What is it?
Prince of Persia: Sands of Time (or PoP4 as it will be henceforth known), is an action-adventure, set in an Arabian environment.
Yes, I know that means lots of complicated controls (there's about 12 keys and the mouse is used too) and doesn't fit into our usual point-and-click preference here on GB. But, this one is worth the effort, I think.
The highlights (to be described further, below) include some pretty acrobatic moves for our leading character, stunning graphics, and game play that Core Design would kill for!
Where does it come from?
Surely we all heard of Jordan Mechner by now? No? Well, he's the guy who wrote the original revolutionary, 2D, rotoscoped Prince of Persia. It had a simple plot: bad guy kidnaps princess, street kid (rather like Aladdin) has to rescue her, by exploring the castle, fighting the bad guys and solving the puzzles. By the way, he also wrote the Last Express - a title that's probably better known around here. [Smile]
Prince of Persia 2 and 3 both took this idea and did it again... 2 was more platform-y, and 3 full 3D (quite a lot of fun, IMHO, but a bit clunky by today's standards).
Is there a plot?
Yes. And it's not the same as the previous three games. The Prince (yes, he's been promoted since starting these adventures) has stolen a mysterious dagger and has been tricked by the Vizier (never a character to be trusted in an Arabian tale), into using it to release demons upon the land. Now it's his job to clean up the palace and save the kingdom.. and there's a pretty girl to chase, rescue, and (possibly) marry too. Ahh, what would life be without 'structure' to our games.
Having said that the story is somewhat clichéd, the story telling within the game is nicely presented in frequent short cut-scenes giving you a preview of where you need to try to get to (some rooms need this preview to give some shape to how you approach them), and some rather nice flash-forwards that give hints of the acrobatics yet to come. This is something I think has been done well here, and other developers could learn from this!
How do you play?
As I've already mentioned, the controls for this game are reasonably complex (though less so that Outcast, IIRC). However, it's a case of one hand on the mouse, to control the camera (rotation about the Prince) and click to use the sword and do some moves (I'll come back to those in a moment [Big Grin] ), and one hand on a small area of keys (centred around W,A,S,D) for control of the Prince and his weapons. After a little practise, I found this worked fine, despite my usual preference for simpler controls.
Okay, those acrobatic moves. One word... WOW! The first time I saw the Prince do his wall-running stunt, I knew I was immediately back where I was when I first played Tomb Raider back in 1996. Our hero is a stunningly well animated guy, who does moves that would make Ang Lee proud - if you enjoyed the 'ballet' in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", then you'll love this!
Of course, this being a Prince of Persia game, there's fighting involved. Not all the time, certainly, but there are times when it gets a bit involved! There are always more that one opponent... but the Prince always manages to outclass them in the end! I did find some frustrating periods with some of the more difficult timed sections (a major part of this game) and some of the later fights. Though I think these added to the challenge, rather than putting me off.
Any other novelties?
There is one idea introduced in PoP4 that I've never seen before... a rewind function! Once you have the dagger of time in your grubby little hands, you can rewind up to 10 seconds of action at almost any time. So you missed that jump (after all, this is a platform game to a certain extent [Wink] ), not to worry... rewind will take you back to the point just before you made it. Be warned, however, the dagger does not have infinite power.
The graphics are wonderful. Not a glitch anywhere! No pop-up polygons nor limbs vanishing into walls. Something else for Core to take notice of. The palace is nicely modelled and feels quite real. My only quibble is that Prince of Persia 3D actually managed to look beautifully decorated (if slow & jerky in places), whereas these environments are a bit more staid... so far, of course.
The bad guys are as well animated as the Prince, with a nice level of detail, and plenty of attention to visual effects and so on. They even come across as reasonably intelligent on occasion, except for their willingness to throw themselves at the Prince who's clearly a rather special chap! [Smile]
I have a rather limited sound system, so although there are nice bits of voice-over commentary, and good sound effects, and music, I can't really say anything about any 5.1 or EAX issues. The sounds are well done, and keep the mood well. And the voice acting is so much better than many adventure games where the voices could be considered to be rather more important!
This next point counts as a real novelty in my book: the game has been remarkably stable in these days of game patches being released the day after the game hits the shops! AFAIK, there is no patch. But then, in my experience, there is no need for one! The only crashes I experienced were during a period when the entire machine was being unreliable, due to a hardware fault.
Ok, this is an adventure game, so what about the puzzles. Well, most of them are physical. There are places where the Prince has to jump between columns, climb walls (which he does rather more dynamically than Lara Croft ever did), creep along ledges, dodge things, etc. There are a few moving block and lever puzzles, but as the game progresses, the Prince gets more moves.. rope swinging, and narrow wall-top walking, and his sword gets updated a few times, so there are puzzles that make use of these abilities.
What do you need to play it?
Win 98 SE/Win ME/Win 2K/Win XP
Pentium III 800Mhz or faster
256MB RAM or more
Geforce 3 or better (Geforce 4 MX is explicitly *not* supported)
DirectX 9.0b (on the CD, although the website claims 9a is sufficient!)
(I used Win XP, AMD 1300 Thunderbird, 384 MB RAM, ATI Radeon 9000 Pro 128 AGP)
Downsides: Limited saves... this game is more in the console style than a normal PC game. Non trivial hardware requirements (for the time).
Upsides: Novelties like rewind. The story telling. The graphics. The acrobatics! And the overall excitement. This is what Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness could and should have been, but is so far short of. [Frown]
In fact, I found TR: AoD so dull and lifeless that I got no further than the bomb (people who've play AoD will know what I mean). PoP4 is so much more exciting, it took me a month (of 2-4 evenings per week) to complete. And, like PoP3D, it's one I'll come back to in the future.
Unfortunately, this game has received a rather muted and somewhat negative reception in the reviews I've seen thus far. The notable exception to this is JustAdventure's review which is nearly as positive as mine. And GameSpot ran a series on the final days of the PoP4 project.
If you enjoy action, this is a definite winner, and so, finally, I have to give this game an A!