Tuesday, January 31, 2006

VG REVIEW: Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones

Ubisoft, for PlayStation 2, Xbox and GameCube
rated M for Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, nudity), $49.99

The first Prince of Persia game, "Sands of Time," won over critics, but not many people bought it. Developer Ubisoft tried to fix that problem in the sequel, "Warrior Within," with a focus-group approach, taking the swashbuckling prince and drowning him in a sea of Goth trappings and introducing horrendous nu metal music.

But the new look left a decidedly bad taste with those who had enjoyed the original game.

Thankfully, Ubisoft seems to have listened to the complaints as the third game in the series, "Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones," rectifies a lot of the aesthetic damage that "Warrior Within" wrought. While it keeps some of the technical improvements of the second game, it brings back a lot of the humor, warmth and excitement that made the first so memorable.

Having conquered the Empress of Time and avoided an early grave, "Two Thrones" finds our titular prince heading back to his Babylonian kingdom, only to find it under attack by a malevolent army under the command of the evil vizier, last seen in "Sands of Time." Your job then is to sneak back into Babylon, destroy the vizier and take back your kingdom.

As before, the prince can do all sorts of impressive acrobatic feats, including running up and along walls, vaulting over chasms and backflipping over enemies. Once you get hold of the precious Sands of Time, you can even slow time down and rewind events should you accidentally miss that last precarious jump.

There’s a nasty catch, however. It seems as though prolonged exposure to the Sands of Time has given the prince a bit of a split personality. When the situation calls for it, our dashing hero will quickly turn into the "Dark Prince," a rather ruthless alter ego who carries a razor-sharp metal whip with which to dole out punishment.

While the Dark Prince might seem a bit too powerful at first, he loses health very quickly, and you’ll frequently have to rush through a particular level in order to get to the end without collapsing. Thankfully, these sequences don’t dominate the game but crop up just enough to add variety to the experience.

The other notable addition is the appearance of "speed kills": By sneaking up behind (or above) an enemy, you have the ability to take it out with a few carefully timed button presses. These Simon-says-like sequences require careful concentration to speed the game along and make tackling a room full of monsters a little easier.

As with the past Prince games, the pleasure comes not so much from making hash of "Arabian Nights"-garbed evildoers as from exploring an area and figuring out how to get from A to seemingly unreachable B.

"Two Thrones" is a solid package in just about every respect. The voice acting and dialogue, for example, are well done, and it’s entertaining to hear the prince squabble with his darker side.

The only gripe I have is that the developers were more than a little stingy in their save spots. Allowing players to save their game more often than every 20-30 minutes wouldn’t have hurt.

That aside, "The Two Thrones" is a delightful return to form. In ditching all the dour trappings (if not the violence), Ubisoft has created a fun, fast-paced action title that fans of the series are sure to love.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2006


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