Review by DKamikaze

Reviewed: 12/05/05

Third time's the charm.

The Sands of Time was an excellent game, which amazingly didn't seem to do well at retail. This was followed with Warrior Within, which - while it sold well - was widely regarded as a bit of a failure. Now we come to the last game in the Sands of Time Trilogy, allegedly. The Two Thrones has a lot to prove, a lot to make up for. Is it good enough to shine in the typical trash we get during the Christmas rush?

Oh hell yes. Very much so.

There's so much that is great about this game that it's hard to know where to begin. But, starting from the beginnings of the game, our hero and Kaileena are sailing back to Babylon, where the Prince hopes to keep her safe it seems. Of course, no such luck - it seems Babylon is at war, and Kaileena seems to be quickly killed off. But that isn't even the half of it. Let me just say, that the plot in this game has come full circle and the Prince cannot escape his actions... the compelling story, as told by Kaileena, and the witty narrative throughout the game from the Prince is hugely entertaining is just the start of the many good things this game manages to accomplish.

Graphically, it's not a bad game - it is true that there are prettier fish in the sea, but the game blisters along at a wonderful pace, and your attention is drawn into the wonderfully crafted world. With new ways for the Prince to throw himself about the place - springboard shutters, for example, and spots he can plunge his dagger into - the platforming feels entirely intuitive and is as forgiving as the Sands of Time - not once did it feel forced, or complicated just for the sake of it. Every inch of this game, every street, every rooftop, every room - everything makes sense, feels correct and accentuates the agility of our hero. You'll forgive the funny rippling of the Prince's rough hair, and the sometimes repetitive-looking enemies. When a game compels you to keep moving at pace, such little things feel like nitpicking.

On that note, we must discuss the triumphant return of the platforming aspect of this series. Much missed from Warrior Within, where it all felt lumpy and awkward, The Two Thrones seems to return very much to the original Sands of Time, but there is so much more to it. I already mentioned there are new ways to throw yourself around the wonderfully rich environments - but the way everything flows and progresses is nothing short of absolute perfection. Not once did I curse the game itself - everything about the design and progression is superb. I was cursing me, MY reactions, MY mistakes. It is very rare that a game forces a player to accept their shortcomings without blaming the game, but this title does. From swinging across rooms, to running along walls, bouncing around high above the streets thanks to some conveniently placed shutters, and jumping from rooftop to rooftop, taking in the breathtaking view - everything in this game seems to have been designed to keep the pace fast and relentless, but not difficult or impossible. It by far surpasses The Sands of Time in this regard.

The freeform combat system also feels remarkably fresh once more. While remarkably similar to the system in Warrior Within (which was the high point of the game), the combat has been further tightened - you can still go in and hack your way to victory, using pillars and walls and weapons littered around the place to deal seven shades of death to your foes. But it isn't the be-all way this time. Oh no, clever Ubisoft introduced a "stealth kills" element to the game. Now, usually this would make most people run a mile - often it's used as a cheap gimmick. But not here - I was surprised by just how incredibly fluid the stealth kills system worked. In some rooms, I noted five enemies and with deft precision, timing the glints of the dagger, and speed, I could take all five down without breaking even so much as a sweat. Of course, sometimes you'll have to do things the old-fashioned way, and that is fine - but the combat feels tight, the controls responsive, and not once did I feel the stealth kills were out of place within the game.

Soundwise, thankfully, the game ditches the past techno-rock rubbish. You can sense the music has been carefully chosen this time around to enhance the atmosphere - while obviously not in the league of titles like Final Fantasy and it's vast orchestral arrangements, I found the music - and sometimes, lack of - entirely bearable. The speech and dialog within this game is also great, often witty and humourous, with some great punchlines which were just begging to be used at some point. The game seems to have got past the silly immaturity of Warrior Within, and delivers a mature, sophisticated and clever script which never once failed to keep me hooked.

Of course, I've gone through this review so far without even mentioning the two aspects which really set this game apart from the crowd - first of all, The Sands of Time. The Prince still uses them, and he still has his tricks of re-winding time to correct mistakes, and slowing down time. These aspects are more important than ever, the rewinding of time inevitable in a game which keeps the platforming fast and frantic, and the combat fast and furious. Also, the Prince has developed a new sand-blast, which works well in a pinch. But that is for you to discover. Enemies replenish your sands, but some enemies can also steal your sands and leave you vulnerable - it's a good exchange and the balance struck between the two is done flawlessly. Sands can also be found in many breakable objects the world has to offer...

And the second key aspect is the one I found to be surprisingly refreshing, if somewhat cliche and tired. The Dark Prince is a result of the Prince and his exposure to the Sands at a particular point in the game. In this form, the Prince is stronger, more agile. He takes on that dark hue, has wispy-looking hair and has lots of glowing steaks across his body. He also, it seems, has a rather long and vicious spiked chain as well. This is where the game really differentiates and mixes up the action. This chain is effective against monsters, sure - but is also a key aspect of his platforming antics. By slinging the chain towards lanterns, poles and other things, our dark hero can run across walls many times over, throw himself across vast chasms - all while looking impossibly menacing. The downside is, of course, that in this form the Prince's health deteriorates, and can only be replenished by the sands - which furthers still the pace, requiring a sharp mind and nimble fingers to find the next source of sand to replenish the Prince's health. But the design of these areas is still flawless and is still challenging, but not difficult.

Overall then, The Two Thrones is the best aspects of the previous two games, thrown together with a couple of the oldest cliches in the book. But the result is truly inspired - designed to perfection. From riding chariots through the winding streets (and, of course, riding other things... ahem), to the health increase challenges, to the amazing boss encounters, The Two Thrones sits at the top of the pile as an example of exactly how a game SHOULD be done. It doesn't grate, nor does it get on your nerves. And while it's not that long, you will come back time and time again to this game - just because you can, and you want to.

What a way to round of the Sands of Time trilogy. I wish I had those powers, so I could go back and relive this game again as if I had just played it for the first time...

Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

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