Published on June 11th, 2013 | by Andy Astruc3
E3 2013: Sony high-fives an entire audience
Green monsters. Not the kind with an X sewn on their chest, bleating about online connections and draconian DRM while artificial intelligences train camera on them; or the kind which represent the jealousy that could easily breed in those of us who don’t get to go to massive events like E3. This green monster is jade. I’ve been caught by it, spending each day, as I do, neck deep in video game news, PR and announcements. It’s easy to become a cynical old tree and scoff at every predictable turn in our beloved industry, especially since it runs on such old tracks. But once in a while you get so surprised by something, so happily caught off guard, that you can’t help but laugh.
I certainly didn’t expect it to happen at E3, in the middle of a press conference by one of the biggest companies in the business. Sony’s presentation started in a similar way to most, with the obligatory fancy logo and a montage of games familiar and new. The shockingly cuddly Jack Tretton, President and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment of America, stepped out and began talking standard guff about numbers and figures and plans and goals. Then it got a little fun, a little surprising, less fun, more fun again, sport was mentioned, the fun came back, and then finally it became sort of brilliant.
Surprise number one: Sony actually acknowledged that the PS Vita exists. Not only that, but they strongly suggested it will have games released for it. Tretton said research shows Vita owners buy an average of 10 games for the machine, which means they probably bought most of what was available. He went on to confirm that Arkham Origins, Counterspy, Destiny of Spirits, Doki Doki Universe, Killzone: Mercenary, and Tearaway. Some of those sound familiar. The new part of Telltale’s Walking Dead series – 400 Days – is coming to Vita along with the previous series and a fancy hardware bundle. As a very happy Vita owner this all makes me very happier.
Following that guff about some handheld Sony may or may not have something to do with, there were a few announcements about exciting things like Grand Theft Auto V bundles and exclusive costumes for Arkham Origins. Then something else important happened: we got to actually see what a bloody PS4 looks like.
There, now everyone can calm down about the shape of the box where the games go. It’s black and it has a big gap down the middle. Also it’s shaped like a pencil eraser. Looks a bit like something I’d press to activate my robot minions if I lived in the 5th Element universe.
Returning to video games and moving away from boxes, The Elder Scrolls Online was displayed along with a casual mention of the beta. The PS4-exclusive beta. I’m sure that sold a few systems. Can’t say I’m excited about the game at this point — I always found the best part of those titles was wandering as the lone, conquering hero — but it looks pretty and the trailer has Michael Gambon.
Shuhei Yoshida then shuffled onto the stage, looking coy. We may never know why all the PlayStation executives are so adorable, it’s just one of those things. He began by showing off the PS4 exclusives we already know about: Knack, inFAMOUS: Second Son, DriveClub and Killzone: Shadow Fall, all of which are looking snazzy in their own way. Second Son will appear early in 2014, while the others will all be day one launch titles. No word on what else will be up for purchase when you first snatch up a machine.
If you like new things more, Ready at Dawn Studios presented a new IP for the PS4: The Order: 1886.
What appears to be a collection of werewolves attacking a group of proper Victorian gentlemen and gentleladies while they fire off steampunk weapons to guard their carriage in the streets of London’s infamous Whitechapel district. I see nothing wrong with that. Hard to see how the game will actually work at this point, but all these exclusives are much appreciated.
Speaking of which, there were plenty of other announcements about exclusivity, varied in scope and interest. Diablo III will get some shoulder pads, or something. Supergiant Games’ fabulous-looking new sci-fi title, Transistor, will have its console debut on the PS4 (console debut is like a regular debut for people who don’t have PCs).
Stop for a minute with all this glitzy new stuff. Ever heard of a game called Final Fantasy XIII Versus? Announced several centuries ago as part of the push to make as many damn Final Fantasy games as possible set in what turned out to be one of the most terrible universes the series has ever created. Then it vanished, only popping up sometimes in CGI trailers to troll Square Enix fans and inspire clever jokes about Duke Nukem Forever.
