In his review, Brad really nailed the chicken/egg relationship between Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and ICO. ICO is one of my favorite games of all time, and it's the game I've used when trying to demonstrate to disbelievers that yes, videogames can be art. And until Sands of Time came out, it was the only game ever made that I felt comfortable referring to as beautiful.
ICO was a revelation to me because, like Brad, I had played all the pseudo-Prince of Persia games, but found all of them lacking the simple joy of gameplay that the original Prince of Persia offered. It wasn't until ICO came along that I found a game with a control scheme and mechanics so well-designed, fluid, and intuitive that I was able to lose myself so completely in the world of the game.
Now the Prince of Persia franchise has come full circle and delivered a product that is every bit a pleasure to play as the original was. Brad called the control scheme the best ever devised. One thing he didn't mention, though, is what an achievement the fighting system is. Ever since the industry made the jump into 3D, developers have been struggling to make fighting make sense. Well, it's finally been accomplished here. Despite the fact that the Prince finds himself perpetually outnumbered four-to-one, with the tight, quick controls and surprisingly wide variety of techniques at the player's disposal the frequent fights are never overwhelming.
Much like Brad, I can't heap enough praise on the animation in this game. In fact, this game could serve as the prime piece of evidence for anyone trying to once and for all win the hand-animated/motion-captured argument. The Prince himself is so luxuriously animated that he's imbued with characterization unprecedented in games of this type. I'm not sure exactly how the animators managed it, but each time the Prince runs along a wall, his arms raised for balance, I swear it looks like he's not sure he's going to make it. There's a frantic desperation in the athletic stunts that adds an amazing level intensity to all the action, keeping the gameplay fresh in even during repeated runs through the game.
Brad is correct in referring to the game's villain as disappointing. I can't understand how this mistake was made—the Vizier in the original Prince of Persia was a much more impressive villain, despite his total lack of dialogue. The developers even made the strange choice to half-develop the character, but not until the final battle. Revealing that the villain was dying of consumption could have provided excellent motivation for his villainy had it come up earlier in the game. Arising as it does, it ends up just making the final fight seem terribly anticlimactic: The unbelievably athletic soldier beating up the cancer-stricken old man doesn't exactly have a heroic feel, does it?
Also, and this is a more minor character note, I was impressed by the developers' decision to portray the Prince and all the characters in an historically accurate way—in that their morals bear no resemblance to our own, and by our standards, the hero is a loathsome character. They're pro-conquest, slavery, and the wholesale slaughter of their enemies. Even late in the game, when the Prince has theoretically become a better person, he never really acknowledges any responsibility for his part in causing all the problems in the first place, and all of his actions are motivated only by self-interest or revenge.
I do disagree with Brad on one major point in his review—his inability to suspend his disbelief when dealing with the game's architecture. Frankly, I feel he was being too hard on the game. While it's true that the game's levels are all clearly designed around the Prince's abilities, I completely accepted it as one of the limitations of the genre. His comparison to ICO's environment here is a little off-base. The hero, ICO, was no more able than the average fit young man, and the game's environments were necessarily more realistic. The Prince of Persia team were obviously trying for something a little more fantastic—how many real-life environments could off an opportunity to run along a wall, leap to parallel bars, flip from one to another, then land on a ladder? In this case, the ends justify the means—the stunts are incredible, even if the locations are preposterous.
I haven't played a game as good as Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time in a very long time. If the plot were better realized and there had been a memorable, threatening villain, I would describe it as perfect, the way I describe ICO. Even with its minor flaws, this is the best action game around, and gets my vote for the best game of the year.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the PS2 version of the game.