Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time Updated Impressions

We check out new levels in the PlayStation 2 version of Ubi Soft's impressive-looking upcoming action adventure game.

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We recently had the opportunity to get a look at some new levels in Ubi Soft's upcoming revival of the Prince of Persia franchise, called Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. The game is being developed for the Game Boy Advance, GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox, and PC, and features an engaging new spin on the series' classic swashbuckling gameplay. Our look at a new version of the PlayStation 2 game impressed us with its solid and inventive gameplay, slick graphics, and polished feel.

The levels we saw showed off more of the general gameplay and the prince's skills, which will be sorely tested, judging by the apparent challenge of these levels. One indoor level found the prince doing an impression of the Hulk and smashing through a series of walls in search of a character that was calling out for him. The level showed off some new enemies, sand-powered scarabs, which were suitably annoying, as well as more humanoid foes. Another indoor level showed off some intricate puzzles that required much wall-running and many white-knuckle leaps to nearly out-of-reach perches. Another level, which started with some combat at the exterior of a building, showed off the prince's speed power. While the final appearance of the ability is still being tweaked, the rough look to it is about what you'd expect--a Matrix-like effect complemented by afterimages and speed lines as the prince hauls tail. The ability proved to be quite handy in combat, allowing for fast and deadly combos to strike down foes before they knew what had hit them. During the combat portions of the game, we were able to see a few new fighting moves from the prince, most notably a stylish leap off a wall and some acrobatic flips. Another cool element we saw was in a rooftop level--a character could be seen helping the prince by firing on foes just out of the combat zone.

The final level we saw was an interior environment that was gorgeously lit and decked out with cool particle effects to simulate falling leaves--this level also showed off some of the more advanced puzzles. We had to make use of all the gameplay mechanics seen in the early part of the game and in the E3 demo to progress in the level. The multitiered challenges will make you work for success--at one point you have to swing on a rope to hit two wall switches, backflip to catch the rope as you hit each switch, then make it through a doorway. Later in the same level you face another timed switch challenge, and you have to race for an open door by running across a wall littered with moving blades. As we tried out these new challenges, we were struck by the realization that, depending on how the gameplay is balanced, Prince of Persia could end up being one of those sublimely tough games, along the lines of BioWare's excellent MDK2, that abuse you but keep you coming back for more. The key factor is going to be the prince's powers, which have been fairly unlimited in the demos we've played. When playing the final version of the game, you'll have to be much more careful about when you use them, since some limits will be imposed on them.

The graphics appear to be coming together just as nicely as the gameplay. While we're understandably impressed by the fact that the new environments we saw featured a high level of detail that matched the quality of the characters, we have to say what's impressing us isn't any one thing in particular. Yes, the prince looks and moves with impressive fluidity, but he's really just one piece of a very cool package. The creepy assortment of foes you'll face move almost as smoothly, and the aforementioned environments are looking great and feature some nerve-rattling traps and puzzles. But what's ultimately making the game shine is how the whole package comes together. The core graphics are complemented by a host of little touches, such as the lighting and particle effects, the various special effects for the prince's sands-of-time-fueled powers, and the fluid cloth animation. Our favorite little touch, however, is the soft focus used to give the game a soft, dreamlike haze. This rather simple effect sets the game's impressive atmosphere, and it sucks you in and doesn't let you go.

The audio in the game is still in progress, but it's sounding pretty good even in its unfinished state. The prince's voice sounds appropriate, and the sound affects, especially during combat, are satisfying. The music we heard in the levels--contemporary tunes with a Middle Eastern influence--worked very well. A cool touch is the way the music distorts when you use the prince's time power. When you activate the power, the music slows down and warps as you go about your business, returning to normal when you're done. In speaking with Ubi reps, it sounds as though the effect will be tweaked for the final game, but we hope it remains in the game in some form. The effect complements the game's misty, surreal look quite nicely.

It's probably not much of a surprise to hear that Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is shaping up really well. The game didn't appear to be in any sort of trouble when we saw it at this year's E3, so anyone looking forward to it should rest easy knowing that Ubi's Montreal studio appears to be on point. The impressive graphics, polished gameplay mechanics, and level design seem to be really coming together. At this point we would just like an updated look at the GameCube, Game Boy Advance, Xbox, and PC versions to find out what coolness is cooking on those platforms. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is slated to ship this fall for the Game Boy Advance, GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox, and PC. Look for more on the game in the coming months. For more on the game, check out our previous coverage and some movies of the game in action.

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