We have to admit though, the Dark Prince makes a terrible first impression. At first, the Dark Prince feels underpowered (despite the fact that he's actually more powerful), and the chain weapon which replaces your secondary weapon slot and prevents you from doing leaping melee attacks (an extremely useful move that can kick enemies off ledges) feels clumsy and inaccurate.
In time, however, you'll warm to his charred skin and evil, staring eyes, and once the Dark Prince's full athletic potential is realised, he becomes a joy to control, easily outshining the regular Prince's acrobatic manoeuvres. Plus, the chain which at first seemed like a hindrance soon becomes integral to getting about, acting as a grappling hook. It also becomes a favoured weapon, particularly when surrounded by multiple enemies.
DANCE THE DANCE OF DEATH
Common to both the good and evil Princes are the flashy new speed kills. Creep up behind an enemy, wait for the screen to flash and then launch into a superbly animated death sequence which sees you hitting buttons when your dagger flashes. If you fail to hit the button at the right time, you cockup the sequence and get slapped about embarrassingly by your would-be victim.
OK, so it's here that the title's console leaning are most apparent (you should be playing this with a pad anyway), but not only do speed kills allow you to kill enemies quickly and safely (well, mostly safely), they also play a role in sections of the game where it's important to kill a certain enemy before he spots you and calls in reinforcements. Boss fights also employ speed kills as the preferred method of death-dealing, which makes for fantastically cinematic and beautifully animated combat. Add to that the fact that hanging upside down from a chain before stealthily dropping to the floor with cat-like grace, pouncing on a seven-foot tall soldier's back, plunging your dagger deep into his shoulder, flipping over to stare your foe in the face before tearing downwards and splitting him open... Well, that's just really, really cool.
DO IT AGAIN
So what else has changed? Ubisoft has tried somewhat successfully to remedy the repetitive nature of the last two games, adding some scenes where you race through the streets in a chariot, fending off attackers from all sides and trying not to plough horse-first into a wall.
It's rather bland action but it's fun all the same, with controls that could've been a whole lot worse and a decent sense of speed. The boss battles are bigger, more epic, far more interesting and bloody difficult at times too, more so than in the previous games (as people in our office within earshot of me can vouch for). But for the most part, you'll be in familiar territory - the Prince will become more and more naked as the game goes on, intricate puzzles litter the various brothels and palaces, and enemies dissolve and turn to sand when you stab them enough.
So yes, the Dark Prince is great and speed kills are great. Hanging from chains is great and shimmying between walls is great. Even the bosses are great. There's a lot of greatness to be witnessed in The Two Thrones, that's for sure, but unfortunately it can't breach the 90 per cent barrier and enter the realm of the Classic award, for the same reasons its predecessors couldn't. Even though the combat is fantastic, the animations beautiful and the sheen shiny, there's no real deal-clincher here - it sometimes feels a bit shallow and despite Ubisoft's best efforts, repetitive.
Some of the new features on the acrobatic side of things too, such as springy panels on walls which launch you diagonally for some reason, seem a bit forced and unbelievable (running along walls and leaping huge distances is perfectly believable). There's also very little reason to play it twice, unless you enjoy unlocking artwork you didn't unlock the first time through.