Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones
Sprinting In a wide arc along a crumbling palace wall, I hook my chain onto a lantern above my head and propel myself towards the other side of the room, before plunging my blade into some conveniently-placed drapery and tearing downwards at alarming speed. I then leap away from the wall, use my chain like a grappling hook to vault across a precarious chasm (who builds chasms in palaces, honestly, health and safety would be up in arms)wedge myself between two walls (legs split, a la Splinter Cell) and slide downwards, before finally dropping silently behind a person whose neck is about to get intimate with my dagger. And all in one fluid and perfectly choreographed movement with very little room for error. Get it right first time and you feel like a god, or at least a Cirque du Soleil reject; get it wrong and you can rewind time a bit and try again, pissing in the face of death and giving two fingers to the laws of space-time.
You'll know exactly what I'm talking about if you've played either of the last two Prince Of Persia games - improbable acrobatics and time-altering antics are the bread and butter of the series. The latest doesn't wander too far from the proven formula of combat followed by jumping followed by fighting followed by leaping -in that order. In a way, nothing's really changed here, but in another, altogether more accurate way, it has. Whereas Sands Of Time touted a jolly, colourful Prince with a sarcastic attitude (Jonathan Ross), and Warrior Within had a much moodier, grown-up Prince (Ross Kemp), The Two Thrones falls somewhere in between, with the Prince acting like a humorously cynical hard-ass (Steve Hill).
Prince Of Darkness
But first, an explanation of the title. The Two Thrones (insert the obvious toilet gag here) refers to the Prince's newfound splitpersonality and the game's shiny new staple. Basically, the Prince is attacked by an unpleasant lady with a huge barbed chain which gets lodged in our hero's arm. Soon after he becomes infected with the infamous Sands Of Time, which turn him temporarily into an evil version of himself, aptly titled 'the Dark Prince'. The NHS is helpless to fight the infection, having not been invented yet (typical NHS), and the Prince is left to endure an epic internal struggle between good and evil, occasionally conversing and arguing with his evil (and annoyingly sarcastic) conscience, floundering in a sea of morality and eventually discovering what it means to be a true warrior. It's all quite meaningful, and if you're not careful you could slip into deep philosophical thought while using your barbed chain to brutally smack about some enemies.
Despite being harder, better, stronger and faster than the Regular Prince, the Dark Prince, as you'd expect, comes with some drawbacks. The main one is that you can't change into or out of your evil form at will (the changes are scripted), along with the fact that as the Dark Prince, your health is constantly depleting - the only method of staying alive is to find sand either by smashing furniture or killing enemies. You can't help but feel that these are decisions Ubisoft Montreal didn't make lightly. For instance, the ability to change into your alter-ego whenever you wanted would've changed the game almost entirely. This is because the levels are designed with a specific version of the Prince in mind, so some sections will be rife with places to use your chain, while others will cater for the normal Prince's more modest array of abilities. Meanwhile, the decision to have the time-limit on the Dark Prince's lifespan adds a sense of urgency which couldn't have been achieved in many other ways. Besides, your diminishing health doesn't really pose much of a problem as long as you don't stand around admiring the Dark Prince's groovy new hairdo for too long.
We have to admit though, the Dark Prince makes a terrible first impression. At first, the Dark Prince feels underpowered (despite the fact that he's actually more powerful), and the chain weapon which replaces your secondary weapon slot and prevents you from doing leaping melee attacks (an extremely useful move that can kick enemies off ledges) feels clumsy and inaccurate.
In time, however, you'll warm to his charred skin and evil, staring eyes, and once the Dark Prince's full athletic potential is realised, he becomes a joy to control, easily outshining the regular Prince's acrobatic manoeuvres. Plus, the chain which at first seemed like a hindrance soon becomes integral to getting about, acting as a grappling hook. It also becomes a favoured weapon, particularly when surrounded by multiple enemies.
Dance The Dance Of Death
Common to both the good and evil Princes are the flashy new speed kills. Creep up behind an enemy, wait for the screen to flash and then launch into a superbly animated death sequence which sees you hitting buttons when your dagger flashes. If you fail to hit the button at the right time, you cock-up the sequence and get slapped about embarrassingly by your would-be victim.
OK, so it's here that the title's console leaning are most apparent (you should be playing this with a pad anyway), but not only do speed kills allow you to kill enemies quickly and safely (well, mostly safely), they also play a role in sections of the game where it's important to kill a certain enemy before he spots you and calls in reinforcements. Boss fights also employ speed kills as the preferred method of death-dealing, which makes for fantastically cinematic and beautifully animated combat. Add to that the fact that hanging upside down from a chain before stealthily dropping to the floor with cat-like grace, pouncing on a seven-foot tall soldier's back, plunging your dagger deep into his shoulder, flipping over to stare your foe in the face before tearing downwards and splitting him open... Well, that's just really, really cool.
Do It Again
So what else has changed? Ubisoft has tried somewhat successfully to remedy the repetitive nature of the last two games, adding some scenes where you race through the streets in a chariot, fending off attackers from all sides and trying not to plough horse-first into a wall. It's rather bland action but it's fun all the same, with controls that could've been a whole lot worse and a decent sense of speed. The boss battles are bigger, more epic, far more interesting and bloody difficult at times too, more so than in the previous games (as people in our office within earshot of me can vouch for). But for the most part, you'll be in familiar territory -the Prince will become more and more naked as the game goes on, intricate puzzles litter the various brothels and palaces, and enemies dissolve and turn to sand when you stab them enough.
So yes, the Dark Prince is great and speed kills are great. Hanging from chains is great and shimmying between walls is great. Even the bosses are great. There's a lot of greatness to be witnessed in The Two Thrones, that's for sure, but unfortunately it can't breach the 90 per cent barrier and enter the realm of the Classic award, for the same reasons its predecessors couldn't. Even though the combat is fantastic, the animations beautiful and the sheen shiny, there's no real deal-clincher here - it sometimes feels a bit shallow and despite Ubisoft's best efforts, repetitive.
Some of the new features on the acrobatic side of things too, such as springy panels on walls which launch you diagonally for some reason, seem a bit forced and unbelievable (running along walls and leaping huge distances is perfectly believable). There's also very little reason to play it twice, unless you enjoy unlocking artwork you didn't unlock the first time through.
But forget about those niggles, as they shouldn't put you off playing. With its superb story, sublime animation and fantastic fluidity, The Two Thrones impresses with flowing gameplay and beautiful visuals. And to top it all, Ubisoft hasn't botched the PC conversion: with a decent gamepad, you'll enjoy this on your desktop as much as on your Xbox -more in fact, because PCs are great.
Fans of the series will lap this up without any disappointment; newcomers will enjoy it too (before rushing out and buying the last two, as nature intended), and the British Museum will scoff at its inaccuracies, but love it anyway. The Two Thrones is quite simply the best Prince Of Persia so far. It builds on what went before and adds a new dimension to the main character. It also adds new depth to the gameplay, while still sticking closely to the tenets that made the last two games so engrossing. Namely, lots of fighting, lots of jumping and lots of outright fun.
Processor: PC compatible,
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode