Sage’s Gaming Corner: Reflecting On Sony’s E3s, Part 3

by Sage Ashford

Now that we’re at E3 2015, we’re fully into the era of the Playstation 4. To be sure, there was great PS4 focus in 2013 and it took the majority of the show during 2014…but this was the year Sony fully kicked the PS3 to the curb. Of course, the company is never satisfied resting on its laurels, so we’re about a year away from the PS4 Pro. And there’s something else present this year. Still, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

One of the first things of note for this conference is Shawn talking about people watching in theaters.  One of the subtle changes made as E3 becomes more consumer focused is setting up select locations to have theaters display Sony’s E3 conference.  It fosters the sense of community that most companies are constantly trying to achieve, making people who get in feel a part of the same exclusive club as the audience members attending live.  This isn’t done everywhere either, so the exclusivity is still real on some levels.

Sony starts out with a banger; less than four minutes into the show we get the premiere of Fumito Ueda and Sony Japan’s long awaited title, The Last Guardian.  Last Guardian was first revealed as the third and final part of Ueda’s trilogy of games which began with ICO and continued with Shadow of the Colossus for the Playstation 2.  Originally intended to be released on the PS3, a number of development issues kept the game from actually having a chance at coming out until the PS4 era.   One of only a handful of titles made by a notable “auteur” game developer, just the fact that it made an appearance at all felt impossible, but surprisingly it would set the tone for the rest of the show.
Promised for 2016, The Last Guardian would actually come out on time once it’s release year was announced.  Granted, it was in December, but…honestly it’s just amazing they stuck to the date at all after delaying it for seven years.

Next up?  Herman Hulst and the folks at Guerilla Games, bringing their first new IP in quite some time: Horizon: Zero Dawn.  For some of us that followed the rumors and so called “insiders”, this was a title many of us had been anticipating for years.  It didn’t have a name, we just knew Guerilla was developing an open-world IP with RPG elements.  Artwork had leaked showing off gorgeous vista and robotic dinosaurs, but this was the first proper appearance of the title.
Set to a haunting sound track, we’re introduced to the world of Aloy–a young woman apart of a tribe of people in the far flung future, after humanity mysteriously lost most of its technology, while strange dinosaur like machines roam the planet.   This was as far from what Guerilla was known for as could be: third person instead of first, open world instead of linear, RPG-like instead of a shooter.  They relied on writers from older RPG worlds and created a vast new mythology for this title.  Though we couldn’t know at the time, Horizon would join that year’s Bloodborne and the next year’s Uncharted 4 in creating one of the strongest first party line-ups in video games.

After this, we get the appearance of Square Enix and IO Interactive’s new Hitman title.   It’s a comparatively quick trailer to Sony’s first party offerings, but it does a decent enough job of presenting the new world of IO Interactive’s primary IP.  Hitman would end up being a rare example of an episodic game done right, with massive open-ish stages providing gamers with multiple ways to complete each mission.  The first season was successful, but unfortunately Square-Enix found themselves unsatisfied by the title, ultimately leading to the two parting ways as IO Interactive bought out of S-E.

Next on the list: Street Fighter V.  Initially revealed at Sony’s PlayStation Experience in December of 2014, this felt like a megaton of an announcement when it was first revealed.  The premiere game of the genre and it was exclusive to Sony consoles?  Unfortunately, Capcom has been dealing with a number of troubles almost since the HD era started, and this wound up being one of them.  Street Fighter V would launch the following year as a mechanically solid fighter…that was lacking in basically every other aspect.  While it’s typically tiny roster was overlooked (because SF games always launch with only a handful of fighters), the game basically only had a training mode, trials, and a versus mode, with no arcade or story for single player fans.   The bad press led to the title selling under 2 million copies worldwide, and it’s only after two years of consistent support the popularity started to come back.  Slowly.  In the meantime, both Cammy and Birdie are announced for the series, which is…something?
Ah, we’re back to No Man’s Sky.  Sean Murray gives us our first big demo of the title, showing off some space combat as well as the scale of the game.  I’ll be honest: I think Sean’s unfairly disparaged.  His reach simply exceeded his grasp, but the idea of what he was aiming for was cool.  He’s showing all these undiscovered solar systems and wars between conflicting sides, and that’s absolutely a world I’d be interested in living in…it’s just gaming simply can’t craft meaningful worlds around something this large.  Not yet at least.  And it wasn’t, which is why Hello Games and Murray got savaged in the aftermath of the game’s release, but maybe next time people should think about just what’s possible with what we’re able to do now.  Assassin’s Creed: Origins replicated just part of one continent and it took five years, multiple development teams and over a thousand people.  How was an entire galaxy ever going to work?

