E3 2015: Sony Conference Roundup

Only last month, Playstation President Andrew House professed Sony’s 2015 exclusive games line up to be “sparse”. House’s deflating words prompted many industry followers to predict a dry showing from the company at this year’s E3. Yet, this proved to be anything but the case, with Sony’s 2015 press conference lighting up a hall of ecstatic faces with a very healthy dose of the future. Among a magical introduction and gripping back end came a generous smattering of nostalgia inducing trips and promising new IP. Though not everything was quite so rosy, there were enough high notes to convince just about any Playstation 4 gamer that the price of admission was well worth it.

Curtain call brought with it the long overdue reveal of one of gaming’s most enigmatic titles; The Last Guardian. The crowd’s immediate uproar said it all. Sony fans have been clambering desperately for this game for over eight years; Team Ico’s long delayed puzzle platformer had to seriously deliver to validate years of litigious patience. And the good news is that they, largely, delivered. A gratifying gameplay demo chronicled the efforts of a small boy and his giant griffin-like creature “Trico” to traverse a matrix of crumbling wooden bridges. The showing mercifully lived up to Team Ico’s legacy of unique, stylistically driven exoduses through intriguing settings. Though the demo felt like a veritable bounty in comparison to the last six years of absolute darkness, in reality the demo was pretty short, displaying little more than a concept in action. With the game not arriving until the vague window of 2016, expect more details to come administered via IV drip through the next 6 to 12 months. That said, these slim pickings still made up one of the evening’s finest moments. The demo became a fancy reminder that Sony has finally got its act together and come full circle. Years of fumbles and being decidedly second (even third) best have been washed away; long-time fans are finally being rewarded for their diligence, wires have been uncrossed and the future is looking good for Sony’s powerful console. And that’s how you open an E3 showcase.

Hot on the heels of The Last Guardian came another electric reveal. Former Killzone pioneer Guerilla Games hijacked the stage to discuss all things Horizon: Zero Dawn. An intriguing trailer introduced the world to the studios brand new, Playstation exclusive IP with a flair that even Team Ico might envy. And things only got better from there. An insane gameplay demo featured robot dinosaurs galore. Robot dinosaurs! The title delivers arrow-based combat through the boots of an unnamed, red headed, female protagonist. Just about everything surrounding this game feels welcomely refreshing. A mysterious apocalypse has returned a future world to a (Neo…) Neolithic period of human history, albeit with a few dashes of slick tech to spice things up. Greenery has reclaimed this world. Sparkly greens and all manner of fauna provide the AAA space with some much, much needed colour. It’s phenomenal to see what Gorilla can achieve when let off of the grizzly grey FPS leash. Sony’s latest exclusive reveal was a wicked power-play. Horizon stands as a bold off set to Microsoft’s much safer offering of bloody bro-shooters a la Gears of War 4.

Robot dinosaurs!

Next came a Hitman trailer paired with yet more encouraging info. Playstation preorders of the next gen Hitman title will all receive keys for a forthcoming exclusive beta. What’s more, the PS4 will get six exclusive missions. The heavy hits just kept coming.

In even more trial-related hijinks, Sony then revealed that the PS4/PC exclusive Street Fighter V would also be receiving its very own exclusive beta. A new trailer flaunted Chun Li’s tree trunk thighs in a truly emasculating fashion.

Not to lose momentum, Sony next hustled Hello Games’ adorable Sean Murray onto the stage. Sean showed of the mind-bogglingly nebulous No Man’s Sky, reminding everyone that it would appear first on Playstation. We were made privy to proper gameplay for one of the first times. In a pleasant surprise, we found environments will be fully destructible. Sean danced through the galaxy to really hammer home just how incomprehensibly big No Man’s Sky is. With a tease of an imminent release date Sean flew of the stage.

Next up, Alex Evans strutted on stage to break Media Molecule’s long silence. What came was, arguably, the conference’s first real stumble. Media Molecule are a really talented studio, there’s no doubt about that. But their announcement of Dreams was perhaps too cryptic. Assuring that the rudiments were too complicated to disclose in a handful of minutes, Evans presented the crowd with a context-less tech demo. The trailer that followed presented a similar parade of disparate, artsy cut scene scenarios. The studio failed to truly convey exactly why this demo was impressive, giving their fans nothing to really be excited about. We’re sure that, when the actual videogame hiding under Dreams’ “open dreamiverse” vision is revealed at Paris Games week, there will be a lot to be excited about. But that time, sadly, wasn’t at E3 2015. Would this have happened in EA or Ubisoft’s conference that day, most likely nothing would have seemed amiss, yet Sony’s offerings had been so exceptional to this point that it stood out poorly.

The task of washing away the empty taste left by Dreams fell to developer Camp Osanta. A trailer for the new first person, story-centric title Firewatch flaunted a dreamy, indie aesthetic inspired by the Wyoming wilderness. Not to disappoint, Sony announced that Firewatch will come first to the Playstation 4.

Next, Adam Boyes hopped out to talk about Destiny. An explosion heavy trailer revealed the Universe’s latest threat: Oryx. The game’s latest DLC expansion, The Taken King, will see players fight said nasty. Save a big old Playstation logo slapped on the front cover, there was little else to mention. Sony seems keen to have Destiny’s image attached exclusively to the PS4, but it doesn’t look like this means a whole lot in practicality.

Destiny queued the manifestation of somewhat of a mid-conference slump as yet another multi-platform AAA blockbuster rolled onto stage. Assassins Creed: Syndicate stomped onto the screen with a very Assassins Creed trailer. Stoic female co-protagonist Evie Frye dealt extrajudicial justice to a throng of cockney reprobates. No surprises there. One small semi-surprise, though, was that a series of Arthur Conan Doyle inspired “dreadful crimes” missions would be available exclusively on PS4. The missions are a nice comfort, yet one more CG Assassins Creed trailer with no glimpse of gameplay felt somewhat underwhelming.

Never fear, though, because things promptly picked up in a big way. In a move that shocked fans across the globe by making completely rational business sense, Square Enix announced a remake of the seminal Final Fantasy 7. Sony fan boys wept tears of joy as they discovered the game would be arriving first exclusively to PS4. Well played, Sony.

Final Fantasy 7

Next up was a somewhat lacklustre indie showing. Sony placed four imminent Devolver Digital titles on the virtual catwalk; Ronin; Eitr; Mother Russia Bleeds; Crossing Souls. The paltry handful of seconds each game was afforded left no time to drum up any interest. Compare this to last year’s E3 showcase and we have a problem. Sony threw tens of vibrant and intriguing indie titles our way. Think Titan Souls, Hohokum, Entwined, Super Exploding Zoo and more. The situation feels even worse in the wake of Microsoft’s extravaganza of timed console exclusive indie games from Gone Home to Lunar Transfer Station to Ashen and way, way more. To think, months ago certain Xbox fans were slamming Sony for creating an “Indiestation”. Sony is going to have to step it up if it wants to preserve its image as the bastion of console indie gaming.

The good news is things only shot up from here. Shenmue III’s Kickstarter got announced live on stage, literally leaving one fan speechless. Sony listens to the community and they’re making sure the community knows that too.

Batman fans better hope they own a Playstation. An odious in game trailer revealed that Scarecrow Nightmare missions would be exclusive to Arkham Knight on PS4. Said missions were some of Batman: Arkham Asylum’s most twistedly glorious moments. Add to this a collection of free skins and Sony just made Playstation the place to play Arkham Knight.

Next, Sony got into the weeds regarding their future services. Project Morpheus received a mercifully brief spotlight. Rigs, Eve Valkyrie and Wayward Sky were all named as harbingers for Sony’s virtual reality revolution. Andrew House promised that the platform would be distinguished from Oculus Rift and the like via its position as “the best” mode through which to experience multiplayer VR. Gorilla Cambridge’s Rigs was highlighted as emblematic of this. In an awesome twist, it turns out that Cambridge are not, as expected, toiling away at a new Killzone, but a completely new Morpheus-centric IP. Sony are once again showing their bold willingness to break away from stale IP in favour of fresh ideas.

Andrew House made a toast to Sony’s new Spotify relationship. He christened the immediate dissemination of Playstation Vue into Los Angeles and San Francisco. Fronting itself as the eminent live TV package for gamers, the service will offer “a la carte channels nationwide” and be the first where a multi-channel subscription is not necessary. Playstation Plus owners will get discounts. Weary not to make the same mistakes Microsoft made only 2 years before, House quickly skimmed by any other details and doubled back home to games.

Here came confirmation of a long rumoured fact: Playstation will be partnering with Call of Duty. After a high octane sampling of co-op and multiplayer gameplay that can best be described as Advanced Warfare on steroids, Treyarch’s David Vonderhaar took to explaining what this actually means. Turning the tables on Microsoft, Sony will get exclusive first access to all map packs and the August beta. It goes without saying that this is a smart move. House wasn’t above reminding us that COD is the biggest selling franchise of all time; Sony – aided by what an economist might call a metric shit tonne of money – has made itself the destination to experience all of this.

Enter Star Wars. Sony started small and ended big in the regard. Disney Interactive’s John Vignocchi disclosed the coalescence of Marvel, Disney and Star Wars under the Disney Infinity 3.0 Mantel. A child friendly space opera adventure will be packaged under subsequent DLCs Twilight of the Republic and Rise Against the Empire. An exclusive Sony starter pack will provide gamers with Rise Against the Empire content a whole month early.

Dice’s Patrick Bach then moseyed on over to discuss Star Wars Battlefront’s survival mode. What followed was a frenetic gameplay demo that stands as the most authentic looking testament to actual gameplay we’ve seen so far.

And with that came the finale. What else to finish on than Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End? Some initial control issues saw the demo of to a botched start. But if anything was worth the wait it was this. Gorgeous as ever, the snippet stood as the conference’s finest moment. A surprisingly vast, detailed network of divergent paths reminded fans why Uncharted is considered the Avengers of videogames. Naughty Dog brushed off a brand new game mechanic (driving!) and made it seem completely at home in the Uncharted universe. This is encouraging in a lot of ways. The demo is an assurance that A Thief’s End is not going to be just another Uncharted style. New game directors Neil Druckman and Bruce Straley have left their own indelible on the series that fans will not be able to predict. Bravo, Sony, bravo.

From the off this Tuesday, Sony set a high precedent for quality and crowd pleasing. This at times came back round to bite them when inevitable dips stood out more than ever. Certain announcements felt slightly redundant and a strong indie showing was nowhere to be found. Most criminally, though, the Playstation Vita received not even a spoken mention, just a pitiful 15 seconds of screen time. The message is clear: they’ve well and truly abandoned the world’s most powerful handheld. What stinks most about this is that it is, by in large, the most loyal minority of Sony’s fan base that are the ones truly getting burned here.

It speaks volumes about Sony’s performance this year, then, that all the conference’s shortcomings were mitigated and then some by a fantastic roster of games. The company dazzled and amazed in rapid succession with a maelstrom of colour, creative flair and fan service. For all the anxieties toward sparsity, Playstation flew off more exclusives than you could shake a stick at. You can’t win them all, and Sony’s efforts here were as solid as they come.

How do you reckon Sony did? Too much? Too little? Which developers did you want to see? Yodel away in the comments box below.

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