I like this game.

The original Prince of Persia was one of the best animated games of it’s time. Famously Jordan Mechner videoed his brother running, jumping and waving a sword and then traced over those images to get the animation right, and he did. The original Prince was one of the most acrobatic and realistic video game characters ever when he dashed onto the screen in 1989.

A couple of years ago, Prince of Persia 3 was released. It sank to the bargain basement bins almost immediately, because it took all of the good stuff about PoP and then turned it into trial and error. Traps that would kill you instantly without you being able to detect them, turn-a-corner-and-die moments, pixel perfect requirements without pixel perfect control. It sank, died, and that was probably the end of the Prince of Persia.

But not.

Sands of Time was released late last year. I’ve just completed it in about a week (Admittedly, this week was after playing it constantly for a while before getting stuck sometime in December at a fight. Then I lost my save-game and when I ran though it from the beginning I breezed though the fight fairly easily. So it goes) of fairly regular playing. It’s about 12 hours of game time, punctuated by long periods of leaving it for a while and then coming back and seeing exactly what you need to do next.

The actual gameplay is split into three major elements, that of acrobatics, puzzles and fights.

Acrobatics is most of the game. You – as the Prince – have to get to the other side of the room/area without getting killed. To do this you have the usual run/jump/slide/hang from ledges stuff, but a few ninja-moves that set it apart. Most normally there is the swing-from-bar move, where you traverse areas swinging from bar to bar, but you also have the ability to walk along vertical surfaces for a short length, leap between walls (This needs to be seen to be understood) and generally act like a gold-medal olympic athlete without all that tedious training. The smoothness of the controls – and the animation – make most of this a breeze providing your timing is right. You want to walk along that wall, take a flying leap onto that handy flag-pole, swing from rope to rope like a Persian Tarzan and land on a tight-rope from where you can drop to safety? Sure. Easy. And should you accidentally miss the flagpole and fall to your doom, you can always rewind, but more of that later.

The fighting is just as athletic. Whilst some of the time, your handy sidekick Farah is around to fire arrows at your immortal foes, mostly it’s you and your swords. The fighting interface is deceptivly simple – left click to swing, right click to block, you’ll swing at the enemy in front of you or the one you point at with the arrow keys – it manages to produce some really pretty swordfights. Most of the time, you will be fighting multiple enemies at once, so the ability to leap over enemies, launch yourself at them from walls etc. is handy. The fighting is mostly instictive, and helped a lot by the various powers you have…

There are five powers. The first is the one you have least control over, and that’s the save game system. The first is a ‘Sand Vortex’, in which you enter, are given a fifteen second glimpse of flashes of the future (Handy, since these solve the ‘What the hell am I supposed to be doing?’ problems) and an opertunity to save you game.

The second is the one you will use most, Rewind. Hold down the rewind key (‘R’ on PC) and the game will rewind up to thirty seconds in the past, allowing you to fix such things as leaping the wrong way off a rope, failing to dodge a falling axe, neglecting to jump from a collapsing platform or even getting yourself killed. This power is not unlimited, you can only use it once for every tank of sand you have (Which you aquire from picking them up or killing things).

The third power is that of Restraint (Freeze), where you stab an enemy and they freeze for a while, allowing you to despatch them at your leisure. Providing your leisure acts reasonably quickly.

The Power of Delay slows time for a while, allowing you to see who’s about to hit you.

Mega-Freeze (Power of, er, Mega-Freeze) basically puts all the enemies into Freeze mode for a while so you can delete a whole wave of enemies at once, which is somewhat handy.

Then there are the puzzles. Press button, put block on button, stand on block ‘A’ to reach button ‘B’. Nothing overly taxing.

The graphics are nice. I reviewed it with my 1.8 Ghz Radeon 9600 box, turned all the graphics onto full and got perfect performance, and it looked gorgeous. XBox version is supposed to be good to, and I’m told PS2 users suffer poor framerates. Sucks to be them, really.

On the down-side, I did buy my Radeon 9600 because PoP wouldn’t run on my year-old GeForce 4, so buyer beware. I’d recommend trying the demo first to see how it performs.

The plot and acting I found mostly excellent. The Prince and Farah’s dialogue (and the Prince’s odd soliloquy while he’s working at carrying out your orders) made me laugh out loud at some points, and the relationship is a real dynamic. Other people I’ve spoken to have found it a bit slow, but I think that’s mostly in comparison to other games of the same type, where the female lead must fall for the hero within three scenes or it’s dead in the water. The plot itself has a potential it doesn’t live up to, but a great deal of subtlty that is eye-catching in a field of “Hit’em over the head with it” complications. There is a lot of exposition that isn’t there that doesn’t need to be, but a great deal is left neither explained nor hinted it. They’ve announced a sequel, though, and that could lead to one of the open-loopholes in the world being hooked into. Generally the story is well written, the world self-consistant within it’s own rules, and the plot dished out at a reasonable pace.

For a game set within a single palace it also has a remarkable array of differant types of areas, although a couple could have been developed a little more. The restrictions on your movements are more logical than arbitary, and whilst it is a linear game it doesn’t feel like it.

It’s not perfect. I found the ending a little easy and the camera occasionally obscures your actions – mostly in fights – but generally I’d recommend this game very highly if your system runs it.

Prince of Persia developed & published by ubisoft (MobyGames rap sheet)