around environments fighting enemies, avoiding traps and hazards, and solving puzzles. Some of the stand out mechanics include the wall running, climbing, and the other various ways you can get around, all the parkour stuff. Sands of Time definitely feels like a spiritual precursor to the Assassin’s Creed series, also from Ubisoft. One thing I don’t like about this game is that it’s a little too “stop and go” for my liking and that means exactly what it sounds like. When you enter several areas, the gameplay has to stop so the camera can move around to show you everything in the area. Every time the Prince survives an encounter with enemies, the gameplay has to stop so the player can watch him sheathe his weapons. It’s stuff like that. It’s not a huge deal and some things can be skipped but I did get a little annoyed with the momentum frequently being interrupted.
The Prince uses a sword as his primary weapon and the Dagger of Time as his secondary weapon. He can strike at enemies, block, counter, dodge and jump off walls. After acquiring the Dagger, you gain access to Sand Powers which will consume Sand and Power Tanks. The Sand powers are the more unique and interesting aspects of the gameplay. You can slow down time, stab enemies with the Dagger so they are frozen in time for a brief period, and one of the cooler and most useful powers lets you rewind time to undo recent actions which can be a very helpful mechanic if you make a mistake or die. Then there’s the Power of Haste which freezes every enemy near the Prince, allowing him to kill them easily and instantly move from one to another. Enemies or Sand Creatures are killed by using the Dagger to retrieve their sand or you can what I guess is obliterate them with certain moves. Retrieves do refill your Sand and Power Tanks and after performing a certain amount of Retrieves, you gain extra Tanks. Sand Clouds can be found in the environments and retrieving Sand from them will instantly fill all your Tanks.
I’d say there’s two primary challenges to overcome in Sands of Time. The puzzles and encounters. This is a linear game and the gameplay loop is pretty simple. Move to an area, solve a puzzle, fight some enemies, rinse and repeat. That’s the basic loop for the whole game. Getting lost should not be a problem and I can’t say there were too many puzzles that left me scratching my head. You typically have to solve a puzzle to gain access to the next area. The encounters get more challenging as the game progresses. Enemies usually appear in numbers and will keep spawning in until they’re all defeated. The game will throw some basic foes at you in the beginning that can be killed fairly easily once you have the mechanics down. Later on, you’ll face tougher enemies that can block your dodge jumps and have sweeping and powerful attacks that will knock the Prince on his ass and enemies can gang up on you if you’re not careful. Studying enemy attacks can be helpful as is knowing when to block, dodge, rebound off walls and strike and the Sand Powers can prove to be quite useful for dealing with the odds.
The Prince can drink water found in the environments to replenish his health and you can find secret paths that lead you to fountains that will permanently increase your max health. The only other reason to explore is to find the Sand Clouds. The game does kind of hold your hand which I find strange because of how linear it is. As mentioned before, you should never get lost and the only time I could see the player getting stuck or confused is on a puzzle. But this is where the hand holding comes in. Whenever you reach a save point, you get to watch a vision of future events which shows you some brief clips of what you’re about to do. These visions basically give you the solutions to the puzzles and you can watch them again if necessary. Not only that, as I also mentioned before, the gameplay is very stop and go and when the gameplay stops to show you something like when the camera moves around the environment, it gives you a look at what you’re in for and you can basically see what you’ll be doing and maybe even figure the puzzle out before you get started. Ultimately, Sands of Time is a linear game that guides you through the experience from beginning to end.
Another thing I think is odd is the different swords in the game. The Prince will get his hands on four different swords. The one he starts with is the basic sword I guess. Eventually he acquires the Sword of the Mighty Warrior which lets him break cracked walls with a few hits. After that, he eventually finds the Sword of the Avenging Warrior which lets him break through cracked walls and doors with a single hit. Finally, he acquires the Sword of the Enlightened Warrior which lets him destroy Sand Creatures with a single strike. I find most of these swords unnecessary. The game is linear so it’s not like you have to work or go out of your way to find them nor do you have to go out of your way to find cracked walls and doors. They are all found along the linear path you must travel so it would be hard to miss them.
It’s not like you’ll come across a cracked wall and say to yourself “I guess I have to come back later when I can break this”. There is no coming back later. The swords are primarily used to fight enemies and other than the final sword, they all function the same and make no real difference in the grand scheme of things. Other than the final sword, they don’t feel more powerful, at least not from what I could tell. And for some reason, breaking through walls requires a specific sword and another can simply break them more easily. In the end, most of the swords feel arbitrary for how the game is designed. Maybe if it was designed in a Metroidvania style could I see the swords being more useful. But even then, there would need to be a little more to the system. You know, the concept of finding new and more powerful weapons and items to gain access to new areas. The environments would need to be more open-ended for that kind of thing to work or at least work well. That’s not the case here.
