Review: Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones (XB)

Review: Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones
Developer: Ubisoft
Distributor: Ubisoft
Genre: Platformer/Action
Release Date: 12/1/05

Prince of Persia is one of the longest running game series around. It started on the PC and has since seen an iteration on almost every major gaming console around. And if you haven’t heard of it, then you’ve probably been living under a rock for the past fifteen or so years.

In 2003 Ubisoft released The Sands of Time, which completely revolutionized the series with its fantastic blend of platforming and combat. It also introduced a fully functioning rewind system, allowing players to easily go back a few seconds and correct their mistakes. Unfortunately the game didn’t perform quite as well as they had hoped, even though it was almost universally praised.

In 2004 Ubisoft decided to take a slightly different direction with Warrior Within. This time they focused almost exclusively on the combat portion of the game, crafting a fairly rich fighting system, but ignoring most of the platforming aspects that made the first game so much fun. What they ended up with was a slightly above average action game that didn’t live up to expectations.

And now here we are in 2005. Ubisoft is back with their third iteration of the series, The Two Thrones. Did they manage to recapture the magic of the Sands of Time? Or is the series continuing the fall that began with Warrior Within’s stumble?


1. STORY

The Two Thrones picks up pretty much right where Warrior Within left off. The Prince , accompanied by the Empress of Time Kaileena, is returning home from the Island of Time to the city of Babylon for some much needed rest. However, upon approaching the city, the Prince finds it under siege by an army lead by his old adversary, the Vizier. His ship is attacked, and Kaileena is kidnapped, forcing the Prince into action once again as he attempts to reclaim his kingdom and rescue his love.

Adding to this are the Sands of Time, once again at work, which cause the Prince to split into two different personalities; one good, the other evil. As such, the Prince is forced to fight off his enemies while struggling to maintain control within himself, using the powers of the Dark Prince to aid him in his quest.

The story is exactly the kind of epic that we’ve come to expect from the Prince of Persia series. While Warrior Within contained a solid story, the game was focused more on combat and action. The Two Thrones, however, harkens back more to The Sands of Time where the story is front and center and really helps to drive your actions on the screen. And the addition of the Dark Prince adds in some truly interesting character moments as the Prince fights with himself (think Gollum from Lord of the Rings).

Sure, some of it is unoriginal and hackneyed, and various elements here have popped up in the series numerous times, but it all works incredibly well and will help to keep you hooked to the game, waiting to see what happens next.

Story Score: 8/10


2. GRAPHICS

From a technical standpoint, the graphics between each of the iterations in the PoP series haven’t changed much. Character animations are amazingly smooth and backgrounds and textures look fantastic. However, a good number of objects seem to be a bit jagged around the edges, and the overall graphics aren’t quite up to par with the previous games.

The graphical effects, on the other hand, are still top notch. Swirling sands, shadows, and lighting effects all look incredibly realistic and lifelike. Combine these with the general design of the levels and areas, and you have a game that really does look like it came straight out of ancient Persia.

It’s not the most impressive game that you’ll see on the Xbox, but it still looks excellent overall. Backgrounds and objects may suffer from some pixilation, but the lighting and effects more than help to compensate for this. A great story should have a great environment to set it in, and the developers definitely did their jobs here.

Graphics Score: 7/10


3. SOUND

All I can say is thank goodness Godsmack didn’t come back for this one.

While I had a lot of complaints about Warrior Within, the soundtrack was perhaps my biggest. I’ve never understood the idea of putting a hard rock soundtrack over a period game. Fortunately, they went back to the beautifully orchestrated music of the first game that really helps to make you feel like you are playing in the time period. It’s quiet and mellow most of the time as you navigate puzzles and traps, and then cranks up whenever a fight starts and the action kicks in.

The sound effects are equally high quality. From the clash of swords to the gentle drip of water, everything comes through crisp and clear and exactly as it should. Those of you with a nice surround sound setup will also be able to experience some truly wonderful echo effects as you wander through various hallways and caves.

Adding to the game’s sound is the excellent voice cast, which consists mainly of the same principles from the previous games, along with a few new additions here and there. The voice work done for the Prince and his darker half are especially exceptional, and the wonderful chemistry exhibited between the two aspects of the Prince’s personality comes across as being natural.

Overall, the sound is definitely one of the best aspects of the game, and really helps to immerse you into story. No complaints here at all.

Sound Score: 10/10


4. CONTROL AND GAMEPLAY

Fans of The Sands of Time, rejoice. The old platforming and puzzle aspects that you loved so much about the first game are back.

To start with, the control scheme is incredibly smooth and natural. The left thumbstick moves your character while the right thumbstick controls the camera. The various buttons all perform different actions depending on what you are doing and where you are. For instance, the A button can be used to jump, wall run, and do any number of other things. The B button picks up and throws weapons, and also is used for climbing down a ledge. The X and Y buttons are mainly used for attacking and can be used to form various combos. The right trigger blocks, and can also be used to perform a special attack when used with another button. And the left trigger is the ever popular Slow Motion/Time Rewind feature that we have all come to know and love. Fans of the series will be familiar with the control scheme and will be able to dive right in and begin playing, while newcomers to the series will be amazed at how easy the controls are to use.

As with the previous games, The Two Thrones has sections of both platforming and combat. The platforming aspects of the game really come to the forefront here and are where you will be spending most of your time. These involve avoiding traps, negotiating rooms, and some puzzle solving. Combat, while not as big of a focus as in Warrior Within, is still prevalent, however, but you’ll find that it isn’t nearly as annoying as with the last game.

Part of this is due to the new Speed Kill system, which is similar to stealth moves from games like Splinter Cell. Basically these allow you to get the drop on an enemy and quickly dispatch them before they have a chance to respond. These attacks are quite entertaining and help to add a new element of strategy to the game. Do you run into the room, sword swinging, or do you look for a way to take out your enemies in a slightly more efficient fashion?

The normal Prince is plays very much the same as in the previous games, but the new Dark Prince is a different beast. Literally. Combat is the Dark Prince’s forte. For that matter, he basically needs it to survive. Unlike the normal Prince, the Dark Prince’s life bar continually shrinks and can only be replenished by finding the Sands of Time in various objects or by killing enemies and taking their Sands. And you will be killing lots of enemies while playing as the Dark Prince. Fortunately combat as the Dark Prince is more entertaining than one might think at first, partially due to his Daggertail, a dagger that shoots out like a whip (similar to Ivy’s sword/whip from Soul Calibur). Not only can it be used to decapitate multiple foes at a time, but it can also be used to swing across large expanses ala Indiana Jones.

However, the Dark Prince portions of the game can still become tedious with all the focus on the fighting, but these are fortunately fairly short, allowing you to spend more time with the platforming aspects of the game as the normal Prince.

Another new aspect to the game is a chariot race stage. While it’s a novel concept and something new to the series, it just doesn’t work very well. The controls are a bit tricky and unresponsive, and it feels like you are trying to steer an ocean liner instead of a team of horses. Still, it’s entertaining for what it is, and fortunately doesn’t last very long or take away too much from the overall experience of the game.

There are a few downsides to the overall gameplay, however. For starters is the camera. As in most 3D games, there are occasions when the camera will end up someplace you don’t want it to and no amount of twisting and turning will give you the angle you want. Fortunately these instances are few and far between, and overall the camera is effective. The second issue is with some of the game’s physics. Occasionally there are areas where you will get stuck on a wall or a ledge, which can lead to some nasty deaths. Also, if you are in the middle of a roll or jump, moving the camera can sometimes completely change your direction, which can end up causing some issues. Again, fortunately, these instances aren’t so common as to really detract from the gameplay as a whole, but they do occur often enough to bear mentioning.

Overall, fans of The Sands of Time will have plenty to enjoy here, while those who preferred the mass combat of Warrior Within will get enough of that to hopefully sate their appetites. For my own part, I much prefer the platforming to any other aspect of the game, and those portions here are excellent.

Control and Gameplay Score: 8/10


5. REPLAYABILITY

The game itself is really good, but it lacks quite a bit in the replayability department. From start to finish the game will only take you around ten hours to complete, give or take depending on how good your puzzle solving and platforming skills are. After that, there isn’t much of a reason to come back to the game.

On the bright side, the game is enjoyable enough on its own to merit another run through. And those with the previous entries may want to go back and play all three games back to back to back to see how the story link together. Additionally, you have three different difficulties to choose from if you find that one setting is to easy.

But beyond that, once you’re done, you’re done.

Replayability Score: 3/10


6. BALANCE

The Prince of Persia series has always managed to maintain a pretty good sense of balance, and the same is true here.

