Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones
Ever since the Prince of Persia made its triumphant return back in 2003, UbiSoft has been rejoicing us with annual sequels of its popular franchise. While Warrior Within brought forth some important innovations (free form fighting, a darker setting, time travelling), it didn’t quite impress me like Sands of Time had done with its incredible atmosphere. Now we get The Two Thrones, that is supposed to bring the best of both world (WW’s combat and SoT’s atmosphere). Is it a fitting end to a magnificent trilogy or has the law of diminishing returns kicked in?
The game sets off right after Warrior Within’s ending. Better yet: after its alternative ending (which you could see by finding all of the health upgrades in that game). This can make the story a bit hard to follow for those of you that haven’t seen it and even more so for gamers not familiar with the previous games. In The Two Thrones, the Prince returns to Babylon, only to find it besieged by the forces of the evil Vizier from the first game. You embark on your quest to end the menace of the Sands of Time once and for all.
The Two Thrones still has the balanced mix between fighting, platform and puzzle solving and adds some new elements. The most important one is the introduction of the prince’s darker form. The constant time travelling and exposure to the Sands in the previous game gave birth to this Dark Prince. You can only change into the Dark Prince at set times, not all the time. In this form, the Prince is much more effect in combat (thanks to his newest weapon: the Daggertail), but this comes at a cost. You’ll be losing life energy constantly, which can only be replenished by absorbing Sands. This brings some time pressure, since wandering around and wasting time will get you killed (which is kind of reminiscent to Warrior Within’s Dahaka chases).
Nonetheless, you’ll spend most of your time as the ‘light’ Prince, jumping towards platforms, shimmying across ledges, running on walls and of course fending off sand creatures. If you’re not into the whole free form fighting thing, you can use the new stealth-kill mechanic, dubbed Speed Kill. Sneaking behind an enemy triggers a sequence in which you have to press the right buttons at the right time. If done correctly, the Prince ruthlessly kills the unsuspecting victim. This innovation can spare players lots of time.
The chariot races are a less interesting novelty. Although there aren’t a lot of them, they can still cause you a lot of frustration. Ramming your chariot against a wall results in you playing the entire sequence again (unless you have stocked up some sand tanks to rewind time and try to undo your mistake). These interludes, in my opinion, take you out of the game. The game’s many ingenious puzzles are still the game’s strong point.
At set times during the game, you’ll encounter bosses that will often push your jumping and speed kill skills to the max. The first one you encounter is a hulking cyclops that easily meusures eight times your size. To defeat him, you’ll have to blind him first (he is a cyclops after all) and then finish him off. While the bosses provide a nice challenge, the average opposition isn’t that difficult to dispose of. Most of the platform sequences are very logical and can usually be cleared in one or two passes. There isn’t any annoying backtracking in the game (unlike Warrior Within), but this comes at a price. In a little over 10 hours, you should be able to clear the game on normal difficulty, which isn’t that much. Even then, you’ll ofttimes get a feeling of déjà vu. It’s still unmistakenly Prince of Persia and I can honestly say I’ve had enough for a while.
Visually, TTT doesn’t fail to impress. The environments show some exemplary leveldesign and all the levels are very atmospheric. The great lighting and dust effects bring back the fairy-tale like style of the first game, which is a great thing for sure. Nevertheless, the Jade-engine that has fueled the series for several years is starting to run into the limitations of the current-gen consoles. The models haven’t significantly improved over the previous game and they are looking a bit too blocky, according to present standards. The engine can do a lot more (just look at King Kong on the Xbox 360), but the PlayStation 2 (and the Xbox and GameCube for that matter) just don’t have the power to tap that potential.
The sound and music however are at an all-time high. The great Middle-Eastern musical score has made a comeback and fits the setting perfectly. The Prince has two voice actors (one for each form), stressing his schizophrenic nature. The more sarcastic Dark Prince has some excellent one-liners and never fails to critize the Prince’s good deeds. The others (especially the narratrice) also do a more than acceptable job.
With Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones, UbiSoft brings the trilogy to an end, at least on the current consoles. There’s no doubt in mind we’ll see a new trilogy emerge on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. However, those games will need to have a significantly improved gameplay, since basically, we’ve been playing the same game for three times now. It still tastes sweet (in fact, I would recommend the game to everyone), but the magic has gone.