Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is just one of those timeless stories that can't help but appeal to anyone with an ounce of romance in their soul. The story begins after a battle in India where our prince, desiring to please his father the king of Persia, steals a special dagger hidden within the enemy's palace. As the victors gather before the Sultan and the prince presents his find, the Indian Vizier, who turned traitor to the defeated maharajah, also presents an unusual gift, an hourglass full of sand. The traitorous Vizier is not through with betrayals however as he spins a tale that convinces our hero to insert the dagger into it. This results in catastrophic destruction of the Sultan's palace and turns all but three people into dangerous sand creatures.
Farah is the captured daughter of the maharajah and it is she who explains to the prince the significance of the sands of time in the hourglass and the powers of the dagger. In order to reverse the situation, together they must reach the place where the Vizier has taken the hourglass and once more insert the dagger. However, much of the palace has been destroyed, gates locked down, and defense systems put in place. In addition, they must also fight many sand creatures along the way. Farah can help you with a bow that will temporarily incapacitate the creatures, but it's not a strong feature. When you are both fighting, if either one of you dies, the game is over.
I love the exchange of dialogue between these two, which is often sarcastic and vastly humorous. It's a timeworn formula in stories that always works to add interest to a budding romance. The danger they face together brings them closer and of course, they will fall in love.
If you've played and like the Tomb Raider series, you will probably like this, as it's very similar in game style. It's basically a platformer that has you swinging, running and jumping from pillar to post with some puzzles thrown in for good measure. Fortunately, our prince is very agile, athletic and adept. It also has some serious combat situations as well. The weapons at your disposal are a sword and the dagger, which has special powers as long as it's kept filled with sand. You can fill it by killing sand creatures and collecting their sand and also by inserting the dagger into sand vortexes you find along the way. The dagger can be used in several ways; for ten seconds it can reverse time, temporarily freeze the enemy or slow time. Using it will deplete the sand, but more can be collected by killing the sand creatures and siphoning theirs. There are two parts to this function, sand tanks and power tanks. There is an ingame tutorial that explains how these work.
I have a love, hate relationship with this game. I love the story, the action and the environments, but hate some of the camera dependent movements and the save system of checkpoints. If you run out of sand and can't reverse time, the game throws you back to a retry point, but if you quit the game before a checkpoint, at restart you will have to repeat the sequences you've already spent hours beating. Make sure you have lots of time to spend at any sitting.
When I read the mainstream reviews, nothing was mentioned about needing a controller and indeed you don't need one, but apparently, as I found out much later, you have more camera control with one. I was wondering why the videos made it all look so easy and thinking they cannot possibly be playing the same game I am. Although I played the entire game with the keyboard and mouse, some tough platforming portions and battles are made tougher by lack of some control. They say practice makes perfect and you will get lots of it in this game.
The sand creatures come in several different varieties and each requires a different approach to killing them. The battles are also very long and fairly frantic as they continually spawn to the point where you will be asking when will this end. Battles are always placed at the end of platform segments with no chance to save or replenish your health beforehand. Health is gained by drinking water where you can find it and there is always water near a battle, but if you read somewhere that you will have a chance to drink it, don't believe it. The health you start with will likely be what you have to work with till it is all over. When it is, you will get a save point indicated by a column of light. When you step into it, it will also give you a quick vision of the next portion of the game. You can replay this vision any time you step into the checkpoint. There are also some special locations where you can drink from a hidden fountain that will permanently increase your health bar.
The graphics are very good in this game and stand up even by today's standards. Although everything takes place within this vast palace, I didn't experience any feelings of repetition in the surroundings. The fighting is, however, repetitive, which is not to say easy. Nor is the platforming, although both these things can be overcome by practice and learning the exact moment to push a key. The cut scenes are a bit blurry, but the rest of the game is rendered very well and there should be no complaints here.
I'm left wanting more Prince because I love the character, the type of gameplay and the story, but if the sequels are like this, I'm very hesitant to go through the same frustrations. I had some serious suicidal moments with this game, exacerbated by not being able to choose when to quit. However, to be fair, this game is tremendously more enjoyable the second time around after you've developed some skills, learned to cope with the camera idiosyncrasies, and are feeling much more confident and relaxed about the whole thing. I'll probably end up getting the sequels anyway because I'm a bugger for punishment.