Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones|
Platform: Playstation 2
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: 11/30/05
Reversing the Sands of Time Never Felt So Good
As the hero returns to his land, with a lady of the sand by his side, he not only comes to face a homeland scarred by battles, but also a battle waged by his inner-most thoughts. It is time for the hero to confront his true self and learn what it means to be a real Prince.
The Prince of Persia series have gone through many different transformations, which in turn have led to epic battles of wit and retort among avid fans and critics, no different from those engaged in the games themselves. Although it started out as a simple 2D platformer, it was not at all looked upon with pity. Its fluid animation, creative Arabian Nights setting and storyline, and ingenious puzzles/physical traps, led to an unbelievable fan following. For many, the original Prince of Persia , released in 1990, was an example of technology and game design fused together in perfect harmony.
Like all franchises, there comes a time when growing up is painful, and unfortunately for fans, it showed up in the form of Prince of Persia 3D. This horrible 3D adaptation created a large outcry from traditional fans. The game was so horribly designed, that it created a level of fear among PoP fans over whether any new iterations of the series would be worth the acknowledgment. When Sands of Time was released for the PS2, there were many fans who hesitated on jumping on board; It was a new 3D Prince of Persia, why not 2D? Is this the lethal strike that will cut the franchise short for a whole new generation of gamers? Fortunately for both avid fans and casual gamers, it was a godsend. Sands of Time some how took upon the spirit of the original and brought the franchise to the 21st century, with ingenious puzzles and a witty Prince in tow.
Then came another transformation to our beloved Prince: Revenge, blood-lust, and a wicked new goatee draped upon the new Godsmack-metal-loving Prince. This new persona not only brought a new change in the Prince, it also led to a more action oriented world of destruction and dark grimy environments. Gone were the ingenious puzzles, and the sarcastic, yet noble heart of the Prince. It seemed that chivalry was now dead to eyes of the gaming industry. The Prince had somehow lost his way.
The Two Thrones has in some way acknowledged such weaknesses of the last series by personifying it as separate entity that dwells within the Prince. The Prince’s new attitude has represented itself as the shadow of he’s psyche. As the Prince enters his homeland, he begins to acknowledge that it is the shadow that is slowly consuming his heart. In a way, The Two Thrones was created as a way to confront the mistakes of the main character, and as well as the developers’ past transgressions.
The game opens up with the Prince seeing his homeland desecrated by the Vazier, the archenemy from Sands of Time. It is by cruel fate that the Prince has led his most prized possession, Kaileena, to be ripped from him by the enemy he swore he destroyed in the past. It is now time for the Prince to look within and decide what matters most, the city he loved so much or love of revenge.
By returning to Babylon, the series brought back the gorgeous environments and intricate level designs, jettisoned by Warrior Within. The complexity of the levels can attribute by the added abilities bestowed upon the Prince. High arches, vaulted ceilings, hanging gardens, and steeples are interwoven throughout the landscape. The developers kept the use of the “bloom effect” to keep the dream like façade, so well liked by critics and gamers. The game in general has a very bright and hazy look to the game, very similar to how it was in Sands of Time. By using this type of design, it brings up to question whether change is always better. It is hard to see fault in the art direction of the series, and for many it could be one of the major reasons to play the game.
Graphically; however, the game is a mixed bag. It is very hard to see a game that has many high aspirations in the design aspect, but fail miserably during its execution. The Two Thrones is unfortunately a victim of such a situation. While playing the game, you know very well what the developers are aiming for, but due to limitations of the hardware some details must be left out. The first victims of hardware limitation would be the character models. Although many critics have addressed the lack of detail and realism seen in both last two PS2 iterations, it is the Sands of Time that actually trumps both Warrior Within and The Two Thrones, in the models department.
When I first played The Two Thrones, I was taken a back by the lack of quality seen in the character models. It seemed to me that Prince no longer looked as dashing as he was in the Sands of Time. At first I attributed this to an aging graphics engine and effects of perception, but I decided to go back and check out the character models used in Sands of Time. Oddly enough, Sands of Time had a better look. It seemed that in The Two Thrones, more effort was put on enemies than on the Prince and the “Lady” themselves. The Prince was unfortunately plagued by a disease that flattens and diminishes the level of muscle mass through out his arms and torso. This is what I call the paper doll effect. Not only do the arms of the Prince seem to lack any definition, there are no ill effects that are synonymous with weight distribution and momentum. Although there is no abhorrent levels of polygon clipping, there are certain bugs in the collision engine of the game. These collision bugs were of course seen in Sands of Time, it is unfortunate to see them still plaguing the wonderful control design. It can be speculated that the tone down quality of the models are victims of the lack memory resources, which were more importantly needed for the expansive levels designs. The levels of detail shown on the environments have also caused the game to suffer in framerate. The game generally runs at a decent 30fps, but dips down during very flashy moments of brief spatial grandeur. This does not seriously distract from the enjoyment of the game, but it should be well noted that such situations do slow down the pace of the game.
