Sony E3 Press Conference Impressions – Eric Gerson

They really pulled it off, didn’t they?

I was skeptical–Sony has found ways to let us down in the past. And after two top-tier press conferences from Microsoft and Bethesda, as well as a handful of impressive announcements from Ubisoft and EA, there was not a bone in my body that believed Sony could deliver on the same scale. But when the dust settled at around 10:30PM ET last night, one thing became quite clear to me: Sony knocked it out of the freaking park. Who “won” is a fight I will let the fanboys argue about on the message boards. All that matters is that if you are a PS4 owner, Sony provided an endless stream of reasons to be proud and excited.

I was lucky enough to be one of the few people to secure tickets to Son’y E3 Experience event at my local movie theater. So while I wasn’t at E3 proper, I got about as close to the experience of being in that audience as possible. While there, I took some scratch notes during each announcement–basic facts, figures, and some light reaction. For this article, I will run through those notes first, to give you all a full recap of what Sony revealed. I will then dive into a handful of lessons I learned, before concluding with a final thought. Here goes nothing.

The Announcements

  • The Last GuardianGuardian
    • It’s real! The long gestating game from the creators of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus is real, and it is coming! Appealing, painterly art style–looks perhaps a little dated. Gameplay is endearing, kid’s voice could get a little annoying.
    • PS4 Exclusive
    • Release Date: 2016
  • Horizon: Zero Dawnhorizon
    • New IP from Guerrilla Games (developers of Killzone). Long rumored, previously leaked, finally revealed. Beautiful third-person open world action RPG. Setting is post-apocalyptic, taking place in the ruins of old great cities which have been reclaimed by nature. New primitive human tribes roam the land, referring to the humans of today as the “old ones”. Human tribes are at odd with sentient robotic lifeforms, who have taken on the form of robot dinosaurs and animals. Gameplay looks like a blast, with combat featuring a mix of primitive spears, bows, and crossbows, and high-tech weapons stolen from enemies. Battles against a big enemy is very David and Goliath. Lead protagonist is a red-headed woman.
    • PS4 Exclusive
    • Some new details revealed in a fact sheet after the conference:
      • Main character’s name is Aloy
      • Day and night cycle
      • Open world
      • Explore cities of lost civilization
  • Hitman
    • World premiere trailer. No gameplay shown but trailer looks stunning and stylistic. Looks like a rebirth for the series–feels like a political thriller. Expect gameplay at the Square Enix panel.
    • Exclusive beta on PS4, plus six exclusive contracts on PS4
  • Street Fighter V
    • Two new characters revealed: Birdie, and fan favorite Cammy. Graphics aren’t blowing me away, but I guess that’s not the point. Post-show coverage explained an emphasis on mixing the feel of the old-school with the mechanics of the new, so I like that. Beta coming in July!
    • PS4 Exclusive
  • No Man’s Skyno-mans-sky-gallery-06
    • Finally a (somewhat short) gameplay demo! What else can I say about this game–it freaking gets me. While the presenter from Hello Games was a little awkward, I am still awed by this game every time I see it. Can’t wait to get my paws on it.
    • Console debut on PS4
  • Dreams
    • New IP from Media Molocule, creators of LittleBigPlanet and Tearaway. The pitch focuses on dreams, and the tools to recreate yours and add them to the interwoven, interconnected “dreamverse” formed by all the players playing Dreams. Creation tools are motion-based, and pitched as intuitive. Said to let you create games, songs, plays, performances, etc. We see examples featuring polar bears (image in Lesson 4 below), a piano player, a sci-fi chase scene, and a teddy bear fighting zombies.
    • PS4 Exclusive
  • Firewatchfirewatch_150305_05
    • First-person exploration adventure, set in the wilderness of late 80s Wyoming. Focus on the relationship between your character and the female voice on your intercom who you’ve never met. Definitely some mystery. Beautiful art style. I am very excited by this game.
    • Console debut on PS4
  • Destiny: The Taken King
    • The new, huge expansion was detailed, showing all three new subclasses, to a huge crowd reaction I might add. Exciting trailer; but really just looks like more Destiny.
    • Released date: 9-15-15
    • Exclusive gear and an exclusive strike on PS4
  • Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate
    • Another huge crowd eruption. Showing off the female playable character Evie and some brutal weapons like the cane sword. Pretty cool, but not gameplay.
    • Exclusive missions (featuring Arthur Conan Doyle?) on PS4
  • World of Final Fantasy
    • Is this even a real game? Really just feels like one big troll before the real announcement…
    • PS4 & Vita Exclusive
  • Final Fantasy VII Remakeffvii
    • Console debut on PS4
  • Ronin; Eitr; Mother Russia Bleeds; Crossing Souls
    • Four new games from Devolver Digital, the team behind the excellent Hotline Miami games. Honestly, I wasn’t paying much attention–still reeling from FFVII!