You need the swords to continue the game and there’s no chance you’ll miss them. There’s no branching paths or many secret areas or more powerful gear to find or anything like that. Health Upgrades and the Sand Clouds are the only reasons to explore and they’re not really hard to find. You move to a new area because that’s where you have to go. That’s how you progress so forcing new weapons upon the player which only serve the purpose of simply letting them continue to progress through the linear environments seems like a strange design choice. It’s not really bad or good. Just strange. If the idea of the swords is to make the player feel more powerful, I can’t say that is conveyed very well at all. The final sword, definitely, but the others, not so much.
Throughout most of the game, you’ll be accompanied by Farah who wields a bow and will engage enemies which can be helpful and she’ll often help you solve puzzles. If you die or she dies, you must restart from the last save or checkpoint. Other than solving puzzles and the enemy encounters, you will have to avoid various dangers and hazards like spikes, blades, and falling to your death among some other things. At one point, you lose the Dagger and the challenge becomes navigating around the dangerous environments without the ability to rewind time.
I will say the environments are well designed and some of the puzzles are pretty creative. There’s a verticality to many areas and you can navigate around in a variety of ways including running, climbing, swinging, jumping, and shimmying along ledges. What you can climb and grab onto is always clear so most of the mistakes I made during platforming or navigation were usually my own. Sometimes the camera can be finicky but it can be manipulated easily and most of the time it really wasn’t a problem. The game even lets you enter a first-person view for looking around which can sometimes be helpful.
You’ll face some human enemies in the very beginning of the game but the Sand Creatures are the primary foes. They come in different humanoid types, wield different weapons and have their own unique attacks and I would say most of them are pretty easy to defeat. When I died, it was usually because I was overwhelmed and made mistakes but not because of one really tough foe. There are some boss battles and I didn’t find them very difficult. In fact, I would say the final boss is pretty underwhelming. In addition to the typical foes, you’ll also have to fend off creatures like birds and bats that typically attack you when you’re performing acrobatics and climbing around and in some areas, you’ll be attacked by Scarabs.
I really like the visual presentation of Sands of Time even though I wish it was a bit more colorful. It kind of has a cartoony art style and the character animations look really good. They’re smooth and fluid and add to the cartoony feel in a way. There is a softness to the visual presentation that gives it a dream-like quality which I think works really well considering the events of the game make up a story that’s being narrated. As for the audio, the sound effects get the job done but the music is wonderful and perfectly fits the theme of the game. A lot of Indian and Middle Eastern influenced tunes and melodies. On the technical side, I’m happy to say I encountered no major issues. But I’m quite certain that’s because I consulted the game’s PCGamingWiki page and applied some fixes before playing. It should be noted that the PC version can contain an extreme amount of fog making it impossible to see what’s happening. There is a fix for it and apparently it is already fixed in the GoG version.
When all is said and done, I really enjoyed my time with The Sands of Time. But do I think it’s one of the greatest games of all time? No. Not really. Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s a great game but I just don’t get it what makes it a masterpiece. Maybe it’s because I didn’t play it when it was in its prime. Maybe I went into it expecting too much. I’m going to guess no other game was really doing this kind of thing at the time it released. Climbing all over everything, swinging around, wall running. I’m guessing all the parkour stuff was new and refreshing, I guess I would even say innovative. But other than that, this is a very straightforward and guided experience. I like the theme, I like the action adventure and fantasy elements, the combat is alright, and the platforming and navigating around can be fun. But there’s nothing to unlock (at least not in the PC version), no extra game modes, no difficulty levels and the aggressively linear environments ensure there’s only one way to progress every single time you play through it. The game keeps you contained and focused on your objective. You solve a puzzle, move to the next area, fight some enemies, rinse and repeat.
Personally, I don’t see a lot of replay value here. Once you’ve beaten the game, that’s it. You’re not given a lot of freedom to experiment with anything. It’s not like some other action games like Ninja Gaiden Black for example where there’s a lot of depth to the combat and plenty of secrets and items to find, things to unlock, and some platforming. It’s also not an open-ended platformer like Mario 64 or Banjo-Kazooie where you’re free to explore the sandbox levels and figure things out on your own. Sands of Time is very linear with few reasons to explore and it even guides you through the experience going so far to basically give you the solutions to the puzzles, and there’s not much depth to the combat. It’s more or less a straightforward action adventure platformer with cool powers or abilities and parkour elements. But I can’t say I didn’t have fun playing it.
I would recommend The Sands of Time because its a great game. There’s not many negative things I can say about the gameplay. The mechanics work well and make for a fun time and I can’t say it aged terribly because almost everything still works pretty well today. It all holds up. At the time it released, it showcased some innovative and refreshing ideas. If anything, I would say the combat is the easily the most dated thing about the gameplay but I wouldn’t call it terrible by any means. Ultimately, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is a fun adventure worth going on. Definitely check it out.