copyright © Jedo Dre 2011

Prince of Persia 3

The Two Thrones



Rati ng:


Impact: Relatively memorable

Here we are then; the third game in the Ubisoft’s fine trio has arrived on PC. There were so many high scores for the console versions of the game that, I guess, amongst people there is no doubt that the game is good. I will, however, try to concentrate on its bad sides as well as its good sides and, hopefully, balance things out. One can’t describe the final Prince of Persia game without a lot of referring to the previous versions because they belong so well together, and because many gamers want to know the differences between the games, especially since all that negative controversy surrounding the second game in the series. I will start off by having a quick summary of the events in Prince of Persia series, referred to from here on as PoP (watch out, spoilers!). I will then go through my typical criteria like the graphics and the sound.



The story


As I said, first, I’m going to amass the events together.


In the first game, the Prince is busy expanding his father’s empire, when he finds a dagger that happens to be a key to opening Sands of Time, a sort of manifestation of time that can bless you with great power but can also curse others. Back at Prince’s palace, a power-hungry traitorous vizier makes the Prince open the Sands and all hell breaks loose as all the people of the city are turned into evil sand monsters. Naturally the prince and Farah (the princess whose identity, after so many versions of the story, I can no longer track) have to stop the vizier and turn stuff back to normal. Having a little time-turning trick up his sleeve, thanks to the Dagger of Time, the Prince succeeds and in doing so undoes everything that happened.


In the second game, a powerful creature, not of this world, follows the Prince wherever he goes, seemingly willing to kill him in order to restore the anomaly that the prince caused with the Sands of Time. The sad and pessimistic prince travels back to the maker of the Sands of Time to make sure that the sands were never created. For that he has to confront and save the Empress of Time to prevent the release of the Sands. He succeeds and returns home with an Empress under his sheets (that’s if you got to the alternative ending), only to find his kingdom in ruins.


And that’s where the third story begins. The vizier is back and he captures and kills the Empress to unleash the Sands once again, however giving the Prince something special (by accident) in the process. After the death of the Empress, Farah comes into the spotlight once again. Hey, I guess if the royal empress is out of business, a maharaja’s daughter will have to do.


Although the story in itself is strong in PoP3, it is rather dependable on the previous games. Right in the intro movie, you’re shown events that leave a fair amount of question and exclamation marks in your head. There will be comments that refer to something happening in the past, but it just doesn't explain it too well, so when the Prince talks to Farah and thinks "Seven years and nothing has changed" you're left confused.


Gameplay


Not all is lost for the Prince, as the Dagger of Time is once again with you to give you the power of slowing and turning back time. I wish I had that kind power when talking to women...Anyways, you’ll have a limited amount of that goodness of course but you can replenish it in different ways throughout the game.


Warning: if you’re terrified of heights, don’t play this game because you will be hanging from a miniature ledge above oblivion quite often. Jumping from a column to the wall, stabbing your sword into an opening on the surface and then running along the wall only to jump onto another ledge, you’ll have your fingers full with this acrobatic simulator.


Besides jumping you’ll be doing a lot of killing. Unlike its predecessor, PoP3 doesn’t regularly provide the player with new and intimidating looking dual swords but instead, for the most of the campaign, you will be stuck with just one little dagger as the main weapon (you do receive one special sword towards the end of the game in your left hand). Throughout the game you will also be able to pick up different weapons in your left arm, but they don’t last for too long. Battle techniques vary, depending what your hands hold. There are plenty of gorgeous looking ways to slaughter someone using the acrobatic skills of the Prince. Enemies of all kind, as well as several bosses, await you to test your skills. Ugly never looked so pretty.


The new system in Two Thrones is the stealth killing, also known as speed-kill system, which is done beautifully. The character automatically draws weapon and starts crouching when he closes in on the enemy, but the kill can also be done while hanging from above or even in flight. Not only is this system available, but stealth is also well encouraged by providing the player with extra opportunities and extra ledges for your character to attack the enemy from. The game also provides reasons for using the speed-kill system, as sometimes, you will come across a group of enemies, one of whom can call for back up if you do not kill him quickly.


Since the Prince gets infected by the Sands of Time, he receives split personality and occasionally turns into a different creature (effects of prolonged war on human psychic aren’t pretty, I tell ya). This is your second character if you may. He is the Prince’s dark side but, as most semi-evil characters, he’s one cool-looking guy and very powerful too. He allows for more fascinating acrobatic travel. However, the dark prince looses health constantly. That little misfortune, in return, forces the player to speed up the pace and that reduces the total playing time which, in my eyes, reduces the value of the game.


One of the things some gamers might hate in any game is getting stuck on some level and having to redo the level numerous times. And since Two Thrones doesn’t allow saving at will, you will be (providing you’re just a human) repeating some stuff many times. On the brighter side, there are checkpoints where you can save and actually they are placed on just the right distance from one other. The checkpoints are part of the whole idea about telling the game as if it was a story. From time to time you will hear the Empress read a few lines from the story, and every time when you reach a checkpoint and save, she goes, “Should I continue my story from here next time?” The story telling is a nice touch, but the developers wouldn’t hurt the game by also adding the ability to save manually, at least because of the PoP’s never ending problem with controls and camera views that I will discuss later in the review.


