"Getting close to an unsuspecting enemy will cause things to slow down and go blurry, allowing the prince to initiate a very fast, and very stylish kill. His dagger will flash blue when the time is right to hit the attack button. If your timing is off, you'll bollocks up the sequence, and have to fight the enemy the old fashioned way, or else use a Sand Tank to rewind time and try it again."
The original "next generation" Prince of Persia, The Sands of Time, was a great game as 3D adventures went. Allowing us to perform circus tricks in the grandest of old world Persian settings, and perform conjuror's tricks from slowing time to turning it back--it was an inspired effort. But it wasn't perfect; its tale allowed for little emotional investment, and its story arc drew a straight line. The prince's second outing was absurdly dark, and inexplicably gratuitous in the way it bandied about badass and babes. Unfortunately, this third time for the prince is not quite a charm, although it does many of the expected things right.
We find our prince angry and vengeful at the loss of loved ones, and his kingdom as he returns to it. The Two Thrones examines a warrior torn between the self-serving pangs of revenge and a nobler purpose of doing what is right by his people, who continue to suffer. The way the game beats this into our heads has nothing of subtlety in it, and may well elicit: "Okay, we get the idea." Sadly, the clumsy storytelling left me tuned out, effecting the same result as with the previous two games--that being, who cares about the story anyway?
With the premise forgotten, we get down to what Prince of Persia is all about: acrobatic platforming. It's as brilliant here as it has been in any prior incarnation, featuring much of the same wall-running, spike-evading, and column-climbing stuff the prince has become known for. He's learned a few new tricks, naturally, like bouncing from wall to wall, a la the old Ninja Gaiden, or from building to building with the use of special springboards jutting out of shingles. The programmers string the need for these abilities together in a way that keeps your fingers learning.
But we've seen this all before, haven't we? Twice over? We know this, and Ubisoft knows we know it. So they've introduced the Dark Prince, and his wicked Daggertail. The Dark Prince is the physical manifestation of the Prince's dark and selfish ambition, and he's a sick hombre in battle. His Daggertail weapon can whip through enemies as easily as it can whip around columns. The storyline dictates when we use the Dark Prince, forcing us into pools of water, which miraculously end the tainted hero's tour of duty.
The Dark Prince represents the twist every sequel must have to mix things up. His weapon makes him overpowering, so you know there's a drawback somewhere. It's this: the Dark Prince's health drops with every passing second. Yes, it's true. I haven't seen this sort of nonsense since Adventure Island. The time constraints this places on these segments make them a sloppy, button mashing race to the next watering hole, which I did not at all enjoy. I was always grateful to have the deliberate pace of the normal prince back, for all of the other's ferocious fighting ability.
This flaw proved more relevant than I had first considered--The Sands of Time, while not perfect, had the luxury of novelty. The Two Thrones is afforded no such luxury. So while it looks much more detailed, and is even beautiful in places; and while it refines a play style that is a wonder to behold--this third game is just more of the same, and the new and pungent spice only serves to sour the original recipe.
Still, I would be remiss not to mention the other gameplay addition, which actually proved quite enjoyable: the stealth kill. Getting close to an unsuspecting enemy will cause things to slow down and go blurry, allowing the prince to initiate a very fast, and very stylish kill. His dagger will flash blue when the time is right to hit the attack button. If your timing is off, you'll bollocks up the sequence, and have to fight the enemy the old fashioned way, or else use a Sand Tank to rewind time and try it again.
I had a lot of fun with this new function, and employing it while playing as the Dark Prince almost made those portions of the game tolerable. As such, on my scorecard, one failed addition cancels out one successful addition. Subtract from that the original game's novelty, throw in some sticky controls, and we have a game which is much prettier than its predecessors, and much less special. And so, The Two Thrones will seem sadly redundant to anyone who has played either of the two previous games; it lacks their charm, despite doing many of the expected things right.
Staff review by Marc Golding (July 26, 2007)
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