The news that leaked earlier today was true: A remake of 2003 classic Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time will release on PC on the Epic Games Store and Ubisoft Store early next year (as well as the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One). The PlayStation 2-era game is being totally rebuilt in Assassin's Creed's Anvil game engine, which is a little ironic, given that Assassin's Creed started as a prototype for a new Prince of Persia.
"It's the circle of life," said senior producer Annu Koul in an interview with PC Gamer last week. Koul works at Ubisoft Mumbai, which is building The Sands of Time Remake in tandem with Ubisoft Pune, where game director Pierre-Sylvain Gires is based.
On top of a general graphical redo—although the remake still has a decidedly 2003 look to it—the character animations from the original Sands of Time have been reenacted with motion capture. "We decided to leverage motion capture, first of all, to enhance the cinematic parts with facial capture, to bring more emotion to them," said Gires.
Yuri Lowenthal is reprising his role as the Prince, while actress Supinder Wraich now plays Farah, replacing Joanna Wasick (who did not continue an acting professionally following the original game, as far as I can tell). In the original, the two leads never actually met in a recording booth, or met at all, said Gires. Having both Lownthall and Wraich acting together allowed the them to reenact the drama and comedy of the original with more emotion, he said—if it went as well as he seems to think it did, The Sands of Time Remake may become the preferred telling of the story.
I won't spoil the story, and I can't, because The Sands of Time released 17 years ago and I don't remember what happened. I do remember enjoying it 17 years ago, though. (And if I saw the Jake Gyllenhaal movie of the same name in 2010, I don't remember anything about that either, beyond the presence of an ostrich race.)
Regarding how it plays, the important thing to know is that you can mess with time, which was the thing to do following The Matrix in 1999 and Max Payne in 2001. That means pausing and slowing time, as well as rewinding combat or platforming mistakes for a do-over, something that's become a minor design cliche over the decade and a half that followed The Sands of Time.
In the remake, the combat and platforming animations have also been motion captured, although the goal has been to recreate the charms of the original with modern techniques, not to turn it into Assassin's Creed. It's still a Prince of Persia game.
The biggest overall change, according to Gires, is the camera. "The free camera will allow you to perfectly frame your combat and your platforming," he said. I don't recall struggling with the camera in the original, but I probably did, because cameras and combat in 3D platformers of that time were rarely the things that got praise. On that note, a combat targeting system has also been added, as well as difficulty modes. The developers have attempted to replicate the balance of the original with the normal difficulty setting, but there will also be an easier "story mode" and a hard mode. In the latter, "you have to be very particular about which moves you use," said Koul.
In the past, Ubisoft Pune and Ubisoft Mumbai have supported the development of projects led elsewhere, such as Far Cry 5, which was headed up by Ubisoft Montreal and Ubisoft Toronto. This is the first game being led by Ubisoft's studios in India, which is also where The Sands of Time's story opens. "It was an honor and a great opportunity for us to leverage our experience to [recreate] detailed environments such as the Maharaja's palace," said Koul during a presentation.
Prince of Persia writer and designer Jordan Mechner says he "didn't take an active role in the remake," but the studios consulted with him and he's played it, which gave him "tingles."
The director of the original, Patrice Désilets, wasn't involved either—he went on to direct the first Assassin's Creed games before leaving Ubisoft in 2010 (after which their relationship gets complicated). Most recently, Désilets directed Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey at his own studio, Panache Digital Games.
The original's producer, Yannis Mallat, went on to run Ubisoft's Canadian studios, but resigned earlier this summer following allegations of workplace misconduct and harassment at those studios. The situation was the subject of a recent apology from Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot, which was posted before today's Ubisoft Forward event.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time Remake will be $40 when it releases on January 21, 2021. As mentioned, it'll release on the Epic Games Store and Ubisoft Store—there was no mention of a Steam release. It'll also be available as part of Ubisoft’s subscription service, Uplay+.