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"Jordan Mechner wasn't working on Warrior Within?!" a friend of mine had asked me the other day at the game shop, as I was trying to work my Ford Ranger home through the frozen tundra that is Colorado winter season. I shook my head. "Nah, he took off after Sands of Time to work on something. The movie script, something like that." With that, my friend just shrugged. "Boy, no wonder I didn't feel the magic."
And I decided to re-play the game for a little bit. It seems that I found it to my liking, despite the fact that the tempo had changed from the awesome Sands of Time game from the year before. I slapped it with a four out of five rating and considered it a quality sequel, although the outcry from fans told a different story. One of disappointment on almost every corner, really. Maybe Mechner's departure actually meant something to these guys, and affected their approach. Well, anyway, I still liked it, and was interested in seeing how the final chapter, Two Thrones, would shape up.
And so it's here, and, strangely enough, it's only here that I can really get an idea of what these fans were talking about in terms of what was missing. While the action was just as graceful and the new additions pretty sweet, you could tell that something was amidst in terms of the storytelling and, in some cases, the delivery. Two Thrones happily delivers back on terms with these two things, and comes across as almost a good a game as Sands of Time. If it wasn't for that one Dark thing that comes into the picture...
More on that in a second. Anyway, the game follows the Prince after his completed adventure from Warrior Within, returning to the kingdom of Babylon with Kileena, the Empress of Time. But their return is soon loaded with disappointment when they find it ravaged by strongmen. Their ship is destroyed, and soon Kileena ends up in their custody, leading the Prince to attempt a daring rescue. It's during this, following some captivating gameplay through the war-torn Babylon, that the Prince discovers that the evil vizier from the first game is up to his old tricks, and has once again turned to the Sands of Time for chaos. This time, however, they have a much more drastic effect on the Prince himself, and he's soon given a new alter ego with more destructive plans.
And so, about a little bit into the beginning, you see this effect take place. This comes in the form of a Dark Prince, the darker side of your character who wields a chain whip of sorts and has a much more shadowy appearance. While the good Prince has plans to save his precious city, the Dark Prince has his own agenda, which unfolds during his segments of the game.
The Dark Prince isn't the worst addition to the series, and actually has a couple of gameplay tricks all his own, but I noticed during his segments that there's a nagging flaw that will frustrate fans of the series, and this comes in the form of energy that seeps away on you a bit too quickly. To keep his survival intact, the Dark Prince must suck up the Sands of Time from fallen enemies, and sometimes you can find yourself in a pinch during combat where this isn't so easily. Also, you have no control when you choose between the two sides, which is also a pain in the neck. After all, there are times during ambushes that the Dark Prince would be just a little handier, and can feed easily.
Other than that, the gameplay is just as fantastic as it's ever been. The Prince still runs along walls, walks tight beams, catches tarps and ladders, can perform amazing jump moves, and has multi-direction combat that's just as smooth as it was when it was introduced in Sands of Time. A new addition here is the use of Quick Kills, something Sam Fisher might have thought up had he been stranded in Babylon to dispatch of the vizier. This involves you stealthily sneaking up on a chosen enemy, and then lunging and pulling off a devastating multi-attack pattern by hitting the corresponding button at the right time. Screw up, and they throw you off and enter normal combat. These Quick Kills can grow quite addictive, and add a bit of strategy to the game. Like that was needed with the puzzles and such, but, hey, a little depth never hurts anyone. The ability to stick your dagger in the wall to reach higher areas and launch wall runs is great, too. But its main purpose still lies in using the "rewind" feature, to screw up past mistakes.
Also new to gameplay are the chariot races, and while it would've been nice to see more of these, they can be a lot of fun. This involves the prince dropping down behind the wheel (er, reigns) of a set of horses and raging through the city, hitting enemies and avoiding obstacles as he goes. They certainly far better than anything Circus Maximus could've offered.
The presentation is at its best in the series, with a vast city to go through that spans almost as far as the eye can see. There's nary a drop in detail here, as the frame rate is steady and the design is absolutely gorgeous. The lighting effects are equally impressive, especially in the darker parts of the city's system, where the Dark Prince offers an ominous glow on the proceedings. It's not entirely real-time, but it still looks good. With sound, Ubisoft Montreal has done their job well with a moving soundtrack, better than Warrior Within's, and the kind of voice acting that's a level above respectable. The sound effects have their variety as well.
My only problem with Two Thrones is that, once it's over, it's really over. Sure, there's a few unlockables here and there, and the adventure has many superb moments, including some boss battles that will really put you to work, but there's really not too much to go back and do, other than see if you can get through it faster. It's really a one-time trumping and then finding only a moderate effort to rediscover the magic again. Ahh, well, sometimes it's the journey, not the destination.
Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones is still a noteworthy adventure that wraps up the trilogy in fine style. Its gameplay still breathlessly comes through, aside from the Dark Prince segments, and the presentation is top-of-the-line for the current generation marker. Now all we need to see is some kind of excuse to bring the brand to the next-generation...and maybe coerce Mr. Mechner to come back for one more round with the Prince. Hey, I know the fans would love it.