I was fortunate to play the PC, PS2, and XBOX versions of the game. Aliasing is an issue for both the PS2 and XBOX. The use of the bloom effect allows for the PS2 shine as brightly as its cousin XBOX yet both consoles are plagued by slowdown as well. Both of these consoles were played on a HDTV 52” using Progressive scan (a godsend for us Videophiles), and it was really hard to distinguish the differences between them. Since I have a penchant for the PS2 controller I stuck with the PS2 version all the way. The PC version; however, trumps over all of them. Being able to play the game at 1600x1200 and with 4x Anti-aliasing allows for a more crisp and clean playthrough. The only downside is that the game still exhibits slowdown at certain situations no matter what the resolution setting may be. The only real problem with using a PC is the lack of a good sized monitor. At the moment I use a 21” Sony Trinitron CRT, work great, but lacks the size of my DLP. I decided to hook up my PC to the HDTV using DVI, and I was able to enjoy the game in its full glory. The only problem is that this is a temporary measure. I don’t like using my PC on the DLP; it never looks right when it comes to web-browsing. In other words, I spent most of time playing the PS2 version. Some may say I’m cheating myself by doing this, but all the detail is there, the blowing curtains that swathe the royal palace, the mysterious glow emanating from abandoned crypts, and many other architectural highlights.
As expressed before, certain architectural designs are embedded throughout the game for the Prince to abuse with his gymnastic feats. The Prince not only runs on walls, but also is able spring himself off of well placed and oddly conspicuous springboards, allowing him to bounce from wall to wall in greater length. This added feature does not really add much challenge in the puzzle department. Instead it allows for a larger variety in the platforming showcase of the game, in other words, just more ways for the Prince to show off. Another special ability for the Prince is the ability to hang from conveniently placed wall decorations, allowing the Prince to wall-run for further distances by doing this maneuver. Although these are very welcomed inclusions, it does seem a bit trite on how lucky the Prince is; especially when the Prince acts as if he is the human version C3PO. Imagine if the Prince was unlucky and there were no well placed wall decorations and springboards to get to the next lever, but I digress, luck just seems to be on the player’s side.
If there were ever a horrible design feature in Prince of Persia, it would definitely not be the controls. It is the most intuitive system I’ve seen in a 3D platformer. Although I would like to spend multiple pages on an "Ode to PoP Control Design", I shouldn’t because it really isn’t anything new. The last two games can be attributed in having the same level of precise control. It really isn’t anything I haven’t already seen, but I’m definitely happy that they did not mess up with the now classic formula. The only real issue with control has to do with combat, yet that was fixed during Warrior Within. The same combat controls are seen in The Two Thrones, yet that is also a weak point, but that has more to do with combat design than actual control.
Thanks to a somewhat sadistic level design, you get to enjoy the full glory of a very agile hero. You will need that level of precise control to get through obstacles. POP veterans will actually not have a problem maneuvering through bottomless chasms, spinning buzz-saws, magical rotating pillars of death, smashing walls, and the occasional triggered floor spikes. It is all thanks to the great controls that it allows players to maneuver very swiftly through the obstacle courses. You know the saying “Easier than it looks”, well it pretty much sums up the experience. Even though it seems like your doing everything with ease, you’ll always end up getting snagged at one inopportune moment, causing you to ask for the great powers that be (aka the Sands Of Time), to reverse time and do the obstacle again. To compliment the agile feats of the Prince, the game includes the now classic reverse time to get your way tactic, and the slow down time so I don’t get my torso cut in half strategy. There is always the feeling of accomplishment that is delivered to the player after each run, it is always a rush.
Puzzle gameplay in The Two Thrones is very hard to critique when you compare them to the last two PS2 games. The complexity of the puzzles in Warrior Within were more ingenious in way it made the player work on a big complex boxed-in puzzle throughout the game. The Two Thrones throw the player much more puzzles than the combat focused Warrior Within, but the level of complexity is no where near challenging for veteran PoP fans or decent gamers. Yet, The Two Thrones also mixes obstacle course running with puzzle solving gameplay, this makes things highly enjoyable and keeps the fast pacing alive in the game.
The only situation that mires such feelings of masochistic euphoria is the combat. Combat in The Two Thrones is the same as Warrior Within, so much the same that it is the Achilles heel of the series. The combat engine uses predefined combos, with a slight bias toward two handed weapon usage. This is some sound advice: never, ever enter combat without another weapon on hand, you WILL get your ass handed down to you if you just use the dagger. It is during the combat that many of you, even veterans, will have to slow down time to edge on your enemies, or reverse time because you should have blocked instead of dodged. Combat really slows down the pace of the game, and I could have easily enjoyed more moments of obstacle running bliss. Combat is not as intuitive or creative as other Triple A action games are. Games like Devil May Cry 3 and God of War edge out The Two Thrones at these moments. It is very unfortunate not to see a more balanced and intuitive combat system since the developers should have learned for their time with Warrior Within. Instead the developers opted for same old same, which leads the game to fall on very thin ice. Combat is what leads to most of the frustration created by the game, and not the obstacles or puzzles themselves.
