Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones
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Skipping the usual month-long break we have in between trips to Gamestop, this time it was Whitney's turn to choose a game for us to go through. After her unfortunate choice of a CSI click-em-up last time, we returned it for a $25 gift card, and now that's been used to obtain two competent games for much less than the price of a duff one. They are Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones and Metal Gear Solid 2. And as MGS2 would make even less sense than it does already if Whitney hadn't seen MGS1 before we went through it, Prince of Persia has been given priority.

I know that I'd branded the entire new trilogy as Prince of Linkin Park without playing any of them in the past, but sometimes it's quite nice to have to admit that you were wrong. If anything, it's more like Prince of Parkour (if you see what I almost did there). The gymnastic origins of the series are still very apparent, but taken to whole new levels by the 3D environments - the new floppy-haired Prince can roll, wall-run, climb, flip over things, balance, swing, bounce off shutters and perform several other physically questionable manoeuvres in his attempt to get through the levels while looking as awesome as Michael Bay's barbecue.

Even with the complete aesthetic change in direction, the spirit of the series is still intact underneath. Stomach-dropping leaps across drops of about fifty storeys are commonplace, and there are sections with the classic spiky, bladey traps that you need to dodge around while humming the Indiana Jones music to yourself. Early on there's even one bit that's particularly reminiscent of the room where the floor falls away on Knightmare (in which I sidestepped to my left several times before Whitney worked out an appropriate escape route).

To help you find your way around the bigger locations, you're provided with a Landscape View, where when you have the appropriate icon on your screen you can instantly zoom the camera out to show you the general area instead of being locked on to you all the time. This is something that would have come in incredibly handy in Metal Gear Solid 3. And while I'm on that subject, the game does include some stealth sections but they're strictly optional - taking advantage of the way that none of the guards in the game have mastered basic theories of looking upwards, you can drop behind each one and assassinate them spectacularly to save yourself the bother of a real fight, using a couple of those rhythm action sections that are now absolutely everywhere. Sometimes your chosen victim is even cut in half as a result, but even with today's potential for graphic violence this still isn't anywhere near as disturbing as it was in the first game.

I used the word "levels" earlier on, but I'm actually impressed at how seamless the experience is. You can go for absolutely miles without an apparent break in the environment, the only giveaways being a cut-scene or two when the storyline takes you to an area from which you can't go back. (Said storyline might mean a bit more to me if I'd played the previous two games in this trilogy, but it doesn't get in the way if you don't know too much about it either). The in-game videos look rather impressive, even though like all games the cast seem to have been chosen on their inability to act. Whitney is particularly offended by the silky submissive Save Point Woman voice, who somehow makes "Would you like to save your game?" sound like "Come and let me stick my tongue in your ear".

For the most part you play as the new rather more Middle Eastern-looking Prince (compared to the suspiciously white complexion of the one from the first trilogy), though at certain moments that can't be controlled, the influence of the Sands of Time has an effect on him much like that of the Incredible Hulk (although, as he's jet black with nu-metal hair, I suppose he would be better called the Incredible Sulk) at about the same time that he starts being talked to by a mystery voice that sounds decidedly like Sonata Arctica's narrator. It continues to give sarcastic 'helpful' advice even once you've returned to your normal form. Usually just after you've broken your legs for the hundredth time.

And this happens more often than I would like, but it's mostly not the game's fault - part of it is that I'm coming straight from MGS3 which conforms to the Japanese scheme of O = Confirm, X = Cancel, whereas Prince's controls are the other way round, being X = Haul yourself up, O = Plummet to your death. There have been a couple of sticky bits where I feel I shouldn't have died, but still no more than in Prince of Persia 2 - and you've always got the limited rewinding Sands of Time power to save you if it's just one mistake. Whitney had just mentioned Galaxy Quest during one of the sudden "huge blades and pounders in the corridor" bits when we first got this ability, meaning that from now on it's going to unavoidably be called the Omega 13. It gives the forgiveness of save states with none of the actual abuse - it's really quite nice.