The first few levels are very easy as you learn the controls and figure out how to use Speed Kills and play the Dark Prince. But pretty soon the game starts to ratchet up the difficulty. Traps become more frequent, puzzles become trickier, and enemies become tougher.

One of the things I did find unbalancing though is a few of the boss fights. Most of the bosses are difficult, as they should be, and require a little strategy and thinking to beat. However, every now and then the game will throw a curveball at you that will just drive you nuts. One such fight involves a boss that will literally take away a fifth of your life with every hit, and is nearly impossible to block. And if you run into some physics or camera problems, you’re really in trouble.

But on the whole the game scales the difficulty nicely as it progresses, and there are enough different settings to satisfy most levels of gamers.

Balance Score: 6/10


7. ORIGINALITY

As mentioned earlier, The Two Thrones is the third in the modern day Prince of Persia series, with Prince of Persia itself having been around for a very long time. However, even then, the game manages to keep itself fresh and entertaining.

Certain aspects of the game are completely new to the series, like the Speed Kills and the chariot racing and such. However, these were basically borrowed from other contemporary games, and don’t necessarily represent anything new to the genre.

However, the gameplay and control is still fairly unique to the Prince of Persia series, and you will be hard pressed to find another game with such an acrobatic character and so many options for fighting. The Two Thrones certainly isn’t the most original game in the world, but there is just enough here to help keep things fresh.

Originality Score: 4/10


8. ADDICTIVENESS

It’s a pity that the game is so short, because it really is a lot of fun. Part of that is because of the rewind feature introduced in The Sands of Time. Being able to immediately retry an especially tricky jump or negotiate a difficult trap is a wonderful thing, especially in a game like this where platforming takes up such a large portion of your time. Being able to slow down time (ala bullet-time from The Matrix) is also very enjoyable.

However, the game can also be incredibly frustrating, especially with some of the boss fights and the chariot races. It’s not enough to make you throw down your controller in disgust, but it might be enough to force you to take a break. Fortunately these areas are short, so once you get past them you can get back to focusing on the fun portions of the game.

In the end, the game is fairly addictive, but there are just enough turnoffs to keep it from reaching chocolate covered crack territory.

Addictiveness Score: 7/10


9. APPEAL FACTOR

The Prince of Persia series has always been popular with gamers, and The Sands of Time is still regarded by most to be one of the best games on this generation of consoles. Unfortunately I think a lot of people were turned off by the excessive focus on fighting in Warrior Within and so might be a little bit wary of The Two Thrones. Well, I can gladly say that you have nothing to worry about.

However, this game is certainly not for everyone. Gamers that were turned off by the platforming aspects of Sands of Time will find more of the same here, and those who want a straight forward action game like Warrior Within will also be disappointed. But there is a solid balance of combat, platforming, and puzzle solving that should keep most gamers entertained.

Still, I think that most who try The Two Thrones will enjoy it. It’s not the masterpiece that Sands of Time was, but it is definitely a step in the right direction.

Appeal Factor Score: 7/10


10. MISCELLANEOUS

I have to give Ubisoft a lot of credit here. With Warrior Within they decided to take Prince of Persia in a completely different direction, which unfortunately did not meet the expectations of gamers. They listened to the complaints about their game, and came back with several improvements for the third entry into the series. And any company that will take the time to really listen to the consumer is okay by me.

In the end, The Two Thrones is not the masterpiece that The Sands of Time was, but it is still a fantastic game in its own right. It does a wonderful job of bringing the story full circle, and really helps to turn the three games into a cohesive whole (albeit with vastly different play styles). The introduction of the Dark Prince is a great move, and allowing for the option of a little more strategy in the combat is a great touch.

For fans of the series, I can wholeheartedly encourage you to give this game a try. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. For newcomers, I would suggest a rental first. Although I’m more tempted to tell you to go back and play the first game instead. And for those who felt that Warrior Within was too much of a drastic departure for the series, you’ll find that the game has returned to its roots in triumphant fashion.

Miscellaneous Score: 8/10


THE SCORES

Story: 8
Graphics: 7
Sound: 10
Gameplay/Control: 8
Replayability: 3
Balance: 6
Originality: 4
Addictiveness: 7
Appeal Factor: 7
Miscellaneous: 8
Overall: 68
Final Score: 7.0 (Good)