I remember playing the original Prince of Persia game when it first came out in 1989. With its unprecedented motion realism, it was truly revolutionary for its time. Creator Jordan Mechner had spent hours upon hours recording his brother running, walking, climbing, jumping and rolling, and he managed to effectively translate these actions onto a computer monitor using a new technology.
Despite the fancy behind-the-scenes work, the game was still simplistic at its core. The goal: to break out of prison, swordfight through a palace full of guards and rescue a damsel in distress. Whatever story line the game offered, it was clear the real main attraction was watching a character onscreen move like an actual person.
How times have changed. Now all video games have characters who move like actual people. So to try to distinguish itself, the latest Prince of Persia game, dubbed The Two Thrones, had to look in different directions.
A Tale of Two Princes …
Two Thrones picks up where 2004's installment, Warrior Within, left off. With the help of Kaileena, an immortal empress who controls time, the prince has gone back in time and defeated a legendary creature who guards the magical Sands of Time. Now the two heroes sail home to Babylon, expecting some much-deserved R&R after years on the run.
Of course, that doesn't happen. No sooner is their city in sight than they're ambushed and shipwrecked. Kaileena is captured by the evil vizier, who has mustered a legion of dark forces to overthrow the now-blazing Babylon. He uses her power to become a floating, godlike being, while the prince manages to escape with a nasty scar on his arm.
It's this mark that causes the prince to periodically and unexpectedly transform into an alternate personality—the ruthless Dark Prince who's consumed with seeking revenge and power. But he'll need both personas to chase down the vizier and restore Babylon to its rightful reign, putting an end to the out-of-control misuse of the Sands of Time.
… Is a Tale Gone Wrong
Too bad the same thing hasn't been done to this now-misguided franchise that once had so much promise. Rather than maintaining the original swashbuckling tone of dexterous sword fighting and sneaking around undetected, games have grown increasingly darker. Warrior Within featured a prince in exile who had given up on chivalry and resigned himself to cold-blooded revenge. With the hack 'n' slash Two Thrones, content and tone has reached God of War proportions in which violence, gore, sorcery and animalism aren't just celebrated, they're rewarded.
The new "speed kill" ability allows you to slow down time and, if your button-pushing fingers are quick enough, slaughter an unsuspecting victim. And we're not just talking a swift stab here. The virtual camera zooms in as bodies are decapitated, dismembered, gutted, sliced in half and strangled in spectacular fashion. Though often blood is replaced by a luminous light, the red liquid still flows and spatters throughout the game (especially during speed kills). Eyes of disfigured beasts are gouged out and dead bodies litter the ground at times.
To go along with the gore, most every female character, while depicted as tough yet compassionate, is barely dressed. Artists obviously took their time in making sure clothing (and the lack of it) left little to the imagination. Included in the unlockable extras is a video that splices violent scenes with what seems to be foreplay between the prince and Kaileena.
Also, Two Thrones, like its recent predecessors, is built upon a blending of ancient culture and a fantasy world in which the occult reigns supreme. The prince is able to rewind and slow down time itself. The vizier and Kaileena share divine powers. The Beelzebub-looking Dark Prince guides the prince through his audible conscience. And in an attempt to take control of his body for good he eventually throws him into a psychedelic world in which the two face each other mano a mano.
Shadows of the Past
When Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time came out in 2003 and revitalized the franchise after more than a decade-long hiatus, gamers might have thought twice before embarking on the updated journey. That's because, even then, it was clear this wasn't the same classic game. Sure, the sleuth elements were still there; but so were hints of sensuality and lots more violence. By the time Warrior Within was released, the morbid, more troubling direction was unmistakable. Now with the M-rated Two Thrones it's a no-brainer. Clearly, trying to outshine the latest and greatest (which isn't very) in the gaming world has destroyed this Prince.