of Persia: The Two Thrones
Review by Steerpike
My elder brother first became an FFC supporting character in my
Within review. To this day, he insists he got a bum rap
in that piece, so I'll endeavor to highlight his many excellent
traits this time around. Though he got all the really good genes
out of Mom and Dad before I had a shot at them, he's otherwise a
kind, generous and munificent soul; he turned me on to PoP:
The Sands of Time way back in the day. Knowing our shared
love of the Prince of Persia franchise resurrection, he Santa-Claused
me this newest installment.
The short version is that Ubisoft has continued its storied tradition
of doing nearly everything wrong yet somehow managing to produce
a great game. Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones is awesome.
And it's that way despite several very bad qualities: it was written
by drudges only marginally more adept than those who penned Warrior
Within. Developed by hacks who think frantic races through narrow
streets on unsteerable chariots for twenty minutes with no save
points is clever. Acted by hammy caricatures who would be funny
(in an "I can't stop crying" sort of way) if they all
weren't so obviously trying to be serious.
But it does solve many of Warrior Within's problems while
keeping all of that game's positive qualities, so it's an easy tie
for second place with its immediate predecessor but still not as
good as the original. It is also supposedly the last of the Prince
of Persia games, or at least the end of the trilogy. This series
has existed since the early 1990s, when Jordan Mechner of Broderbund
first entranced the world with the acrobatic Prince. Given that
the new franchise has sold nearly eight million units across five
platforms, well ... I'm skeptical about its demise.
Technical notes: I played through on the PC with a mouse and keyboard,
as I have done with all of the PoP games. Also, I've got
the European import of Two Thrones, and that version at least
is StarForce-protected, so consider yourself warned. At the same
time, consider yourself resigned; StarForce is here to stay. 2006
will be its breakout year, with nearly every major title from Europeand
plenty from Americaprotected by this much-maligned but now
ubiquitous system. If you wish to continue boycotting StarForce,
you have my sympathy, but get ready to miss a lot of games.
Awful Things Happen to Wizards Who Meddle with Time, Harry
Let's recap the story so far. The Prince of Persia's adventures
began when he stole a magic dagger from an Indian palace, a dagger
that turned time itself into Play-Doh in his hands, to be reworked
and altered as he saw fit. Shortly thereafter, an evil Vizier tricked
him into unleashing the deadly Sands of Time, which totally ruined
the big party he was attending. The Prince and Farahthe daughter
of the dude from whom he stole the daggerbickered their way
through an enemy-infested palace, fell in love, and contained the
Sands. In an effort to undo his monumental screw-up, the Prince
then rewound time all the way back to before he stole the dagger,
so essentially none of it ever happened. He also killed the Vizier
on general principles. Then he went home. That was PoP: The Sands
At home, the Prince discovered that you're not allowed to mess
with time unless you own it. A creature called the Dahaka chased
him for seven years, during which he stopped being a nice, if somewhat
pompous, young man and turned into a gothy asshole. They'd have
us believe that his transformation was the result of stress caused
by the Dahaka's pursuit; the truth is that vocabulary-challenged
morons replaced the extraordinary writers of Sands of Time in
the first of Ubi's many blunders associated with this franchise.
The reimagined Prince traveled to the source of all time to stop
the creation of the Sands, on the inimitable logic that without
them he couldn't have messed up time in the first place. After appeasing
the Dahaka, he convinced Kaileena, the Empress of Time, to quit
her job due to the lousy benefits package and return to Babylon
with him. Then he went home. That was PoP: Warrior Within.
And so begins The Two Thrones. Because he's a jackass now,
it didn't occur to the Prince that if he stopped the creation of
the Sands, everything involving them would be undone. That means
the Vizier who caused the trouble in Sands of Time is no
longer dead, and he's still just as evil since all viziers are evil.
(Seriously. Watch Aladdin.) The Prince returns to find Babylon in
ruins, shattered by the Vizier's army. They take Kaileena prisoner,
and the Vizierwho somehow got his hands on the Prince's old
daggerperforms an arcane ritual to recreate the Sands of Time
and achieve his long-term goal of turning yellow and becoming immortal.
The good news is that he drops the dagger, so the Prince grabs it
and can once again manipulate time, because that's gone so well
for him in the past.
Around this point, the Prince suffers what I can only describe
as an excruciatingly painful-looking injury to his left arm. Some
Sand gets into that wound when the Vizier performs his ritual, and
suddenly the Prince has a new problem: at the worst possible moments,
he transforms into a demonic killing machine with a spiny whip and
a distinctly sarcastic attitude. This Dark Prince is a manifestation
of ... well, a lot of things, and the Vanilla Prince must work hard
to come to terms with his new alter ego as he seeks to defeat the
The Dark Prince reminds me of SHODAN from the System Shock games.
