After Microsoft's relatively tepid showing this morning, Sony didn't need to do a lot to "beat" Microsoft--at least insomuch as you can "beat" anybody at putting on press conferences. But that didn't stop Sony from putting on a strong showing that put a hyperfocus on games. Big ones, in fact.
The show opened with a surprise showing in Beyond, the latest game from Heavy Rain developer Quantic Dream. Studio head David Cage arrived on the scene to deliver a lot of heady talk about games exploring the concept of death and existence beyond it. What that translated to was a seemingly gameplay-free demo that featured a cop talking to a bald woman. I suppose it's worth mentioning that said bald woman was played by Ellen Page. Oh, and that she seems to have telekinetic powers.
Most of the demo revolved around the cop talking at Page's character, who refused to speak or answer questions. At one point, the cop sets down a coffee cup on his desk, and in an unexplained moment of weirdness, Paige seemingly makes the cup fly off the desk and into a wall. The cop, appropriately, backs away slowly.
This leads to an apparent stand-off with a mysterious S.W.A.T. force that appears to be aware of the girl's existence and is summarily cautious of her powers. That plot thread, however, is never tied up. Instead, the demo video cut to a montage featuring more scenes of action and dialogue with Paige, who also seems to be connected to some kind of mysterious entity known as Aiden. So it's weird, it's cinematic, and heavy on befuddling dialogue. Sounds like a Quantic Dream game to me.
From there, we then moved on to the totally thematically consistent PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale. Not a lot of surprises there. Battle was shown between a quartet of characters (Kratos, Sly Cooper, Fat Princess, and Sweet Tooth) that, yeah, did look an awful lot like Smash Bros. Look, I don't want to knock a game for looking similar to another game, since making games that look like other games is pretty much the guiding ethos of the entire game industry. And, for what it's worth, the combat looked like it had some merit to it, in that over-the-top Smash Bros. way.
This led to a number of product announcements from Sony man Jack Tretton, including the revelations that PlayStation Plus would be getting a gang of free games in the coming year, and that PSOne games would be headed to Vita in the near future. Interestingly, beyond this and the announcement of cross-platform play for PS All-Stars on the Vita (yes, it's definitely coming to the handheld), the Vita was largely absent from the proceedings.
Granted, a couple of big games were announced. Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified was confirmed for the platform (though nothing was shown), and Ubisoft did reveal its new Assassin's Creed III spinoff for the system. Subtitled Liberation, this new AC features a female assassin (who I'm pretty sure is a pirate of some fashion) and is set in New Orleans in the years leading up to the American Revolution. However, beyond these two titles, Sony mostly seemed focused on PS3 and Network stuff, which is interesting, considering the recent struggles of the Vita.
Ubisoft didn't just show Liberation at the show. They also showed an additional demo of AC III, which featured a bizarre, yet cool-looking naval sequence, in which you find yourself steering a boat in the middle of a naval combat scenario. Some people seemed confused and thought this was a Liberation demo, but no, it was definitely AC III. Additionally, Ubi showed off a new four-player co-op mode for Far Cry 3 that looked...interesting? It was hard to tell based on the footage shown, but it could certainly be a cool addition. Less boobs in that demo, in case you were wondering.
Following the Ubi segments, the show got...weird. It was clear from the moment PlayStation Move was mentioned that we were probably in for something totally kooky, but I don't think anyone expected Wonderbooks.
That's right, Wonderbooks! They're books! Full of wonder! And by wonder, I mean AR codes.
Yes, Wonderbooks are books that use the PS3's augmented reality tech to create wondrous interactive images using the PlayStation Eye. The big get for this segment was the revelation that J.K. Rowling was working in conjunction with Sony to create Book of Spells, a Wonderbook based on the same stuff found on the Pottermore website. Interestingly, the demonstrators went to great pains to avoid mentioning Harry Potter by name, though the obvious wizarding connections are obvious once you see the thing in action.
Trouble is, seeing it in action doesn't necessarily explain what the hell is going on with this thing. The decision to cut between three different people playing the same game didn't do much for demo coherence, but the AR stuff just seemed bizarre. Also, I hate to nitpick, but when something is called a "book," I tend to presume that there are words in it. This doesn't really appear to be the case here.
After a very lengthy demonstration featuring people who looked like they'd been hanging around an opium den all day, the conference finally moved back to major game stuff. Namely, two of the biggest upcoming exclusives for the platform: God of War: Ascension, and The Last of Us.
Look, I'm as big of a fan of God of War as there is, but even I have to admit that the idea of yet another Kratos-brand vengeance bender seemed...unnecessary? I can't say that the Ascension demo did much to sway my feelings on its superfluousness, but hey, it sure did look pretty. Unsurprisingly, the demo was replete with gory attacks, ugly monsters (chief among them, creatures of the goat and elephant variety), and Kratos generally looking displeased with everything. The one new wrinkle shown was some manner of time-shifting craziness. Kratos has a bracelet that seemingly rewinds time, or at least restores destroyed scenery. Little context beyond the rebuilding of an obliterated dock was given, but hey, at least it's something outside of the usual square, square, triangle stabbery.
And then there is The Last of Us. My immediate instinct with this game is to try and find fault with it, mostly because I've been burned by so many games that excited the hell out of me over the years. But I can't do it. Watching the reps from Naughty Dog play through this thing, I got giddy. Straight. Up. Giddy.
The demo itself featured game protagonists Ellie and Joel exploring a water-logged part of the city. Evidently having just escaped a brush with some bad guys, they suddenly find themselves brushing with more bad guys, who are exploring an abandoned building they're hiding near. Joel immediately leaps into action, sneaking behind one guy and Brutus The Barber Beefcake-ing him into submission, followed by a protracted battle with the remaining bad guys.
I don't want to be that guy who champions horrible, grotesque violence, but this is my thing: violence in games is often numbing because it feels sort of consequence-less. You're just running around and your character is barely reacting to getting shot or getting hit. Enemies make these corny death animations that barely seem real. I don't know what hoodoo is going on under the hood in The Last of Us, but at the very least, Naughty Dog has found a way to make violence feel brutal. When anyone gets punched, kicked, or hit with an object in this game, I cringe in sympathetic pain. When Joel gets shot, he gets majorly knocked back. Yes, he can take multiple bullets, but shut up. Video games.
The question, of course, is how is The Last of Us going to play? No idea, and my understanding is that Naughty Dog won't be giving hands-on demos at this show. I'll be sure to stare at the controller the demoer is holding extra hard when I have my appointment with the game this week.
All in all, a relatively strong showing from Sony. They didn't show a lot of games, but the ones they did were almost all bangers. You can harp on the Wonderbooks stuff all you like--or, do as I'm doing and dismiss it altogether--but the games at least ranged from fantastic-looking to intriguing. And while some might be disappointed that Sony said nothing of its eventual next-gen console (supposedly codenamed "Orbis"), it's hard to be too mad when there are real life games that I want to be playing on the console I already have.
- There was a part of me that believed that Sony would mention something about Orbis, just to seem way more ahead of the game after Microsoft opted to skip mentioning anything. No dice, it seems. Again, not complaining.
- I could listen to Andrew House pronounce the word "innovative" for the rest of time. It's an inspired pronunciation.
- There were a number of PlayStation Blog readers in the audience of tonight's conference, which explains why people were hooting and hollering after every other sentence.
- I do not care for the idea of a Big Daddy as a PlayStation All-Stars character. Not because I don't think he'll play well. I just don't associate the BioShock franchise with PlayStation, really. I mean, those versions of the game weren't exactly top flight, remember?
- Jack Tretton's call out of Kaz Hirai actually felt like a genuinely sweet moment. Glad to see that running the rest of Sony hasn't erased Kaz's ability to show up and promote some games.
- Was really betting on some kind of Syphon Filter announcement. No dice.
Tomorrow, we check out Nintendo, and then it's E3 show floor time. Prepare yourselves accordingly.