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Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones (Xbox)


By Michael Palisano

With the third installment in the current series, Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones restores the atmosphere of the first game and blends it with the speed kills from the second. Playing as either the good prince or his darker alter ego, players will find an excellent array of puzzles and action. The game feels very much like the previous titles, though the camera controls are better. In a new twist, Two Thrones includes several chariot-racing scenes that add some wrinkles on the formula. Read our review and find out what makes the Two Thrones such a satisfying conclusion to the modern Prince of Persia trilogy.

Set immediately following the events in Warrior Within, Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones allows players to control one of two different prince characters, representing his light and dark sides. After defeating the Empress on the Island of Time, the prince and his bride return to their beloved kingdom of Babylon only to find it in the throes of war and disaster. The city's population seems to have vanished, which only enhances the mystery. As the brutal battle unfolds, the prince's ship comes under attack, and his wife is kidnapped by the unknown forces of evil. It's up to the prince to find out what happened to his city, and to rescue his wife before it's too late. The game begins on a somber note, but the look and feel of Two Thrones' initial levels isn't nearly as dark as the bleak surroundings that made Warrior Within become oppressive after awhile. Players familiar with the last two games will be immediately familiar with most of the game's controls and feel. The prince moves and abilities are quite similar to the previous games, and he can still run on the sides of walls, leap over large gaps, and climb through ladders and leap through the air with the prince's trademark acrobatic elegance. Like the previous games, players can also use the Sands of Time to rewind the action if they mess up - though this ability is limited by the amount of energy in your meter. You can increase this meter by destroying enemies and collecting their spirits, which is much easier than you'd think.

While Two Thrones adds some new elements to the mix, there's still plenty of platforming action and puzzles to solve. You'll find plenty of secrets as well, and players will find themselves jumping from place to place and hanging from ledges in some truly elaborate rooms that serve to offer some vexing and challenging puzzles. As usual, the game requires a great deal of skill and timing to progress, with the smallest mistakes causing instant death. Looking around at your environments and paying attention to the onscreen prompts helps to a large degree, but most players will need skill to escape the intricate traps that have been set to ensnare the Prince. Two Thrones' biggest change comes in its combat system, which has been further refined with the addition of speed kills, which the player can activate to attack unsuspecting foes in a stealth manner. These are fairly easy to pull off, requiring only a single button press to complete. The combat system offers players both standard and secondary weapons, with some that can be thrown at opponents, with various types. The gameplay offers a traditional mix of action and elaborate puzzles, with some requiring multiple steps to complete. This makes for quite a challenging game that should tax both your reflex skills and puzzle solving ability. Many of the rooms in the game require multiple steps and others seem like dead ends. Exploring and looking around your environments is a key aspect of the game, and you'll definitely need to keep a keen eye on all elements of the game in order to progress through. One of the great things about this design approach is that it makes simple solutions seem deceptively complex, tricking the player into thinking something is insurmountable. This gives the game a unique learning curve, since once a solution is presented and performed, you'll frequently find yourself using the same technique effortlessly without giving it a second thought.

This is all wrapped up inside a fairly elaborate storyline, which explains the somewhat disconnected plots of the first two games. Two Thrones begins with players assuming the role of the good prince, but gradually his darker side emerges, making for an interesting dichotomy between these characters. While the good prince is a noble character, the evil prince is much less forgiving of his foes and thinks only of his personal gains. Players switch between the characters during the game, and each one brings a unique set of powers to the table, though they share a lot of the same moves and abilities. The dark prince's combat moves are much more brutal, allowing the player to dispatch enemies quicker, but his acrobatic movements aren't as graceful as you'd expect them to be. Two Thrones offers a further twist in the formula with its chariot races, where you have to battle foes while speeding along the streets of Babylon. These sequences fit with the atmosphere of the previous titles and your vehicle control well with responsive steering and combat moves. You can slice at foes chasing you and you can also use your ability to rewind time that gives them a unique feel. Battling foes in this mode can be quite intense and gives Two Thrones a different feel than the previous games. However, the majority of the gameplay is similar to the previous games, and these diversions don't change the basic formula or balance fundamentally, and keeps the general feel of Two Thrones fairly consistent with the previous titles. Two Thrones' structure and pacing is similar to the earlier titles in many aspects, with a similar progression of levels, enemies, and types of gameplay you'll face. The game seems to alternate between combat and puzzle modes, which should keep most players' interest levels high throughout. This doesn't mean that the game becomes predictable, and there are several surprisingly clever points during the Prince's adventure that will catch many players off-guard.

From an aesthetic standpoint, The Two Thrones represents a return to the style of the first game to a large extent, with some forays into the darker approach of the second to create a nice balance. The camera system is excellent throughout the game, with a mix of fixed angles that are most effective during the action sequences along with player controllable viewpoints which help in the game's puzzle-oriented sections. While Two Thrones isn't as gauzily dreamlike as Sands of Time, it's still more bearable than the unrelentingly dark environs that made Warrior Within a bit oppressive. As usual, the character animations are beautiful and fluid, allowing the prince to move along the screen with a great deal of grace. One of the series main appeals has always been its sense of place and the epic scale it creates, and traversing the temples and areas of the new game makes no exception to this rule. Many of the areas showcase beautiful light sourcing with excellent use of shadows to create some breathtakingly elaborate areas. Two Throne's design is coherent and richly evocative of its time, making you feel like you're entering another era. Another good move on Ubi Montreal is the music. The developers have wisely jettisoned Warrior Within's goth-metal soundtrack in favor of an epic, middle-eastern sitar-infused score that's closer to Sands of Time's music. Two Thrones' voice acting remains excellent, with the same actor providing the voice of the Prince as in previous games. Overall, the game's production values are superb, helping to immerse players into the action without becoming overbearing, or falling into lame clichés, as happened the last time around.

Unfortunately, Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones isn't without its faults. The biggest problem we faced with the Xbox edition was the save system, which works when you drink from a fountain. While the system is just like the previous games, the save points are spread out too far apart, making the player perform a frustrating amount of backtracking when they fall from grace. While this structure follows the previous games, this area definitely needed some improvement. Another area where the game fell a bit short was the camera system, which works fine in most areas, but does tend to make it difficult to gauge the distance and direction of jumps, which leads to you jumping blindly and plunging to your death far too often. Another problem area is the combat system, which has been improved but still isn't as intuitive as it could have been. Many of the enemies tend to take multiple blows to defeat, and there are points where its' difficult to see where they are. This isn't too much of a problem when you face a single foe, but when your are battling multiple foes, it can be difficult to aim your attacks at the most dangerous foe. These flaws definitely detract from the experience, but that doesn't mean that Two Thrones is a disappointing experience by any means.

It can be frustrating to watch your character plunge into the abyss and subsequently need to replay a large section of the game, part of the game's appeal lies in its fastidious nature where you need to play almost flawlessly. It's not easy to accomplish all the moves needed, but when you get into a groove, the sense of accomplishment is rewarding. With its evocative landscapes, intriguing plot twists and immersive gameplay, Two Thrones is definitely worth the effort it takes to master. By wisely restoring much of what made the first Sands of Time game so appealing, Ubisoft has gone a long way in keeping the modern Prince of Persia series from collapsing into the cynicism and bleakness that threatened to spell a premature end to the franchise. While the gameplay hasn't evolved as much as one would hope, Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones is an engrossing and satisfying end to the trilogy that that should restore the faith of gamers who though the series might have lost its way after the last installment.

Grade: B+

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