There are quite a few game series with planned trilogies in the works, but the modern Prince of Persia games are one of the first successful trilogies to wrap itself up in a few years time. Its successes and failures highlight several important points that these future sagas must address if they wish to avoid some of the pitfalls that keep the PoP trilogy from sheer greatness.
First off, a good trilogy needs to stay consistent. We all know about the hiccups that occurred in Warrior Within, though I found them far less offensive than most. Their true damage can be seen in the final chapter of the series, Two Thrones. Ubisoft felt that the angsty, goth direction of Warrior went too far. One over steer leads to another, and suddenly the angry, darker prince is replaced with his old voice actor and personality, and even new clothes. His companion, the Empress of Time has changed even more.
These two reboots are thrown into an opening cutscene that plays out much the same as the ending to Warrior, with the duo finding the kingdom of Babylon in flames. While the story of Warrior has not been thrown away, Two Thrones pretends that it happened with the “Jolly Ol’ Prince” the whole time, making the game’s opening incredibly jarring, while showing complete disrespect to past work on the series. It isn’t the end of the world, but I don’t like retcons when they could have been avoided.
Ubisoft could have easily made an intro where angry prince decides to take some responsibility and get over himself. Or they could have initially made the prince of Warrior Within interesting, rather than phoning it in with stereotypes. As it is, they took the easy way out and then followed it up in Two Thrones by pandering to the kind of vocal and whiny gamer that feels offended when any game doesn’t cater to their likes. The PoP games may not have the greatest modern stories, but they fare better than most. Too bad that Two Thrones tries to erase any legitimacy they once had.
Our next point on story is that a trilogy should not repeat itself. If your tale retreads old ground, it makes it look like it is one game too long. Since none of the events in Sands of Time “happened,” the same story is practically recycled. Prince and his ladyfriend Farah must stop the evil Vizier, just in a different location. Warrior Within’s story featured a slew of time paradoxes and twists, and losing that for a retread plot is disappointing, and points at perhaps another attempt at pandering to the haters. They loved Sands so much, they might as well play it again.
The same feelings come from the platforming itself. It simply isn’t difficult. I’m not sure if it was actually toned down, or if I have simply gotten better after three games. It doesn’t matter; if you want to make a trilogy around the same core concept, you have to find a way to keep us playing. Two Thrones’ platforming areas are mostly obvious, and it isn’t until the tail end that some of the traps require precision timing and flawless execution.
As for combat, it is the same as in Warrior Within, but the enemies are less frequent and they tend to block much more. If you cannot simply throw them off a high ledge, you can probably run away from them. I never thought I’d miss Warrior’s excessive encounter rate, but at least it rewarded my use of combos and counters.
On this last point, I won’t deny that Ubisoft still managed to include some new ideas, most of which are damn good. The Prince can now initiate stealth kills, and while we have certainly seen these QTE based annoyances in other games, they are so well executed here as to be interesting. For one, each phase of the kill requires you to press only the attack button, instead of the random buttons that QTEs dish out. Enemies are also fairly dumb, meaning your attempts at stealth movement won’t be shattered. Trying to stealth kill a whole room of enemies becomes a puzzle unto itself, and will save a lot of time and frustration if you can pull it off.
There is also our hero’s new alter ego, the Dark Prince. Living as a disembodied voice within his head, Dark Prince will come out from time to time. Thanks to his chainwhip, he is both better at combat, and can reach farther distances while platforming. This comes at a price, as his health slowly decreases until you refill it with sand. These sections are a race against the clock, with little room for error. They are the most thrilling parts of the game, and their only flaw is that they don’t show up nearly enough.
The same can be said of the Dark Prince in the story. He is the most interesting character in the cast, constantly questioning the Prince’s actions and beliefs, and adding flair and sarcasm that the the other characters often omit thanks to their “olde English” style of speech. As the game wears on, his role wanes and he becomes a stereotypical villain with incredibly obvious intentions. This is balanced out by the interactions between Prince and Farah. While it may be a retread, their lines are at times better than anything in the past two games: charming and funny, and at times serious. Again, if only there were more of it.
Clearly this is the theme of Two Thrones: once bitten, it is too afraid to end the trilogy on a radical note. You play it more as a matter of habit than as something you are actively engaged in, and when something interesting does come along, it is gone before you can truly get into it. Everyone who thought they were doing the gaming world a great service by raging against Warrior Within did anything but, and what we are left with is stagnation (and one joke of an ending). If Ubisoft wants me to move on to their next gen PoP, they are going to have to show me something other than wall running and smart alecky female companions.