Taking the slot of the final “true” pre-show conference of E3, Sony always winds up with the most pressure to perform up to everyone’s expectations. Did they succeed? Well….read on.
After an exceptionally long intro where Shawn Layden explained to the crowd why they were sitting around in a makeshift church, audiences finally got their first look at gameplay of Naughty Dog’s latest opus, The Last of Us Part II. It’s a near twelve minute look at the game, split between a dance in a church between Ellie and her new girlfriend in what looks to be a slowly rebuilding society…and gameplay where Ellie kills her way through a group of aggressors. The combat is tense, with the person playing Ellie just narrowly managing to avoid getting killed numerous times before things swap back to Ellie and her girlfriend. It isn’t really certain what causes Ellie to go off the deep end, and though a few guesses can be implied from the trailer, it’s safe to guess people are hoping Naughty Dog doesn’t go with the typical “fridge the girlfriend” reasoning for her rampage.
Afterwards, they took a brief break to shift the audience from the church into a proper E3 attendance hall, and in the meantime did a recap of all the titles they revealed during the week prior. Personally, this felt like a waste of time–Sony’s pre-show was beginning to become infamous for being as packed with games as the main conference, so to learn that was scrapped so they could drip feed us games over the course of a week…then show those same games off at the show was something of a bummer.
During the same break, they showed off a Black Ops IIII teaser, then revealed Black Ops 3 would be available to PS+ people for free in order to get them back into the Black Ops mood. While the game’s a couple years old, you have to respect both Sony and Activision’s desire to get the franchise back on top.
Coming back from their break, we went into an excruciating long musical flute performance from a white guy in a kimono before finally seguing into Sucker Punch’s latest title, Ghost of Tsushima. A beautiful game that looks every bit like the bad-ass samurai film turned into a video game everyone was hoping for, Ghost gave us another tense trailer with tons of cool showdowns and swordplay. This game is at least another eight months off, so it’s astonishing how complete it looked already.
The first major third party title we got a look at is Remedy’s new title Control, a third person game that looks very much like it’s taking its cues from Remedy’s last game–Quantum Break. There’s what seems to be time control powers, and interviews with the game have described it as being something of an hub world Metroidvania type game with tons of weird abilities and technology. Hopefully it scratches the same itch Alan Wake did, and Remedy enjoys greater fame on the multi-platform stage.
The other major 3P game we got was Capcom’s Resident Evil 2: Remake. Capcom is absolutely on fire lately, between Monster Hunter World, Mega Man 11, and now Devil May Cry and this? If they keep this up they’ll be back on top as a Japanese developer.
We got the third Kingdom Hearts trailer, this time including the Pirates of the Caribbean. Square really needs us to know this game is coming out in 2019, guys. This is probably the first time I’ve ever seen a game take up not just one but three conferences–and I hope it never happens again.
Afterwards we finally got down to the big question mark of the show: Hideo Kojima and KojiPro’s Death Stranding. The Last of Us Part II was going to play like the Last of Us, we’d already seen Spider-Man, and even Ghost had a trailer feeling somewhat like the gameplay we would eventually see. But Death Stranding was up in the air–we’re still not even sure what this game is about, nevermind what it’ll play like. And even this wasn’t especially symbolic of what the real gameplay will likely be like–we just spent a lot of time watching Norman Reedus walk through a bunch of wide plains as a delivery man. There’s still a bunch of invisible monsters, but we don’t know where they come from or how players will fight them…or even if they can. Only Kojima could use three mini-movies and eight minutes of gameplay and still have gamers up in the air.
The last third party showing we got was a stinger for NiOh 2, which feels like the most logical thing in the world after NiOh sold a million copies last year and became a popular smash hit.
Finally, things ended with Insomniac’s Spider-Man game. Showing off a prison break that’s presumably at the start of the game, we see Peter and Detective Watanabe rushing in and trying to quell things, only for Spider-Man to wind up facing off against the entire Sinister Six. At this point I am absolutely sold on the game, but if you weren’t it’s hard to believe a showing like this doesn’t do it.
Then, awkwardly, they claimed the show was done before showing off From Software’s other major project, a VR game known as Deracine. And, that was it! All in all Sony’s show clocked in at less than eighty minutes and showed off roughly two dozen games…and managed to cause quite an uproar in parts of the gaming community in the process.
Sony’s show is an example of how execution of a thing matters just as much as the thing itself. For years, fans have asked corporations presenting at E3 to show the games. And so Sony showed the games, keeping things down to a small number of titles they were placing the most importance on–none of their games got less than five minutes, and by the end of it all we had a good idea of what each title was going to play like. Well, except for Death Stranding, though I’ve got a feeling we won’t know what that game plays like until it’s actually in everyone’s hands.
Still, there was an underlying pretension to the way this conference went down. After years of memes, of fans proclaiming on social media accounts everywhere how Sony won, they finally believed their own hype. Even as a longtime Sony fanboy it’s hard not to admit this was always coming. In 2015 Sony won E3 by premiering three titles: Shenmue 3, Final Fantasy 7 Remake, and The Last Guardian.
People claimed this was smoke and mirrors and well…The Last Guardian was a game Sony should’ve managed to get out before the PS4 ever happened, Shenmue 3 was a Kickstarter, and Final Fantasy 7 Remake is MIA even at conferences a full three years later, so it’s hard to argue the point. In 2016 Sony went theatric, with orchestral music and accompanying set designs for many of their major titles. 2017 probably should have been the final sign something was up, as Sony premiered a slate of games largely identical to what was revealed back in 2016, matched with only a handful of third-party titles to join them.
That brings us, finally, to 2018–where all of Sony’s missteps combined to give us this show. An awkward conference where Sony forgot all the lessons it seemed to have taught everyone else about pacing. One where they needlessly shuffled all the influencers in attendance into a church hall to set the atmosphere for The Last of Us Part II instead of just letting the game (which looked gorgeous) do that on its own. One where they went way over the top on the music added to their major games, wasting valuable time. And one where they only allowed a small amount of third party titles to premiere alongside their gaming deep dives, making the conference seem far more dry than they needed to.
Where Microsoft could have used more time, moving along at this impossibly breathless pace and barely giving enough time to their massive list of games, Sony’s show could have been twice as good if it shaved off ten or twenty minutes. But here’s the kicker: none of it matters.
Sony’s show was poor, but none of that is going to stop The Last of Us Part II from outselling it’s predecessor, which was already a monster recently confirmed to have moved 17 million copies. None of that is going to stop Playstation 4 from continuing to sell like hotcakes, and it’ll be the third Sony system to reach 100 million consoles in sales. There’s nothing wrong with criticizing Sony, and this is precisely the time to do it–while they’re still mostly getting things right. Their slate of first party games is stronger than Microsoft’s and roughly equal to Nintendo’s.
I’ve seen an endless amount of bending over backwards to explain how this conference wasn’t bad, which is baffling because in no way is Sony any kind of an underdog. If anything, if we’re not careful their confidence will only cause consumers problems in the future–like we’re already dealing with when it comes to their stance on crossplay and their stubbornness to leave Fortnite accounts locked to player’s PSN accounts. When it comes to E3, it’d be preferable next year if Sony skipped all the needless bombast, and got back to the games they won everyone over for.
Though their show was choppy and never reached the heights even of their weaker shows, it still had an impressive roster of first party games. Rating it anything less than a C+ is being dismissive of what we claim to see while putting it any higher is ignoring how much of a pain the show was to watch in the first place.