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Prince of Persia 3D fulfills its heritage

October 22, 1999
Web posted at: 12:11 p.m. EDT (1611 GMT)

by Peter Olafson

screen shot

(IDG) -- When Prince of Persia 3D strikes the chords that first sounded a decade ago in Jordan Mechner's original platformer and in its 1993 sequel, it's a beguiling blend of swordplay and action-oriented puzzle.

Once again, dark forces have separated the Prince and Princess -- this time the Sultan's brother and his half-tiger son, Rugnor, who has his eye on the young lady. (If ever there was an ill-fated romance, this is it!)

Once again, our hero is thrown into a dungeon and must hack, jump, run, swing and hang his way back to the Princess' side. It's a bumpy route. In the 16 levels you'll traverse, every stretch of bland hallway becomes a potential deathtrap, every chasm a challenge, every vague handhold a potential path up and out.

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Along the way, you'll push and pull a variety of objects (sometimes onto enemies' heads), quaff potions with a range of magical effects (from healing to toxic), have the occasional static conversation with innocents, set off the usual pressure-plate and lever-operated doors, duck under and leap over traps, snipe using bow and arrow and engage in ferocious close-quarters battles.

Even with "Gore" enabled, PoP3D's not bloody, but hand-to-hand combat is nevertheless a wrenching affair, with bursts of colored light to indicate hits. It's clever, beautiful and effective. Who needs force feedback? When I got beaten up in PoP3D, I felt every blow.

The 3D is pleasant -- it's especially nice to be able to elude enemies -- and the graphics (notably in the dilapidated docks) can be moody and artful. (However, some enemies and effects, like the rocket-arrow traps on the dirigible, seem oddly primitive.)

But remember: Prince of Persia was fundamentally a simple game -- the success of which was based largely on the realistic movements of its main character and the fiendish design of its levels, and both those elements are well represented here.

Whether the scowling Prince struggled to pull his arm from a giant stone face, edged along a narrow ledge or administered the killing blow to an adversary, his movements were human and it was easy to identify with him. (One exception: The Prince's run seems off. He looks as though he's traversing a bed of hot coals.)

However, realistic movement has come a long way since Prince of Persia 2 -- it's no longer much of a surprise to find a character that moves like a real person -- and it's the level design in PoP3D that really makes an impression. This is not simply Tomb Raider with expensive carpets.

Almost all of the levels I liked best--a tower, a cistern, a vast library, a palace entry, the huge dirigible--were constructed with an emphasis on the vertical. It's an inspired decision and one happily consistent with PoPs of old. These levels are physically imposing. (You have only to look down to see where you've been.) They are dense with potential and possibility, and death is always one errant step away.

Unfortunately, control and technical problems sometimes cut across this third-person action/adventure's sweet song. The update of the perspective often lags a fraction of a second behind the controls. This can make it difficult to direct the Prince accurately -- when you're starting out, it can take some work just to get through a door -- and set him in motion promptly.

Moreover, no provision has been made for mouse control or even just a "mouse look" function.

As in the Tomb Raider games, the camera angles are often unhelpful. If the Prince's back is to the wall, the view doesn't shift to an informative overhead or first-person perspective, but a side or frontal view of the Prince himself.

To be sure, you can use the keypad to adjust the view, but it's sustained only as long as you hold the keys and you can't do anything else at the same time. When the Prince is in narrow confines, the camera is sometimes positioned too far out--with an effect that sometimes reminds us that we're in a game and thus works against suspension of disbelief.

Moreover, the "Save" option frequently wouldn't appear on the options screen until I re-selected it, and sometimes it didn't appear at all. (This appears related to the camera-lag issue.)

On a system equipped with a Turtle Beach Montego II Quadzilla, I got popping during the intro and no sound effects or speech during the game. (The audio doesn't stand out, but I still love the descending flourish the game uses when the Prince dies.) In the library, I walked the Prince out into thin air…and he did not fall.

And while enemies can be imposing in combat (though I've seen some suddenly drop their guard for no reason), they don't run when hurt, don't follow up on obvious indications of your presence, are easy to fool, and don't pursue you. One that did try to follow the Prince got stuck in a doorway, shuddering wildly.

I can sympathize. I'm going back and forth a bit myself. But, overall, I'd rather deal with the problems I've experienced than pass up the pleasures of these towering levels.

PoP3D isn't king of third-person action/adventures. But with some repairs, it could be next in the line of succession.


  • In the library, you'll need the yellow flask in the raised area to the left of the sniping guard in order to make the spectacular jumps required to reach the top of the stacks.

  • Don't edge your way into combat. While it won't always work, unsheathing your sword in close proximity to an enemy may well allow you to get in several unanswered hits before they can recover.

  • In the Streets/Docks level, don't try to tackle the two guards at the beginning of the level. Instead, quickly climb on the box to your right and jump to the ledge. (Sometimes you'll have to fight, but, given the limits of the guards, running away is often an effective substitute for combat.)

  • On the third of the dirigible levels, you may run into a dead-end (an apparently impossible long jump that provides access to a vertical conveyor belt). The trick here is to look up. You'll see that two suspended crates are balancing one another. If you stand on the one on the far side of the balloon, you'll raise the one closer to the conveyor far enough to allow you to use it as a launch pad for the jump -- provided you can race back to it before it lowers again.

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