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Sony's E3 2015 Conference - A Critical Look and Evaluation

The Last Guardian, Shenmue 3, Final Fantasy VII... what did Sony do right and what did they do... not so right?

Everyone and their aunt has an opinion on the various conferences and announcements at this year's E3, which really is part of the charm of the gaming world’s biggest event. Conversations, debates, jokes, snark, hype, you get it all whether you use Twitter, Reddit, or another social media site. I’m writing this to simply voice my opinion on what Sony did well, what could’ve been improved, and what wasn’t so great. I think I’m relatively impartial as I primarily game on PC. But I also had an Xbox 360 since its release - up until the latest gen when I switched to PS4. So I don't really belong to any particular camp.

A nice surprise

Sony’s conference started out as strong as it possibly could. The Last Guardian had become a myth, a video game spoken about only in legends. Everyone had given up hope. They went out and kicked things off with a bang, showing actual gameplay of the boy running and jumping across wooden structures with the Guardian, the dog-bird-cat thing, saving him from precarious situations. 

While the announcement of The Last Guardian returning was nice, what they showed of the game wasn’t as impressive. If you guys cast your minds all the way back to E3 2009 when they first revealed The Last Guardian, they showed a cinematic trailer mainly in the same location shown in the E3 2015 gameplay demo. Graphically, it didn’t look that much more impressive.

While it was nice to see actual gameplay, not much has changed. Considering that The Last Guardian has been in development for over six years at this point, that’s a little disappointing. You can see the trailer from 2009 below along with the 2015 one above.

Nature vs. Technology

Horizon: Zero Dawn was also announced, and oh my it looks phenomenal. Developed by Guerilla Games, the same guys behind Killzone, Horizon is an open-world RPG with robot dinosaurs. Freaking ROBOT DINOSAURS! Guerilla has supposedly hired some of the same guys that worked on The Witcher 3, which is easily one of, if not the best, open-world RPG game to date. Horizon appears to be a mix between Disney’s Brave, The Witcher 3, and Jurassic Park, plus robots.

That sounds like a recipe for success.

Play Part 1 on the PS4, Part 2 on the Xbox One!

Next up was the latest installment to the Hitman franchise, simply titled Hitman. I won’t be focusing on the game itself, since it’s not PlayStation exclusive. What does irritate me with the Hitman announcement, however, is the exclusive DLC and beta, which is not a ‘feature’ of Hitman alone. 

Unfortunately, most of Sony’s conference was full of extras meant to draw gamers to their system. Hitman, Street Fighter V, Firewatch, Destiny, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, Final Fantasy VII remake, Batman: Arkham Knight, Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 and Disney Infinity 3.0 were all confirmed to have PlayStation exclusive content, whether it be in the form of DLC, betas, or timed releases. All this does is split the console player base and slow down the growth of the games industry.

Microsoft and Sony should instead be competing with their exclusive first-party games, hardware, and the services they can offer (e.g. PS Now for Sony, backwards compatibility for Microsoft) rather than cheating gamers out of certain features/parts of a game with exclusive DLC.

Abstract defined

Media Molecule (the guys behind LittleBigPlanet) showed their new game next, called Dreams. A rather vague title for a similarly vague presentation. I still have no clue what you do in the game. They said you could create worlds and play games in those worlds, but they didn’t give any clue as to how.

The only aspect they showed off was the art style, which does look gorgeous (albeit very abstract). I'll leave you guys to see if you can figure out what it's about.

Mystery with a hint of comedy

Firewatch also looks phenomenal. They didn’t show off a lot more than what we already knew. Aesthetics-wise, it looks similar to The Long Dark, whereas gameplay-wise it appears to be a little more hands-on than a point-&-click in the same vein as Life is Strange. We still don’t know if there are any more gameplay mechanics involved other than pick up/use. Firewatch seems to be going for innovative storytelling rather than innovative gameplay.

Overpriced DLC and stale gameplay

Sony didn’t stop their train there. They kept showing game after game. Destiny came next with another pricey expansion pack of little substance. Not really worth a spot at E3, if you ask me, as everyone who wants to play Destiny, has done by now (except for PC gamers, but they didn’t announce a PC version, so it’s irrelevant) but it was there anyway.

Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate was next on the list with the announcement that you can now play as Evie, a welcome addition in a world filled to the brim with male protagonists. Multiplayer is also now non-existent in Syndicate, which is a decision I don’t quite understand. I spent a lot of time playing the multiplayer in Brotherhood, and I had an absolute blast, the ‘you hunt someone while someone hunts you’ mode led to some incredibly tense moments.

I wouldn’t have expected them to remove something that doesn’t seem too tricky to put in, even if they didn’t work on it and just ‘copy and pasted’ the multiplayer from an older title. Nevertheless, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate is going to have to do something impressive to warrant my purchase, mainly not being bug ridden a la Unity.

Final Fantasy meets chibis?

Final Fantasy came up next, specifically World of Final Fantasy. Not much announced for this, only that it is exclusive to the PS4 and Vita and will be coming in 2016. It has a chibi art style, which gives the impression it will be tailored toward the younger generation to get them interested in the Final Fantasy universe.

Sticking with the Final Fantasy theme, the Final Fantasy VII remake is going to be a thing. For real. Now, I’ve never played a Final Fantasy game before in my life, although I have seen many comments and tweets claiming that Final Fantasy VII is the best one of all time. No gameplay was shown, which is a big disappointment, although the cinematic trailer they showed was rather pretty.

There are also rumors floating around that Square Enix will be redesigning the traditional battle system, although that hasn’t been confirmed. There’s also a rumored timed exclusive deal between Square Enix and Sony, but so far Final Fantasy VII hasn’t been confirmed for any platform other than PS4.

2D retro!

Devolver Digital, a publisher popular for lots of indie games such as Hotline Miami, Serious Sam, and Broforce was up next. They showed a montage for four games coming to PS4 and PS Vita: Ronin, a 2D side-scrolling stealth slash-em-up; Eitr, an isometric fantasy pixel-style action game; Mother Russia Bleeds, a 2D violent fighting beat em up, and Crossing Souls, a game I’m not too sure how to describe. It has some cartoon cutscenes straight out of the '90s with some pixel retro style gameplay. All of the games look unique, which is really what Devolver Digital is known for. So, four titles to keep an eye on.

Hopefully not the start of a trend...

Sony then did something never seen before at E3. They announced the Kickstarter for Shenmue 3, a sequel to Shenmue 1 and 2,  which released on the Dreamcast in 1999 and 2001 respectively. This announcement was completely out of the blue, people thought they’d seen all the surprises with The Last Guardian and the Final Fantasy VII remake, but nope. Yu Suzuki announced the Kickstarter project live on stage and that they were looking for $2 million.

Now, that’s quite a lot compared to a lot of Kickstarter projects and the goal was actually reached in just 9 hours. However, there is no way in a million years $2 million is going to fund Shenmue 3 by itself.

Shenmue cost $47 million to fund in 1999, which is the equivalent of $67 million today. It was one of the most expensive games to fund, ever. It is highly likely that Sony used the Kickstarter project to test the waters and gauge interest on how well received a third Shenmue installment would be. Sony has now come out and explained, after the project was fully funded, that they will be assisting with the budget of the game. However, the fee is still undisclosed. A misleading practice by Sony, but one that was easily foreseeable.

More exclusive content...

Batman Arkham Knight was showcased next, which was relatively surprising as the game actually releases so soon. Nevertheless, sticking with the theme that was consistent through most of their conference: it was simply to announce some exclusive content, specifically some missions titled ‘Scarecrow Nightmare’ along with some skins.


Virtual reality mech-ball!

Guerilla Games returned to the stage next but not to show off more Horizon: Zero Dawn footage. Instead, they’ve announced a game exclusively for Sony’s virtual reality headset Project Morpheus. RIGS is the name and has the tagline ‘Mechanized Combat League’.

The snippet of gameplay we saw showed an arena with multiple players, implying it’ll have online capabilities and not just split screen or AI, fighting in their mechs trying to score ‘goals’ with the commentator saying things like “he’s through on goal!” and “great defence!” Not much to go off yet, although it looks like it could be fun.

