Before I was riveted by the adventures in Assassin's Creed series, I used to be just as fascinated with a different setting, in which the games about assassins actually take root. Actually, my first contact with that setting was Prince of Persia 3D from 1999, but it wasn't until Ubisoft released The Sands of Time that I became absolutely crazy about the franchise. Now, there have been leaks, unconfirmed info, and high hopes among the community – followed by the VR escape game The Dagger of Time. Hope dies last, though, and today, we know that Ubisoft decided to make the first full-fledged remake in the studio's history and is going to revamp The Sands of Time. The return of the prince!
As part of the presentations organized by Ubisoft prior to the game's release during Ubisoft Forward, we had the opportunity to speak to two people involved in the development of the game. Namely Pierre-Sylvain Gires, the lead director, and none other than Yuri Lowenthal, the original voice of the prince, who returns in his role – which is fantastic news. You will find a few direct quotes from them in this text.
"Time is like an ocean caught in the storm"
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is a 2003 classic action-adventure TPP slasher; there's an entire generation of players who haven't ever played it, or have simply forgotten. SoT told the story of a young, flamboyant and slightly arrogant Persian prince, who along with king Sharaman, his father, and with the help of a traitorous Vizier, conquers a city belonging to Maharaja, and Indian king. The Vizier allows the invaders in through the city gates in return for access to the Maharaja's treasures. During the siege, the prince makes it to the king's vault. With his unmatched dexterity that includes stuff like wall running and leaping from wall to wall, he arrives at a shrine holding a quaint artifact – a dagger, which turns out to provide its holder with the ability to control the direction of the flow of time. This is at odds with the Vizier's plans – he's a dying, old man, and he believes the sands will grant him immortality. Once he learns the juvenile Persian warrior snatched the dagger, he quickly conceives a plan b: to trick the Prince into releasing the Sands from the Hourglass of Time. Everything goes to hell in an instant. The entire population turns every living organism into sand wraths, apart from a few individuals, the holders of Sand artifacts. Among them is Farah, the daughter of the humiliated Indian ruler, who eventually teams up with the Prince to help him undo his foolish act, and develop a romantic relationship along the way.
We decided to bring the Prince back simply because, like many fans who still return to these games, we wanted to reach back to that story again. Ubisoft decided to fulfill the fans' wishes, while creating the first full-fledged remake in its catalog. We decided for The Sands of Time because this game marked the beginning of the Prince's great adventure, which at the time set the bar for many subsequent video games.
When I first heard about the upcoming remake, one of the first questions that popped into my head was "Does Jordan Mechner, the father of the Prince of Persia series, have anything to do with it?” Although he's no longer formally associated with Ubisoft, he had a say in the initial stages of the production.
We contacted Jordan in the early stages of the project to exactly understand his vision for the game and to get some information about what he would change – and there were actually quite a few elements he wanted to improve on. Jordan served as a consultant during pre-production, but once that stage was over, we had complete control of the project, and he was no longer involved.
Although Yuri Lowenthal returns in the role of the Prince, the voice of Farah will be different. The Maharaja's daughter (formerly Joanna Wasick) will be performed by Supinder Wraich – a Canadian actress with an ever-growing portfolio but without too many high-profile roles behind her. The actress made a guest appearance as Talissa in the third episode of the third season of The Expanse.
Remake! Not a remaster, not reboot
During the presentation and interview, the hosts repeatedly stressed that Sands of Time would be a remake, as opposed to a remaster – the graphics will be improved, but that will be only one of a set of changes to the original formula. The game will, of course, retain high fidelity to the original material, but Ubisoft creates entirely new assets and introduces changes to gameplay so that the game feels completely modern. The Sands of Time Remake uses the anvil engine, Ubisoft's flagship engine powering, among others, Assassin's Creed Origins – now this is a surmise, but since the devs referred to only this single entry in the AC series, it probably means they're using precisely this iteration of the engine, presumably without some of the improvements introduced during development of Odyssey and Valhalla.
How will the gameplay be modernized? First of all, changes will be made to the camera, which was quite impish in The Sands. See, the original featured a quasi-platformer camera, that, in certain locations, was more or less fixed; now, we will get complete control of the view. There will also be improvements to the combat system, which should get more depth, diversity and responsiveness. As the devs said, the combat should be challenging, but at the same time more varied than in the original. Interestingly, the remake of The Sands of Time will introduce difficulty levels. That's a novelty compared to the original, although the sequels, Warrior Within and Two Thrones already did.
Fans of the original, 1989 Prince of Persia will get their own treat, too. Just like The Sands of Time, the remake will also feature a secret, unlockable Jordan Mechner's original game that really inaugurated the series.
In addition, people who know the Sands of Time inside out, can expect some minor surprises. During pre-production, the creators used the game's original script, which included dialogue lines, which never made it into the game. And since all the lines had to be re-recorded, the team decided to diversify the dialogues and add some passages that had not previously appeared in The Sands of Time. On top of that, the actors also performed full mo-cap sessions for their characters, whereas in the original, they'd only given their voices.
One of the most important things for me was being able to prepare the cinematography using motion capture and performance capture – which we weren't able to do the first time around – back then, all the animations were done manually. So, we had the opportunity to go back – basically turn back time and do it again, only better. In addition, reliving this story with another actress in the role of Farah... our conversations are still the same, this relationship will be very similar, but Supinder has brought some amazing things to this character and I can't wait for people to see what we've accomplished.
The same, or not the same?
The development of the original Sands of Time began in 2001 in Ubisoft Montreal, which today is considered the leading studio of the French publisher. The remake, however, was handled by two new, major projects – Ubisoft Mumbai and Ubisoft Pune, which so far worked on games such as Just Dance and Steep; Montreal, however, assisted at some stages of the work – according to Lowenthal, motion capture was carried out in Montreal, for example.
At the end of the interview, I asked the hosts about the music.
As far as the music is concerned, we have remastered the whole thing. The original score is so iconic and so beautiful that we just had to put it back in the game. We modified the soundtrack slightly by mastering it for contemporary sound systems, but the music definitely brings the nostalgia back. The few first notes in the game immediately strike home.
I won't lie to you, and admit I'm really hyped for the remake of The Sands of Time, but after seeing the first fragments, I also know I've got to keep my hopes in check. The game does work on anvil, the first snippets of gameplay made me wonder if I really still remember what Assassin's Creed Origins looked like on the same engine. The changes to camera work and combat seem good, and changes such as new voice for Farah shouldn't have a negative impact. The creators sound very encouraging, and I hope they will be sensible in modernizing the Sands, not tampering too much with the core formula.
After the presentation, I also do not undertake to give any specific opinion yet. As long as I can't play it myself, I will remain in the realm of cautious interest, despite my genuine excitement with the news. Anyway, I replayed The Sands of Time back in March this year again. It was as good as ever, although launching the game on modern resolutions is quite a hustle, so the time is certainly ripe for Sands of Time Remake. I keep my fingers crossed for the success of Ubisoft's first remake ever. If it turns out a success, we'll get the entire trilogy remastered – and playing Warrior Within or Two Thrones on modern technology would be, pardon my French, fucking epic. Meanwhile, I'm saving the date: January 21, 2021.
Last update: 2020-09-10
Mike Manka | Gamepressure.com