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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Oblivion At Day Five

Since I picked Oblivion out of my mailbox after work on Friday I've played nothing else (hell, I've almost done nothing else!) and the disc has not left my drive. I was pretty clued up on what to expect and I was maintaining a high level of expectation whilst not setting my sights too high. To hell with that, it's been fantastic so far. I'm about twenty-five hours into this beast with the end still nowhere in sight. It began with an underground journey (one that was perhaps a smidgen too long) that acted as a delightful showcase for the game. However emerging into the light unleashed all my exploration instincts and I spent the next fifteen hours (not in a row!) exploring the countryside around the Imperial City and investigating the large city itself. I cured an invisible village, hunted down some fish for a crippled man looking to retire, shopped a corrupt city guard, established the source of some disturbingly cheap goods and generally chatted, walked, bought, sold and fought. Quick travel? Not a chance.

It was only after those first fifteen hours that I decided to engage in the first part of the main quest, not least because I'd read you get a free horse. That was excellent, a very well put to together sequence I won't spoil at the moment. After death, destruction and ultimately victory I guided my charge back across miles of countryside to what should have been his safety, only to leave their with a third traveller as we all trotted off (everyone on horseback) up deep into the snowy mountains. Since that long journey I've returned to my own exploration, visiting towns and sacking dungeons and ruins for treasure. I'm back in the Imperial City now, with my own shack to store non-essential clutter and my eyes on the Arena for my next challenge.

Combat is weighty and enjoyable, the scenery is magnificent under the eyes of HDR lighting and the game has completely captured me. I cannot stop chronicling it through screenshots or reading about the damn thing at work. More, more!

Posted by Alex Hopkinson @ 11:14 PM 6 comments

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Review: Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time

PC (also PS2, Xbox & GC), December 2003 [Amazon UK]

Sands Of Time is one of those games that, no matter how much it causes you to beat the tables and keyboards of this world in frustration, you can't help but love to play it. When you're fully “in the zone” and leaping from walls to poles like a human Sonic the hedgehog it's wonderful. Outwitting traps and finding the path that's been hidden from you for the last few minutes, it's like ballet dancing your way through the game if you're lucky. Even the simple combat model can relinquish moments of joy when you pound from sand warped enemy to sand warped enemy, leaping through the midriff of one to then jump over and slice down the centre another. But wait, that's not how it happened...

Rewinding the mistakes to bound onwards is a fantastic addition to the “picky platforming” genre, especially for players as inept as me. The Dagger Of Time is a rather handy little beast and the abilities it adds (in addition to the renowned time rewinding there's freezing pesky enemies in wave 3576 of impossible fight 6 and letting you turn on the slow motion to walk, roll and run through some traps) are an expansion to the game that's essential in its achievement of being very good indeed. Essential to me anyway, because even with all these added toys and ways to avoid death I die a lot. A few of the paths to freedom were downright obscure, or hidden by initial attempts failing so miserably that I assumed my journey should lead elsewhere. The worst offenders are some of the combat sections though, hurling twenty-five tough enemies at you in wave after wave is enough to frustrate the best of us. The combat is pretty to look at and often fun to engage in but things are too limited to be enjoyable when you're facing seemingly endless waves.

It's a testament to the overall quality of Sands Of Time that these hair-tearing parts of the game don't overshadow it's brilliance. There's a story here which is both straightforward and marvellously executed, complete with a twist that sheds a new light on the game up to that point. Your relationship with the skinny princess Farah is unfolded reasonably well, like a tempestuous first date interspersed with near death experiences involving wall jumping and soldiers possessed by the sands of time. Hmm, or maybe not. But it works with a few jumps that, in comparison to many an anime relationship, don't seem worth worrying about.

Our two beautiful leads get to run around a beautiful world as well. Despite being two or three years old I'd disagree with anyone that thinks it's aged poorly. The fuzzy glow that permeates the carefully built expanses of the palace gives everything a dream like quality. The characters, whether nubile young leads or crinkly Big Bad Enemies, all have a nice style to them that's matched in the rendered cutscenes. The Arabian soundtrack complements this nicely, and it's hard to fault the package wrapped around the platforming and combat.

Edge has lamented that Sands Of Time didn't herald a brave new approach to platforming games, that its own sequel tore apart the subtle approach of this classic in subservience to mainstream tastes. It's certainly a sad indictment of the gaming masses that this gem never sold enough to steer it clear of the X-Treme but I'm not so sure how non-Prince Of Persia games would build on the Sands Of Time example without unacceptable levels of imitation. I guess it doesn't matter though, as there was no revolution and we're left with this delightful piece of gaming history to enjoy instead. It's both perfect and imperfect, the frustrations will threaten to overwhelm you mere minutes after the game has delighted you more than you thought a platformer ever could. It's worth it though, and if I can drag my useless carcass through the difficult bits I see no reason why the legions of better gamers who may have avoided this shouldn't.


Posted by Alex Hopkinson @ 12:03 PM 3 comments

All original content is copyright Alex Hopkinson 2005. Other content is copyright the respective owners. To contact the author email: alex [at]

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