With E3 2015 rapidly approaching, it’s no surprise that mentions of seasoned Sony studios like Media Molecule and Santa Monica are abound. These developers have famed histories for setting the AAA bar as high as they possibly can with stellar entries into the first party space. We can be pretty sure that both of these studios will be making appearances at Sony’s press conference this E3. In fact, we at Power Up Gaming would be willing to bet upwards of several pennies that the usual Sony fanfare (Naughty Dog; Santa Monica Studio; Guerrilla Games; San Diego Studio) will be on full display this year with the likes of Uncharted 4, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, the purported “Horizon” and more. What’s much more interesting, however, is what we don’t know. And the unknown this year is poised behind two rising banners: Bend Studio and Guerrilla Cambridge.
Bend and Cambridge have both had their hand in some landmark Playstation titles. Both share a lineage deeply grounded within the beginnings of the Playstation brand, with their influence being felt across console generations. With nary a peep from either camp in quite some time, we feel Bend and Cambridge are ripe for two electric E3 reveals, and here’s why.
Bend cut their teeth back in the days of the original Playstation. The Oregon based studio (originally christened under the name Eidetic) have been responsible for several iconic 3rd person action adventurer titles. After a slight stumble at the mark in the form of 1996’s Bubsy 3D, Bend took to flight under the wing of Sony, creating 1999’s Playstation sleeper hit Syphon Filter. This fan favourite chronicled the clandestine adventures of special agent Gabe Logan, and impressed gamers with slick controls and engrossing gameplay. This became somewhat of a trend for Bend with successive follow ups Syphon Filter 2, Syphon Filter 3 and Syphon Filter: The Omega Strain.
Bend took to the fore of portable excellence in 2006. Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror and, then, Syphon Filter: Logan’s Shadow shared patronage between the PS2 and PSP. Bend’s impressive feats saw them become some of the premier PSP developers around. Syphon Filter: Combat Ops marked a full transition to handheld platforms. With 2009 came yet another PSP adventure: Resistance Retribution. Never to break with tradition, Bend took yet another flagship Sony series and gave it the portable makeover. Retribution took Resistance’s War of the Worlds aesthetic and overlaid it with Bend’s tell-tale 3rd person shoot ‘em up hallmarks. Bend once again bowed before a mass of favourable reviews. As the PSP began to fade away Retribution became emblematic of an exemplary, yet criminally underplayed, development house. Are you beginning to see the trend here?
In more recent history, Sony tasked Bend with leading the AAA charge on their ill-fated handheld, the Playstation Vita. Bend took to the task with style, translating Naughty Dog’s flagship Playstation franchise to the powerful portable. What prevailed was Uncharted: Golden Abyss. Golden Abyss counts itself one of the Vita’s finest moments, and for good reason. Bend demonstrated an affinity for polish, presentation and cheesy one liners that rivalled Naughty Dog itself. Golden Abyss wasn’t just a great Vita game; it was a great game full stop. Bend proved themselves worthy of the Sony exclusive AAA mantle and then some. Though Golden Abyss may well have gone down with the proverbial ship, Bend continues to ride high.
The moral of this story is that Playstation fans should be very optimistic about anything Bend sink their teeth into. If the fact that Sony has significantly expanded the Bend team in recent years is anything to go by, then it looks like the studio is going for bigger and better than ever before. The developer is poised to become a huge name in the AAA console space. In a January blog post, technical director Christopher Reese even stated that their latest unnamed title “would push the PS4 somewhere it’s never been before”.
