I’m a huge fan of Prince of Persia, Sands of Time. It was a visual feast using glowing pastels colours to bring the magic of an Arabian adventure to life. There was a story that was told mainly through the gameplay and, for once, it was a story that didn’t suck (something Ubi Soft seem quite good at). The gameplay, with the possible exception of the combat, was perfect. You, as the Prince from the title, have to traverse a series of rooms/ environments. If it was set in a normal building this would be easy, walk across the room and open the door, but in Persia they use more than just stairs to get around. You had to climb, and swing, and jump, and (rather impressively) run on walls to get to your target. Last section in particular was stunning, climbing up the outside of a castle to get to the evil Vizier. Sands of Time under performed at retail but was critically acclaimed so a sequel was released.
Prince of Persia, Warrior Within. It wasn’t a bad game, but playing it again recently shows how ridiculously hard it became. One of the complaints about Sands of Time was the length (about 8 hours seemed to be average) so Warrior Within was made considerably more difficult. Unfortunately the beautiful, colourful, visuals were discarded for, admittedly equally attractive, more generic gothic castles. The Arabian music was also replaced – with teen angst style metal riffs. Finally the Prince was given a sulky teenager attitude, all this in an attempt to make the game ‘more commercial’. Personally I didn’t think it was as bad as many people said but it lost the wonder of Sands of Time. Unlike the first game I didn’t complete this one. I’d had enough.
Not finishing the first game didn’t stop me from looking forward to the third (and final?) game in the series, Prince of Persia, the Two Thrones. Early reviews were really promising, there seemed to be a few issues but in general it was spoken of as a return to form for the series. Now that I’ve completed it, I have to say that I agree.
There are two big gameplay changes this time around. The focus kills, which use simple timed key presses to pull off complex combat moves (bypassing the annoying fighting sections from the previous game) and the split personality prince.
The focus kills involve sneaking up upon unwary enemies and pressing a button at certain times. If you get the timing right you pull of a scripted series of moves on the enemy killing them. This is quite a cool way of getting players to perform complex moves on their adversaries, but it takes a bit of practice to be able to do it every time. The focus kills are at their best when you use them in the boss fights. Climbing over a hugely mutated man whilst stabbing him in the eye has never been so much fun – although it’s not long until Shadow of the Colossus comes out in England, I’ve been very patient 🙂
Split personality is the wrong term for the other major change in the game. What actually happens is at certain stages in the game the prince gets turned into the dark prince. This gives him a new weapon, the daggertail (a chain whip thing), and kills him, unless he feeds from the sands dropped by enemies he defeats. Basically it’s an excuse to kill lots of people. I didn’t the find the fighting as the dark prince quite so satisfying as the prince and often I’d end up just standing still swinging the whip around my head. This would stop any enemies from getting near, whilst keeping me safe, but was much less fun.
Overall the game has a different feeling to the previous two. The levels feel a lot more enclosed, possibly because a lot of it is spent at ground level between very tall buildings. My favourite bits of the first two games were when you were in the open, or at least in a very large room, jumping around seemingly abstract pillars and columns. This happens less in Two Thrones although things improve considerably the closer you get to the end.
The boss fights were quite cool, pretty much absent from the first game, and limited in the second they play quite a big part here. Thankfully they, with the exception of the sword and axeman multi boss fight, are relatively straight forward and can be beaten in four or five goes. Hard boss battles is a pet hate of mine, I want to play the game and their should be some challenge in these more important enemies but making me spend an hour or two on them just isn’t fun.
Two Thrones changes pace constantly, switching between the classic platform and combat sections adding in the new, more frantic, dark prince combat and jumping sections, with boss fights and the all new chariot sections. There are actually three sections involving riding something, two on a chariot, and one riding on the back of a big beasty. The beasty section is a bit rubbish but is over quickly, the chariot elements are far more fun. A few reviews I read said the chariots felt out of place but I quite enjoyed them, once you get the hang of steering it’s pretty easy and you can just enjoy it, since it’s all over pretty quickly.
With all the different gameplay elements the game rarely gets boring, the only section I didn’t particularly enjoy was the giant statue puzzle which was relatively simple to solve but so incredibly boring to actually complete.
This is the final game in this Prince of Persia series but I can’t see them not making any more games like it, wether they star the prince or not remains to be seen.