So... no The Last Guardian?
Sandwiched between Microsoft’s solid - if slightly unspectacular - display of humility and Nintendo’s digital event, there was less of an open goal feel to Sony’s conference in 2014. However, the stage was still set for the company to cap off a week that already brought with it the good news that they once again sat atop the global sales chart - having shifted more hardware in the previous financial year than even Nintendo’s portable-buoyed figures - for the first time in eight years.
So, with no last minute E3-stealing adjustments to console price or parading as the saviours of the status quo, what did Sony serve up this year? Well if you stayed up, managed to get through the frankly interminable pre-show and didn’t curse Sony’s usual lateness you’d have seen a show much like last year, just without the fanfare.
The intro trailer for Destiny seemed an obvious FPS counterpoint to Microsoft’s opening with Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. Sony touted their own exclusivity deal with regards first access to the beta on July 17th and, more tantalising, a first look Alpha which opens this Thursday. Keeping with all things shooty, there was also gameplay footage of Far Cry 4, which features a Himalayan setting, wingsuit and grapple for traversing the environment and all the usual brutal melee deaths you’d expect. The big news was that the two player co-op would allow even those who don’t own the game to join in.
Alongside the Battlefield Hardline beta, that seemed to be the FPS base covered, but perhaps surprisingly the Destiny trailer eschewed showing much from a direct first person perspective in favour of a more cinematic approach.
That, though couldn’t match the filmic quality of the new footage from The Order: 1886, as we explored what appeared to be an asylum location by lamplight onto to stumble upon a werewolf. It might have been delayed, but the scope format and sheer fidelity are clearly going to be seen a lot between now and its eventual release next year. To be honest it wasn’t the greatest clip, there were no new major points of interest even if it was filled with tension, but who cares when it looks that good?
Now that both machines are similarly priced, the real battle beginsSpeaking of graphics, the small point scoring of console power wasn’t left untouched, with comments about games on Sony’s machine offering the “highest visual quality” or looking better. It was emphasised again by the re-use of captions at the beginning of multiple clips that stated that “The following was captured on a PlayStation 4”. Now that both machines are similarly priced, the real battle begins, and it seems that one of the key battlegrounds this E3 is once again exclusivity.
Beyond some far away new IP and the reveal of inFamous: Second Son’s DLC, it was business as usual. Timed, debut, premiere, first - all the cliched synonyms were wheeled out, but some of Sony’s offerings fell flat. I’m sure there’s a market for the inclusion of exclusive characters in Disney Infinity 2 - and the Hulk to boot - but the pause for applause wasn’t really needed.
There was, however, plenty of genuine audience reaction to the reveal of LittleBigPlanet 3 for the PS4. With the cutesy lo-fi graphics not likely to adequately reflect the massive power boost, it is the gameplay that’s been tweaked. New characters with new abilities add a neat twist to co-op play, and the presentation was by far the most natural of the night.
Also well received, though little was clarified about the game, was Abzu, the latest game from the creative minds behind Journey. Similarly orchestral and lead by artistic design and minimalism, it was another that purported an “exclusive console debut on PS4”.
Sticking with the artsier end of the spectrum, a first look at Entwined by Pixel Opus was just the kind of aesthetically driven game Sony likes to promote via download service. A brightly coloured bird and fish cross paths in a high concept tale of two souls in love who can;t be together. The supposedly unique control scheme of each stick governing the movement of a character, and handling them in tandem sounds very similar to Brother: A Tale of Two Sons, but as it’s out now you can make up your own minds.
As artistic as it was, Entwined’s creativity seemed eclipsed by another indie, No Man’s Sky. The intro trailer of a foreign world with orange grass and teeming with creatures was stunning, then the player gets into a spacecraft and it quite literally took off from there. It offers the lure of a procedurally generated universe, where no two players will start on the same planet and no two games will be the same; the universe is claimed to be infinite.
The indie drum wasn’t being beaten as hard by Sony this year, probably due to the fact that Microsoft have rectified many of their previous issues on that front, but there was time for a quick montage of pixel art heavy titles Broforce, Not a Hero, Titan Souls, Hotline Miami: Wrong Number 2 and The Talos Project.
In terms of hitting back against Microsoft’s Master Chief Collection, well there was the expected The Last Of Us: Remastered announcement, with a release date of July 29th, and more left field was the news that a reimagined version of the original Ratchet and Clank is in the works, though that won’t be here until the vague date of the first half of 2015. The best announcement on that front was that Grim Fandango would be remastered and exclusive to PS and Vita. That’s how you please a room full of older gamers!
In terms of newness, well there wasn’t much in the potential AAA category. There was a trailer for a new, exclusive Suda 51 title, but beyond some violent live action and an inkling of gameplay, all that’s really known is the title, Let It Die. Similarly violent looking was Bloodborne, the From Software title everyone’s been expecting; here it was shown off with a CG trailer of zombie dogs, decaying bodies and the living dead in a dark gothic setting.
Keeping with zombie theme - and crowbarred into a section about fans’ letter - was a Dead Island 2 trailer (30 day exclusive beta -woo!) that managed to be both genuinely funny and gruesome, as a hipster jogger made his way along oblivious to the zombie apocalypse ensuing behind him. Even that though was eclipsed in the blood splatter stakes, by the first gameplay footage of Mortal Kombat X. The fatalities in all their next gen glory are really entering tabloid territory, and they look great.
Games may have been at the forefront of Microsoft’s message, but Sony still had portable consoles to shift and are currently looking like one of only two serious VR players in the industry. So it was surprising that the messages on the hardware front were so predictable and lacking in substance.
Project Morpheus was mentioned, but only as an aside to mentioning the PS Camera and the accompanying cheap shot at Microsoft as Andrew House proudly claims it was “offered as a choice”. Two new demos would be on the show floor for Sony’s headset, but other than that it’s effectively a no show. It was a strange move to mention the camera when moments later the upcoming free DLC for The Play Room was dropped into the show like a used teabag into the bin.
PS Now, the upcoming online game streaming service that will offer users access to Sony’s back catalogue of games was similarly mentioned but few details of substance were forthcoming. We now know Dead Space 3, Ultra Street Fighter IV and Ratchet & Clank: Into The Nexus will be available, and that there’ll be an open beta in North America starting July 31st on PS4. The sticky issues of price, model, possible subscription tie ins, rental period etc. are all up in the air. We know about as much as we did last year.
The Vita got little attention, beyond its repositioning from a dedicated gaming device to a satellite system for the PS4. Remote play was plugged like it was a new feature, and the claim that it has the biggest library of any portable probably wouldn’t stand up in court. No offence to Notch, but when Minecraft’s appearance is still one of the high points of a sales pitch, you might as well move on. Sadly, there was no mention of Gravity Rush 2.
Vita TV has changed its name to the now smarter PlayStation TV. Once again, this was more a sales pitch than a demonstration of the quality you could expect. At least there were some solid details though, with the price of $99 or a bundle for $139 that includes a Dualshock 3, an HDMI cable, an 8Gb memory card and the Lego: The Movie game.
The section on free-to-play was pure filler. Talk of the PS4 being the best place for such titles lead to a nice montage, but beyond Planetside 2, Guns Up and Kingdom Under Fire 2 there was little to warrant the fanfare. Towards the tail end of the conference most of the questionable marketing jargon was trotted out. Apparently everyone calls Sony and tells them they want new ways to connect with people. Well, now there’ll be YouTube support and the ability to interact with people who’re playing in real time.
Honestly, the media segment would’ve been derided if it was at Microsoft’s infamous Xbox One “TV, TV, sports, TV” reveal. A series based on the Powers comics is planned - which is great - talk of work with Sony Pictures to bring exclusive new content and a Ratchet & Clank movie for 2015 were all promising soundbites. But like Microsoft's planned premium content, the nitty gritty of what the business model will be, how much people will have to pay, and whether there’ll ever be more than a couple of items of decent content planned per year are still unknown. The only thing we really know is that the first episode of Powers will be free and the entire series free to US PlayStation Plus subscribers.
Luckily the games left to finish the show were big hitters, even if they were of a multi-platform variety. The “new” trailer for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain was there for anyone who hadn’t already seen it, as well as some fresh gameplay footage of Batman: Arkham Knight which showcased some fantastic looking flight and vehicular combat, as well as touting some exclusive missions. That left a teaser trailer for Uncharted 4 which, as you’d expect, looked gorgeous and told us little beyond Drake’s back and a bit banged up.
The only half surprise was GTA V coming to PS4 (and Xbox One and PC, though obviously that wasn’t mentioned) with a save transfer feature that’ll allow PS4 owners to move over not only a PS3 character, but also one from an Xbox 360. In an evening full of largely feigned surprise, that seemed to be news to some.
In all it was a slightly underwhelming affair, very conservative with a few obvious high points. Predictions of VR being big and new IP on the horizon were largely swept beneath a tide of semi-teaser trailers that merely informed us of something being at some stage of development. So much of this year’s show seems to have been excessively foreshadowed by what we saw last year, and once again it’s the indies and smaller titles to the rescue.
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