Come with me to an ancient land full of mystery, danger and romance. A kingdom full of dangerous curses, beautiful maidens and valiant heroes awaits as we cross the seas and shifting sands of the desert towards our location. No, I’m not talking about the latest Aladdin title…If you’re an older gamer like myself, you might remember a little gem known as Prince of Persia. An early adventure hit from Broderbund, the 1989 title featured a great mix of action and puzzle solving. Players navigated a labyrinth of devious traps and chasms, fending off skeletons and guards in their quest to save an imprisoned princess. Save for a few ports to different systems, Prince of Persia really hasn’t received the attention it deserved. Thankfully, Ubi Soft has blown the dust off the gaming history shelves with its latest title, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, a title that rejuvenates the series.
We managed to get our hands on some of the PS2 demo code from E3 for this preview, and while it was still an early version of the game, the previewable game is definitely showing some promise. The initial intro movie depicts a massive caravan crossing desert sands towards a shrine in what appears to be a pilgrimage for some kind of a ritual. As the pilgrimage gets to the shrine, an unidentified person produces a dagger and places it into a slot inside of a stone pillar, which seems to awaken an ancient evil. This malevolent energy appears to possess and mutate the pilgrims, turning them into monsters that lay siege to the closest kingdom.
Facing the apparent threat is a nameless hero who launches himself into the fray against the creatures. While it’s not entirely apparent who the protagonist is in this early code, two things become evident: One, he is somehow destined to confront this threat, and two, it is evident that he can handle himself with numerous threats. For example, the hero is extremely fast and agile, leaping, somersaulting, and sprinting off walls. Skilled in acrobatics, he also can use flagpoles to swing and flip himself to ledges or parapets. These gymnastic skills were quickly put to the test at the very beginning of the demo, which featured a city under siege by large fireballs and invading hordes. The screams of wounded filled the air as the hero bounced off crumbling walls, leapt across bridges destroyed under his feet, and sprinted through hallways. With the immense chaos erupting around him, it was incredibly easy to make a false step, plunging headfirst towards the ground.
Escaping the turmoil outside placed him in a massive marble throne room lined with rugs and banners. Here, we were confronted with the first massive battle of the demo against a number of spiritual demons that appeared and disappeared in front of us. Impressively, the combat system of The Sands of Time is incredibly fluid, allowing multiple parries, blocks and combos with simple button presses. However, playing around with the camera and controller unlocks even more maneuvers with deceptively deep swordplay. Players can utilize the hero’s incredible leaping skill to perform jumping slashes, rolling stabs, and flipping strikes to dispatch foes. While he appears to “dust” enemies with his dagger (a la Buffy the Vampire Slayer), he can also slow down time to get in additional hits or perform a dramatic finishing move.
Before you groan and say, “Oh god, another ‘Matrix’ knockoff,” give me a second to explain…this effect is more like Jet Li’s accelerated time from The One instead of Neo’s space-warping. What’s more, this temporal power can also be used to rescue the hero from perilous missteps on later stages. Not only does efficient use of this skill become necessary, it becomes essential as you venture further into the game. The nine environments we traveled throughout the city appeared to range from large gardens with ornate archways and large fountains to multi-level dungeons stocked with cages, jail cells and spiked traps. What’s more, many of the stages focus on split second timing between traps, engaging your mind and your fingers. For example, one level in an outdoor plaza requires you to dodge a swinging scythe before running along a wall and jumping a chasm. Should you manage to pass that test, an even larger gauntlet awaits with scythes and spinning poles laced with spikes. Needless to say, careful leaping and rolling are the only way to keep your neck attached to your shoulders.
While still an early version of the title, Sands of Time looks incredibly polished. In fact, everything from the in-game cutscenes to the actual characters and combat looks like it’s been piped through a high-end graphics card, which makes it even more amazing when you look at the PS2 version. Many of the trademark issues, such as anti-aliasing flaws or frame rate drops have been effortlessly solved with this title, allowing larger numbers of highly detailed characters, backgrounds and effects to be displayed beautifully. What’s more, the game hosts interactive environmental elements, such as tapestries that react to the amount of force they receive or bodies of water that move believably as the hero passes through them. If the pics in this preview haven’t impressed you, you’re either blind or you’ve never picked up a controller. While some of the sound hadn’t been implemented, such as the voice for our hero, the music set the tone of the game perfectly, with a beautiful Middle Eastern-influenced soundtrack. Although The Sands of Time won’t come out until November, this definitely seems like it’ll be a game to keep an eye on, especially as the start to the holiday season starts to roll around. We’ll try to get an improved preview up shortly, so check back for an update to this eye-catching title!
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