Sprinting in a wide arc along a crumbling palace wall, I hook my chain onto a lantern above my head and propel myself towards the other side of the room, before plunging my blade into some conveniently-placed drapery and tearing downwards at alarming speed. I then leap away from the wall, use my chain like a grappling hook to vault across a precarious chasm (who builds chasms in palaces, honestly, health and safety would be up in arms), wedge myself between two walls (legs split, á la Splinter Cell) and slide downwards, before finally dropping silently behind a person whose neck is about to get intimate with my dagger. And all in one fluid and perfectly choreographed movement with very little room for error. Get it right first time and you feel like a god, or at least a Cirque du Soleil reject; get it wrong and you can rewind time a bit and try again, pissing in the face of death and giving two fingers to the laws of space-time.
You'll know exactly what I'm talking about if you've played either of the last two Prince Of Persia games - improbable acrobatics and time-altering antics are the bread and butter of the series. The latest doesn't wander too far from the proven formula of combat followed by jumping followed by fighting followed by leaping - in that order. In a way, nothing's really changed here, but in another, altogether more accurate way, it has. Whereas Sands Of Time touted a jolly, colourful Prince with a sarcastic attitude (Jonathan Ross), and Warrior Within had a much moodier, grown-up Prince (Ross Kemp), The Two Thrones falls somewhere in between, with the Prince acting like a humorously cynical hard-ass (Steve Hill).
PRINCE OF DARKNESS
But first, an explanation of the title. The Two Thrones (insert the obvious toilet gag here) refers to the Prince's newfound split personality and the game's shiny new staple. Basically, the Prince is attacked by an unpleasant lady with a huge barbed chain which gets lodged in our hero's arm. Soon after he becomes infected with the infamous Sands Of Time, which turn him temporarily into an evil version of himself, aptly titled 'the Dark Prince'. The NHS is helpless to fight the infection, having not been invented yet (typical NHS), and the Prince is left to endure an epic internal struggle between good and evil, occasionally conversing and arguing with his evil (and annoyingly sarcastic) conscience, floundering in a sea of morality and eventually discovering what it means to be a true warrior. It's all quite meaningful, and if you're not careful you could slip into deep philosophical thought while using your barbed chain to brutally smack about some enemies.
Despite being harder, better, stronger and faster than the Regular Prince, the Dark Prince, as you'd expect, comes with some drawbacks. The main one is that you can't change into or out of your evil form at will (the changes are scripted), along with the fact that as the Dark Prince, your health is constantly depleting - the only method of staying alive is to find sand either by smashing furniture or killing enemies. You can't help but feel that these are decisions Ubisoft Montreal didn't make lightly. For instance, the ability to change into your alter-ego whenever you wanted would've changed the game almost entirely. This is because the levels are designed with a specific version of the Prince in mind, so some sections will be rife with places to use your chain, while others will cater for the normal Prince's more modest array of abilities. Meanwhile, the decision to have the time-limit on the Dark Prince's lifespan adds a sense of urgency which couldn't have been achieved in many other ways. Besides, your diminishing health doesn't really pose much of a problem as long as you don't stand around admiring the Dark Prince's groovy new hairdo for too long.