Media Molecule is the company everyone can’t help cheering for.  It’s a small company that makes cute, artsy titles like Tearaway and Little Big Planet, and while they’re not really massive sellers on the level of Uncharted 4 or God of War, they have a lot of heart to them.  But Dreams was off the wall in a new way–one that even now I’m not entirely sure I’ve fully grasped.  It’s mean to capture the ethereal sense of movement and exploration you have in a dream, and is geared to allow you to create your own worlds and explore others.   Absolutely gorgeous, Dreams was supposed to come out in 2016, but with its unique art style and all the things they want it to do, there’s no way it didn’t wind up being much more of a pain to put into practice than they realized.

Next up is Campo Santo’s Firewatch, a beautiful game set in Wyoming about two fire lookouts dealing with a mystery in a national park.  Despite being made by a tiny team of less than 20 people, Firewatch was a run away success, selling over a million copies.  Campo Santo’s next game, In the Valley of the Gods, is now highly anticipated as a result.  The company was so successful they were actually recently bought by Valve Corporation, the company known for the digital video game store Steam.

Adam Boyes joins us to introduce Bungie’s The Taken King expansion for Destiny.  By this point, Destiny had been on the stands for nearly a year, and became very much a “hate it or love it” title. Either you were addicted to its gameplay loops and couldn’t stop playing it, or you were frustrated with the amount of content and gave up on it after a certain amount of time.  Since my tolerance for RNG is minimal, I went with the latter.  Still, Taken King saw Bungie go out of their way to try and rectify the problems people had with the vanilla version of the game.  Taken King featured more characters and story, along with additional strikes, supers, weapons and more.

Once the one-two punch of Assassin’s Creed: Unity and Watch Dogs managed to piss off half of Ubisoft’s playerbase, the company really needed to knock it out of the park for the next AC title.  Fortunately, they managed to approximate that with Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate.  Set in Victorian Era England, the title was praised for its dual characters in the Frye siblings, sidequests and unique assassinations.  Unfortunately, none of that wound up mattering–the well had been poisoned, and Syndicate underperformed, managing to be one of the worst selling Assassin’s Creed titles in the UK.  The following year, Ubisoft would take a year off from Assassin’s Creed while introducing the revised version of Watch Dogs to great acclaim.  And last year in 2017, their iconic franchise would make a return with Assassin’s Creed: Origins, an amazing game that managed to compete with all the other awesome titles released in 2017.
This trailer focuses on Evie Frye, the eldest of the Frye twins, essentially making up for the poor reactions they got from Ubisoft after the release of Unity, which added a multiplayer element but impossibly couldn’t make room for a female assassin.  One thing you have to give Ubi though, is they continuously learn from their lessons.  Both in Syndicate and Origins women play a larger role in the storyline, and I suspect that trend will continue when this year’s Assassin’s Creed is announced at E3.

And finally, here is where things go nuts.  Adam Boyes starts out by introducing Square’s latest title, World of Final Fantasy, a cutesy title where all the Final Fantasy characters have entered a chibi world and are essentially summons for a group of new protagonists.  It’s cute enough, but it’s basically there to prime viewers for the next major game…

