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Games I Own: The Prince of Persia Series

Posted on 15th Sep 2009 at 14:05 by Joe Martin with 11 comments

Joe Martin
The Prince of Persia series – by which I mean the Sands of Time trilogy and not either the older or newer games – are a run of games that I have a serious ambivalence with. Like the Monkey Island games, the Sands of Time saga includes both some of my favourite and some of my most hated games.

The Monkey Island game I hate is Escape from Monkey Island, by the way. That game is about as likable as Satan’s mother in law and just thinking about it makes me angry. Likewise, I hate one of the Prince of Persia games so much that I practice thinking about it in the early morning when I can’t be bothered to get out of bed – I hate it so much it gives me energy.

Let’s start with the good news though – The Sands of Time. The first game in the revitalised trilogy, SoT was the one which had the most input from franchise creator, Jordan Mechner – and it shows. Mechner is a truly interesting guy and is currently publishing his old journals from the time when he developed the older PoP games online, which makes for some good lunchtime reading.

The Sands of Time is one of my favourite games ever, it’s that simple. It isn’t a perfect game and the arena-like combat is a definite weakpoint, especially late in the game, but it doesn’t matter. There are some moments where the experiences you can have in the game can absolutely transcend anything you’d ever expect to feel in a game. The tension of wall-running your way out of a collapsing dungeon is enough to make your sphincter swallow your chair, while the twists and turns of the story will take you from the edge of your seat, to the floor, and back again.

Games I Own: The Prince of Persia Series
The Prince of Persia

The story is the biggest highlight of the game, though it’s the time-control mechanic that gets all the attention. You play the nameless Prince, who unwittingly enables an evil Vizier into unleashing the cursed sands of time and turning everyone into monstrous sandmonsters – leaving only you, he and the slave-princess of your most recently conquered territory left behind. Luckily, through the use of your enchanted dagger you can control time a little, slowing enemies down or even rewinding your way out certain death. Using the power of the dagger the Prince and his distrusting ally, Farah, have to reclaim their kingdoms.

What brings the story to a whole other level though is the sheer quality of the dialogue and the believability of the cast. The Prince, oddly accented and dandy at the start of the game, is arrogant, self-righteous and immature. He talks to himself about how Farah should be grateful for whatever he gives her, while she is perfectly pitched as a uniquely capable and strong young woman who is mercifully without the need to prove that fact. Both of them are deeply interesting people, with flaws and weaknesses that the game always skims over but never drowns in – and since they form the entirety of the cast, that’s pretty important.

I won’t lecture on about that game anymore – I’ll just give it my recommendation and leave it at that. You can get it very cheap, so consider picking it up if you haven’t tried it. It’s only of the few truly clever and cinematic action games out there.

Games I Own: The Prince of Persia Series
The Goth of Persia

All that changed when the next game, Warrior Within came around though. It was an obvious attempt on Ubisoft’s part to capitalise on the success of the previous game. Mechner wasn’t heavily involved, the voice actors were swapped over for more punky alternatives and the soundtrack switched from lilting orchestras befitting the fable-like tone of the original to…Godsmack. Farah was swapped out for a sexy villainess with more cleavage than dialogue, while the Prince inexplicably became a fan of grunge music and a one-man-army.

Still, while it does get some well-deserved stick, I’ve never really hated Warrior Within. The predictable, shallow attempt at a darker tone may have been about as subtle as a beard made of razor blades, but the gameplay hits the right points and the combat has been massively improved even if it is inappropriately bloody. The levels too are much more challenging than ever before, moving the Prince from the enclosed single rooms of the original’s palace to an expansive fortress. The introduction of new gameplay mechanics, like when you flee from time’s executioner, the Dahaka, are good too.

Ubisoft paid close attention to the claims that the darker tone didn’t totally work though, so when the third game came around it was quick to take the game back a notch – which unfortunately resulted in the absolutely bland The Two Thrones. The consistent highlight of the series until this point had been the story, but TTT ruined that through a ridiculous ‘dark prince’ mechanic and the return of the Vizier. It was utter pap.

Games I Own: The Prince of Persia Series
Just so we don't have to stare at more muscle-bound men

The gameplay was a dismal affair too, with the Prince now able to make superhuman leaps to stupid, conveniently placed metal grates in the walls that appear to be otherwise purposeless. Switching to the Dark Prince felt boring and forced too, with his inane whip-swords wildly at odds with the setting. Free-running through the city of Babylon should have been a dream come true, but other than when you have to scale the eponymous Tower it’s a forgettable affair.

Worst of all was the Stealth Kill feature, which bought quicktime events into the series and made them an obligatory and utterly aggravating aspect of all the boss fights. It’s something the new chariot races and the return of a Farah couldn’t compensate for.

Oh, and don’t even talk to me about the battle with The Dark Prince at the end of the game.

Number of Times Completed: I’ve done the first games numerous times, the second game three times and the last game once. Once was enough.

Random Trivia: If you’re going to play any version of Sands of Time, play it on Xbox or PS2 – it has a hidden version of the original classic in it which was cut from the PC version.

11 Comments

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Bauul 15th September 2009, 15:01 Quote
Only played the second one, and I thought it was genuinely very good. Yes the story was pap and the character's skin deep, but the levels and the gameplay more than made up for it.

And I still, still get the willies thinking about the Daharka. Boss battles as they should be done. Tense, frightening, and thoroughly memorable. Plus, the Daharka was brilliantly realised. The way everything faded to brown as it approached was a very clever visual clue to let you know how close you were to something you only ever ran away from.

In the end, I got so freaked out by it I had to ask Joe to do the Daharka runs for me. Yeah, I'm a big pussy sometimes.
kenco_uk 15th September 2009, 15:26 Quote
I played and enjoyed SoT right through to the end. I wish I could've played through WW - I did manage a fair bit, but the savegame fudged and wasn't salvagable so that bollocksed that up. The third one never interested me, there were/are better games around. The fourth (start of a new series?) I've not played much, but actually looks pretty darn good.
CardJoe 15th September 2009, 17:11 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by kenco_uk
I played and enjoyed SoT right through to the end. I wish I could've played through WW - I did manage a fair bit, but the savegame fudged and wasn't salvagable so that bollocksed that up. The third one never interested me, there were/are better games around. The fourth (start of a new series?) I've not played much, but actually looks pretty darn good.

It's pretty good, but not as good as SOT if you ask me. There's an excellent sense of character, but a few very frustrating and formulaic mechanics.
thehippoz 15th September 2009, 19:17 Quote
only played sands of time here too.. guess play the last one someday- looks good
alpaca 15th September 2009, 21:18 Quote
owned them all, played them all trough, liked the second most, very closely followed by the first. the third was nog that good, i agree. the fourth is beautiful, graphical and storywise. I did really like the fighting mecanism there. but there were only boss battles and far too easy mini-bosses. i liked the fact you could try and practice all your moves and combo's on the grunts in the first 3. the 'youcanneverdie' mechanism is stupid, but the short return of Farah made me laugh.
mute1 16th September 2009, 01:09 Quote
I've been a reader of bit-tech for a long time but this is the first time I have succumbed to posting something. Firstly, Joe, I am surprised that you did not link to GOG for the Sands of Time rather than Steam. Steam seems to get automatically linked in computing websites whereas GOG and Impulse, two superior platforms in my view, miss out.
Also, if I were to recommend a version of the game to play, it would definitely be the PC. I have never held with the view that the controls for platformers are better on a console and the improved graphics are worth it on their own. The easter egg in the console versions does not make up for their shortcomings in my humble opinion.
kenco_uk, the PC version of the Warrior Within does have some fatal bugs but there are savegames available on the internet that allow you to get around them. An internet search should reveal a solution for most of the problems. I was lucky and only ran into a minor one that did not allow me to get the second ending without someone else's savegame. Ubisoft apparently could not be bothered to patch the bugs in this or the PC version of Beyond Good and Evil (for which there is a fan-made patch if you run into a glitch like I did).
As for the trilogy itself, I would have to say that I greatly enjoyed all three. That was despite the obvious flaws of the Warrior Within (the oversexualisation of 'Shahdee' was particularly ridiculous), and I really didn't mind the story or gameply of The Two Thrones. At least they tried to do something different.
CardJoe 16th September 2009, 07:51 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by mute1
I've been a reader of bit-tech for a long time but this is the first time I have succumbed to posting something. Firstly, Joe, I am surprised that you did not link to GOG for the Sands of Time rather than Steam. Steam seems to get automatically linked in computing websites whereas GOG and Impulse, two superior platforms in my view, miss out.
Also, if I were to recommend a version of the game to play, it would definitely be the PC. I have never held with the view that the controls for platformers are better on a console and the improved graphics are worth it on their own. The easter egg in the console versions does not make up for their shortcomings in my humble opinion.

