Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones
Originally released on other platforms in 2005, Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones has finally arrived for the Mac. While the release may have been a bit delayed, it's still an entertaining (but technically flawed) new chapter in a franchise as old as Mac gaming.
The original Prince of Persia debuted in 1989 for the Apple II. The swashbuckling and platform-jumping prince has been around for a while, and is one of the few monolithic gaming icons that can rightly claim Mac roots.
The Two Thrones is the third installment of the second Prince of Persia trilogy, or the third installment of a reboot of a previously successfully series, or maybe its just a shiny new game I get to review three years after its initial release on other platforms. The Two Thrones is the sequel to 2004's Prince of Persia: Warrior Within, the dark, critically panned follow-up to Prince of Persia: Sands of Time (both games aren't available for the Mac).
The Two Thrones is a solid improvement on its predecessor. An improved combat system, more varied gameplay elements, and a nice new set of acrobatic maneuvers make this Prince better than the last. That said, Ubisoft has seemingly fired the writing team this time around. The plot is pretty tired, so I'll only give you a short recap here: After the prince escaped the Isle of Time with the Empress of Time in the Warrior Within game, he returns to find the city of Babylon in ruins. Through a series of unfortunate events, the Empress is killed, the prince gains a dark alter-ego called the Dark Prince and he once again gains the time-altering abilities of the Dagger of Time. The entirety of the game is spent trying to kill the villain that you already killed in a previous game. Players new to the series may find it confusing and old fans will find it stale.
But you don't play the series for the plot. At its core, Prince of Persia has always been about directing your character through elaborate obstacles, avoiding booby-traps, and navigating the precariously placed platforms. In this game, the prince has learned more acrobatic moves to travel through the world, like running along walls and jumping at 45-degree angles, sliding down chutes, and balancing on swinging poles. The game is never better than when you witness the prince fly around the room like some kind of Arabian Batman.
Despite these skills, the world is littered with bottomless pits, spiked walls and enemy guards so staying alive is very, very hard. It's easy to accidentally throw your character off a ledge and you'll find yourself restarting certain areas ad nauseum because there is no quicksave feature. But this is what makes the game challenging and the series an icon of gaming.
The twist with the Sands of Time series is that the prince gains the limited ability to control time. In practicality, this means if you throw him off a cliff, you can rewind time and avoid the obstacle the second time around. More than a gimmick, it's now a well-refined feature that can alter battles and save you a lot of time with the harder obstacles.
The Two Thrones also relies on the idea of "speed kills," a way to quickly dispatch enemies by sneaking up on them and entering a small mini-game where you need to time your button clicks with the glint of the knife. Think of it as "Simon Says stab now." Both the light and Dark Prince have different attacks and speed kills, but successfully nailing the Dark Prince's speed kills is by far one of the most satisfying elements of the game. You can hang from a rope and strangle an enemy with his chain-whip or sneak closer and do it up close. Since most of the enemies are sand monsters, there is surprisingly little blood.
One of the biggest drawbacks of The Two Thrones is the camera system. The game gives you buttons to center the camera and enable first-person perspective, but these are clumsy tools for navigating wide-open temples with dozens of obstacles. Particularly when jumping from platform to platform, the camera seemingly decides to invert its perspective at will. The stealth combat, which is normally one of the game's strengths, becomes difficult because the camera will choose an angle where you can't see the patrolling guard.
As a product of 2005, the graphics are pretty dated and there's a fair share of clipping, even on the 2.66GHz Dual-Core Intel Xeon Mac Pro with a 1GB hard drive that I used. When the prince converses with other characters, the dialogue is about as in sync as a B-movie dubbing job. Even worse, The Two Thrones effectively relegates most dialogue to the two wimpy personalities within the prince (light and dark), making him out to be the most boring schizophrenic ever. His moral conflict is essentially choosing what to whine about.
There's a new Prince of Persia game in the works, but not affiliated with this, the Sands of Time trilogy. Hopefully the new one will keep the challenging platform navigating and stealth combat but also hire a better writing team and fix the camera system. I remain optimistic for the new game, but not for the film, which is in development with Jake Gyllenhall at the lead. Ugh.
Macworld's buying advice
Arguably the best Prince of Persia game to date, The Two Thrones offers players a diverse gaming experience with challenging combat, stealth, and platforming elements. While the plot is forgettable and the graphics are dated, it still might be worth a look for those players looking for an old school gaming experience.