Like SHODAN, he is with you all the time-mocking you, tormenting
you, driving you to commit evil ... yet seeming to care for you
deeply. Though he is ultimately a villain, the Dark Prince's wry
sense of humor and obvious fondness for his host make him one of
the most interesting characters in the game. He's also one of the
only good actors. You spend just a fraction of your time as this
character, but his running monologue in the Prince's head is one
of the chief storytelling tools.
Perhaps the most semi-welcome addition to The Two Thrones is
the return of Farah, the Prince's on-and-off girlfriend from Sands.
The Mongoloids who wrote Warrior Within cut her out of
the narrative, but now she's back. She has no memory of the Prince,
of course, since they've never met on account of his compulsive
editing of the timeline. Sadly, this means that she's as much of
a bitch as when we first met her. The new writers just weren't capable
of making her bitchiness endearing like the old ones did. And they
replaced the subtle and talented actress who voiced Farah in the
first game, so her constant venom isn't as touching as it was in
Sands. It also doesn't help that most of her dialogue is
cripplingly bad, though I will grant that the very few truly
well-written, well-acted scenes in this game involve the pair's
bumbling sexual tension while the Dark Prince chuckles in the background.
The Prince's fundamental flaw has always been rooted in his hubris.
It manifests as a nearly pathological obsession with gaining his
father's approval, which is sad because it's always been obvious
that his father is ridiculously proud of him. It's the hubris that
drives the Prince to try to undo the mistakes of his past by rewinding
time again and again until he gets it right. Unfortunately, every
time he tries to fix something, ten new things break, and he's too
arrogant to realize that he'd do better to leave well enough alone.
Literally thousands of people have died, and the lives of thousands
of others have been ruined, because of the Prince's compulsion to
undo his garden of idiocies. The whole point of Prince of Persia
is that there's something to be said for living with and learning
from one's mistakes. This game's ending, which brings the entire
series into a beautifully realized loop not dissimilar to the time
paradoxes that have plagued the Prince since day one, is testament
to that theme.
Ah, a Spike Trap. This Must Be the Living Room.
If you've never played a PoP game because you fear or hate
jumping puzzles, don't worry. They're as natural here as they are
unnatural in a shooter or an RPG; they have been the core of Prince
of Persia since the original series. A few irritating segments
aside, The Two Thrones is very well designed, challenging
you with some absolutely beautiful and diabolical puzzles. Your
progress through the game is dependent on your observational skills,
your timing and your mastery of the Prince's spectacular acrobatic
The Prince has added some new moves to his repertoire: he can brace
himself between narrow gaps, angle-jump using shutters, stab his
dagger into wall plates and a few other treats. As always, the animations
are so stunning and lifelike that an observer would be convinced
the game is playing itself. A talented player can fluidly execute
the most astounding gymnastics with nothing more than good timing
and a few clicks.
And you still have your Rip van Winkle mojo. The Prince's dagger
can rewind, slow down and otherwise adjust the passage of time.
The more Sand you have, the more you can do; you get it from enemies
and various containers. I feel that they balanced the availability
of Sand with the challenge level of the environment pretty effectively.
On the more devious puzzles you're going to be rewinding a lot (and
seriously, what's with these Babylonians? Haven't they heard of
stairs? You wouldn't believe what the cook has to go through
if he wants to deliver a hot chocolate from the kitchen to the throne
room). Anyway, it's always vexing when you make an accidental mistake
and lack the Sand to undo it. The Two Thrones is generous
enough with Sand to dodge that frustration and tightfisted enough
to keep it from being easy. This deserves a Gold Star in and of
itself since game balance in a title like this is exceptionally
They also kept the dramatically upgraded combat system from Warrior
Within. This sublimely elegant combo-driven style is an absolute
joy, offering the best swordfighting of any game I've ever played.
It is so much fun to be in fights in this game. But ...
... Only when you're the Vanilla Prince. The Dark Prince is
armed with the Daggertail, a rather terrifying piece of elastic
cutlery that would have been quite at home in The Passion. This
makes him a real killing machine, and he's capable of combos just
as fantastic as those of his twin. Unfortunately, the Dark Prince's
health drains constantly. Only Sand can replenish it, which means
that you're in such a hurry to kill your opponents and grab their
Sand that you mostly just stand around spinning the Daggertail and
waiting for them to stumble into it. Speed must take priority over
elegance when you're the Dark Prince, and elegance is what the combat
system in this game should be all about. Moreover, it's not very
amusing to wrestle with a complex jumping puzzle when your health
is falling like presidential approval ratings. You just don't have
the time to stop, look around and consider your next move before
you die, and very poorly spaced save points mean there'll be a lot
The Vanilla Prince is now capable of performing speed kills against
unaware enemies. If you can execute a series of impeccably timed
clicks to oft-invisible onscreen cues, you'll quietly eviscerate
an opponent without his friends noticing. But when I say "impeccably
timed," I mean off-by-one-nanosecond-and-you're-meat-on-stick,
so I rarely used them. The real trouble with speed kills is that
they're necessary to defeat the game's handful of boss monsters,
so these encounters become quite frustrating as you try and try
again to get the timing right. This is especially true during the
outrageously difficult final battle.