    • All four are PS4/Vita Exclusive (according to Wikipedia)
  • Shenmue 3
    • The long pined-after conclusion to Yu Suzuki’s epic saga is being Kickstarted, and Sony is doubling down (as of writing, the game as already been funded, no surprise there). This is very far off, but I think some people in the audience were actually crying.
    • PS4 Exclusive (according to Kickstarter: “Currently we are planning development only for PC (Windows) and PS4. Other platforms have not been decided yet.”)
  • Batman: Arkham Knight
    • A stunning trailer showing the Joker being cremated is followed by what appears to be the opening part of the game, shown through the eyes of a GCPD officer while an unnamed narrator (Commissioner Gordon?) notes that is the the tale of how Batman died. The gameplay unfolds in the first person with officer at a diner. Graphics look insanely smooth and gorgeous. Then Scarecrow powder comes into play and the stuff hits the fan.
    • Exclusive Scarecrow missions on PS4
  • Project Morpheus
    • A surprisingly small amount of time spent here. Andrew House notes that Morpheus will be a “choice” for gamers, much like the rest of the PlayStation ecosystem, which will add value and life to the PS4. A number of VR experiences flashed on screen, but the deepest dive was for Rigs, a 3v3 arena mech shooter, created by Guerrilla Cambridge. It is billed as VR meets e-sports.
    • Rigs is a PlayStation 4 Exclusive
  • PSVue & Spotify
    • Well, we always need one lull in a Sony conference, right? House explained how successful Spotify has been on PS4. Then revealed PS Vue will be the first over-the-top TV option to offer true a la carte channels, including Showtime and a special Machinima channel.
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops 3
    • The start of a new era and a new partnership between Activision and Sony–now Sony will be the first to get all the COD map packs! Apart from that huge announcement, they showed off the campaign, which can be played with up to four players in co-op. But what I found most exciting was the multiplayer demo, which is heavily character driven, with each character having cool new superpowers. I was surprisingly excited by that. I
    • Multiplayer beta, map packs and DLC will make console debut on PS4.
  • Cliche Sizzle Reel2750504-4737371621-SamHi
    • A lot of recapping of what we already saw, but with added clips from Until Dawn, Ratchet & Clank (PS4), The Nathan Drake Collection, and the God of War 3 remaster.
    • All four of the aforementioned titles are PS4 Exclusives
  •  Disney Infinity 3.0
    • A painful presentation and what felt like another bit of trolling. They played the Star Wars theme music, put up a big Star Wars image, everyone was expecting Battlefront. Instead, we got an over-excited presenter talking about all the cool Star Wars content coming to Disney Infinity. Which is fine, I guess, but was an odd moment in the conference.
    • One of the two bundles (the Episode 4-6 bundle) will release first on PS4.
  • Star Wars Battlefront
    • World premiere of co-op content was shown. Seemed like a pretty standard horde mode/defend a position mission. But one thing is for sure. This. Game. Looks. GORGEOUS. Honestly, looks like a movie. I can’t get over it. Also, Admiral Ackbar!
    • No exclusive content announced.
  • Uncharted 4maxresdefault
    • A game that needs to no introduction; however, the introduction to this gameplay demo needed some work, as it looked like it was frozen at first, and then Nate wouldn’t move. Once they re-set it, it all worked swimmingly, and hey, that’s how you know it’s a real-time demo and not canned footage. Once things got rolling, my mouth dropped. This may be the best looking game I have ever seen. Best demo at the conference. The notes I jotted down may seem like the ramblings of a mad man, but I thought I’d share:
      • “Busy streets, insane detail and graphics, this is f***king nuts!”
      • “The pineapples fly when the grenade explodes!”
      • “Bags of flour deflate when shot!”
      • “Real time destruction of scaffolding is unbelievable!”
    • PS4 Exclusive
  • Post-Show Announcements
    • Media Player App now available on PS4 (movies, music, pictures, compatible with external HDD)
    • Heavy RainBeyond: Two Souls coming to PS4 (Europe and PAL territories only right now)

The Lessons I Learned

Lesson 1: Dreams Come True

shenmue_excitedAs IGN’s Andrew Goldfarb put it, “THIS CONFERENCE IS F**KING FAN FICTION.” At times, it honestly felt like it was authored by the most rabid fanboys. First, the conference opened, OPENED, with The Last Guardian, a game hungered after by the most die-hard PlayStation faithfuls. This game becoming a reality is alone enough to please fans, but then a huge and somewhat unexpected one-two punch followed not far behind: the confirmation of a Final Fantasy VII HD remake, and the reveal of Shenmue 3. As made clear by a popular image from last night’s show that is slowly meme-ing its way through the internet (see above), these two announcements had fans shedding literal tears of joy. If there was any doubt that Sony cares what fans want, any such doubt was eradicated last night. You prayed, Sony listened. Dreams do come true.

