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'Prince of Persia' delivers a royal treat

By Marc Saltzman
Gannett News Service

As a noble prince you must overcome numerous enemies and obstacles to save a princess.
The game's noble prince must overcome numerous enemies and obstacles to save a princess.

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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of Marc Saltzman, a freelance technology journalist whose reviews also appear on the Gannett News Service.

It's not often that adjectives such as "graceful" and "exotic" are used to describe a video game, but they fit Ubisoft's latest magnum opus, "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time."

This stylish action-adventure lets you assume the role of a noble prince who is tricked by a sultan into releasing an evil primordial substance known as the "sands of time," possessing every living thing it touches. The prince must return the sands to the hourglass before the world falls into the sultan's hands.

Other characters play a key part in the adventure such as Princess Farra, an attractive young heiress you will need to rescue; she will also help you complete the game by cooperating on tasks such as bypassing traps and other obstacles, or fighting enemies.

Similar to its predecessor -- the once-popular 2-D "Prince of Persia" computer game from the early '90s -- game play involves battling with magical daggers, leaping over chasms and traps, and solving increasingly difficult environmental puzzles.

Turn back time

"The Sands of Time" enjoys a few unique twists that separate it from other 3-D action-adventure titles. For one, the prince's magical daggers can control the flow of time -- which means you, as the prince, can pause or slow down a combat sequence to gain an edge over enemies.

Or, if the prince dies after falling off a cliff or losing a battle to a hoard of swift bad guys, you can rewind time to try your luck again. But controlling the flow of time isn't an unlimited privilege -- players must keep a watchful eye on the dagger's magic levels and replenish its supply at key points in the game.

Cinematic cut-scene sequences also foreshadow the future so you can see what obstacles lie ahead.

The prince's acrobatic abilities are another exciting and distinctive aspect of the game. Similar to martial arts films such as "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" or "The Matrix" films, our hero can run up and alongside walls, fly over abysses and leap over enemies backward before striking them from behind. You would be hard-pressed to find another video game with moves as smoothly animated as these.

Controlling the prince's wide array of moves during the game is easy thanks to the easy-to-learn controls. Optional tutorial messages are available throughout the game if you need more help, a nice touch.

Cinematic surroundings

The graphics and sound in "The Sands of Time" further the cinematic experience. Along with its unprecedented animation, the game 's characters are drawn with enough detail to see emotion expressed on their faces, and the game's expansive environments feature softly lit rooms and terraces lined with ancient tapestries that blow in the wind. "The Sands of Time" also enjoys an extraordinary audio experience thanks to the game's competent voice acting, crisp sound effects (such as quiet footsteps scurrying across pavement) and a beautiful musical score that fuses traditional Middle Eastern instruments with Western dance rhythms.

Too many action titles suffer from repetitive combat, stale environments, shallow characters and a story that seems slapped together haphazardly. "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" avoids these pitfalls and delivers a refreshingly smart, elegant adventure that's definitely worth the price of admission.

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