Another unwelcome addition is the two chariot races, in which you
tear through the streets of Babylon, dodging various solid obstacles
and hacking at opponents who fling themselves onto your vehicle.
The controls for the chariots are useless, and the sequences go
on too long. Ultimately, they feel tacked on, something that makes
for a good press clipping but has no place in this game and wouldn't
have been missed if removed.
Tempus Iudex Rerum
Time is the judge of all things, and though the Prince may be able
to control it, it hasn't been kind to the series' technology. The
fact is, this codebase is showing its age. It's still on the same
engine as its two predecessors, with minimal graphic improvements.
The hand-drawn animations do still look great, but the game engine,
first used in 2003's Beyond Good & Evil and largely unchanged
since then, cannot compete. Mitten hands, braids that stick through
cleavage and corpselike visages are far more noticeable these days.
They do make up for it with some stunningly rendered out-of-engine
Another thing that hurts is the lack of realistic physics. Physics
are the new 3D; they are the next killer technology for gaming,
and it's becoming increasingly unacceptable to publish a top-shelf
game without them. This is, I would say, the last year that a studio
game can ship without physics and not get torn a new one for the
There is also good news on the tech front, though. It's stable
and runs well even on medium-end systems. Heavy blooming reduces
the obviousness of the graphic engine's shortcomings, and on the
audio side they ditched the obnoxious thrash metal soundtrack from
Warrior Within and replaced it with a very pleasing Middle
Easternsounding score. They've also continued to tweak the
control structure so it's easier than ever to move the Prince around,
though the tutorial assumes you have a gamepad and doesn't dynamically
change its instructions if you've remapped keys.
As mentioned above, they're saying that this is the swan song for
the almost criminally successful Prince of Persia resurrection.
If this is true, I applaud them; it is too easy for popular franchises
like this to go the way of Tomb Raider, endlessly recycling
the same game using increasingly decrepit technology. If they do
choose to carry on the Prince brand, they're going to have
to make some upgrades to the engine.
The Brother's Opinion
The Two Thrones gets a Gold Star for fun-ness and for fixing
a lot of problems caused by Warrior Within. They had an interesting
challenge here; Warrior Within was fun to play, but its storyline
was ridiculously divorced from the PoP mythos. Some real
ingenuity was necessary to fix the problem without pulling the old
"it-was-all-a-dream" trick. How do you retain the substance
of what happened in Warrior Within but undo the damage it
caused the story arc?
Well, they did it by embracing their failures, much as the Prince
learns to do. The Two Thrones is about redemption, about
his recognition that he was a pompous, arrogant, bullying, insufferable
tool and that his behavior was getting worse rather than better.
His battle with the Dark Prince for control of himself allegorizes
that, and his ultimate victory allows him to examine the schmuck
he'd become in Warrior Within and recognize that it was wrong.
In truth, the conflict with the Vizier is secondary to the war raging
inside the Prince's soul.
It's surprising that writers who managed to dig themselves out
of a plot snarl this deep would still produce such an appallingly
bad script. Ludicrous dialogue and acting that approaches Vogon-poetry
levels of horribleness almost ruin the whole thing. You don't restore
a classic Corvette and then drive it through the mud, whether or
not the vehicle would theoretically survive the trip.
My brother Marcus, a huge fan of video games, nonetheless has a
fairly narrow and stern view of what they should be. He's suspicious
of story in games (odd since he's a novelist, but still); he hates
anything having to do with menus or inventories or movement from
place to place or interaction with anything or character arcs or
game systems or plot dilemmas or stats or skills or managing tasks
or talking to NPCs or bartering or remembering stuff or anything
like that. His idea of Hell is being forced to play Morrowind.
Honestly, I'm often surprised he doesn't live in a trash can
and yell at the Cookie Monster. But he's a very bright guy, he knows
what he likes, he has his finger on the pulse of these games, and
he's a hell of a lot less wordy than I am.
To wit: his own review of The Two Thrones, emailed to me
a couple weeks ago, sums it up better than I did in six pages of
rambling: Glad you're enjoying PoPI am too. The look is
beautiful, and the level design is absolutely inspired. If only
they'd hired a copywriter ...
Release Date: December 2005
Four Fat Chicks Links
Windows 2000/XP (only)
1 GHz processor (1.5 GHz recommended)
256 MB (512 MB recommended)
DirectX 9.0c compliant graphics card
DirectX 9.0c compliant sound card
DirectX 9.0c or higher (included on disc)
16x CD-ROM or 4x DVD-ROM drive
1.5 GB minimum free hard drive space
Windows-compatible gamepad supported
Where to Find It