E3 2013 - Sony Press Conference: Guess Who's Back

Posted by Euan 11 June 2013

With the amount of bad karma surrounding the Xbox One reveal, and the strong showing from Microsoft earlier in the day, things could have gone either way with Sony’s press conference. They would have to acknowledge the consumer buzz surounding the Xbox One and come out strong with a healthy game showing and enough new information to reassure consumers that they are there for them. They pretty resoundingly managed to do that, and it’s pretty safe to say that Sony should be feeling pretty self satisfied and smug right now.

Sony started by reminding people that the Vita is a thing, and assuring everyone that they know it is still a thing. They did release some interesting statistics on software attachment, where each Vita owner has bought around 10 games, with 60% of all games sold coming digitally from the Playstation Store.

Rather than announcing a bunch of new titles right off the line, they announced a bunch of “remasters” including God of War, Final Fantasy X and X-2, Flower and Dead Nation. They also mentioned that the recently teased “400 Days” DLC for the first season of Walking Dead would be part of a Vita bundle that includes the first season. If you haven’t played it (GameEngineStart Game of the Year 2012) you really should.

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PS3 was up next, with a reel of new trailers for the games coming before the end of the year. Last of Us still looks amazing and is out at the end of the week, Beyond: Two Souls focused on the CIA agent part of Jodie’s life which hasn’t been seen before, Gran Turismo 6 sure looks like a pretty driving game, and Batman: Arkham Origins is another slice of DC goodness. Two games that were anounced last year made a reappearance, with the Ico like title Rain, with an invisible boy as its main character, and Pupeteer, a game that I still don’t know what it actually is.

Finally the Playstation 4 section of the conference started, and started strong with the reveal of the hardware. The console looks great, a parallelogram shaped Oreo of a box with blue flashes reminiscent of the
Playstation 2 slim redesign with a mix of matt and gloss black. It looks very Sony, while not being too overstated.

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We knew that at some point in the conference Sony were going to take some time out to touch on the media aspects of the Playstation 4, which went on a little too long for my liking. A representative from Sony Pictures Entertainment came out and said … nothing really, only saying that SPE would be providing some exclusive TV programming and have some special association with some music artists to put their content out on the network. It felt like a token gesture showing that the vision for a “single” Sony, with all of the separate parts feeding into each other. They confirmed that Sony’s Video and Music Unlimited services will carry over to the new console, along with their NHL coverage and recognising that the PS3 is currently the #1 Netflix device.

Shuhei Yoshida then took to the stage to talk games. The Sony first party studios have been busy, with 20 titles in development and 12 of them being new IP. The first of them comes from Santa Monica Studios and Ready at Dawn with their new title The Order : 1866, showing a steam-punk London filled with Zeppelins and electricity guns. The in-engine footage looked phenomenal, although we were just shown non-interactive footage, with no indication about what the game actually is in terms of genre or perspective.

Sony made a smart move by just showing some new footage from the games shown at their announcement back in February, with actual playthroughs being available online. Killzone looked a lot more colourful than the initial demo, Driveclub was still a sharp driving game, and Knack could potentially be an enjoyable little platformer. All three of these games were also announced to be launch titles. Infamous: Second Son will follow in the first part of 2014, and had some superb character animation and fantastically expressive character faces.

Quantic Dream showed off a sneak peek of a 12 minute demo named The Dark Sorcerer running in real time on the PS4. The level of detail shown in the footage was staggering, looking finally close to what David Cage’s studio have been aiming for for all these years.

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Adam Boyes ran the indie section of the event, leading with Bastion developer Supergiant Games next title, Transistor. The game looks really unique, taking the best parts of Bastion and expanding them into a more technology based world and some amazing music. Sony then dropped a laundry list of newly announced titles, all of which were making console débuts on the PS4. Amongst this included some already released PC titles such as Don’t Starve and Octodad, along with some brand new names such as Mercenary Kings and Secret Ponchos, a remake of the original Abe’s Oddesy and confirmation that the first person horror game Outlast will be coming to PS4. Sony were not messing about with their indie commitment, and from the sounds of it their move to allow indies to self publish on the platform could pay dividends.

Square Enix had a recorded message for the audience, with the developer of Final Fantasy Versus XIII showing off a new trailer and footage from the game. Very much showing a darker more modern style that reminded me of the Advent Children movie, the trailer and in-game footage were very difficult to discern. It’s still unclear how the third person game actually plays however, but still showed impressively with the series stable of extravagant combat scenarios and visual effects. At the end of the trailer it was revealed that this is now Final Fantasy 15, a big deal considering the titles divergence from what series fans will be used to. As a final “one more thing”, Square Enix dropped a trailer and in game footage from the much rumoured Kingdom Hearts 3, which looks as great as you would expect from a next gen title from
the series.