This game’s existence had leaked months prior, and many of us had expected it at PlayStation Experience in December, only to get an announcement of Final Fantasy 7 PSX remaster for the PS4.  It was the most epic of trolls, because with this title already in the works, they had to know what they were doing.  (Especially in light of narration which makes no sense unless it’s referring to gamers.)  In either case, the rumor leaked again on Siliconera the night before Sony’s press conference, which is why when you watch the full conference the crowd is already losing their shit while Adam Boyes is talking.  After hyping us up with a tech demo at the dawn of the PS3 generation, Square-Enix finally brings us the game we’ve all been waiting on: Final Fantasy 7 Remake.  Well, I say bringing it to us…the game isn’t really out yet.  And aside from a second gameplay reveal at PSX 2015, we haven’t seen the title since.  Maybe cross your fingers for this E3?
And we’re back to Devolver Digital, with four brand new titles: Ronin, Eitr, Mother Russia Bleeds, and Crossing Souls.  This would be one of the last times Devolver Digital got their own segment for Sony, as by 2017 the company would start doing their own E3 conference.  It was certainly…something.  Still, I’m pretty sure Adam only did this to cool the crowd down after announcing FF7 Remake, because the crowd took it to a new level with the announcement of this next title.

If you look around the web, you can find plenty of reactions to this to show just how much this franchise is beloved. The original Shenmue title very much set the stage for all the open world games we enjoy today–a title where the character goes around living his life while trying to figure out who murdered his father, much of what makes open world titles finds its genesis here.  What’s weird about this reveal is Sony had zero ties to this title. The first Shenmue was a Sega Dreamcast title, and the second launched on both the Dreamcast and Xbox.  Since Sony was a major part of the reason why the Dreamcast was deader than a doornail worldwide, Sega had no reason to launch the title on the PS2 even after Sega gave up on the hardware industry.
So this announcement was more about the most hardcore of core fans and their nostalgia for the title, and this reveal combined with Final Fantasy 7 and The Last Guardians combined to make what many gamers have called the “Year of Dreams”.  Of course, the cynical side of this is of these three titles only one released while the other one has been split into multiple parts and we don’t even know when the first one’s coming, while the other is basically a Kickstarter game recently delayed for the second time into another year.  But cynicism is bad for you, kids.

Plus, it was just awesome watching Adam Boyes pull out a tiny notepad and literally count off all the absurd fanboy announcements no one ever expected to see.  It’s absurd to say Batman: Arkham Knight is the comedown, and yet…it kind of was.  The game was due out roughly a week after E3, and is in that unfortunate position of a game that’s not technically bad and it reviewed well, but due to a few problems it isn’t nearly as beloved as Arkham Asylum or Arkham City.  From an obsession with the Batmobile to the inordinately expensive season pass to the game running so poorly on Steam WB had to pull the game from the storefront, the end to Batman’s incredible video game story simply wasn’t as strong as its beginning or middle.   As for Rocksteady, it’s been three years since their last game was released, and many people believe they may make a reappearance here.  Are they working on Superman?  Justice League?  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?  Or something new?   Hopefully we’ll learn soon enough.

After a completely flawless run we finally see Andrew House take the stage, and hear a little about Project Morpheus.  Sony’s version of VR, they didn’t quite have a name for it here but they still spent several minutes discussing it and showing off games like RIGS and World of Toons.  Amusingly they would just wind up calling it Playstation VR so I’m not sure why the need for project names on stage.
Recently, Sony discussed their belief that though the sales for their PSVR were acceptable, VR market growth was below expectations. What expectations they have aren’t quite clear, though it’s kind of hard to expect the market to do much more than it has.  PSVR is still sitting at roughly $300, and the games are still closer to tech demos than actual games outside of a few exceptions.  Until VR has a killer app on the level of Uncharted, and the price  can get below the cost of the system, I’d  presume growth remains roughly the same.
This is pretty much the last time we get this much focus on PlayStation app content, as House goes into detail about how they just got Spotify onto the PS4, and a discussion about Playstation Vue.  PlayStation Vue feels like a project that would have been wildly successful before Netflix and Hulu became a thing–allowing players to buy channels a la carte sounds like the kind of genius, forward thinking plan someone had in 2008 only to see it shelved until streaming was threatening to eat everyone’s lunch.

After that, we enter the final third of this show with the world premiere of Call of Duty: Black Ops III.  Though it doesn’t feel like it to some, Sony securing the marketing rights for CoD was actually a huge deal.  Though marketing a game doesn’t mean you own it, when titles are exclusively promoted by a single console people come to associate the two, and people who aren’t geeks surfing the gaming side of the internet every hour can even believe the title is exclusive to that console.
Sony goes all out here, offering Activision nearly ten minutes of the remaining thirty.  Since the release of Call of Duty: Black Ops I in 2010, Treyarch has taken the CoD crown from its creators over at Infinity Ward, with each installment of their series another record-breaking hit.  This was no exception, even if this was where gamers would start to tire of the ultra futuristic gameplay and would eventually have players longing for a return to World War II.  (Spoiler alert: They get their wish.)
Surprisingly, the first proper sizzle reel of the conference is reserved until we’re almost twenty minutes from finishing.  With games like Batman: Arkham Knight, MGS V, MLB, Street Fighter V, Assassin’s Creed, it’s more like a recap video than anything else.  Still, it’s really more of a recap than anything else.   Also hilariously, the PS Vita in this conference is relegated to this very sizzle reel–there’ve been zero mentions of the fledgling system until now, truly a sign of the PS4’s dominance for Sony at this point.  Why bother focusing on the ailing product when you can do that at PlayStation Experience, a smaller show made up of the most hardcore Sony fans?

Shawn Layden comes out next to talk about the other major marketing deal they have: Star Wars.  Hilariously, they start out by reminding us of Disney Infinity, Disney’s toys to life series that convinced people to buy plastic figurines in order to unlock characters in game.  Which one supposes is better than normal action figure collecting, where people buy plastic figurines…just to look at them while they’re in their boxes forever.  Disney Infinity enjoyed some decent popularity for a time, but actually came to an end the following year, as Disney deciding to try and get other companies to develop their IP through licensing deals.   We’ll come back to how that shakes out for them next week.

Once we get away from that, we finally get a chance to look at Star Wars: Battlefront.  DICE’s luck with Star Wars is absolutely abysmal; their games are always drop dead gorgeous renditions of classic Star Wars environments, but there’s always something wrong with them.  With the recent Battlefront 2, it was the microtransactions, a word which might as well have been four letters by the end of 2017 thanks to DICE’s implemention of pay to win star cards.   And with Star Wars: Battlefront 1, it was the lack of a single-player campaign and a feeling that the game was incomplete without shelling out an additional fifty dollars for the season pass. Granted, it did sell an absurd amount of copies, but the sequel had a huge drop off and even the word Battlefront causes people to jolt like they’ve been hit with Force Lightning.
…Still, it is a looker, isn’t it?  In theory, Star Wars should another appearance this E3 at EA’s press conference, but even then it won’t be DICE involved.  With ReSpawn’s Star Wars title due in 2019, the earliest DICE can have an opportunity to redeem themselves is in 2020.  And that’s assuming Motive’s game won’t be ready by then, pushing the title well into 2021.

Finally, there’s the One More Thing everyone’s always looking for.  After being delayed once thanks to needing a reboot, Uncharted 4 is here and looking better than ever.  A jaw-droppingly beautiful display, this was a typical “Nathan Drake” chase scene where he almost dies getting away from people…then almost dies trying to get away from his get away.  The title would receive one final delay of roughly two months, pushing it from March into May, which is kind of a bummer.  Without that move, Sony could concretely say they owned Q1 of every year this generation.   Still, there’s no way anyone let’s that bother them when they’re dealing with a beautiful, quality title like this.
And there we are.  With a much shorter conference than the last two years, finally I’m able to bring this in under 4000 words.  2015 felt like a real turning point for Sony–the complaints people had about the system (and next gen) were finally fading thanks to the onslaught of software that hit in 2015 and hasn’t let up since.  Sony’s first party efforts are starting to pay off big time here, and the PS4 is developing into the system we know today, with massive app support to match the constant torrent of games.  But after wowing us with the “Year of Dreams”, Sony would have to work twice as hard to pull off the same thing for 2016.
See you next week.

%d bloggers like this: