Leading the pack: Sony E3 press conference review
5th Jun 2012 | 20:32
Sony showed something for everyone, but at the cost of making you feel a little less special.
On the surface, PS3 is alive and well, with some of the most exciting software in its history. Yet for all Sony's smoke and mirrors, there's a truth that not even David Copperfield could hide - that this ageing console is entering its family friendly twilight, where the focus is on attracting new customers, without alienating the hardcore.
Show opener Beyond Two Souls is, at worst, interesting and brave. Ellen Page's much trumpeted virtual acting debut might have consisted of two minutes of sitting still in total silence, but the supernatural edge threatens to elevate this over Heavy Rain. If producer David Cage can retain the emotional appeal, branching narrative and consequence of his contentious crime thriller, this could be Sony's last great PS3 game. As it stands, it's 'merely' rich with promise, yet light on flashes of real gameplay.
The show's climax, The Last of Us, was the highlight. Naughty Dog's ability to relate dynamic, real time, banter with rich environments and subtle pacing, is juxtaposed with *brutal* combat.
With no regenerating health, and Ethan panting audibly after each encounter, there's a tangible sense of menace. Earlier in the day, I'd sat through a COD: Black Ops demo where the whole world explodes in near catatonic tedium, but at the climax of The Last of Us, a sudden camera jolt and attack from a lone, shotgun-wielding, psycho was enough to make me physically jolt in my seat. Third person cover based shooters are the *other* genre dominating E3 - bar the ubiquitous FPS - but Naughty Dog are its undoubted masters.
The elephants in the room varied from the metaphorical to the digital. Was no one else astonished by the lack of innovation in display in God Of War Ascension? Even the collective 'whoop' when Kratos mashed his blade into a bipedal elephant's brain felt cliched.
However slickly produced, Kratos' prequel felt jaundiced and even lacks its usual, console-defying, spectacle. Nothing about it challenged your preconceptions of what PS3 can achieve, and when violence is your trump card, this is the wrong E3 to play it. Will it be a good game? No question. Just potentially an overly familiar one, that should trade in shocks.
Elsewhere, the elephants were piling up. After Microsoft's unspectacular, holding pattern conference, Sony were *never* going to show PS4, but the list of absentees was glaring. Just what *is* up with The Last Guardian? Was Rockstar's Agent some kind of collective, surrealist dream? What happened to the proposed cloud streaming announcement? GTAV? MGS5 (made even more agonising by Kojima's attendance at the show)? Where were all the first - and third - party Vita games? And let's not forget the big white elephant: 3D.
Less than a year ago, we all wore 3D specs to the Sony conference, and were encouraged to invest in - then - $1000 TVs. Now it doesn't even get a mention, brushed under the bulging carpet, with all the trunks exposed.
Surprises were few and far between, but none more so than the fact we're all talking about magical books scripted by the world's most successful children's author controlled by *PS Move*. Sony's motion controller was starting to look like another well-executed quasi-failure, but this unusual application shifts it firmly into the hands of those Sony have always desired - families.
With LBP Karting and PS All Stars Battle Royale, PS3 is firmly positioned as the ideal Christmas family/tween purchase.
If this was the conference to 'save' PS Vita - since software has almost completely dried up since launch - it was, at best, only a partial success. Assassin's Creed: Liberation looks great, with a welcome, non pandering, female lead, but ever-so-slightly carries the whiff of an Uncharted: Golden Abyss. A great game, just not quite at the level of its 'grown up' forebear.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified *should* be Vita's killer app, but it's alarming that a game only months from release should debut without game footage. Where was the raft of third party support? When you're trying to ignore another elephant in the room, the absence of Monster Hunter is almost poetic.
Too much time was devoted to the wrong things. Watching eight people play a multiplayer game is as much fun as that sounds, while Wonder Book's demo - however impressive - out stayed its welcome. No one in the human world wants to learn that Sony have rebranded PlayStation Suite as PlayStation Mobile, while the cheer for playable PS One games on Vita also felt a little desperate, a mere 16 years on from the original Tomb Raider.
However, Sony have an undoubtedly stronger first party line up than Microsoft, and proudly trumpeted their credentials as a *games* company first, and entertainment brand second.
We might have to sweat out a year for something truly surprising when the console holders break their next-gen truce, but The Last of Us, Beyond Two Souls and - to a lesser extent - God of War Ascension ease the blow. Not to mention all the great third party titles, including Assassin's Creed 3, which almost literally blew its competition out of the water. Kudos, too, for Sony's continued support of interesting PSN games, like The Unfinished Swan and Papa & Yo.
So, the wait for PS4 goes on, but Sony's master deception was pretending it wasn't even on the horizon - presenting a console at the height of its powers, with a diversity of games and services that other platform holders should envy.
Slightly more experienced eyes, however, will discern that we've reached a graphical ceiling, with the AAA games market increasingly obsessed with violence, yet terrified of risky gameplay concepts. In that respect, Sony must be applauded for the imagination of Wonder Book, and in The Last of Us, a potentially generation-defining title that at least attempts to restore menace and consequence to its brutal flash points.
Overall, a solid, but far from vintage conference, as Sony attempts to put its house in order for a company-defining next-generation push in late 2013.