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Ass, the hauling aspect

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Got a decent set of things for Christmas, beginning with (but not limited to) indigestion. [smile]

The most relevant one right now is that I got the new PoP game, Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones. I started playing it at 7pm, took a break at 7:30 when I accidentally hit the reset button on my machine, then played from 9pm to about ten minutes ago, 2:20am. I reckon that's long enough to form an opinion.

I've been using my Xbox 360 controller to play it, which I think helps things a lot - the controller doesn't work completely correctly, the deadzone on the left stick is not big enough and the thumbstick clicks don't work (I've mailed Ubi Support accordingly). But in general it's been fine for it. I'm not sure what the game would be like using the arrow keys, but I suspect it would be quite suck. Play this on a gamepad if you can.

It feels so far like there's been a lot more platforming than fighting; this is probably thanks to the 'speed kill' system, which allows me to treat the enemies as more platform/timing puzzles - how can I get behind him without making a noise, how can I do it without alerting the others, when should I go for it, etc. It's a great choice, because it lets you choose where you draw the line between strategy (planning it out beforehand, speed kills) and tactics (reacting as you go along, regular fights).

If you play any of the games for long enough you'll notice that the levels can be tokenized according to the type of move you need to perform - all the different trap types, situations where you're leaping from pillar to pillar, situations where you run up a wall and grab on at the top, etc etc... the new elements in this one work fine from what I've seen so far. Two new elements - grates and slits - have you sticking your sword in the wall to hang from or work mechanisms, and they are nice. The grates make you pay more attention to the actual surface of the walls instead of just looking for silhouettes of things that are sticking out, and they're very versatile elements - you can approach them from pretty much any direction, jump away from them, wall run away from them, drop, climb, etc... whoever came up with that one, you get a gold star.

Other elements include things for the Dark Prince's whip (sorry, "daggertail") to interact with - mainly light fixtures (flagpoles, but too short and bendy to actually grip onto with your hands) and pull-switch blocks - and also some new traps.

Combat is mostly the same - aside from the aforementioned speed kill system - as Warrior Within; silly-named combos coming out your ears but you can ignore most of them in favour of general button-mashing with the occasional bit of "hmm, if I grip when I jump then I can throw him off the ledge completely." That's fine with me, I think. The tedious thing I found in the combat in WW was the battle dialogue, and happily they seem to have done away with it entirely here, you just get the usual grunts and screams.

The Dark Prince sections are sort of timed - every second he loses a bit of health, though for him health is actually sand, so it can be replenished quite easily by killing a few people or breaking open a few pots - and they play pretty nicely, pushing you onwards, and while you can stop to look around if you want or need to you'll never feel particularly comfortable doing so. The puzzles you solve while he's active are pretty easy, it's not pure move-move-move like the Dahaka chases in WW but you'll never be stuck for long on how to get something done.

People have mentioned some new enemies, particularly some new 'sand hounds' which steal sand from your dagger. I've met them twice so far and each time they've been dispatched pretty quickly; they seem to give you enough sand to fill a tank when you kill them anyway, so they can each steal a tank without it being overall detrimental anyway. Not sure why others say they're so terrible. Maybe I'll find out later on...

I think that's enough gameplay. Onto the other bits...

Graphically... the game looks like the high end of the current gen, not next-gen, which is a little disappointing. I deliberately bought it for PC because I was hoping it would take good advantage of my Geforce 7800, but alas, it is not to be. I can see why they did it - they're targetting the Xbox, PS2, and GameCube as well, and PC is not a primary platform when you're targetting those - but it doesn't mean I should be happy about it. To be honest, given that the release has been so close to the Xbox360 launch, I'm a little surprised they didn't try targetting it - MS would probably have gone for it, and it'd be an opportunity to really go all-out with pretty shaders on the walls, floors, and hanging rugs of Babylon.

If there was just one thing that I wish they'd spent more time working on, it's the water. The water as implemented looks very flat, very PS2. At the very least it could have used some bump-mapping and reflectivity; it more time was available, then the numerous small rectangular pools would be prime candidates for a GPU-based fluid motion simulator, complete with dynamic ripples and waves generated by the Price as he walks through it and bends down to drink from it.

Sound-wise, there seems to be some issues; I need to try tweaking the settings and see if they go away, but I'm talking about things like stuttering and cut-outs. However, as far as sound design goes, big thumbs up. They've gotten rid of the obnoxious rock music, bringing back a score more befitting a Prince of Persia - woo! - and there's no more "I grow tired of this!" and "He's the one the empress wants dead!" - double woo! There's a little bit of scripted guard banter that works just fine.

Writing-wise, the exposition is a bit suck, but when they're just developing characters and suchlike it's really pretty good. There's a sort of internal monologue going on between the Prince and the Dark Prince, each commenting on the other's actions, approving, disapproving, offering (occasionally helpful) advice... it's interesting to listen to. It seems quite rare that you find conflict in games that isn't being directly explored via gameplay. Of the five main speakers thus far - the Prince, the Dark Prince, the big boss, Kaileena, and another mystery character who shall remain nameless so as to be a non-spoiler - the only one I've been a bit bored with has been Kaileena, who doubles up as the narrator, and it may just be that I find her character concept pretty weak in the first place. Perhaps I'd like her better if I finished playing all the way through Warrior Within.

I'm a little concerned about the apparant simplicity of the Prince's motivations - it feels a little like it's just one big chase to catch up to the big boss so you can have a swipe at him. One of the more niggling inconsistancies is that the Prince can apparently understand the implications of his time-meddling relatively easily, but he's not so much as acknowledged that the events which have transpired may in fact mean that he can't kill the boss just by stabbing him a couple of times. Still, maybe it's to come. Maybe it's deliberate, as part of his arrogant naievite or something. I'll see.

That's all I can think of to write about right now. It's ten to four in the morning, so I think I won't continue playing right now. Though it's tempting. [smile]
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