Remastering content in HD isn't just for movies anymore. Last year SCEA released the Sly Cooper Collection, and just last month Square Enix released the impressive Tomb Raider Trilogy. Ubisoft is partaking in the action as well with two HD-ified trilogies. Up first is Prince of Persia, followed in June by Splinter Cell. I have spent most of the last week playing the Prince of Persia Trilogy and despite some issues, would overall happily recommend it for long time fans of the series and newcomers.
Like Sands Through the Hour Glass
The Prince of Persia Trilogy or Trilogy HD or Trilogy 3D, however you choose to call it, combines three of the Prince's finest games onto a single disc. This is the Sands of Time Trilogy, and includes The Sands of Time from 2003, Warrior Within from 2004, and The Two Thrones from 2005. All three games have been brushed up visually for a fresher look and even include 3D support although I was not able to test that due to the lack of a capable TV. I'm also not able to provide you with direct comparisons to the original versions of these games as I have never played them. I have, for what it's worth, played the two recent Prince titles, i.e., the one from 2008, and The Forgotten Sands.
To get you started, the game requires a 3.75GB installation. That done, you can choose between any of the three games from a basic main menu. It's worth noting that, unlike the Tomb Raider Trilogy, you cannot leave one game and go back to the main menu to choose another game. Instead, you have to kick out to the XMB and relaunch the Trilogy. That isn't a big deal, but it's part of what made this trilogy less impressive than the Tomb Raider one, which is something I'll touch on throughout this article.
It didn't take me anytime at all to decide to start from the start, so I fired up The Sands of Time. In this adventure, the young Prince and his father set out to heist the treasure of the Maharajah. The Prince comes across a magical dagger that has the ability to control time. A villain, eager to get his hands on the dagger, tricks the Prince and causes him to turn his father and nearly the entire kingdom into sand creatures. Desperate to set things right, the Prince, aided by the Maharajah's daughter, Farah, must fight their way to the highest reaches of the palace to restore order.
The gameplay of Sands of Time was pretty groundbreaking for the time and really set the tone for the handful of sequels and successors that have since been released. Combining acrobatic platforming with simple puzzle solving and combat, Sands of Time had a good variety of gameplay to offer along with its nicely told story. In playing through the Sands of Time today, I had to remind myself that this game is in fact nearly eight years old, and should be treated as such. Bear in mind that this Trilogy includes the original game with 3D support and brushed up visuals, it is not any kind of re-imaginging or anything like that (i.e., it's not a Tomb Raider: Anniversary job).
Be that as it may, for the most part Sands of Time is fun. The death-defying platforming and acrobatic jumps and maneuvers the Prince does are as satisfying and amazing today as they would have been eight years ago. Where the game really frustrates though is in combat, which makes up roughly fifty percent of the ten hour experience. Combat sequences are clearly marked by a short cutscene and then a continuous wave of three or four enemies. As you defeat one, another immediately teleports in until they have all been defeated. Most of the time, these action scenes go on for too long and the fighting gets monotonous in a hurry. Yes, you can perform jumping attacks off of nearby walls and the combat is multi-directional, but the experience is still frustrating for a variety of reasons. One frustration I had constantly was trying to finish off an enemy with the dagger; if you don't get to them in time, they respawn. This is a real nuisance due in part to how the Prince automatically target locks onto nearby enemies. So when I was pressing Triangle, thinking he would dagger the enemy, he instead leapt towards a completely different enemy. For the best control, you really have to put away your weapons unless you want to have your view and movements centered on whatever enemy the Prince has locked onto. Doing so will likely illicit and immediate response from Farah ("why did you put your swords away?!"), the helpless NPC that tags along for most of the game. Anyway, I could go on, but it feels almost pointless to talk about a combat system from eight years ago. Suffice it to say that it has some major flaws and it nearly ruined the entire experience for me.
Fortunately, the story, characters, platforming, and simple puzzles of Sands of Time made it a good experience overall. Note that I did not list the level design as a positive; by and large, most of the level design is completely silly. Over and over again I was stunned at the truly bizarre and impractical design of the palace, what with switches located a hundred feet away from the door they controlled and all matter of other odd design. Call it 'old school charm' if you want, but it's just plain weird, although ultimately forgivable.
The other two titles in the Trilogy, that I am still playing through as I write this review, are Warrior Within and The Two Thrones. Warrior Within picks up seven years after the events of Sands of Time. I always heard that Warrior Within had a lot more combat in it than Sands of Time, which had me worried. The Prince has several new moves, including attacks from pillars, a variety of weapons, and throws. Puzzles and platforming are still a big part of the gameplay but combat took an M-rated path here and is far more prevalent. Complete with generic rock music and a scruffier looking Prince, Warrior Within shifted the series to a darker tone that the two newest Prince games have gotten away from. I'm not terribly impressed with Warrior Within thus far, and the distance between some checkpoints is exhausting (as was the case with Sands of Time), but overall it's still enjoyable.
Two Thrones, the third adventure in the Trilogy, is proving to be my favorite, Having to simultaneously play Warrior Within and Two Thrones to get this review complete in a timely manner, and having already beaten Sands earlier this week, I find the balance struck in Two Thrones to be the most potent. The most vital difference in this adventure compared to the other two is of course the inclusion of the Prince's alter ego, the Dark Prince. Not unlike Spider-Man influenced by Venom, the Dark Prince is more brutal and threatens to overtake the Prince's being completely. Of the three, Two Thrones feels the most complete and polished.
Each game has a few extra features that you can check out as you play or after you finish. For Sands of Time, several short videos are included. None of this content is new, so these are videos you may have seen before. There is a making of video and a few other videos about particular elements such as the palace, the creatures, and the Prince himself. Warrior Within has an Artwork, Video, and Weapons Gallery while Two Thrones has just an Artwork and Video Gallery.
I have actually experienced a few glitches in my time this week with this release, some major, some not major. In one instance, the game did freeze my system; it seems like other people online are having freezing issues but for me, I just had the one instance out of eighteen hours of play, so not terrible. Another issue I had, again just one time, was when I went into first person view mode. When I tried to leave first person mode, the Prince was invisible. I ran around for a minute, and at best part of the Prince would show up but it was obvious that the game broke, forcing me to reload a save. Other than that, I had a few minor clipping issues where the Prince's face disappeared for a few seconds while I was shimming across a ledge, basic things like that.
I don't think it would be quite fair to say that this release lacks polish, but it definitely doesn't have as, well, polished of a feel as the Tomb Raider Trilogy (not that it was perfect either, but still). Actually another area where the POP Trilogy earned a faint grimace from me was with the audio. The volume of the audio at the XMB and in the menus is a lot louder than that in game, although the game does have some oddly loud and awkward sounds. The birds and scarabs, for example, in Sands sound pretty awful. There is also a near complete lack of music in Sands too, although that is likely accurate to the original release (I can't say for sure as I haven't played it).
With that, lets get to the summary...