Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time – a (kinda) review

Yeah I guess I’m just gonna review every video game I play, aren’t I?

A sad thing happened: I actually got burned out on Devil May Cry and needed something different, so I chose to go back to a game I bought last year but didn’t finish. The Sands of Time came highly recommended–it was voted the best game of 2003, and Yahtzee of Zero Punctuation considered it one of the best games ever. On top of that, I liked the old-school Prince of Persia games so I thought the new one would contain the same magic.

But in the end… well, to put it bluntly, The Sands of Time is a game I just want to love, because there is a certain charm to it. But I can’t, and I honestly can’t see why its so widely hailed instead of lambasted to the ends of the Earth and left in a dust bin to rot. Because, the truth is, The Sands of Time is bad. It’s just awful. The faults are numerous, and there are almost no redeeming factors.

And they’re some big faults. Let’s list them:

1. The plot. The story is basically just that the Prince is tricked into setting off a Resonance Cascade scenario and now has to get to the Hourglass of Time to undo his mistake. Everything important is laid out to you at the beginning, the plot develops along completely predictable paths, and there is only one major plot twist and it comes off like an excuse to pad out the length more than anything. For some reason, a lot of people praise the characterization and dialogue, but honestly the characters are stock Hollywood and all their emotion comes off as lacking in sincerity, and the dialogue comes off like they were just trying to be as catchy as possible while completely lacking substance, with the only notable thing being that sometimes the Prince is funny. And it all leads up to an ending that renders the whole game pointless.

2. The controls. I had a lot of times where the Prince didn’t do exactly what I expected him to do. Like I would run towards an edge and press X, and he would for some reason roll forward instead of jump. Other times I would be trying to hit the wall at an angle to run along it and he would instead run straight up. In combat, I would try to get him to dodge away from an enemy only for him to end up vaulting them (or trying to and taking damage in the later half of the game), or use the Dagger of Time on one enemy and he’d wind up using it on one that was in completely the opposite direction of the direction I was pressing! Even when Dante was burdened with that annoying auto-target in Devil May Cry 2, he still controlled a metric ton more smoothly than this. The Prince just has a mind of his own.

3. Though the graphics are beautiful, sometimes they lack clarity, and I had a lot of times where I couldn’t tell what was an important object I could interact with and what was just part of the scenery. The camera tries to do the Ico thing of focusing on what’s important, but it doesn’t work near as well and sometimes defaults to some totally useless angles and sometimes will resist adjustment. I also noticed framerate issues (most notably in the cutscene just after you kill the Prince’s dad), though those may be because I’m playing the PS2 version.

4. I had a huge problem with the audio volume. It was always too quiet, unless I turned my TV up really loud (much louder than any other game in my library requires), and even then, sometimes voices were borderline inaudible. There is also no subtitle option, which sucks when you can’t make out what a character says.

5. This is a huge one: this game is badly programmed. I had two separate occasions where a puzzle was rendered unsolvable because a game script wouldn’t register. Fortunately, both times I was able to fix it by simply resetting the game, but still, what shit. I’m reminded that last year I wound up having to restart the game because of one of these glitches, which taught me to never use the same save slot twice. Thanks, Ubisoft. On a more minor note, I had about three instances where the Prince fell straight through a platform he clearly hit. Then there’s that rebounding-off-the-wall technique, which is cool, but sometimes it just refuses to work and forces you to die. I’m surprised that pretty much no reviewer seems to have noticed this, or that a game that has such a serious flaw can be elevated to such a lofty position in the gaming fandom.

6. The combat. I. Fucking. Hate. the Combat. Actually, when I started playing, I thought “this is gonna be awesome!” but that feeling goes away about fifteen minutes into the game, when it turns out this is one of those games where you’re forced to stop and kill everything, like in freaking Double Dragon, and worse, on most of the enemies you’re required to use a special finisher or else they’ll just get back up, which is a problem because it leaves you open for cheap hits, or sometimes you’re so distracted by the other monsters you simply can’t find a free moment. And enemies just keep gating in until the game arbitrarily decides you’ve had enough! The only mercy it shows is that sometimes you fight animals, and these don’t require a finishing move, but still the fights are too numerous and go on longer than they should.

7. And in fact, that was my biggest problem with the whole package: the game itself is just too long. It goes on and on, and by the halfway point I was already crying “Please show mercy and just end!” If I wasn’t absolutely dedicated to finishing what I started, I would’ve simply turned the game off. The fact is, you’ll see everything there is to this game before even getting to the first boss fight, and everything after that is just lather-rinse-repeat. It’s not like there’s an interesting plot or anything to make it worth your while, either.

That’s it, that’s why I couldn’t stand The Sands of Time. It’s a heavily flawed game, that lacks in content, has boneheaded design choices, and really could’ve used more extensive beta-testing. I wanted to like it, because some of the platforming is genuinely fun and some of the Prince’s lines are actually funny, but the good things are outweighed by the tremendous flaws.

What really astonishes me is that 2003 was the same year that gave us Devil May Cry 2 and Metal Gear Solid 2, both of which are really good games and the latter is honestly what I’d probably call the best video game ever made, but both of those get shat on while this gets hailed as a classic. Bah, game reviewers. Ya just can’t trust them.

And no, at this moment I have absolutely no intention of playing Prince of Persia: the Warrior Within or The Two Thrones. One torture session was quite enough, thanks.

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