|This latest Prince of Persia game goes back to its Sands of Time roots in terms of look and feel, but still retains the hardcore violence and combat of Warrior Within|
It's becoming increasingly clear that Sands of Time was something of an all-time classic. When Ubisoft bought out the Prince of Persia property, and kick-started their own new trilogy with Sands back in 2003, it more than lived up to the series that spawned it and then some. That's a game I've chatted about endlessly on the site over the past year, and with good reason; as more and more time passes it rises higher in my all-time hall of fame. If you missed out on that game, shame on you - it's a beautiful, brilliant piece of entertainment.
The same can't be said of its sequel, Warrior Within
. Ubisoft attempted to rework a ton of beat 'em up elements into the game, both stylistically and mechanically, losing the beautiful laid-back atmosphere of its prequel along with 90% of its charm. The result was more of a silly and tiresome action game, than the beautifully mature platformer we all expected, and one I couldn't even bring myself to finish. Most of the world agreed with me.
Which brings us to The Two Thrones - out now on all three consoles and PC. It's the final part of that trilogy and thus has to not only tie up the (really rather good) ongoing storyline, but also put right all that went wrong with the previous game too. In many ways, it manages to succeed, but I'd be lying if I said it could touch the original. If however, you accept from the offset that this will never quite rise to the level of its brilliant forefather, there's some pretty damn decent fun to be had here.
Time For Redemption
If you haven't been playing the previous games, fear not, as a pretty little intro sequence gets us back up to speed instantly. The game begins as the Prince returns from his trek to the Island of Time from the last game, only to find his home city burnt to the ground, overtaken by a savage force. They subsequently kidnap his "special lady friend" as The Dude would say, hence the Prince grabs the nearest sword, puts on his platforming shoes and gets to work setting her free.
|Stealth kills let you take out enemies in no time at all, a smart and pleasing addition|
In a way, this is the game Warrior Within should have been. While it still has an emphasis on combat, with a similar dark, urgent tone, it pulls it off considerably better this time around, while still retaining some semblance of artistic merit in the process.
For instance, while enemies are still very much prominent, the game includes an ingenious new stealth kill system to help dispatch them much faster. What does this entail? Quite simply, as enemies patrol the levels, if you can manage to avoid being seen, you can tip toe up behind 'em and wipe them out in about two seconds flat with instant take downs. This is a wonderful idea, as it essentially turns the enemies into another puzzle that must be solved. The patrolling bad guy is no different to the spiked trap in that regard.
Sure, you can just as easily charge in for a more traditional button bash-fest, hacking and slashing and grinding your fingerprints off in the process, but much more enjoyable is this new, more sophisticated route. It's a wonderful feeling of accomplishment to climb a nearby platform, shimmy along the wall, leap across to the other side, then drop down behind a guard for a beautifully animated insta-kill. Compared to Warrior Within, there's considerably less button bashing as a result of this, and if your stealth skills are up to scratch, no more monotonous battles at all; just slice, dice and move on.
This alone makes the game a million times more fun to play, as your actions are a lot more focused around the platforming and puzzle solving elements that always made Prince of Persia shine.
Back in Time
Arguably more pleasing to me though is the fact the heavily dumbed-down Americanisation of the last game is all but gone. Music is thankfully rid of the cancerous guitar-warbling found in the previous game, and even better, the original voice actor from Sands of Time returns. His work here is thankfully more comparable in tone to that game than the utter twunt found in Warrior, however his accent is a little inconsistent, hovering about mid-way between uptight British (Sands) and arse kicking American (Warrior), but at least this helps bridge the previous titles a little.
|Dark Prince takes over regular old|
Prince at seemingly random moments.
Submerge the sucker in water and he disappears
Even more pleasing are the return of some familiar faces. I hate to spoil the plot, but needless to say a certain young lady reappears early on, not to mention a monstrously evil Vizier. This considerably improved the game's atmosphere and character for me, making it feel like the true sequel we all wanted.
More conflicting thoughts center around the new "Dark Prince" character. Early on you're "torn in two" by the sands of time you see, thus developing an alter-ego of sorts, who takes over your body at inopportune moments. This Dark Prince is fully playable, alternating levels with regular Prince throughout the remainder of the game.
He seems conceived around pleasing fans of God of War more than anything though, complete with massive chains for "super bad ass combos" along with a draining life meter that must be constantly replenished by killing. Dark Prince does add some variety to the proceedings all in all, and his levels even border on fun, but it is
very nerve-wrecking stuff, and always a bit of a relief when his segments end.
Just as a character and from a storytelling perspective though, the Dark Prince works far better. Thrones maintains those fabulous voice over narratives and real-time conversations throughout the entirety of the game, and the Dark Prince is a beauty in that regard, whispering ill advice and naughty thoughts into your ear constantly. Such interactions are rather inspired and perfectly written.
|Thrones can be stupidly difficult and immensely frustrating at times. This entire level, for instance|
So far then, so pretty good. My main problem with the game though is that, most bizarrely, it's surprisingly lacking in the visual department. Jaggies are out in full force, character detail is dated and lacking, and the beautifully soft, hazy look of Sands is long gone.
Thrones features many a dull brown room for you to jump around instead, with very little approaching the gorgeous blue and purple locations of Sands. Boy it tries...oh so hard...but it's just not an amazingly pretty game unfortunately. The previously mentioned Dark Prince is particularly ugly.
This may not sound like much. After all, gameplay is what's important - and Thrones is rather good in that regard - but for a series that even as far back as the '80s, has always been so visual...so eye-poppingly beautiful...Thrones just doesn't live up to that legacy for me. Around the final third of the story, things get markedly better - even somewhat striking at times - but by this point it's possibly too little too late.
It's also worth noting that the game often borders on frustratingly difficult too. Do yourself a favour and play this one on Easy, regardless of your skill. Despite the new insta-kill mechanic, you can still find yourself battling up to five enemies at once when you botch up the stealth manoeuvres, where the game quickly turns teeth-grindingly difficult. Punishing bosses and new (trial-and-error heavy) chariot racing levels don't help, adding to that frustration factor.
Out of Time
|Thrones does a nice job of bridging all three games into one. It has its probs, but I dig it|
Despite these problems - and they are rather large - I'm on the whole pretty pleased with The Two Thrones. At its best it's a fun and inventive platformer with wonderful puzzles and an engaging story, while at its worst it's a frustrating and disheartening beat 'em up that simultaneously disappoints graphically. I'd say the good outweighs the bad though.
It really does find a comfy little midpoint between its two prequels in that regard, melding the three together somewhat successfully in terms of gameplay and aesthetics. For that, I guess I'll give it a slap on the bum for a job well done...but perhaps quite a hard
slap though, for some shamefully missed opportunities.
If you dug any of the previous Prince of Persia games - old or new - you could do a lot worse than pick this one up. I just hope you've got some mad skills, as it really is tough as balls.