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Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones, a DVD-ROM in English by Ubisoft, distributed by Hed Artzi Multimedia, requires Windows XP and a one gigahertz Pentium III PC or better, for ages 16 through adult, NIS 219. - Rating: **** 1/2
The eponymous Prince, who stars in the third part of this action-adventure trilogy created by Jordan Mechner, surprises gamers by developing a split personality.
After 2003's Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and last year's Prince of Persia: Warrior Within, the young royal returns home to Babylon - accompanied by Kaileena, the enigmatic Empress of Time - hoping for some serenity. But instead, his kingdom is consumed by war and Kaileena is kidnapped and murdered in the palace by a brutal enemy. Her death releases the Sands of Time, which overcome the prince, turn him into a hunted man and create an alter ego, the Dark Prince - a ruthless, reckless and corrupted version that overpowers him.
So in this new game, which takes about 20 hours to play, you must master two separate characters, the "Light" and the "Dark" Prince, each of whom has his own combat style, weapons, attitude and past. Following his corruption by the Sands of Time, the prince gains the ability to control time. As the Sands corruption metastasizes, he assumes more powers and can rewind time to cancel any mistake or avoid any attack. Once he has rewound, he can redo the actions he missed. But since his health constantly declines, your efforts to rehabilitate him are urgent; you can replenish the life bar by drinking from a fountain or other water sources.
The Prince, in his two variations, can use a vast array of deadly weapons divided among four major categories representing different experiences and fighting strategies. Each weapon can sustain a certain number of hits before it collapses, has a specific range of attack and causes varying amounts of harm. You can even wield two weapons simultaneously. There are axes for a slower attack but heavier damage, maces for strong attacks and daggers for hurling. The daggertail, a stealth weapon, is a horrific chain of razor blades that carries out surprise decapitations and other attacks.
Decapitations? Ugh, yes! But there is much less blood than in the second part of the trilogy, which had the red stuff spurting all over the place, and the headless victims (who may also have their torsos cut in half) are not human so the violence is less objectionable (but soft-hearted older teenagers, as well as younger kids, should be kept at a distance). The new game has introduced "speed kill," in which the Prince sneaks up on an enemy and kills him (or it) at one blow, thus minimizing the need for endless warfare.
As the Prince is as agile as Spiderman, players are best advised to play with a gamepad rather than a keyboard to overcome enemies on the perilous rooftops, evade trap doors, dodge through chaotic streets and ambush pursuers in dark, underground passageways. You manipulate him to scurry along vertical walls, climb columns, balance him along ledges and swing around poles and rebound. The Dark Prince can interact with specific poles using his daggertail, which allows him to go places he otherwise could not reach. But he will inevitably fall into a bottomless pit, causing you endless frustration by having to repeat the action from the last "save" checkpoint. Sometimes each trial-and-error pattern can take five minutes or even more. In several sections of the game, the Prince boards a chariot to rout his enemies or as a means of transportation to cover a lot of ground.
The third game in the trilogy, which can be played at easy, normal and hard levels, is not only less violent than the second, but the hard-rock music of the second game has been replaced here by a more pleasant Middle-Eastern theme. The graphics engine remains top notch, with lifelike characters, waterfalls and fire, and the animations are stunning. While the game can be viewed as endless acrobatics and violence, there is an underlying theme - that the "light" Prince faces his dark self and realizes he has been contemptuous and haughty; he needs not only to conquer his enemies, but to subjugate his soul. Help him, if you have the stomach for it.