Whether you love them or hate them, Ubisoft have developed a definitive style across their various franchises. From graphics to gameplay, there are a number of similarities and borrowed elements that crop up among their titles. For instance, the similar graphics and mechanics of The Division finding their way into Ghost Recon Wildlands. While some might see this as hackneyed game development done with the intention of cutting costs or time, I prefer to give Ubisoft the benefit of the doubt by labelling this technique as an exercise in incremental design.
It’s interesting to me to see how Ubisoft have learned from each game they release, adapting and improving the mechanics of their games into entirely new IPs. An illustration of this idea is most noticeable in the super popular Assassin’s Creed series, which I feel owes much of its acrobatics to Ubisoft’s original parkour and time travel simulator, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.
In what is in hindsight a slightly offensive exercise in cultural appropriation, 2003’s POP: TSOT perfectly ramped up the platforming and combat of the original to become a modern classic in its own right. While the jump from 2D to 3D had already been attempted in the admittedly janky Prince of Persia 3D in 1999, Ubisoft’s version of the Persian prince benefitted from several years of technical progress to deliver a silky smooth and beautifully presented rendition that still holds up today.
The smoothness of the game’s design and ease of controls are very much it’s greatest strength. With the simple press of a button the nimble prince is able to run on walls, perform death defying flips, and fight with an almost seamless transition between animations. While the colourful graphics and high-res textures were a serious system hog at the time, these days it doesn’t take much to run the game at an impressive level of visual detail.
While the action is top notch, the writing of the game is passable at best. Delivered through the Prince’s incredibly poncey narration, the story follows the prince’s journey through an Arabian nights inspired palace as he tries to recapture the Sands of Time which threaten to disrupt time and destroy the world.
Luckily for the prince, he is armed with the magical Dagger of Time which gives him a small measure of control over the flow of time. Time manipulation is undoubtedly the defining feature of POP:TSOT. While the platforming is bound to see players hurtling to their deaths dozens of times, being able to rewind time in order to try again never gets old.
While strictly linear in its design, every room and corridor in POP: TSOT presents a playground for players, with walls to run on, platforms to jump to, levers to pull, and puzzles to solve. While the design of these spaces defies logical architecture, each one is unique in its design and approach and will see you utilising all of the prince’s abilities, and even some of your own cognitive capacity, to overcome.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is an undisputed classic and a high-point in Ubisoft’s past. Although it spawned a number of sequels which toyed with less linearity and other graphical and gameplay styles, the original (if we can call it that), is by far the best in the series.