The blue lights illuminated the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena as thousands of Sony fans waited for the clock to strike six. As the audience members took their seats, a traditional Sony montage opened the company’s 2012 E3 press conference to industry-loved dubstep. The familiar format and sounds signaled what would be a strong if unsurprising showing for Sony in a conference replete with Sony staples but lacking in any major revelations.
In the trend of Sony conference hallmarks, Jack Tretton took to the stage to start the conference with a bit of spiel including an introduction for Kaz Hirai and the introduction of the first showcase of the evening. Quantic Dream has stayed largely quiet since Heavy Rain, aside from the studio’s “Kara” demo, but now the world can see its latest project, Beyond.
Starring Ellen Page in what looks to be quite the un-Juno role, the new game puts players in control of Jody, and the preview took her through an eerie scene in a police station through a whole series of explosions and bizarre scenarios in which she finds herself embroiled. The animations looked noticeably more fluid than Heavy Rain, and though Page’s faced looked a bit odd in a game, the title looks to be as impressive as its predecessor. The demo should be seen to be believed, and the haunting atmosphere on display gave me chills in the audience, and I can’t wait to tackle a story from her perspective with Quantic Dream’s penchant for the strange.
PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale received the spotlight next, but little was shown that was not leaked or guessed beforehand. Now including Vita/PS3 cross-play, the conference confirmed a portable version of the brawler that will work in concert with the console iteration and will also allow players to take their saves on the go. Nathan Drake and BioShock’s Big Daddy were announced as playable characters, but with no gameplay footage of them, it’s hard to say how they will play. The game looked as chaotic as ever, and it will be interesting to see both a human and behemoth character thrown into the mix. Still, Sony would be wise to ape Super Smash Bros.’ health system, as it was difficult to keep track of who was winning in the current form.
Tretton emphasized cross-play a little further with talk of a new LittleBigPlanet 2 expansion that will incorporate the Vita, but the big news of the functions and opportunities gamers have as PlayStation owners centered around PlayStation Plus. I’ve been a member for about a year, but the service continues to improve. 12 major titles, including Infamous 2 and Just Cause 2 will be made free to subscribers starting tomorrow, with new titles being cycled in every so often. PS One titles will now finally be coming to Vita as well, including Final Fantasy VII. I’ve loved the service thus far but these announcements make it a no-brainer. Seriously, if you own a PS3, sign up for the service. It pays for itself so quickly you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it.
Ubisoft grabbed attention for the demos to follow this announcement, with discussion of Assassin’s Creed III, Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation and Far Cry 3. Ubisoft demonstrated an impressive naval battle for AC3, as if that title did not look as impressive as it does, and a Vita-exclusive entry in the franchise was also highlighted. Liberation will feature the first-ever playable female assassin in the franchise while also offering the same open-world gameplay we’ve all grown to love on consoles. If a fully-fledged Assassin’s Creed title can be packed into a Vita version and offer the same sense of exploration and power, then I am completely sold. For now, fans can pick up a copy on October 30 in stand-alone or bundled form, with a new white Vita.
To cap things off, Ubisoft showed off Far Cry 3’s dedicated four-player cooperative campaign. The game certainly looked great, and the shooting worked well enough, but the threequel certainly looks to be a title that should be fully experienced to really judge. The co-op looked fun and offered some nice combat opportunities, but it was overshadowed by a few other showings.
One such showing was not the new Wonderbook peripheral, the latest attempt to kill that fad we know as reading. Using the PlayStation Eye, players will open the book in front of them and interact with whatever appears on the book when represented onscreen. Now look, this clearly is not intended for the E3 audience, so the scattered laughter and stream of Twitter cynicism were not unexpected. But the first announced title, Book of Spells, may be one of the more popular offerings from the show, thanks to the work of JK Rowling.
The title will have players using the Move controller as a wand, learning spells, completing mini games, and discovering new stories in the Harry Potter universe written by the mastermind herself. That is a huge get for Sony and despite the overly long demo and mishaps, this could be a big hit with kids. And I hate to admit it, but the possibility of more Rowling stories set in Hogwarts has me strongly considering picking up a Move and the peripheral just to discover new snippets of information.
But in a return to the hardcore, perhaps the two most anticipated demos came last. God of War: Ascension looked gorgeous, the visuals certainly proving Sony Santa Monica’s skill with the console. I did find it a bit on the boring side, though. I’m still excited to play it, but it looked like more God of War, and not something drastically different. Which isn’t a bad thing, but it didn’t get my blood pumping quite like The Last of Us.
As a capper to the evening, The Last of Us demo served as a fantastic final note. The combat felt visceral – every punch looked painful – and the repartee between the two main characters kept things light even in the midst of chaos. But make no mistake; the game is brutal and mature, and every swing of a fist, every fire of a gun and every evasion mattered during the course of the demo. Kills were gruesome, but the crowd so quickly grew to love the protagonists that their survival took the utmost importance. I can’t wait to play the game, if only to feel as badass as the demoer clearly did, dropping the controller after his final headshot and walking off stage holding up a peace sign.
And while The Last of Us and several other games impressed, I can’t help but feel disappointed that Sony didn’t do even more. Vita seemed to be largely cast aside. Apart from the cross-play, only Liberation had any gameplay shown. Though an exclusive handheld Call of Duty title was mentioned, no footage was screened nor really any detail highlighted. I would have loved for Sony to show why this handheld deserves attention, and highlighting some of the PlayStation Network titles wouldn’t have hurt either. The number of titles shown was also disappointingly small, and with so much time devoted to a peripheral little of the audience cared about, Sony could have budgeted its time more wisely.
Even so, I’m excited for the future of PlayStation. As a PS Plus member, I could not be more ecstatic with the content I’m about to receive, and the slate of exclusives that were on hand look to be some of my most anticipated of the year. The night likely didn’t win the show for Sony, but the next three days will tell how worthy these titles are of gamers’ time when actual impressions start to pop up. But whatever your feelings of the show, there’s no denying Sony has a great stable of titles on hand, and I for one will likely have my DualShock in hand for many months to come.