Assassins Creed IV was wheeled out again for the third time in the day, and finally showed some in game action. The demo was fraught with technical difficulties however, freezing multiple times during the playthrough, before locking up completely. I can only imagine the amount of frantic running around and shouting that was going on back stage while a single poor developer was out in front with a controller and a look of defeat on his face. The sections that did work however, showing the lead tracking a target through the jungles of the West Indies to then escape on a boat and take part in the genuinely exciting looking naval battles, looked really great and might convince me to try that series again.

Another repeat showing today was Watch Dogs, with another impressive gameplay demo, featuring the required amounts of driving, hacking and choking dudes out with a baton that you have come to expect from the game. The new footage showed Aiden hacking phones and cameras to spy on the surrounding areas without having to expose himself, and some great moments such as blacking out what looked like complete city block to escape from the police. The real new feature in this demo was the ability for the player to “call for help”, which brought another person on stage wielding a tablet to assist in the escape from the police by hacking the surroundings without needing the console players input.

There was another quick flurry of announcements, with NBA 2K14 looking suitably next gen, Elder Scrolls Online bringing multiplayer Skyrim to fans and a trailer for a Mad Max game from Avalanche Studios, the developers of the Just Cause series.

And then Sony started to completely obliterate the audience.

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Jack Tretton returned to the stage to deliver the first of the big bombs, that the Playstation 4 will not have any restrictions on used games at a platform level, and was met by a resounding mix of cheers and standing ovations. His next hit was a direct shot at Microsoft, saying that the console does not require an on-line connection and does not need to phone home every 24 hours. The words of the latter statement was chosen very carefully, as there were multiple ways to phrase it, and they decided to go with one directly targeting their competitor. This was a fantastic “hearts and minds” move for Sony, surely winning over a large proportion of the consumer base that was in a real bad mood with Microsoft since the Xbox One reveal a few weeks ago

Sony are also expanding the benefits of the already fantastic value Playstation Plus program. They announced that current Plus subscriptions will carry over, and the same priced subscription will cover Playstation 3, 4 and Vita. Driveclub will also be available through the service soon after launch, although the nomenclature of “Driveclub: Playstation Plus Edition” suggests that it may not be the full title.

The one back step that Sony made in the midst of the hysteria erupting on the floor after the used game and connectivity announcements was that multiplayer gaming on Playstation 4 will require a Plus subscription. Sony are making an excellent case for the service with their stellar support for it so far, so hopefully it will not be a terribly hard pill to swallow.

For their final title of the presentation, Sony showed the first gameplay footage of Destiny. I feel like I have been saying this a lot over the past few days, but this is a visually stunning game. The dynamic lighting especially looked great, after the player launched a “ghost” drone which illuminated the pitch black surroundings, throwing shadows everywhere. Being the new title from Bungie the DNA of the original Halo games is definitely present, with new loot and cooperative mechanics layered on. A taste of the MMO nature of the wider game was shown when the demo group stumbled into a public event where a “Devil Walker”, a huge turtle with attached guns, was dropped from a ship, leaving the group of now four to five players to take it out. This game looks like a fantastic experience, and I really hope the community that surrounds it will not be the usual Call of Duty levels of moronic when dealing with in game chat. Oh and jet bikes, the jet bikes were awesome.

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Sony briefly talked about Gaikai streaming technology, and how it will be used on all three of their platforms to stream PS3 games without requiring a download, which I assume is their reply to those who were disappointed by the lack of backwards compatibility in the Playstation 4. The technology has not been the most usable in the past, due to internet speeds and the inherent latencies incurred by sending input over the internet, but Sony sound confident that they have solved the problem. The system will roll out in the US first in 2014

In a resounding “drop the mic” moment, Sony followed Microsoft’s lead and announced a price for the console, undercutting their competitors by $100, with a $399/£349 price point to be released in the holiday season this year. This was a surprise to many as the hardware inside the console is inherently more expensive than their competitors, with DDR5 memory not exactly coming cheap and them packing 8Gb of the stuff in there. Again this prompted a huge applause from the audience, and rightly so as this rounds out the barrage of punches they had been swinging at Microsoft throughout the presentation.

When Sony came out in February and said that they had been listening to consumers and talking to developers, everyone rolled their eyes. This presentation showed that Sony are serious. Hitting the big titles, the indies, and the services, while exploiting the flaws in the Xbox One’s game plan shows that Sony are back in the next generation in a big way. The super competitive price was just the icing on the cake. More information about both of the consoles are sure to come out over the rest of the week and in the months up to launch, but I am sure there a lot of Xbox gamers looking longingly over the fence at the competition, and a lot of them might be looking to jump it.