Coming out of E3, Sony had some problems to address. While the PlayStation powerhouse showed off impressive exclusives like The Last of Us and Beyond: Two Souls, they also suffered from the momentum-breaking Wonderbook and an utter lack of a push for the PlayStation Vita. Having attended that conference in person, I experienced firsthand the ups and downs of their demonstration that failed to excite the masses as it otherwise should have. Last week at Gamescom, however, Sony saw the error of its ways and delivered the conference fans wanted at E3.
The problem is, as much as Sony showed off new IPs and finally gave the Vita some of its due, the company still demonstrated a few weaknesses that need to be addressed.
First, let’s address the good, because Sony performed quite admirably last week. Perhaps the biggest piece of news was the announcement of three new exclusive titles, Rain, Puppeteer and Until Dawn. It’s nothing short of impressive to put the development time and costs into three separate new franchises this late into a console cycle regardless of whether or not these are meant to be more than one-offs. And perhaps even more assuring is that all three appear to be taking chances and not relying on familiar tropes.
Rain puts players in control of an invisible protagonist out to save a little girl in an offering from Sony’s Japan Studio (so much for The Last Guardian…). Puppeteer is a side-scrolling platformer in which all levels appear to take place on a stage. Players control a boy who has been turned into wood and journeys out to reverse his predicament. To round things out, Until Dawn is a PlayStation Move controlled horror title that takes place on a camping trip to a cabin that includes more than a group of teenagers bargained for.
These upcoming releases all represent intriguing paths to take – Yes, The Cabin in the Woods pretty much perfected the teens at a mysterious cabin story, but relatively few games have successfully worked with horror. The PlayStation Network has always a felt for titles with a little more of an artistic liberty than many of Xbox Live Arcade’s titles, and hopefully Rain can live up to the platform’s hallmarks like Journey.
Titles like these prove Sony’s dedication to delivering quality and exclusive content in a time when more and more games are going multiplatform. These may not be as behemoth as Halo 4 or Gears of War: Judgment, but Sony does not seem content to rest on the laurels of only its blockbuster franchises. Otherwise, an Uncharted 4 announcement would likely be what we’re discussing.
Instead, we can talk about these new IPs and everything Sony did right for the Vita. The announcement of the Cross Buy program is a great way to deliver marquee titles to the handheld without forcing Sony fans to empty out their wallets to support the PS3 and Vita. While a price cut would certainly help convince a few skeptics, as it did with the PS3, Sony still seems somewhat certain about supporting its floundering handheld. With exclusives like Tearaway from LittleBigPlanet creators Media Molecule and the ports of games like PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, Vita players should look forward to a busier holiday season.
Despite all of this attention, I said “somewhat certain” earlier because for everything Sony has done right for the Vita, it takes another wrong step. Price drop concerns aside (as the Cross Buy essentially saves $40 for those who would have already purchased the PS3 versions), the Vita release cycle is still confounding. Until the promising LittleBigPlanet Vita arrives in late September, Vita owners will have to be satisfied with Sound Shapes and being able to finally play PlayStation classics.
Then you have to consider the title that could have been the Vita’s mainstream savior – Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified. Barely mentioned during E3, footage of the title was never shown until Gamescom, presumably only three months or so before the game’s release. To make matters worse, one of the few snippets of information released about the title during the German conference was the fact that Nihilistic Software is developing the game. The company’s most recent output? PlayStation Move Heroes and Resistance: Burning Skies. It’s understandable if that concerns you, but if not read our Burning Skies review to find out why there is cause for concern..
To not go on for too long, Colin Moriarty at IGN wrote a piece encompassing pretty much all of the baffling case that is Black Ops Declassified. It is extremely disheartening to see the possible saving grace for the promising system botched by poor marketing and a worrisome development team. Nihilistic may be able to deliver a good game – it has happened with middling teams before – but the likely rushed development cycle and near silence about the game until now does not bode well.
Still, there is hope for the Vita. Sony appears to be putting the support into the system, though a set of true platform exclusives and, as much as they may not want to, a price drop to $200 with an 8 GB memory card included could really smooth things over with an undecided audience. It is reassuring that the company is dedicated to new, untested franchises and highlighting them at such a major conference when the company at large is in the midst of a major upheaval.
Sony continues to find a balance with rewarding dedicated fans with original content and continued support of older series. Yet the company cannot seem to stick the landing when it comes to making the Vita the success I believe it can be. I’m not implying there is an easy solution for Sony, but at the very least, Gamescom showed a tremendous step in the right direction for perhaps the only one of the Big 3 willing to take big risks on projects during a time when most gamers appear to be waiting for a new set of consoles. Until that day comes, I at least know I can look forward to quite a few new experiences on my PS3 and Vita. When I’m not to busy rocking out to Sound Shapes, that is.