More subscription services for your media box

One aspect surprisingly vacant from Microsoft’s conference this year was the mention of other media services on the Xbox One. Previously, they’ve focused a lot on sports and TV streaming, however, this time it seemed like they listened to fan feedback and eliminated that entirely. Sony almost did the same, but they did announce a service called PlayStation Vue. Rolling out in San Fransisco and Los Angeles initially with more to follow, PlayStation Vue is a subscription-based service to individual channels that will come at a discount to PS Plus members. I suppose going through the entirety of E3 focusing just on games was too much to ask.


Sony shelled out the big dollars for this

Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 followed which was a big surprise as the Call of Duty franchise has always been a Microsoft favorite. This time around though, it seems like Sony have shelled out more cash for the Call of Duty contract than Microsoft were willing to cough up, resulting in a timed exclusive DLC along with the beta that launches in August. 

For followers of the Call of Duty eSports scene, this is a big change as since Modern Warfare 3, competitive Call of Duty has always been played on Xbox consoles. This change will likely see Major League Gaming switch their focus to the PlayStation 4, as the Call of Duty World Championships are funded by Activision, which means they’ll want to promote the game on the console they’re supporting.

A much more preferable option would be to have both consoles receive the content at the same time and let MLG decide which console is best for the future of Call of Duty eSports, but that’s obviously a completely absurd idea. Right guys?

Yay!... oh wait, nevermind

What followed seemed rather exciting at first with Star Wars being the logo on screen… then it turned into Disney Infinity 3.0. Laden with exclusive content, I’ve personally never encountered anybody who plays the Disney Infinity games and I’m sure that won’t change with 3.0.

Surprisingly not too similar to Battlefield

Star Wars: Battlefront came next. Not a lot to talk about here, there was no exclusive content announced for PlayStation 4, it seemed like they had it in there simply to beef up their conference a little. The game itself is looking solid; nothing revolutionary, but nobody was expecting 'revolutionary'. It simply looks like a Star Wars shooter, nothing wrong with that.

When it works, it looks good

Sony concluded with what everyone knew was going to appear: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. The person playing the demo live on stage had a few issues with getting it running at the start but when things finally got underway, it looked pretty impressive. A beautiful environment with some fantastic dialogue between Nathan Drake and Sully as they fought their way through a colorful middle eastern town.

The demo concluded with them chasing a mysterious character called Sam as he drove away from a convoy in pursuit while Nathan and Sully avoided their own antagonists. It looked fairly scripted but, then again, Uncharted isn’t famed for its non-linearity. As far as linear action games go, it’s a damn sight more impressive than Rise of the Tomb Raider.

My biggest gripe with Sony's conference is their focus on exclusive content.

It only applies to the minority of people who pre-order games, instead they should have centered on actual features of the game. Another piece of feedback I have would be that even though the announcement of The Last Guardian is a very welcome one indeed, I can’t help but feel it would have had a much larger impact if they closed the show with it, rather than opening it. The Last Guardian would have been a phenomenal send off to what was already a solid conference compared to Uncharted 4, which everyone was expecting anyway.

Sony’s conference was impressive. As far as game announcements go, I’d say they smashed every other conference into the ground except for maybe Bethesda’s, but the disappointing side of that coin is most of the games won’t be out until 2016. What was missing in terms of games? I'm disappointed no Ratchet & Clank was shown and deep down in my heart I was hoping for The Last of Us 2, although I knew the chances were slim given Naughty Dog are working on Uncharted 4. A new Crash Bandicoot would've fulfilled all my hopes and dreams too, but it wasn't to be.

One thing I do need to praise them on though was their tendency to skip the crap. What I mean by that is a lot of the conferences, namely EA, Square Enix and Ubisoft, had a LOT of talking and not enough showcasing of the games. Sony went the complete opposite route, they showcased game after game after game. The Sony hype train well and truly didn’t stop until the end, whereas comparing it to a conference, or should I say lecture, like Square Enix’s, the hype there never really began. A solid showing from Sony and it makes me very happy to be a PS4 owner. Unfortunately, Microsoft didn’t show anything that made me want to purchase an Xbox One. Recore looked cool, I guess.

Published Jun. 22nd 2015

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