Review: Always a prince, never a princess.
The Prince of Persia franchise has benefited greatly from the reimagining that today's hardware allows for. Growing far beyond the 2D platforming adventure that we saw in the 1980s, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
and its sequel, Prince of Persia: The Warrior Within
elevated action gaming to a level more akin to movies than videogames. Ubisoft takes that evolution one step further with the latest chapter in the series, Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones
The Two Thrones picks up shortly after the end of the last Prince of Persia game. It opens with our hero, the Prince, traveling with the Empress of Time, Kaileena, back to his home, Babylon. It is not long before a time paradox, induced by meddling with the Sands of Time, tears the pair apart and the Prince finds himself fighting the evil Vizier and his army again.
Gameplay in Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones is instantly familiar to anyone that has played either of the earlier PoP titles. As the Prince, combat is all about agility, counterattacks and combo-fueled mayhem. The combat animations are at once graceful and brutal and are emphasized through the effective use of slow-motion effects. Picking up opponent weapons adds another layer to the combat engine, though truly brilliant combat comes from using your surroundings to their fullest. Flinging yourself off of walls, around columns and over the heads of your enemies is a sure fire way to success.
The Two Thrones adds another dimension to the combat with the introduction of the Dark Prince. Tainted by the Sands of Time in an early confrontation with the Vizier, the Prince becomes possessed by an evil version of himself throughout the game. This transformation completely changes the gameplay as the Dark Prince must constantly draw in more Sand from defeated enemies and broken objects to keep his stamina up. Combat itself is even affected as the Dark Prince wields the deadly Daggertail, a barbed whip-like weapon, to cut through his foes. This shift does an excellent job of keeping the combat from becoming stale and repetitive.
The Prince's ability to manipulate his surroundings using the Dagger of Time is one of the things that originally allowed the Prince of Persia series to stand out from the crowd. Powers like Recall (rewind) and Eye of the Storm (slow-motion) give the prince an edge against the Vizier's forces. Recall is actually a saving grace for the platforming components of The Two Thrones as it allows you to take back that jump into nothingness that stopped the Prince's life short.
Of course, what would any Prince of Persia game be without puzzles? The Two Thrones delivers on this front as well with different types of puzzles geared towards each of the prince's personalities. One common theme is high flying acrobatics as both the Prince and Dark Prince find themselves soaring above the streets of Babylon. Where the Prince draws upon now classic moves such as the wall run, climbing ledges and scaling columns the Dark Prince uses his Daggertail to swing on poles, extend wall runs and pull on distant blocks. There are also dozens of spike and blade traps to navigate the Prince over, under and around. In general, the puzzles mix some of the best elements from the Tomb Raider
and recent Legend of Zelda
There are a couple of other things the Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones does to keep the action from becoming stale. The first is the brutal art of the Stealth Kill. By approaching an enemy without him detecting you, the Prince is able to initiate one of these highly cinematic combat sequences that rely on well-timed button presses instead of the combos that are prominent in freeform combat. A successful Stealth Kill means instant death for an unsuspecting foe. The second item that is worth mentioning here is Chariot Racing. Feeling almost as if it was pulled straight from a period action movie, the Chariot sequences are full of impressive jumps, close calls and wrecked chariots. Smashing opponents into columns is almost visceral in nature and, like some of the best combat finishing moves, is punctuated with a slow motion sequence that highlights the carnage.
Visually, Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones is an impressive canvas for conveying the action. Nothing is done is this game for no reason and each and every detail adds to the feeling that Babylon is (was) a living, breathing city. This is a fact that is further punctuated with the cries of Babylonians that are seeking salvation from their evil oppressors.
One thing about The Two Towers is that it almost requires a good gamepad to bring the PC experience to life. Keyboard controls, while adequate, do not capture the console feel that Prince of Persia feeds off of. I recommend picking up a dual-analog pad (or downloading the software to run your wired 360 controller on your PC) if you want to take the Prince out for a spin on your computer.