After three of these games back-to-back-to-back, I've come to the conclusion that the Sands trilogy is really just one long, mostly self-paced QTE. Bear with me on this one. You go through a totally linear series of rooms, right? And each room has a set of very specific steps that you have to follow to get through, or you die. With the exception of the combat, and the bits of Warrior Within where you were allowed to roam freely, that's more or less a QTE - a fixed series of inputs that you do perfectly or fail and die. It just doesn't have little flashy buttons on the screen, you have to figure out the next move for yourself, and you can usually take your sweet time about doing it.
After three of these games back-to-back-to-back, I'm also starting to hate them and everything they stand for. There's so much potential here, but three times running it's wasted with a bullshit camera, a fetish for improbably being over 50-foot drops all the time somehow, and boring repetitive combat.
Though it seems to use the exact same installer and engine as the first two games (these were churned out very quickly in 2003, 2004 and 2005 respectively), this is the first one of the bunch to actually recognize my gamepad, and autoconfig it in a sensible way! Hooraa- oh wait, the camera is retarted. For lord knows what reason, the camera (as controlled by the right analog stick) has its axes swapped; so pushing left-right controls up-down movement and the reverse. What the hell. Why would anybody want the camera to go anywhere but the direction they pushed in? Mouse camera control works fine, but that requires taking a hand off the controller, which is annoying.
With Warrior Within, Ubisoft decided to pander hard to some sort of idealized imaginary frat boy. They fell flat on their faces with that. So in Two Thrones, they've pulled a hard 180 and are pandering hard to Sands of Time fans. The Prince goes back to Persia, with new honey in tow, but finds the place up in flames. The evil Vizier from the first game is still alive, you see, as the events of the first game never happened due to all the time meddling. Some dark monkey whispered in his ear about Time Powarz being in Persia so he killed off the Maharrawhatever and took his army straight there to wreck up the joint. Because we're pandering hard to Sands fans in every possible respect in this one, New Honey has to get promptly killed off so that Farah can reappear at some point, though getting disembowled doesn't stop her from being the game's emotionless narrator. And I admit this is a very superficial thing, but these 3 games have had 3 different voice actors for the Prince now, and its getting distracting. We've shifted from the "RURRRR U BITCH URRRR" guy back to something a lot closer to "Oh, if it's not too much trouble, might I stab your face?" dude from the original game for this outing.
After three of these I think I've also now sorted once and for all why I don't like any of them. You're basically afforded no freedom at all to explore or work out your own solution, all the more the shame with how nice-looking and well-constructed so many environments across all three games have been. Often the QTE-esque dance steps you are forced to follow often come at the expense of logic, such as the Prince refusing to even try any door he happens across. Sands was the most tolerable of the bunch because it was basically just self-contained jumping puzzles with no other twists; you're tossed in the room, the camera swoops around to show you a vague idea of the path to the finish, and off you go at your own pace. Warrior Within mixed in the grating annoyances of platform-camping enemies and painful aesthetic. Two Thrones undoes that, but adds its own new annoyance - lots of timed sequences. This game in particular out of the three loves to punish you for simply not being sure what's going on right away in a new area - either by making stuff you are standing on or holding onto constantly fall apart, or with the new "Dark Prince" segments, which is this one's new big gameplay wrinkle.
At times you simply morph into some dark glowy version of the Prince out of nowhere. We're told he's "stronger ... faster ... better", which turns out to be a good laugh when he gets trashed by generic goblins in combat early on when we're supposed to be marvelling at his Combat Powarz. See, any incidental hit by an enemy in the game sucks you into an automatic three-hit combo for them, so even getting tagged while rolling around leads to a significant chunk of life bar being hacked off. Our bud the Dark Prince has the handicap of having his life constantly tick down, however, which means if you get tied up with a bunch of enemies who like to turtle, and then they sneak a couple of hits on you (not hard when you're surrounded by three or four), you're more or less dead. He has some razor whip thing that looks lethal, but then you start hitting enemies with it and it barely seems to faze them.
Even more problematic for the Dark Prince is that you'll go through standard jumping puzzle segments with him, but of course they're timed by the fact that your life is dribbling down. Early on the game is decent about distributing random pots containing life sand during these sequences, but some of the later ones get nearly as bad as the Dahakan chases in the previous game for finicky DO-IT-AGAINness.
One positive point for the combat is the addition of "stealth kills" that let you avoid some of it. Like everything else, however, these are totally scripted; along your linear path through the game, certain enemies will be conveniently facing away from you, and these are the only ones you get to Stealth on. It's never like Metal Gear where you're turned loose in an open environment and there's multiple possibilites for dispatching or slipping by guards, there's just one QTE-esque way to kill a bunch of them if you care to, otherwise you have to fight them normally. And of course there's the forced fights where you drop off a ledge or something and suddenly three dudes spawn in and run toward you. There's a lot of scripted fights with these little Groader Goblin guys that are really annoying, for one simply because the game DOES NOT KNOW WHEN TO FUCKING STOP with spawning them, and for two because there's some bizarre condition about killing them in the light, but they won't go into the light, so getting them relatively close to the light seems good enough, but there's no clear demarcation of how close that actually needs to be, and anyway they take about 50 hits each to bring down and there's fucking thousands of them. The guards are also as lovably stupid and simplistic in AI as ever; my favorite moment was tossing a guy from a high ledge down to right between two guards standing at a door below. The two guards were a "forced fight", so they just stood there with thousand-yard stares in a fixed direction waiting for me to drop into the pre-programmed zone where they begin their attack, completely ignoring the carcass that just hurtled to their feet from the heavens. Now that's discipline!
For a final gripe, once in a while when you retry a segment after dying, the loading screen glitches and freezes up forcing you to CTRL-ALT-DEL out of the game. This can be after making a fair bit of progress, forcing you to restart from your last save. Needless to say, it can be maddening and was the straw that broke the camels back for me on putting an end to playing this one. Oh, and I forgot to mention the chariot sequences that come of nowhere here and there. They pretty much suck. As to the rest of the game, third verse same as the first really. If you didn't care for the endless jumping puzzles of the first two there's absolutely nothing here to change your mind.
* Gameplay Video