Sony’s E3 Press Briefing Goes Heavy on PS3 Games
If Microsoft’s E3 showing was still too entertainment-centric for your liking — despite being a bit more gaming-focused than last year — Sony’s E3 press conference spent the vast majority of its time talking about games, even if the number of games shown favored Microsoft. Like Microsoft’s briefing, there wasn’t a lot in the way of surprise game announcements, although many of the games we already knew about that were shown looked great.
Following a bit of a long-winded pat on the back of gamers, Sony launched into a reveal of Heavy Rain developer Quantic Dream’s next game, entitled Beyond: Two Souls. Aside from being visually impressive, the demo briefly showed off the performance of Ellen Page (she was silent for most of it), who will play the game’s protagonist, Jodie Holmes. It looked a lot like a Heavy Rain-style game with more action and a sci-fi element. The game was undoubtedly one of the highlights of not only the show, but the first day of E3, even if only because it felt like something different among a sea of shooters.
This was followed up with a demo of PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale, which is coming to Vita in addition to PlayStation 3 (and features cross-platform play, with progress able to be moved from one platform to the other). New downloadable content for LittleBigPlanet 2 was announced that allows Vita to be used as a controller (and its tilt/touch functions) for the PS3 game. This was referred to as “cross-controller” DLC, and it’s something I expect we’ll be seeing a lot more of as a way of competing with the Wii U and Microsoft’s new SmartGlass.
With 80 percent of PlayStation 3 and Vita systems said to be connected to the Internet, Sony boss Jack Tretton announced that PlayStation Plus will be getting more free games, with the first batch of 12 including Infamous 2, LittleBigPlanet 2, and Saints Row 2. These games will be rotated in “all the time,” giving Plus members an “instant games collection” for $5 per month. What’s even better news is that the PlayStation Vita — which, for whatever reason does not current support PS1 Classics — is finally getting that support, allowing the likes of Final Fantasy VII to be downloaded and played on its gorgeous screen.
Entertainment apps were only briefly mentioned, representing the one non-gaming portion of the briefing. Hulu Plus and Crackle are coming to Vita “soon,” joining the recently announced YouTube app.
Vita was a subject that didn’t receive as much attention as many expected. Aside from the confirmation of a portable version of All-Stars, Call of Duty was again reiterated to be coming to the system and was given a name: Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified. Nothing but a logo was shown — a curious decision for a game said to be coming this holiday season. With the launch coming that soon Call of Duty being as big as it is, you’d think Sony would want to show something to get Vita owners (and, just as importantly, potential Vita owners) excited. What they had to serve that purpose instead was the first of several Ubisoft games, Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation. A new female assassin was shown in New Orleans in the year 1768, a date during the same period that Assassin’s Creed III proper covers. The game has been built from the ground up for the platform, a positive thing to hear for Vita fans looking for more original content they can see for themselves (rather than promises of games that may never happen — I’m looking at you, BioShock Vita).
Other than that, Vita received no attention. With the handheld market having shrunk due to mobile phones and tablets, it’s possible Sony realized the bulk of its potential success is to be experienced in the console market and wanted to focus on those experiences. There was no shortage of great-looking games for PS3, although as a Vita owner I can’t help but feel disappointed in the platform’s showing. It’s a system with a lot of potential, and it would have been nice to hear about a few more games and perhaps some system-level features Sony has in the works.
Following up the brief Liberation showing was Assassin’s Creed III. Following the demonstration at Ubisoft’s briefing earlier in the day, this time we got to see the ability to take control of a large ship that engages in combat with British vessels. Ubisoft’s Sony support continued with the first showing of the four-player co-op mode in Far Cry 3, a game that will receive DLC for free on PlayStation 3. Both games looked good, and this was almost a better showing for Ubisoft than its own briefing because it lacked any of the awkward banter its own conference was filled with. (It bears mentioning that Rayman Legends and Watch Dogs more than made up for that at Ubisoft’s showcase, though.)
Next was one of the longer portions of Sony’s briefing, and one that people are sure to be divided about. Wonderbook is the name of what amounts to an interactive book. Players have a physical book in front of them that, combined with PlayStation Move, allows for a sort of augmented reality experience. Whereas the book in front of you contains nothing, on screen it could display any number of things. A detective story is one project in the works. The more intriguing one is called Book of Spells, a collaboration with Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling. Using PlayStation Move, players learn how to cast spells.
In theory it’s an interesting idea, and the popularity of Harry Potter can’t be underestimated. The live demonstration was imperfect, to say the least, with the game failing to recognize commands several times. The hang up here is that it requires PlayStation Move, an accessory that has not turned out to be the success Sony hoped when it was first launched. It’s entirely possible this turns out to be a unit-seller for Harry Potter fans. Although it may not be of interest to the hardcore gaming audience out there, that was also true of Kinect Star Wars, and that turned out to be the second best-selling game in the U.S. during April.
As the show moved toward its conclusion, we got to see the first gameplay demonstration of God of War: Ascension, which looked tremendous visually, incredibly violent, and undeniably like another God of War game. (Whether or not that is a good thing will be a matter of personal preference. I, for one, am excited.) Toward the end, a particularly brutal sequence saw Kratos stabbing an elephant-like enemy in the head repeatedly in gruesome fashion, something that might help some to understand where our own Bob Mackey was coming from when he discussed the possibility of Ascension’s violence taking things too far.
The violence didn’t go away in the final demo of the show, which featured The Last of Us. It looked a great deal like an Uncharted game with a heavy emphasis on survival and brutal closed-quarters combat; the latter was demonstrated numerous times when we saw Joel, the protagonist, choke an enemy out, beat a man in the head with a gun, and slam another man’s head into a piece of furniture. These are things that don’t sound unusual to see in a videogame, but they felt much more graphic and visceral than they typically do, a feeling reinforced to some degree by there being a young girl (Ellie) in the vicinity as it all takes place.
Like with Microsoft, it’s disappointing we didn’t get some kind of surprise at the end — The Last Guardian, even though we’ve seen it before, would have a delight to see in that spot. Also missing from the show were the supposed cloud game announcement (so much for that providing a new reason to subscribe to PlayStation Plus) and Planetside 2 (or anything at all from Sony Online Entertainment). It is, however, hard to complain about seeing The Last of Us featured in the spot that it was; this is not typically the point in the console cycle that we see a new IP introduced, and Sony is to be praised for supporting not one, but two such games at a time where many other companies are banking almost exclusively on sequels.