E3 2012: Sony’s Press Conference

We’re here at the Memorial Sports Arena in Los Angeles and awaiting the music to go down. Of course, Gotye is playing yet again. Will we also hear it at Nintendo’s show tomorrow? Time will tell. And here we go…

As per usual, Sony is starting with their sizzle reel of recent games and hardware moving about on a three-dimensional plane. Interesting stuff, although it’s nothing we haven’t seen before at every E3 we’ve ever been to. The video fades and Jack Tretton is out!

Interesting to note that he is speaking off the cuff here as the teleprompters aren’t moving and have nothing to do with what he’s saying. We wish he could’ve stayed like that the whole time, because he just started reading and now it sounds contrived. He introduces Kaz Hirai who is actually sitting in the front row of the audience, where he gets up, waves at the crowd, and sits back down again. He’ll probably be making an appearance later on in the show at some point. Of course, Jack yells out “I love you, man” before Kaz sits down, but then again, he signs Jack’s multi-million dollar paycheques. We’d love him, too.

David Cage is introduced by Jack as one of the minds behind Quantic Dream, the studio that developed Heavy Rain a few years back. He’s showing off his brand new title, Beyond. He announces that the game is in fact voiced and completely acted by cinematic actress Ellen Page of Juno and Inception fame.

“Jody Holmes knows a little bit more about [the afterlife] than the rest of us,” David explains. Played by Ellen Page, you follow Jody through fifteen years of her life. Man, this could be a long game.

A beautiful looking demo starts, and we see Elle… huh, Jody sitting in a sheriff’s office as if she is being interrogated. The sheriff continues to question her about what she sees and who she is. She was on the side of the road and is completely silent. The intensity is palpable and you know something is about to pop out at us. He spots something on her head and tries to move it out of the way, but she seems to telepathically throw a coffee cup from across the room against a wall. He leaves, a bit perturbed.

As he is about to return into the office, we see a SWAT team show up, surround the door, and the sheriff walk in at the SWAT leader’s command. The screen then goes black and we’re left wondering what the hell just happened. This demo just went from pretty intriguing into “where was the big climax in the trailer?” The cliffhanger at the end of the trailer was worse than the ending to Halo 2. And that’s saying something.

Jack is back on stage talking about PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale. He confirms the game is in fact heading to Vita and that there will be plenty of CrossPlay functionality as we might expect. However, we’re only getting a short demo of a level here with a few characters from the title. The similarities to Super Smash Bros. are rampant and this game fits the “oh, that’s your inspiration” stereotype. We call it theft, but you know, great artists steal, right?

Two new characters are also announced in addition to the six we already knew about. Nathan Drake from the Uncharted series will be joining the collection as well as the Big Daddy from BioShock. We haven’t seen SackBoy from LittleBigPlanet enter the mix, but we assume he’ll be there as the Kirby-like character.

An interesting thing to come out of the Vita version of the game is the ability to use the Vita as a controller for your PlayStation 3 for tilt and accelerometer functions with a touch screen. Doesn’t the DualShock 3 already have SIXAXIS motion control in it? Guess that went out the window, huh?

We’re assuming this functionality will eventually be implemented by other developers as well, but we also though SIXAXIS was around to stay. Thank God it’s not though, because typing those capitals is annoying.

Tretton re-appears on stage to talk about the PlayStation Network that Sony has cooked up. They’ve got 1,500 titles on the PSN already and another 200 coming in the next twelve months. That doesn’t really seem like a huge commitment to gaming if they’ve managed to put about 300 per year on since the PSN launched in 2006. A slower game-upload rate at this point seems a bit odd, but maybe that’s because there is extra coding to be done or the first batch of games was all rehashed classics from the PSOne vault. Or maybe we’re just really hard to please. Yeah, probably that last one.

PlayStation Plus, Sony’s premium online service is also getting a good boost today, with new free games every month. And these games look like an incredible value. Starting tomorrow, subscribers will get Infamous 2, LittleBigPlanet 2, and Saints Row 2 completely free! For $50 per year and the fact that two of these games came out in the last eighteen months, the value here is pretty darn good!

And of course, they know how to get us going. We all get a free year of PlayStation Plus for walking into the theatre today. Aww, shucks. Now where are our free Vitas?

Somehow, Tretton manages to skip right over Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified for the Vita. It’s a new title that obviously takes place in the same universe as the other recent Call of Duty game out there. Beyond that, there’s no big demo we were hoping for, nothing in terms of story announcements, or even gameplay footage. Just an image.

For the record, some PSOne Classics like Tomb Raider and Final Fantasy VII are also coming to the PlayStation Network sometime this year, although details on that are not as clear as they could be. They’ll likely land for about five bucks. Not bad for a game that everyone loves and would probably pay another twenty dollars for. FFVII, not Tomb Raider.