Suddenly, it’s a mother-flippin’ real thing with a real release incoming. It has real gameplay and real locations and real… realness. It’s real. Not only that, and presumably because of the vast expanse now lying between it and the XIII series, it’s not Versus anymore. Final Fantasy XV looks to be quite the action-packed RPG, with characters taking cover from exploding hallways, fighting big monsters and clambering up the side of things that shouldn’t be clambered. Despite its roots, something about footage of XV reminds me more of the PS1 Final Fantasy games. Regardless, time will tell if this long awaited title lives up to the hype.
Then Square Enix just casually drops another minor bombshell in the form of Kingdom Hearts 3. Take a gander and keep your fingers crossed it makes more sense than KH2.
From the big to the small, and Sony reaffirmed its commitment to the independent gaming scene in a rather impressive way. Rather than the standard practice of adding one indie developer to a giant conference for street cred, the stage was home to an entire gaggle of the bastards. Games shown off for eventual console debut (there that term is again) included Don’t Starve, Abe’s Oddysee HD, Ray’s The Dead, Secret Ponchos, Octodad: Dadliest Catch, Galak-Z, Outlast and Mercenary Kings. More than a few of those have been on my radar for a while, so being able to play them on the Vita or otherwise would put a cherry on my cake.
At this point in the conference, a few people I was watching with were starting to get a little irate about the lack of information about the workings of the PlayStation 4 itself. Games are lovely, but consumers were wary in the wake of Microsoft’s Xbox One Ring To Rule Them All (Through Restrictive DRM Practices). Jack Tretton suddenly erupted with enthusiasm, telling those gathered and watching that the PS4 will have no restrictions on sharing, trading, selling or borrowing games, pretty much leaving things as they are right now with the PS3. When the cheering subsided (actual, genuine cheering rather than the usual perfunctory murbles) he also made it clear that online checks were not required to play games on the device, leading to another bout of cheering and chants of “Sony, Sony, Sony” from the relieved audience.
You could almost see Sony looming over Microsoft, tea-bagging its corpse while throwing money at spectators. Eventually this led to what may be the greatest gaming video of the year.
Later on in the conference Sony announced that the machine will cost US$399, undercutting the Xbox One RRP by $100. While this doesn’t include the new PS Eye camera or the cost of PlayStation Plus, it was an extremely savvy move given the amount of anti-Microsoft sentiment floating about. It even mostly distracted people away from the fact that PS+ will apparently be required for online play on the new platform. As a long-time plus subscriber it doesn’t really bother me, but some will be understandably miffed that free multiplayer is getting considerably less so.
What else? Well there was a Mad Max game announced, developed by the minds behind Just Cause 2, which is sure to be fun if you like meaty cars and the end of civilisation. Watch Dogs still looks like Hackers via Grand Theft Auto and is still too far away. PS+ subscribers will get DriveClub (Plus Edition, whatever that ends up meaning) for free on launch day. Cloud services will keep getting bigger.
Oh, and finally there was a huge chunk of Bungie’s Destiny to stare at and wish for. The demo showed off some of the amazing environments Destiny has to offer, the different guns you can pick up and had two developers clearing out an area with many explosions. The game continues to look like Halo combined with Star Wars, but with loot drops and crazy weapons it also begins to resemble Borderlands. Later in the presentation they met up with a third player and a public event was triggered — huge battles (and other things) which bring players from different games into the same environment to fight walking tanks and huge armies of bad intent. It was all very smooth and engaging, as you might expect from Bungie, and the ability to jump in and out any time you like appeals to the time sensitive nature of my multiplayer sessions.
So that was everything, more or less. I will say it’s the only gaming conference where I’ve actually grinned through half of it. Sony seems to be approaching the next generation with the consumer in mind — or at least pretending to do so — and giving people features rather than taking them away. They presented a decent number of exclusives, updated everyone on the hardware and presumably sold a few thousand people on the new console the minute they stuck a big knife in Microsoft.
And they mentioned the Vita! It does exist.