If you weren't blown away by Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2003), then what are you doing reading the games page? If you actually liked Prince of Persia: Warrior Within (2004), then please, keep reading! If you haven't played Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones, then what the hell?
In all seriousness, this latest Prince of Persia game, which everyone should experience regardless of genre or console preference, really takes the cake, and makes me wonder if the next-gen Prince of Persia will be the game that gives me diabetes. Thus, without further adieu, I begin.
Having bested the Dahaka and escaped the Island of Time, the Prince and his new love Kaileena travel back to Babylon, the Prince's home. Any hope of a grand parade through the streets is shattered, however, when Babylon is discovered to be burning. It seems an army from India marched on the city during the Prince's absence and has all but taken it over at the command of an old foe reborn. Prince, oaf that he is, charges straight into the mess, sword drawn, hoping to rescue the suddenly captured Kaileena and save his people.There's another part of him that refuses to play nice, though...
So, once again you fill Prince's excellently-cobbled shoes, only this game doesn't start off with an annoyingly challenging boss fight. Instead, you begin hopping the rooftops of ruined Babylon, following Kaileena and her brutish captors whilst meanwhile snuffing the baddies you encounter along the way. Enter controls. Did you have any complaints about them in Warrior Within? Of course you didn't, and you needn't now. The Two Thrones' controls are superbly tight, perhaps even better than those of Warrior Within, and leave nothing to be desired. Seriously. These have got to be some of, if not the, best controls in a third-person game. It's so ridiculously easy and fun to move Prince around that it should be illegal. Add in a few new tricks, such as hanging via dagger from carefully place ornaments on the walls and using springboards to accomplish impossible-yet-spectacular jumps, and you've got yourself a party. So too is the camera control fantastic, and ranks right up there alongside controls with the best. Again, very similar to Warrior Within, but that game's controls were so good, you really couldn't expect much more this time 'round.
Of course, there has to be a downside, unfortunately, and it's the stale combat. Fighting's never really been all that fun in the Prince of Persia series (dating all the way back to the PC classic when combat was an exercise in not tearing your own throat out), but this time it's a little more bearable. Something new and exciting is the ability to speed kill your enemies, which is basically a sneak attack, only you need not sit around in the shadows until some goof walks by you. Instead, you utilize the room puzzles and environments to get the drop on your enemies, then execute them by matching button presses with onscreen flashes. These kills are silent, allowing you to perhaps clear a room with them, and, if you're lucky, two baddies at the same time! This all leads to killing enemies, a boring endeavor, actually being more bearable, and even enjoyable (relishing in your own cleverness always is). Good call on Ubisoft's part for integrating the fighting into the much better puzzle-solving. Last, and probably least, is chariot racing. Two points in the game have you riding a chariot through the streets of Babylon, which is fun at first, and always frantic, but not very in-depth. You will be mauled by enemies on foot, whom you easily knock off, and attacked by other chariots, which you smash into the walls, but really, it's only a brief divergence, and almost a frivolity. Sort of like a bonus level used to offer you a break from the regular gameplay, and nothing that seems genuine.
Now for the Dark Prince, who deserves his own paragraph! This is the Prince's dark side, come about as a result of being tainted by the Sands, and boy is he bad. At specific intervals throughout the game you'll be transformed into Dark Prince, a charred, twisted version of Prince who wields Daggertail, a chain whip, alongside the Dagger of Time. Similar to the Dahaka moments of Warrior Within, Dark Prince changes up the pace of the gameplay as his life slowly but surely ebbs away, only being replenished by absorbing sands (usually garnered by killing enemies). This leads to puzzles that must be completed quickly and with few or no mistakes, ending (oddly enough, or perhaps not so) when you encounter some water, which transforms you back to Prince. Dark Prince's benefits are, almost entirely, to be found in the Daggertail, which functions both as deadly weapon (allowing you to kill multiple opponents at once, making combat a less frustrating endeavor) and a whip to aid you in puzzle-solving (swinging from poles Indiana Jones-style, as well as pulling on blocks and switches). Dark Prince is definitely over-powered, but is also living on borrowed time. When not around, he will constantly nag Prince, who is again finding his heart, by means of a running commentary between the two, which is both amusing (even if the jokes are hackneyed) and a great plot device.
As for graphics, well, what can I say? How gorgeous was Warrior Within? Exactly. Even playing it on the Playstation 2, a console that all but butchers the level of beauty that is to be found on the Xbox or PC or even Gamecube, was a very satisfying experience. The cutscenes are just amazing, and the gameplay visuals, whilst suffering somewhat at the rough hands of the Playstation 2's processor, are still superb. The audio, too, was entirely too good. The regular selection of sound effects are completely fitting, and the music has turned away from Warrior Within's rock-metal to match the return to the Babylonian atmosphere of, well, Babylon. The voice-overs are also too good for our own respective goods. While I found Prince to be slightly naive and annoying at times (you think he would have learned something from his exploits...), the performance was nonetheless well done, though kudos goes to Dark Prince for being so very, very nasty. The ongoing argument these two engage in provides a surprising amount of satisfaction and will keep you interested, to be sure. The only annoying bit is listening to Kaileena, who narrates the story, constantly ask you the same dreary questions everytime you pause the game to save. You'll see.
I know the scores seem biased, but if any current console game deserves straight A's, it's The Two Thrones. Really, all I can say is play it, because it really is grand, and will no doubt lead the series to something simply unbelievable on the next-gen systems.