Ubisoft is now showing off what is likely to be their biggest hit of the year, Assassin’s Creed III. We were hoping it would be at Nintendo’s conference to really highlight Wii U functionality, but being here certainly doesn’t hurt. We see some demo gameplay that looks similar to what we’ve seen as well as some bits and pieces of some new stuff, but nothing revolutionary. Of course, Ubisoft saved all that for their own press conference, and we can’t blame them one bit for it.

In other Assassin’s news, we will be getting a PlayStation 3 Bundle that will include a copy of the game, some bonus downloadable content, and the console itself.

A Vita version of Assassin’s Creed III entitled Liberation has also just been officially unveiled and will have a unique storyline but you’ll be able to link up with the PlayStation 3 version of the game (we shouldn’t say version since the two games aren’t the same thing at all) and exchange some content and functionality. How that will all play out isn’t really clear just yet, however. We are also getting a Vita bundle with, get this, a white PlayStation Vita, 4GB memory card, and a copy of Liberation, but whether that’s a physical or downloadable copy remains to be seen.

Next up is another Ubisoft franchise, this time, one that we haven’t seen in a little while: FarCry 3. We’re actually taking a look at four-player co-op play which looks stunning. We saw the single-player campaign at Ubisoft’s conference earlier today, but the co-operative campaign is completely unique and multiplayer matches can be spawned across the entire island in the game. Perhaps best of all, players of the PlayStation 3 version get free downloadable content when it is ready shortly after the game’s release. As seems to be the trend at Sony’s conference, there isn’t much more information than that right now, but hey, DLC is DLC. Unless it’s just a weapon skin or something, because that would suck.

PlayStation Move is about to get some love it seems, as Andrew House gets introduced. He’s the Group CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment, and responsible for innovation and “transformative experiences”. Now, they’re trying to reinvent the book. iBooks? PlayBooks? PlayStationBooks? What’s coming?

It’s called Wonderbook, and it seems like a thin hardcover book with AR codes on about six pages or so. Hey look, it’s a thin hardcover book with AR codes on its six pages. The technology they’re demoing is actually pretty cool, though. The Move controller captures movement of your “wand” for this first game in the series, Book of Spells. It’s an officially endorsed piece from JK Rowling of Harry Potter fame. Of course, Sony owns all the rights to the Pottermore franchise now, so this is a fitting addition.

This first game in the series has a bunch of mini games and the book that comes with the Wonderbook retail package can become anything like a pop-up book, narrative, movie, or in this case, a book of spells. The demo has some troubles recognizing some of the motions of the controller, and the graphic design of the game leaves a bit to be desired, but considering the game is almost entirely AR-based, it is more difficult to create a convincing world. They’re spending far too much time on this; we would have understood the concept if they had finished this about three demos ago. The tech is compelling, but we’ll give you a better idea of how it actually plays out – no pun intended – in a separate article. Expect Wonderbook and Book of Spells this holiday season.

PlayStation Suite is the next talking point, being renamed to PlayStation Mobile as Sony announces that HTC is their first non-first party hardware partner putting this technology into their smartphones. And that’s it. See, that’s how long the Wonderbook demo should have been.

Okay, the good stuff: Jack is back and introducing God of War: Ascension. We saw this one a little while ago in its official unveiling from Sony. The gameplay looks rather derivative of the original games in the series, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing since that is what made the first games so famous. In this prequel, however, Kratos clearly has some new powers as he is somehow turning back time to repaid a series of ladders and scaffolding so he can get to the next area of the level. The graphics look incredible, although they’re not remarkably stunning, we do have to say. The game is playable on the show floor and the retail version will be out in March, 2013.

The room just went dark. Sounds like a familiar voice. If we’re correct – and we are – this is The Last of Us. The gameplay starts immediately without a trailer. We’re in the middle of a beautifully-rended yet destroyed hotel. It’s overgrown with weeds and partially flooded. Elly steps into some water and her jeans become visibly wet. This is as close to real life as we’ve seen before in a video game.

A gunfight ensues as Joel takes out one of the baddies. We’re not sure exactly why they’re against us, but we know they’re not just going to be our friends if we don’t shoot. So we shoot. Joel only has a few bullets left and it doesn’t look like he can reload. He spends them, and the enemy realizes it as he runs forward. Elly, the teenager comes to the forty-something’s rescue and stabs the gunman in the back while the men fight over the gun.

Everything seems so spur-of-the-moment, so it’ll be interesting to see if this game actually plays out like this or if it’s all staged. Of course, The Last of Us is pretty no-nonsense and looks like a real leap forward in gaming, so this may all have played out differently just based on little differences in the way it is played.

The demo ends with a struggle with another gunman, as you manage to get his shotgun away from him and shoot him point blank in the face. The screen goes black a moment later, and like a superstar, the demoing developer puts his hand in the air with the controller, drops it, and walks off screen. If this was a rock concert, the groupies would be waiting for him in his dressing room backstage.

Jack Tretton, knowing he can’t follow that presentation, closes the conference promising “the best is yet to come.” That could be said to leave a glimmer of hopes in our eyes after a lengthy and frankly uneventful presentation. It’s all up to Nintendo to blow us away now.