Picking up where the somewhat chaotic Warrior Within left off, The Two Thrones sees the prince return victoriously with his love, Kaileena, from the Island of Time to his home in Babylon, only to find his city gripped by war. In the initial confusion, Kaileena sacrifices herself so that the prince can survive and once again access the sands of time. But her selfless act has some ramifications. Anger now boils in the prince, often manifesting itself as the Dark Prince, a more ruthless "hero" set to exact gruesome revenge on the evil strangling his city.
From the opening cut-scene through to your explorations of the ravaged city, outlands and palace, you'll be in awe of the eye candy. Animations are silky smooth, lighting is spectacular, texture variation is solid and it's backed up by suitably eerie music and sharp SFX.
The combat system keeps everything from the previous two games - like duel-wielding and environment kills - and adds speed kills to the list. Approach an enemy while they are unawares and the Prince will launch into a spectacular assault where you must hit the attack button at specific intervals to affect a gruesome kill.
Of course, the other big addition is the Dark Prince. As you play, you'll hear the thoughts of your alter ego and occasionally it'll break out, changing your attack types, weaponry and appearance. Dark Prince wields a flaming chain (known as the Daggertail) which can be used to navigate the environment, inflict long-range attacks and even perform gory environmental attacks. As the Dark Prince, you're always dying and you must constantly replenish your health by smashing crates or killing foes: this often requires you to rush through puzzles or strategically attack enemies. Add in the Dark Prince's story complications and you have a winning addition to the series.
But while the combat plays a very important role in Prince, it's the spectacular level design that remains its gift - though tricky PC controls and occasional camera angle issues blot the game's otherwise pristine copybook. However, the puzzles don't seem nearly as complex as Warriors Within, and while solving them is still rewarding, perhaps a greater depth and number of maze-like rooms, alternate routes and secret areas could have increased the game's length. Experienced gamers will race through this title a little too quickly.
But The Two Thrones is good. Very good! It builds logically and wonderfully upon the framework of its two predecessors, providing a seamless evolution in storytelling, movement and combat. And if you're a fan of the series, wondering whether instalment number three is worthy of your hard-earned, then the decision is a complete no-brainer.
A screenshot is available here.
Visuals: Beautiful environments, smooth animations and glorious detail.
Audio: Great voice acting, gripping atmospherics.
Gameplay: Occasionally frustrating, but speed kills, presentation and variety make this a total winner.
Score: 41/2 Stars