Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
2003 was an immensely good year. It can be argued that the highlight of it was this game right here: the revival of a long-dead franchise, invested with some of the most magical platforming in the history of the business. The time control powers were amazingly useful but limited enough that you could not use them all willy-nilly, creating a very nice balance and allowing for platforming design that did not hesitate to throw very difficult obstacles in front of you. The world of the game, one of the greatest palaces in the fairy tale version of the Persian empire, felt immensely cohesive, even in the segments where one needed to arrange mirrors in order to progress. Running and jumping along it felt good, felt perfect, and there was little more that could have been asked from this team.
But more did they deliver. Sands of Time has an effective cast of three people, and only two of them get any real screentime, but those two characters have some of the best-acted and best-written dialogue and chemistry in the medium. This was one of the very few video game relationships that I was able to believe wholeheartedly without having to suspend disbelief too far, and the quality of both script and acting was very refreshing.
And yes, the combat was kinda pooey and repetitive, but do I care? No. The platforming is so perfect that complaining about the combat feels rather beside the point. This was maybe the best platformer of its generation.