Only linked to Steam as it was the first result on google and I know that it translates the price to the reader's local currency - whereas GOG is always in dollars.

And don't get me wrong - I played it on PC too and did keyboard and mouse for all three, but I remember being mighty annoyed that I couldn't get the easter egg.

Also, yay for new recruit - +1 rep for making good, valid points in your first post.
kenco_uk 16th September 2009, 17:01 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by mute1

kenco_uk, the PC version of the Warrior Within does have some fatal bugs but there are savegames available on the internet that allow you to get around them. An internet search should reveal a solution for most of the problems.

;)

Is there a particular site you'd recommended?
mute1 17th September 2009, 00:10 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by kenco_uk
;)

Is there a particular site you'd recommended?

I think I got my savegames from 'game copy world' (I believe that was the name anyway). I haven't visited it in a while but it was a legitimate website when last I did (no copyrighted material, files to allow pirating, trojans, etc). All the same, I would be careful to use NoScript or something like that, although the worst things you should be subjected to are ads for Russian brides and virtual strippers for your desktop.

Thanks for the welcome, Joe. I enjoy your articles, by the way. I even bought SiN and Emergence, despite your warning. I hate series being unfinished, though - I would love to see a sequel to Anachronox (although with some improved gameplay), as long as Tom Hall was heavily involved. I wouldn't trust Square Enix not to ruin it if they did it themselves.
CardJoe 17th September 2009, 07:41 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by mute1

Thanks for the welcome, Joe. I enjoy your articles, by the way. I even bought SiN and Emergence, despite your warning. I hate series being unfinished, though - I would love to see a sequel to Anachronox (although with some improved gameplay), as long as Tom Hall was heavily involved. I wouldn't trust Square Enix not to ruin it if they did it themselves.

I've always meant to play Anachronox, but never got round to it. I remember reading an article ages ago about it (or maybe it was The Nomad Soul) and how it was clearly the most evil game universe ever invented because the coins were pyramid shaped, thus impossible to carry in your pocket.
mute1 17th September 2009, 23:37 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by CardJoe
I've always meant to play Anachronox, but never got round to it. I remember reading an article ages ago about it (or maybe it was The Nomad Soul) and how it was clearly the most evil game universe ever invented because the coins were pyramid shaped, thus impossible to carry in your pocket.

For some reason I thought you had, else I would have suggested it when you were asking for games to play. Actually I was going to suggest you write an article (by which I mean blog post - I don't like the word 'blog') on it.
Some things you would need to know: you will have to play it on Windows Xp (as I'm sure you realise); there are three (I think) patches for it (one official, two fan-made - and actually I don't believe you need the official one with the other two); and importantly (I found this out for myself) you will need a slowdown program (I recommend CPUgrabber). I only needed it in two places, once near the beginning and once near the end. On my Q9450 (stock), I set the affinity of the game exe and CPUgrabber to one core and set CPUgrabber to 70 (I think). You don't need to lock the game exe to one core normally but I did it here to avoid running multiple instances of CPUgrabber.
And lastly, be prepared for the first six or so hours of the game to be a grind but it improves greatly from there. There is all sorts of hidden (well, only obtained under certain conditions) content (e.g. dialogue with NPCs) and I found one had to be prepared to commit oneself to the game to enjoy it. I rushed through it initially (pressure from work) and found I was missing out. The gameplay is somewhat lacklustre throughout but I found the story and bits of humour made it worthwhile.
(Apologies for the long post)
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