Lesson 2: Popular Games are Popular

While I personally was most pleased by the more out-of-the-box, creative new IPs Sony touted last night (more on that later in Lesson 4), I can’t deny that, at least at the theater I was at, the biggest cheers came from the Destiny and Assassin’s Creed demos. Like, legitimately louder and stronger than any other title, including the aforementioned fan favorites. Of course, it is no surprise people love these games–Destiny was the most successful new IP launch ever, and AC gets a new game every year so it must continue to sell–but in the circles I run in, and on the blogs and podcasts I follow, the general opinion towards these games is lukewarm-to-negative for a number of reason (repetitiveness, lack of content, annualization, bugs, etc). I always assumed the “real” gamers, the ones who would attend such a niche event as the PlayStation E3 Experience, would feel similarly. So while I began to let out an audible groan when Destiny first graced the screen (“why would Sony spend time on this mediocre game again?”), the rest of the room exploded. Same with AC. Certainly taught me a lesson about where I stand in the community–apparently, on the snobby side of things.

Lesson 3: Nobody’s Perfect

Even at a press conference with so many great games a shocking surprises, you always know Sony will find a way to throw in a lull or two. This year, that lull came with Andrew House’s presentation about PlayStation Vue. While I understand the importance of these OTT TV solutions, and I recognize they may well be the future of television as we know it, I don’t think the E3 press conference is the best place to go into any real detail–leave that to CES. Much like the twenty minutes spent on Powers last year, or the infamous Wonderbook diatribe, the time spent on PlayStation Vue felt like it killed Sony’s pacing. After 45 minutes straight of crazy reveals and new IP announcements, I was very disappointed Sony changed gears in this manner and didn’t just stick with games the whole way through, like Microsoft did to much fanfare last year.

Lesson 4: While Others Iterate, Sony Innovates

This is not only the most important lesson I learned last night, but it is also my overall conclusion about Sony’s press conference. Not to stir up a fanboy war, but let’s be honest: most people only own one of the two big consoles. Thus, most people tune in to E3 press conferences to not only see what they can expect on their console of choice in the next year, but to help retroactively justify their decision to buy the console they ended up with. And while, as I mentioned before, I thought Microsoft had an excellent presentation overall, short of perhaps the enigmatic ReCore, their big exclusives didn’t feel like games that provided experiences you couldn’t find on other platforms.

Let me be a bit clearer. I don’t think anyone would challenge when I say that the biggest exclusive games Microsoft showed at E3 were Halo 5Gears of War 4, and  Forza 6. The high numbers following each of those titles alone help to prove my point, but let me dig a bit deeper. Can you truly say you wouldn’t get your sci-fi FPS fix without Halo 5 from games like DoomDestiny, COD:BLOPS3, and Star Wars Battlefront? Would you really be want for third-person shooters without Gears 4, when you could also pickup Ghost Recon Wildlands or The Division? And certainly, with the recent reveal of the gorgeous new Need for Speed, you could certainly get your racer fix from sources outside Forza. And while I am not doubting these games will all be of an extremely high level of polish and quality, and while I recognize that they all have unique, fan-favorite universes and mechanics, given the wealth of other similar games available cross-platform, to me, none of them feel essential.

On the otdreams-2-1280x720her hand, Sony seems to be doubling-down on gameplay experiences you simply can’t find anywhere else. Where else but The Last Guardian can you find a water-colored world where you help a boy and his giant bird-dog explore and ancient ruin? Where else but Horizon can you fight giant robot dinosaurs and explore the ruins of (our) ancient society in a prehistoric/post-apocalyptic open world? Where else but Dreams can you shape virtual clay into vivid recreations of your own wildest dreams, and then link your dreams with others to create a surreal “dreamverse”. Where else but Until Dawn can you control who lives and dies in a horror movie as you make snap-decision in real time alongside the characters on screen? Even the multi-platform games Sony featured demonstrate an acuity for seeking out unique, thought-provoking games. This includes No Man’s Sky–with its near endless galaxy to explore and free form gameplay–and Firewatch–with its gorgeous art style and focus on first-person exploration–both of which will make their console debuts on PS4.

To me, choosing which console to own is less about what you can play on it–regardless of the exclusives, there will always be enough multi-platform titles to keep you busy on either system–but what you can’t. When I decided to buy a PS4, the hardest part was coming to grips with that fact that I wouldn’t be able to play the X1 exclusive games. But after seeing both conferences yesterday, I know I made the right decision. While Microsoft focuses on blockbusters that fit the same molds as games that we’ve seen for years–molds which are also quite plentiful in the cross-platform space–Sony continues to provide exclusive content that is unlike anything the industry has seen before, with unique, creative, out-of-the-box concepts that not only emphasize fun and expression, but push the idea of what video games are capable of into uncharted (wink) new territory. That makes me a very happy PS4 owner, and left me with a big grin on my face at the conclusion of last night’s conference.