Somehow, the developers seem to catch on that not all players are fond of the combat aspect of PoP, and so instituted a stealth-kill system. If players move cautiously it is possible not fall into real heavy combat, no more than 5 times when in Prince Mode (other than the obligatory boss fights). These stealth kills are nice to view and aren’t as simple as the instant-kills done in the Tenchu series; the player actually has to time a button presses as the Prince does the motions on screen. If you are patient you can down 4 enemies all at once in one stealth-kill; that is what I call style. This implementation allows for players who simply like the platforming element of the series to speed through the combat and get back to business. In the likelyhood of a new Prince of Persia in the works, I hope they flesh out the stealth kill system; it will be well welcomed system in the franchise.
Even though combat has been lessened through the use of stealth kills it is still not possible to wimp out on the fights through the game. The developers decided to confront the bloodlust that dwells in the Prince’s heart. Through the sequence of events (that I would not disclose due to spoilers) the Prince is now the proud owner of dual personalities. This much more malevolent and goal-oriented Dark Prince, plays well in the Jungian-influenced plotline that is introduced in the game. The Prince must come to grasp the meaning of this second personality and what it really means to his persona. Although the storyline does not bog itself too deeply in philosophical monologues, there are enough self-reflective observations, spoken by your now more amicable Prince, to reflect the decent level of philosophical fore-thought put into the storyline.
What the Prince must face is the undying need for battle and revenge that is represented in a physical manifestation called the Dark Prince. This Dark Prince in nature and in gameplay is completely dependent on fighting the enemy at all costs. This much more violent Prince uses an even more vicious weapon known as the Daggertail. This weapon is similar to Ivy’s extended weapon version, from Soul Caliber; think of it as a very long chain of daggers. Just thought of such a weapon is enough to make grown men cry. Unlike the level of finesse and artistic movement shown in the Prince’s combat style, the Daggertail is used in more ruthless manner.
Gameplay-wise, the Dark Prince is really a let down. Due to the storyline, the Dark Prince must be always fighting, if not, then the player’s health will slowly degenerate to the point of actually dying half way through the obstacle course. The only real challenge that appeared in the game is during the times when the Dark Prince must run through a gauntlet of traps, and since it is during these times that you are not fighting, the health meter is slowly blinking, telling you that you are going to die very soon. I’ve had some trial and errors during these situations. It is not much of a nuisance, and should not be seen as a count against the gameplay.
The real culprit of bringing down the quality of the gameplay is the spoon-fed combat during the Dark Prince sections. The combat is actually very shallow when compared to the Prince-oriented combat. The main point of the Dark Prince combat is to defeat the enemies as fast as possible and get to the next area that will turn the Dark Prince into good old regular Prince. Although the Dark Prince adds the ability to chain swing off of poles and light fixtures, it really does not add much to the value of the platforming sections.
I don’t personally see a problem with having the Dark Prince or his need to fight or die feature, but it’s the lack of cohesion that ultimately dooms this new game mechanic. The Dark Prince sections seem to be just tacked on and very little is put into combat system. I ended up mumbling over every Dark Prince segment, hoping that the regular Prince will come back in the next area. If the combat system was more fleshed out for the Dark Prince, it could have been a very desirable feature, which would have probably led to an army of Dark Prince Fanatics, clamoring over a Dark Prince only spin-off. Yet, it was not the case, and combat became very stale after only 2 or 3 fights. For a character that must fight to live, this a horrible way to play. Overall, the Dark Prince worked very well as a story device, but not so much as a gameplay feature.
I feel obligated not to end the review in such a sour note. I had a lot fun playing this game and it would a disservice not to point out that the reason we play games is to have fun. Even if the franchise has not changed much from the past two iterations it is still a game that is hard to get bored of. I always believed that innovation and creativity are the major cornerstones of what makes game, but they aren’t the only factors. Sometimes the “tried and true” method is what an aging franchise needs at times. The Two Thrones doesn’t really add anything new to the series, but it does try to get back to its roots. At times the game has a sort of split personality complex that, although, works as a plot device, doesn’t work so well, if not implemented smoothly within the gameplay. Fortunately, the Dark Prince segments aren’t as numerous as too destroy the enjoyment of the game. To be fair, those Dark Prince segments aren’t that bad, they just aren’t as fun as playing the prince.
The series has seriously grown up since the appearance of Prince of Persia 3D. It changed a lot of hearts and minds of avid 2D fans, who vehemently stress, that 2D games can never transition into the 3D realm without losing its charm. Even though the series seemed to lose its way during Warrior Within, it was able to gain back the charm that it created in Prince of Persia 1. The philosophical monologues (though not pretentious), the outstanding art direction, and the fluid controls to maneuver through the trapped filled streets of Babylon, all help the series tap into what makes a game fun and enjoyable. I just wished that this short 8-10 hour game would come to terms over its conflicting persona, and deliver to gamers, a much more stable state of euphoric gaming bliss.
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Published on: 2005-12-30 (13392 reads)[ Go Back ]