Still riding the high of last year’s stellar exhibition, Sony came into this year’s e3 conference well ahead of the competition–both in terms of sales figures and mind share. All Sony had to do was follow their own plan from last year. Did they do that? Well, sort of. They brought the games–indie and big AAA titles. However, this year did not quite top, or even match, their last outing because they failed to stick to their strong suit, the thing that gamers care most about–the games.
Right off the bat, Sony disappointed me by opening their show with Destiny, a game we have all seen time and time again. Destiny is suffering the same problem Watch_Dogs suffered along its road to release. When a game is shown multiple times at different conferences, people get a little burnt out on it. That is what is happening with Destiny. Will the game be good? Sure, probably. But, when consumers are shown the same gameplay over and over, the hype dies down substantially. There’s no doubt that this game will be huge, for Sony especially. It’s nothing short of amazing that Sony was able to snatch up a game from former-Microsoft-exclusive developer Bungie, but also to have obtained exclusive first-rights DLC and beta access, launching July 17th for Playstation owners. Sony has a great list of exclusive titles in the pipeline, so to have opened with a multi-platform title is a little disappointing.
Unlike Microsoft’s approach this year, Sony did not bombard us with game after game. They hit on different aspects surrounding the Playstation ecosystem. After their opening segment, Andrew House took the stage to announce a white model of the PS4 that will be released on September 9th as part of a Destiny bundle. The bundle will contain a white 500 gigabyte PS4 system, a white DualShock 4 controller, a physical copy of Destiny, and a 30 day voucher for Playstation Plus. Although this bundle wasn’t shocking news, the fact that it came with a white PS4 model was a nice surprise.
One of Sony’s most anticipated new IPs, The Order: 1886 made its gameplay debut. The Order, from developers Ready at Dawn, is a third person, cover-based shooter set in an alternate-history London. The segment opened with some haunting landscapes, immersing the audience in its environment. Crawling through a damp basement with no light, save for a dim lantern, the tone of the game sent shivers down my spine–instantly giving me The Last of Us vibes. Before I could even finish thinking, “Here comes another zombie game,” the rug was pulled out from under me when the enemy on screen transformed into an enormous and grotesque werewolf-like creature. Mixing gameplay with QTEs and cutscenes, we watched the protagonist fire rounds from his pistol and assault rifle as the enemy barreled toward him. The demo, short and sweet, left me wanting so much more. This was a strong showing for Sony and Ready at Dawn and definitely created some good buzz around the upcoming AAA title.
On the other side of the spectrum was the artsy indie game from Pixelopus, Entwined, a game about two souls who are in love yet can’t be together. This is a twin-stick adventure game where players will use both analog sticks to control the characters simultaneously–think Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. The soundtrack and visuals of the game were a feast for the senses. The game’s immediate availability in the PSN Store ($9.99) for PS4 was a surprise announcement. The PS3 and Vita versions are coming soon.
Sony kept the momentum going by showing a trailer for First Light, a stand-alone DLC for Sucker Punch’s recent hit, inFAMOUS: Second Son. This DLC will be released in August and will not require inFAMOUS: Second Son to play it. However, if you do own a copy, you will be given exclusive content.
Continuing with their big franchise hits, the lightly-rumored LittleBigPlanet 3 made an appearance. Fans were treated to a five-minute demo which introduced viewers to three new friends of the lovable Sackboy: Oddsock, Swoop, and Toggle. Each of the three characters have their own special abilities which demonstrate LittleBigPlanet’s dedication to physics and fun. The agile Oddsock has the ability to traverse over walls while Swoop, the tiny bird character, has the gift of–you guessed it–flight! Toggle can transform shapes from heavy to light, allowing him to sneak into tiny areas or launch himself, and others, high into the air by weighing down spring-loaded platforms. Not to be outdone, Sackboy has been given a special ability of his own. He can now climb walls. Under the direction of Media Molecule, the series experienced little variation throughout its three games, making this change in format from developers Sumor Digital a welcome addition. Playing a level with four characters reminds me of the addictively fun Lego games, where players must switch between characters with different powers in order to solve each puzzle. As a bonus all user-created LittleBigPlanet levels from previous games–a stunning 8.7 million levels–will be playable in the fourth installment with up-scaled graphics for PS4.
When a title known as Project Beast leaked a few weeks ago, the internet exploded with excitement. The game was heavily thought to be Hidetaka Miyazaki’s follow-up to Demon’s Souls. This speculation proved to be right. The game is indeed being directed by Miyazaki and was formally announced through the three minute trailer of Bloodborne. Not much is known about it, other than the fact that it will be a 2015 release. And that it has a stunningly gorgeous art style.
Sadly, after these big and exciting announcements, Sony entered a lull. They got away from their strong lineup of exclusives and instead focused on multi-platform games, which, if you read my Microsoft Conference write-up, you know I hate. Much time was spent showing Far Cry 4, Diablo 3, and Battlefield: Hardline. Despite this, the exclusive features were pretty impressive, like inviting friends to play Far Cry 4 even if they don’t have the game, or carrying GTAV saves over to PS4 regardless of prior platform–the first time I’ve ever heard of this being done. Sony also did what Microsoft was bashed for last year: talking about entertainment that wasn’t gaming. They not only mentioned the Ratchet and Clank movie, they premiered the trailer for it. They also mentioned–in far too much detail–a new television series coming to Playstation called Powers, based on the graphic novel series by Brian Michael Bendis. Even the yet-unreleased YouTube app was discussed. Not that these things aren’t great, but they should be given a limited forum at a games conference.
Newly-named president and CEO of SCEA, Shawn Layden, dove into the numbers game, discussing things like how many accounts were connected to the PSN, and how many times the share button was hit. Though the numbers were astonishing, these were the sorts of things that gamers complained about seeing at Microsoft’s conference last year. I don’t mind hearing stats like that because conferences should give the consumers a heads-up of what’s successful and also what there is to look forward to down the road. That being said, the main focus should stay on games. Sony’s mistake was stacking all of this information together, killing the momentum of game announcements. I would have liked to see the statistics dispersed better, allowing less downtime from showing games.
Sony picked it back up by returning to their bread and butter: indie games. Much like Microsoft’s conference, most of the indie games were shown in a sizzle reel, understandably, as I don’t expect every game to get its own special treatment. Playstation showcased a heap of titles including: Bro Force, Not a Hero, The Talos Principle, and the highly-anticipated, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number. None of these titles are exclusives, but will make their console debut on the Playstation. Another big focus here was free-to-play games, 25 of which will be coming to the Playstation consoles and Vita over the next year.
The highly-anticipated Vita TV has finally been announced for a fall release in North America. The tiny, $99 set-top-box will allow PS4 owners to remotely access their device on another TV in the house–essentially like owning a second console. Vita TV will also allow you to stream apps and the new service, Playstation Now. Vita TV has already proved widely successful in Japan, and–based on its reception at the conference–will flourish here as well.
Although multi-platform announcements are a point of contention for me, they managed to work in Sony’s benefit. Sony closed their show on several strong debuts: Metal Gear Solid: Phantom Pain, GTAV, and gameplay footage from Batman: Arkham Knight. Are these games coming to Xbox as well? Yes. But, the big take-away here is that Sony got first dibs. These weren’t shown, or even mentioned, at Microsoft’s conference. This strengthens the mind share for the Playstation 4, which Sony was already winning. And the numbers don’t lie; dominating mind share leads to dominating sales figures.
Intent on ending the show with a bang, Sony pulled out the big guns and turned to Naughty Dog–perhaps the best developers on the market. They were briefly mentioned earlier in the conference when their critically-acclaimed, smash-hit, The Last of Us, got a trailer and release date for their Remastered version. The next-gen rerelease, which will include all the DLC and the making-of documentary, Grounded, will make its PS4 debut on July 29th. Closing the conference was Naughty Dog’s latest game, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. The trailer, captured entirely in-engine, showed a battered Nathan Drake waking in the middle of dreary jungle, complete with caged skeletons. A voice-over conversation with his best friend, Sully, hints that this could very well be for, “one last time.” The overall tone of the trailer was much darker than what we’ve come to expect from the usual light-hearted, pulp action in the Uncharted series.
With the bar set so high from what they accomplished last year, Sony had quite the tall order. They didn’t necessarily fail, but they also didn’t match the excitement of their last outing–which, admittedly, was not going to be an easy feat. Sony drifted too far from what made them so successful last year: showing nothing but games. Having that ten to fifteen minute lull right in the middle distracted from what could’ve been a top-notch showing. Combine this with some technical hiccups regarding a few microphone failures and some audio cues missing their marks, and Sony’s trip to the finish line became more of a stumble rather than the confident strut they had last year.
Below is the conference in its entirety: