Russian producer Akella has translated (“localized”) a number of PC games, including every Prince of Persia game by Ubisoft, starting from 2003’s Sands of Time up to 2010’s Forgotten Sands. This 4-in-1 collection includes the full ‘Sands of Time’ trilogy – Sands of Time, Warrior Within and The Two Thrones, as well as the 2008 reboot, titled simply Prince of Persia (which exists in an alternate, unrelated timeline). It supersedes an earlier (and less widespread) “3-in-1” collection, which included only the trilogy.
Akella‘s localizations (Russian titles: Пески Времени, Схватка с Судьбой, Два Трона, Принц Персии) include translations of all voice and text to Russian and as far as I can judge, the quality is very good. There are small imperfections here and there – minor translation errors, voice that does not exactly match the subtitles (if present), but no serious flaws. I have not had time for replaying the games in full, but the random sampling shows a pretty positive picture. In Sands of Time and Warrior Within, the cutscenes and pre-rendered videos usually feature the Russian dialogue superimposed on the English, but in-game speech is fully replaced; The Two Thrones and Prince of Persia have no instances of original speech “leftovers” as far as I could see. It also felt like the quality of the Russian voice actors and their performance improved from game to game, which is a testimony of Akella‘s increased experience.
One positive point worth mentioning is that the player profiles and saved games are fully compatible with the original Ubisoft releases – you can simply import your profile/save files from the original installation directory and they will work.
Unfortunately, although the games themselves are excellently done, the delivery is lacking in some ways. First and foremost, there are too many disks. For the trilogy, the publisher decided to include the original multi-CD releases, rather then the later DVD versions, so you get 2 CDs for The Sands of Time and 3 for each of Warrior Within and The Two Thrones, making the installation a tedious process. With the Prince of Persia DVD you get a total of 9 disks. The 3-CD jewel cases are a bit fragile, and not easy to get a replacement for, so should be handled with care.
The worse thing, however, is the DRM. Much has been said about the negative effects of DRM, especially the incompatibility of some variants with modern versions of Windows. Of all common protection schemes available at the time, Akella chose to use the most controversial – StarForce (probably because its developer is also a Russian company). Outside of Akella‘s releases, only certain versions of The Two Thrones used StarForce; most other releases in the series used SafeDisc and some were even DRM-free.
The notoriety of StarForce is due to a number of different issues that can happen when using protected games. The StarForce low-level driver is more intrusive than SafeDisc/SecuROM and can render your system unbootable if installed on an unsupported OS, requiring manual procedures to remove/update it. 64-bit Windows Vista or later are more likely to be affected, but even on “period-correct” Windows XP, I encountered a BSOD trying to run The Sands of Time until I updated the StarForce driver.
Giving credit where its due, I should mention that StarForce Technologies offers clear and helpful documentation for end-users on its website, as well as utilities for detection of StarForce-protected games, driver updates and removal. In the end, however, if your game is protected by a very old version that is incompatible with your Windows, you are stuck and even a driver update won’t help you. The ‘Sands of Time’ trilogy of games in this collection are protected by StarForce 3, which means the only OS they can reliably run is Windows XP (some may run on 32-bit Vista). Prince of Persia, using StarForce 5, should run on any Windows up to 10 (although a driver update may be required).
Alcohol 120 can make 1-to-1 disk copies or images that will pass the StarForce check when ‘Data Position Measurement’ is manually set to ‘High Precision’. The protected disk, by the way, is the last disk of every set (Disk 2 for Sands of Time and Disk 3 for Warrior Within / The Two Thrones), but the respective CD keys are printed on other disks, which can create some confusion.
Finally, even when things work, there is always a minor annoyance accompanying StarForce – the software checks the CD every time it is launched, leading to a popup which lasts for several seconds up to half a minute before the game actually starts. It is obvious why even many legitimate users often prefer cracking their StarForce-protected games.
Content-wise, the package is reasonably rich, although it seems that all the extras (poster, art book) belong to the Prince of Persia title, whereas for the original trilogy, nothing is included besides the game disks themselves. There is not even a printed manual for any of the games; however, PDF manuals are available on-disk for all games except The Sands of Time. Akella‘s game catalog and links to their online store, however, are included with every game, though. Pretty lackluster.
I would forgive the lack of physical goodies in such a complete collection, but the annoying and incompatible StarForce DRM really spoils the soup.
Overall Score: 7/10
P.S. In 2013, Akella‘s successor company PlayHard had re-released The Sands of Time and Warrior Within, each on a single DVD and completely DRM-free; however, to the best of my knowledge, no DRM-free Russian versions of The Two Thrones or Prince of Persia (2008) have been released.