All the warning signs have been pointing to an imminent Bend announcement, and this is where it gets interesting. Continuing in true Naughty Dog fashion, recent reports from well-known industry insider “Shinobi602” have surfaced via NeoGAF purporting Bend to be working on a “survival horror” “TLOU style” game for the PS4. For those that don’t know, that’s the Last of Us, perhaps one of the most critically acclaimed games of the last console generation. Before this, fellow industry insider “Thuway” revealed that a handful of leaked concept art and alpha images did indeed belong to Bend’s new PS4 title. Images revealed eerily sparse habitats and monstrous character designs that spoke of an alien world. With this new IP aimed straight at Sony’s current system, it certainly looks like Bend is set to return to its fruitful legacy of flagship stealth-action 3rd person adventurers. In Mr Thuway’s own stylings: “it needs to be said about Bend’s title… the studio is coming with fire”.
One thing is for certain: cogs are about to start moving on the promotional front. Bend has kept shtum for three years now. Even if Sony were cheekily behind both recent “leaks”, no substantial “official” information has come from Bend in over three years. The time is ripe for a spectacular E3 reveal.
The story of Guerilla Cambridge is in many ways analogue to that of Bend. The UK studio first established themselves on the original Playstation under the name of Cambridge Studio. Their long standing career has seen them dabble in a storm of disparate franchises (often for the worse) from 1997’s Frogger to 2006’s 24: The Game. Let’s not dwell on the negatives, though; Guerilla also happen to have been the progenitors behind the now classic MediEvil franchise. If you’re a gamer who hasn’t played MediEvil, chances are that you recognize its iconic character designs. The undead adventures of Sir Daniel Fortesque captured the terrified imaginations of many, highlighting Cambridge’s flair for inventive design and smirk-inducing gameplay. Sadly, this is a talent that has scarcely been exercised since the series’ last PSP-based hurrah, MediEvil: Resurrection.
Later years saw Killzone developers Guerilla Games merge with Cambridge as a subsidiary company. Equipped with an improved name, Guerilla Cambridge cast their eyes to new, more portable territories. Following in Bend’s footsteps, the studio took charge of Killzone: Mercenary for the Vita. It took the twin nub handheld near enough 2 years, but the Vita finally had a frenetic, AAA worthy FPS to its name. Along with their 2009 Little Big Planet PSP effort, Cambridge demonstrated a consistent talent for appropriating loved franchises and retaining the magic – something few surrogate developers can claim to.
In a Playstation Blog interview Cambridge’s creative director Tom Jones professed his desire to create “the best looking game on vita.” The studio is certainly full of admirable ambition. Though the Mercenary experience was often flummoxed by frame rate drops we can’t help but doggedly raise our eyebrows at what this means for Cambridge’s next confirmed PS4 venture. In fact, a job listing posted by the company in February stipulated the title would have “photo real lighting” for environments, characters and more. No doubt, Cambridge will be carrying over their prior presentational perfectionism straight to their newest, home console efforts.
What’s more is that we also know the new title will take shape as a “high profile, multi-million selling franchise”. There’s so much here to fuel Playstation fan boy dreams. Yet, with it being purported that Killzone creator, and Cambridge’s parent company, Guerilla Games will be turning away from their tech-oriented FPS in favour of the enigmatically named “Horizon”, we can’t help but feel the facts are pointing toward Cambridge taking over the Killzone franchise entirely. Though a MediEvil reanimation would be nice, we feel we’d be dealing in pipe dreams.
Nothing concrete has come from Cambridge since the beginning of 2013. Much like for Bend, it’s now or never. Look to the E3 stage in a few weeks’ time for answers.
Uncharted 4 and Ratchet and Clank have been delayed well into 2016. With Evolution Studios and Studio Japan having already blown their exclusive wads, Sony’s 2015 first party schedule is looking pretty dire. Playstation president Andrew House himself has already admitted that the AAA line-up is “sparse”. With this in mind, we’re predicting that both titles will be dropping well before the end of the year. There’s a significant hole to fill in Sony’s camp and these two studios could be the solution. And what better time than E3 to whip up a positive media firestorm?
Do you have your own pet-theories about what surprise reveals will be coming out of E3 this year? If so then don your tinfoil hat and get typing in the comments box below.