Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Sony E3 Conference Review

Much like the Sony conference itself I am writing this review late...very late in fact (I had to sleep, the conference finished at 4 in the morning here in the UK) but here it is, better late than never as they say. The Sony conference started off very low key, as I said it was late (about half an hour or so) and Jack Tretton kicked proceedings off by talking about PS Vita and it's inter-connectivity (a redundant term, surely?) with the PS4 and how that's going to enable a new way of controlling games...what it sounded like to me was that the PS Vita will function as a Wii-u tablet....essentially, and that's grand or whatever. Then he talked about Sony still supporting PS3 even with the PS4 on the horizon, highlighting oncoming titles such as GTA5, Gran Turismo 6 and Beyond: Two Souls....it was nice, but there was very much an air of formality about this section of the show, as though these details were a required starter to be slogged through before they could get to the main course.

The PS4 portion of the show started with the actual unveiling of the PS4 design (which, according to Sony is not actually a finalised design, but...) and it was very well received, if not spectacularly so. Then there was a ten minute section on the other media capabilities of the PS4 and Sony Entertainment and then it launched straight into the games and what to expect. The first sentence from Shu Yoshida (Sony's Vice President of Product Development) was met with laughs around the internet as Microsoft, who had been touting 15 exclusives within the first year was upstaged with Yoshida confirming at least 20 within that same time frame. This would be a recurring theme of the night. Yoshida showed game-play footage and trailers of games such as inFamous Second Son, Knack and The Order 1886, which blew away the game-play footage Microsoft had shown in their conference. 

After this Adam Boyes took to the stage and revealed that Sony would allow, and support, self publishing of Indie studios on the PS network (the diametric opposite of Microsoft's much maligned policy). The crowd went wild and Boyes invited several indie developers onto the stage to showcase their titles, repeating and affirming Sony's complete support to indie developers as they exhibited their games to the audience. Then there was talk about Diablo 3 (mercifully brief) and then a video from Tetsuya Nomura, who revealed two new exclusives to the PS4 range. The first was the re-branding of (what was essentially becoming vapour-ware prior to this point) Final Fantasy Versus XIII to simply Final Fantasy XV (so we didn't have to see the Agni's Philosophy video, again, hooray!) and the second was the long awaited Kingdom Hearts 3. There was game-play footage of both games, and as is well known Versus XIII (or Final Fantasy XV as we should call it now) has been in development for a long time...but there was no hint of a time frame for their expected release, but still, news of their arrival excited the crowd. We then had a game-play video of  Assassin's Creed 4 and Watch Dogs, and they were really amazing pieces of footage (except for the fact that the Assassin's Creed game died mid cut-scene), which I thought was a bit strange...as I said in my previous blog, the Ubi-soft show before this really could have used some excitement in it, something to have pepped it up and this footage would have certainly fulfilled that criterion, it seemed odd to me that they'd be willing to let another company have their (arguably) two main attractions as a mid show piece. It's a bit of an odd one. 

Next was the reveal that The Elder Scrolls Online would be coming to the PS4 and this was met with a very lukewarm response, the game itself looked very uninspiring and it was a bit of a low point in the presentation. Then a Mad Max game was revealed (which I, at first, thought was going to be a Fallout 4 reveal...I saw the one armed leather jacket and the car....thought it was the reference in Fallout to Mad Max, didn't consider it could be Mad Max itself....how's that for meta-thinking). No game-play footage was shown, just a video trailer, and I suppose that if it was done well it could be a very interesting story/game. Post apocalyptic tales are always so good because they make for good social commentaries, when the buildings crumble, do we let our morals and inhibitions fall as well? Or retain them as best we can...I know that the game is probably just going to be a shooter of some kind, but it would be fun to see if it could stick to that as well. 

I said before that a recurring theme of the presentation was taking little pot shots at what policies Microsoft had talked about and put in place, and prior to this point of the show, it had been relatively harmless. To talk about how the media side of the product is not the focus, but a bonus to the console or about how they (Sony) fully support indie developers by allowing self publishing, these are but minor jabs. But here, at this point in the conference, Sony stopped dancing around the ring and started to deliver crushing hay-maker after hay-maker. Firstly, Tretton came back onto the stage and announced that the PS4 would fully support the sale of used games with no restrictions placed upon the customer at all. You can sell it to a store, to a friend, to a neighbour, you can give it away for free for all they care, it's your game after all (was the general point they made, check out this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?&v=kWSIFh8ICaA made in response to Microsoft's draconian used game policy). Secondly, with the crowd still cheering at this revelation, Tretton revealed that would be no on-line authentication needed for PS4 titles, whether that be upon initial purchase or once every 24 hours thereafter. At this point, the crowd was basically giving a standing ovation which covered the one, minor blip of this barrage, it will now be necessary to pay for PS+ in order to play multi-player games on-line, but Tretton quickly moved on to the beneficial side of joining the PS+ program, highlighting the fact that it will work across all three platforms for one price (Microsoft still haven't fully confirmed whether this is the case or not with Xbox Live over Xbox1 and the 360, it probably will be, but they're not talking to anyone at the moment to answer) and that users will receive free titles, discounts and access to game demos/betas and that it will remain cheaper (at $5 per month) than Xbox live. Thirdly, and perhaps to remove attention to PS+, Tretton introduced some game-play of Destiny. Put simply, the game is beautiful. The environments were fantastic, and the way the light danced around the inside of The Wall (the location the game-play was taking place in) This is a multi-platform title, but knowing that the PS4's specs far outstrip the Xbox1s it is hard to believe that it will be able to keep up. I will admit that prior to this I was sceptical of what Bungie were capable of, but if you've got a moment or two spare, I suggest you watch the video on you-tube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nBO_igyh8DY though I am sure there are other better links out there somewhere), it's worth the 10 minutes or so. 

Lastly, there was some talk about Gaikai and to be honest, it didn't sound impressive. It won't be available at launch, and at first will only be available in America, so knowing Sony we won't see it in Europe until 2015 or something. But, this turned out to be a feint move, which allowed Sony to deliver the knock-out blow. I made a point of criticising the Xbox1 price point in a previous blog, because it was ridiculous that it cost all that much whilst providing so little...well Sony announced that in the UK the PS4 will cost £349 ($399 + €399, once again, the EU gets shafted) which means, for those of you playing the home game, that it costs £70 less, whilst being (at least on paper) far more powerful tech wise, providing more exclusives (20 by the end of the first year, 40 in development compared to 15 and no word on how many in development from Microsoft, I've heard it's only 20 at most, but I doubt that), having a lower cost to pay for on-line play and no ridiculous policies on used games nor requiring an Orwellian peripheral required to be permanently on (I know they say it can be turned off....but if it's always listening for the phrase "xbox on", it's not really turned off, is it?) or else it doesn't work at all? It's not even a contest at this point is it?

To wrap it up, the Sony conference was great on its own merit. The games it showed, as well as the brief talk about the other features of the console, were good and it could have stood on its own as the best conference up until this point. What really made it great though wasn't so much its own achievements, but rather, the ability to respond to the major failings of its main competitor. By setting itself against the antagonistic policies of Microsoft and actually just maintaining the status quo, it has elevated itself well into pole position for the next generation battle between consoles. Sony are no doubt loving this, we can see it in their presenters body language, in the troll clips of Sony executives handing each other games freely, and they've every right to enjoy it, they've won, convincingly, before it even started and with the minimum of effort required. Since the Xbox1 reveal, Microsoft have told us to wait until E3, just, wait until E3 and we'll set the record straight....they didn't even come close and may as well have just conceded  the title there and then to Sony.   

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