Review: Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones (Mac)

PrinceOfPersiaTwoThronesMac.jpg Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones is the closing chapter in the ‘Sands of Time’ trilogy that started with the Sands of Time game and also included the Warrior Within. It was released for the PC back in late 2005, and has just recently arrived on the Mac courtesy of the Cider translation engine. Cider is a utility that helps speed porting of games from Windows to Mac OS X by utilizing the underlying Intel hardware that is common to both systems.

The obvious first question is – if Cider eases porting, WHY did it take so long? The answer is simply because it only speeds up the time after someone starts working on the port, and Ubisoft has only recently started releasing Mac ports of PC games based on the Cider translation engine. As a result we are only just now seeing games such as this one and Rayman Raving Rabbids come out of the vault for Mac release. And as the contrast between these games shows, sometimes a couple of years matters and sometimes it doesn’t.

The Two Thrones starts with a scene of the Prince heading home after the final events of the Warrior Within only to find his homeland of Babylon destroyed and the Empress of Time killed in a barrage that destroys his ship and leaves him washed up on shore. You take charge of him as he approaches a ruined building and begins to work his way through the game with a familiar mix of action-based combat, puzzle solving, and platform jumping.

The game carries the trilogy to conclusion in many ways, and also brings along things we have learned. The most important is from the Warrior Within game – on occasion you will transform into the Dark Prince, gaining tremendous combat abilities and a whiny voice-over along the way. Special attacks are devastating and can mow down waves of enemies with ease. Of course, this doesn’t come for free – as you are transformed your health slowly ebbs away, only replenished by finding ‘time sand’ or by killing enemies and absorbing their life essence. There are sections of puzzles and platforming that will tax your ability to live long enough to make it into the next section.

Amazingly enough, the game looks fantastic, though I have to admit my expectations were pretty low. The engine scales nicely to newer computers and looks as good as many new releases. The cutscenes have been similarly upgraded so there is no discontinuity switching between in-game and out-of-game graphics. I was thrilled by the excellent looks and also the great performance – too many Cider ports have had mediocre performance.

There were many criticisms leveraged at the Warrior Within, and fortunately almost all of them have been undone in Two Thrones. One of the major ones was the audio: Warrior Within had switched to a heavy metal soundtrack, which greatly altered the tone and feel of the game … and not in a good way. The other change was with the voice-over work – Warrior Within featured over-wrought attitude and an endless stream of snarky one-liners that became very annoying by the end of the game. Fortunately both of these have been wonderfully corrected. The voice-over work – aside from the aforementioned whininess of the Dark Prince (although the dialogue of the Dark Prince works well) – is excellent and reflects the tone and approach of the developers very nicely. The soundtrack has also returned to the wonderful themes of the Sands of Time – it is stirring and emotionally rooted in all of the scenes you encounter and really adds to the environment the designers put forth.

Speaking of designers, a game that is so rooted in puzzles and platforming lives and dies on the level design. Fortunately they did a wonderful job in this area. Sure there are loads of frustrating areas and die-and-retry platform puzzles, but the game would be dismal if you didn’t hit a section without an almost absolute certainty that you would plunge into the abyss at least once before succeeding. Well, at least I plan my gaming that way – I am no expert at platforming games but I manage to make my way through well enough. At that rate the game took me ~20 or so hours, and felt long enough to be very satisfying without being stuffed with filler.

OK, let me stop gushing for a second and say that I was absolutely cursing this game more than once for violating one of my absolute pet peeves – the inability to save anywhere I want. While I understand this is essentially a console port, I lose any such understanding while watching an unskippable cutscene (another pet peeve) for the fourth or fifth time while trying to make it past a puzzle or platforming section.

There is another complaint that is pretty much common to all 3D platformers – I hate battling the camera! The two biggest problems were being able to see what was happening and the context changing mid-move during platform sections. Being able to get a solid view of what is around you is critical to a platform game, and at times the camera seemed to decide you didn’t need to look where you thought you did. But worse than that was the view changing perspective and taking the controls with it – for example you could be leaping from ledge to ledge and suddenly the perspective shifts from straight on to an angular view. What does this do to the controls? Do you jump up or off at an angle? The wrong decision can mean repeating that whole chunk of platforming!

But even with those complaints I was sad to be done with the game. Ubisoft has done a wonderful job bringing a classic game to the Mac, updating visuals and ensuring excellent performance on the majority of Intel-based Mac computers. As I said earlier, this game contrasts with Rayman Raving Rabbids – that game feels dated and unnecessary and like a sad step down from the Wii. This game has only gotten better as it has moved from console to PC to Mac, making this version the one to have if you have a choice.

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Pros:
+ Excellent puzzles and platforming
+ Wonderful end to a classic trilogy
+ Great graphics and sound

Cons:
– Lack of player saves
– Challenging camera control

Game Info:
Platform: Mac
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft
Release Date: Q1 2009
Genre: Action/Adventure
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1

About the Author

I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!