Playing through Ubisoft?s latest Prince of Persia title, The Two Thrones was a bit of a challenge. Not because of the game?s fiendishly addictive puzzle-solving or electric, acrobatic combat: those are just fine, thanks for asking. And not because of any lack of depth, story, voice acting, art direction or anything else in the creativity department: the game looks incredible, as fans of the series have come to expect. No, our challenges with this third PoP offering were at once more trivial and yet more visceral than anything we had experienced in any previous game, and, in the end, did great damage to what otherwise would have been a top-notch Action/Adventure title.
Fans of the series will know the story all too well: in the first game, the prince of Persia, after accidentally freeing the Sands of Time, engaged in epic combat with the evil vizier, finally defeating him and rewinding time itself to repair the damage that had been done to his kingdom. In The Warrior Within, the Prince returned, this time in a darker and more cynical incarnation, fleeing from the vengeful Dahaka, a seemingly invincible creature sent to revenge itself on the Prince for his interference with time. Only with the help of Kaileena, the Empress of Time, was the Prince able to triumph.
The Two Thrones, in true PoP fashion, throws combat at the player right from the game?s first moments, guiding first-time and returning players? actions via subtitled tutorial text. Players already familiar with the Prince?s aerial acrobatics and his wall-running and leaping abilities will once more be treated to gravity-defying leaps, spins, grabs and other eclectic fighting moves.
Partway through the game, the Prince will, on occasion, transform into a dark avatar of himself, as the Sands change him physically into the Dark Prince. This chain-wielding berserker gains special abilities such as a devastating ?Daggertail? chain-whip attack, the ability to use his chain as a navigation tool and even some special offensive and defensive acrobatic maneuvers not available otherwise. Be careful, though, for every moment that the Prince spends in his Dark form causes his life to slowly trickle away, a loss that can only be countered by finding Time Sand or (the better choice) by killing opponents and sucking in their life energy.
Combat while in the form of the Dark Prince is extremely fun, as the Daggertail makes short work of even large waves of enemies. The constant negative trickle of life adds quite a bit of frustration to the game?s puzzle aspects, however, adding what amounts to a timed element to any puzzle area encountered in that form. Often, the only way to progress when faced with a new room (especially while in Dark Prince form) is by trial and error, failing until your Time Rewinds are gone, then replaying the level from the beginning of that section.
The Two Thrones, like other titles in the PoP franchise, really shines in it?s use of spatial/environmental puzzles. Players must climb onto ledges, swing around flag poles, run along vertical surfaces, dodge spike and arrow traps and otherwise circumnavigate any number of lethal situations. Unfortunately, as in previous titles, the environment itself is often your worst enemy, mainly due to the return of the franchise?s legendary Wonky Camera of Doom. Frustration began to rear its ugly head soon into the game?s first levels, as I struggled with unintuitive button combinations: ?do I push Up or Left when facing diagonally? I better get it right because it?s yet another fall into a bottomless canyon if I guess wrong?. Scenarios like this, unfortunately, are all too common in The Two Thrones and go from mildly annoying to hair-pullingly frustrating, depending on how far from the last save point you are and how many time rewinds you have left. There is also generally only a single way to navigate through the game-world, and the trick generally lies in finding it. We had hoped that in this, the third PoP installment, the developers would have started offering us a more open-ended experience, containing multiple paths and routes through the world, but alas such a thing was not to be.
While we?re talking about save points, let me say right now that I have seldom played a game with such a frustrating save system as this latest PoP title. It?s not that you can?t just save anywhere (I know that the game is, primarily, a console port, and such allowances must be made for the PC?s smaller and less robust cousins) but the fact that often you are often faced with long and un-skippable cut-scenes moments after finally finding one of the precious Fountains is really inexcusable. In one notable instance, I had to endure the exact?same? cut-scene? featuring a giant monster at least a dozen times (probably more) and practically broke my keyboard hammering at the space-bar in a futile attempt to skip it. Things like this really leech the enjoyment that might otherwise have been gained from the title. As a reviewer, I had to press on past this maddening situation, but if I had just been a player, that frustration might well have caused me to abandon the game with the majority of its thrills still not experienced, and that would have been a real shame.
Game Play- 7Like all Prince of Persia titles, game play primarily revolves around exploring the environment, combat, and avoiding or defeating traps, and The Two Thrones, in its better moments, does the franchise proud. There are truly few moments in gaming more satisfying than spinning around a column while simultaneously beheading two enemies, then flipping over a third to gut a fourth, to finally deliver a coup de grace on a fifth, all in the matter of five seconds, but such moments happen with delicious frequency in The Two Thrones. Too bad that the developers, in their rush to get the game out for the holiday season, neglected to iron out the game-crashing bugs and maddening, un-skippable cut-scenes, each of which you are practically guaranteed to see at least once per game session and which actually increase in frequency as the game progresses. Only the most dedicated (or obsessed) player will likely have the endurance to see the game?s end, which is unfortunate.
Graphics- 9 Breathtaking visuals and lifelike, fluid combat have always been a feature of the Prince of Persia franchise, and The Two Thrones delivers in this area admirably. Level design is amazing and often creates a mood of breathless tension, as the player hunts around for clues as to how to proceed up walls and across rooftops. Rays of light arc through the dusty air and lanterns glitter with golden light, creating a mood that is at once compelling and ominous. Player and enemy models are starting to look a bit chunky and dated, but their dynamic animations and the consistently top-notch art direction more than make up for this lack.
Sound- 7We are happy to report that Ubisoft seems to have rethought the decision to use hard metal music that they made with the last PoP title, and have returned to a more atmospheric, thematically-appropriate score similar to that used in The Sands of Time. We wish that there had been more of it, in fact. The addition of the music in the midst of battles and other suspenseful moments is well done. Sound effects seem copied from earlier titles, but they do get the job done. Our only real complaint concerns the voice acting that?s used during the Prince?s many ?internal dialogue? scenes- the actor that plays the voice of the Dark Prince is a bit whiney and lacks the gravity that we would have expected from the voice of the Prince?s dark alter-ego. Kaileena?s voice-overs are really top notch, albeit a bit soft.
Value- 7 The Two Thrones delivers a 15-20 hour gaming experience at the ?Normal? difficulty setting, however several of those hours will be spent replaying levels over and over until the pattern of traps and the exact nature of a room?s navigation becomes apparent (your mileage may vary). If you can deal with the frustration level that comes from dying, continuing back a ways, replaying, dying again and repeating until you figure out the way the developers want you to clear an area, then the rest of the game?s appeal will be gravy.
Curve- 7As entertaining a gaming experience that The Two Thrones delivers, it?s nothing new- more of a refinement on an already solid formula and premise than anything else. That?s not really a drawback- I felt like I had genuinely returned to the lands of mythical Persia, a somber, dusty place of brutal sun, grim legend and danger within the first 15 minutes of play. Fans of the series and new players alike should all find something to fascinate them? provided you can get past the title’s technical stumbles.