I wonder, by the way, how the Empress tells the story when the character dies over and over again? “…Ok so he jumped and then he was killed by this monster…no wait, that’s not how it happened…he killed that monster but was killed by a razor two seconds later…no that’s not it either…Hmm, now where was I..? Oh yes, he was about to enter a room filled with monsters…” Wouldn’t you get annoyed with the story after about 30 seconds?


The game features several puzzles, which are usually well combined with the acrobatic work. Those puzzles aren’t hard, but then again, they do not take a central place in the game but rather complement the action.


Visuals


The graphics haven’t changed much since the last Prince of Persia which is both: good and bad. The visuals still mainly sit upon light-bloom effect. For those who don’t know what light-bloom effect is; it’s something that’s been used in new games in the last couple of years that makes every object in game have a little glow to it. It looks especially well on things that already glow to begin with like, for example, the alternative dark prince. It makes for a nice eye candy but take the effect away and the game doesn’t look as splendid.


When you first make landfall, you’ll see the empress on the ground from head to toe. Her fingers are merged together, her hair looks like it’s been constructed from Lego pieces and her clothing is very blurry. With this kind of imperfection PoP3 can’t score too high on graphics. On today’s market we’ve seen better. On the other hand, there are some stone surfaces in the game that reflect very nicely and the game also makes a good use of light.


But when it comes to animation and environment, the game truly triumphs. The atmosphere of the ruined city is awesome. Tower of Babylon in the background, siege towers and great looking architecture manage to create quite a mood for the player, even though half of it does look unnaturally placed just for the prince to jump about.


Animations deserve an extra paragraph. Every time the prince commits one of his deadly sneak attacks, the knife shines as the prince does a graceful flip to stab it into the enemy’s body. The blood gashes out realistically as the enemy falls to his knees (btw only the earlier versions of enemies bleed; the latter sand-versions just…shine to death). Yet the violence is more child-friendly this time around. Some of the seemingly harmless acrobatic tricks in PoP3, in PoP2 were causing the bodies to be split in two.


The cut scenes are all you’d expect from Ubisoft and they make for an interesting movie if combined. You can, by the way, unlock them as well as other pictures in the main menu, using your sand credits that you gain throughout the game.


Controls and camera view


The controls are unfortunately one of the weak points in the game; at least they are on the PC version. The game conveniently warns you during the installation that the game is best playable with an analogue controller. When the game starts, some of the tips you see on screen are for the analogue controller and some for the mouse. Well that’s oppressive...Seems like the developers never did have the PC in mind when creating the game.


In addition, it was very uncomfortable when the camera was auto-centering every time you moved, making it impossible to do both: run and look around. The camera does occasionally allow for special wide-viewing so the player can see what the next room offers him, and there’s also a first person view; but the wide-view possibility is rare, and it’s just not convenient to stop every time you need to look somewhere other than straight.


Because the camera view often affects the way you have to push buttons, you get into awkward situations when you press one key, sure of where the character will jump, and the prince happily jumps the other way towards nothingness. Once you get accustomed to this, you will start predicting correctly what buttons to press. However, due to the disability to save the game at will and the limited number of times that you can turn back the time and the pressure when you’re in control of the dark prince, (whose health reduces continuously) the problem with camera angles can get pretty annoying.


Another thing to add is that my version of the game seems to have a weird bug, if you can call it like that, where no matter what side I turned, the Prince would turn back facing the camera or just the opposite direction of where I want him to…That split personality of his must be a real b***…


Sound


Nothing to celebrate but it’s decent. The level of acting is professional. It also corresponds well with the visual representation (unless your video card is choking during cut scenes), and the game even manages to put a little humor into the acting now and then (and few games have succeeded in that). In particular, the conversations the Prince has with his darker self are hilarious. What's more, the soundtrack is appropriate to the ambience. This time, the music returns from the heavy metal tracks, the gamer experienced in the previous PoP2, to the more adventurous kind of music. The heavy rock change in the PoP2 seemed to be form quite an issue with some of the fans of the PoP Sands of Time.


Performance


On average, it ran more or less smoothly on my weak 2 GHz P4, Radeon 9600 machine, but that is to be expected from this level of graphics and lack of open space. Nonetheless, my frame rate was slowing down to sickening lows on some maps with several soldiers fighting in the background, and during some of the cut-scenes when the animation was slowing down and falling behind the sound. Some of the lighting used can take a toll on your system too. All of this isn’t much of a worry for someone with a medium-to-high end system.


Value


This is one of the final and, to some gamers, the most important question: is this goodness worth the money. Well let’s be honest, there’s no multiplayer and no skirmish. The replay value is questionable, especially after you already died and replayed some parts of some levels a hundred times over, before reaching the damn checkpoint. The price of this baby is in the high budget range, topping $50. So considering the former, you might want to wait a bit before the price drops or maybe just rent the game.


Conclusion


So to summarize, Prince of Persia 3, as well as of its two predecessors, can be described as a fruity cocktail of puzzles, killing and gymnastics. Prince Of Persia 3 Two Thrones is a good ending to the trilogy. So good, in fact, that they should’ve released the second and the third game as one because Two Thrones sometimes shows you things that you would have a hard time understanding if you haven’t played the previous games. The story is intriguing (especially if you played the other PoP games). In addition, there’s plenty of very varied action in the game to keep your jaw open at all times. The graphics of the game are good but it’s not a revolution. All in all, the fans of the PoP series should be pleased with this piece of art.