Sony had one simple mission heading into their 2013 E3 press conference: Don’t screw it up! Microsoft handed Sony an absolute gift at every turn from the Xbox One’s DRM to privacy issues to used games to rentals to the price.
Not only did Sony not screw up their press conference, they committed the video game console equivalent to homicide. Sony played the Rains of Castamere live on stage and slew the Xbox One in a bloody and violent way that saw them destroy Microsoft’s next-generation challenger in every way possible. Even George R.R. Martin was shocked at the carnage.
Sony had a lot of questions to answer with their console and policies to clarify for the PlayStation 4 at E3 and they took advantage of their time on the big stage to answer any and all concerns that people had heading into E3.
They did unveil the new console. It’s very angular but at least it’s not square. It’s more of a parallelogram shape rather than VCR-shaped like the Xbox One. The design comparison was to the PlayStation 2 which isn’t a bad thing to copy since that was the highest selling console of all-time.
After getting that out of the way, Sony went guns a-blazing at Microsoft and their policies for the Xbox One. It wasn’t even subtle. Sony confirmed that you could buy, sell, trade-in, rent and loan games and used games. There are no restrictions for used games. No, you still can’t sell used digital games but that’s no change from the standard. There also won’t be any requirements for online check-ins or console DRM. The only time you have to be online is to game online.
Then Sony stuck in the knife and twisted. They announced the launch price as $399 which is $100 less than the Xbox One. If the Sony chants from the crowd after the DRM and used games announcement didn’t confirm it, the price effectively ended Microsoft’s challenge in this generation. Can the Xbone change everything about itself in five months after announcing it publicly?
One policy that has gone over with some controversy is Sony saying that online multiplayer will require a PlayStation Plus subscription. It was rumoured for a while but nobody thought Sony would actually go the way of Microsoft and Xbox Live Gold with online gaming. At least PS Plus has game discounts and free games to go with online gaming and is $10 less per year than Gold ($50 vs. $60).
I don’t like this unexpected change in online gaming policy from Sony and I don’t want to seem like I’m justifying it. I’d much rather online gaming is free like it is on the PC. However, if this is the Microsoft policy that Sony is going to ape, it’s not terrible. They aren’t losing ground to Microsoft and they aren’t persecuting their customers. A small victory for Sony because it’s not going to cost them sales but it’s not going to make them any new fans either.
There were games shown off at this event too. Sony ran for two hours instead of the expected one hour and certainly took advantage by bombarding us with game after game.
We saw a first-look at The Order: 1866 from Santa Monica and Ready at Dawn. It looks like a steampunk zombie game set in an alternate 1800s London that has a lot of advanced science like electric guns and airships. I got a Left 4 Dead feel but we didn’t actually see any zombies in the London fog but those obscured figures charging the trailer’s heroes sure looked like them.
Sony showed off more of the four games they featured at the February launch/reveal event. That meant we got more of Driveclub, Killzone: Shadow Fall and Knack while we got a more fleshed out story trailer for Infamous: Second Son. That’s kind of ironic considering Infamous is the only of those four games that won’t be available at launch.
Quantic Dream stole the show with a demo of The Dark Sorcerer. It featured the creepy old man tech demo from the reveal event but in action. The video was said to be running in-engine but looked better than a lot of pre-rendered cinematics we get nowadays. Now, whether this is actually an upcoming Quantic Dream game is questionable since it was all revealed that the old man was in front of a green screen which was a hilarious reveal. Still, it was all in-engine.
As expected, Square Enix showed off Final Fantasy XV which is a PS4 exclusive. SqEnix also confirmed the rumour that Final Fantasy Versus XIII was being rebranded as FFXV. Interestingly, rather than the classic turn-based combat we’ve come to know from the FF series, FFXV has real-time combat in a vein similar to western action RPGs. We also got a first look at Kingdom Hearts III. It’s been 11 years since the first one came out but it still looks like classic Kingdom Hearts and I’m okay with that.
Ubisoft showed up with gameplay demos of Assassin’s Creed IV and Watch Dogs. AC4 looks fairly standard for an AC game but with a lot more drinking. Watch Dogs showed off a bit more of the various hacking mechanics. How context sensitive those mechanics are will go a long way to making the game a success or unmitigated failure.
And Sony capped off the night by getting Bungie on-stage to show off the first gameplay of their upcoming Destiny. They showed off the three different classes, co-op play, loot gathering and community events. It looks like this is coming very close to being an MMO rather than a classic Bungie FPS (i.e. Halo). I’d be interested if it comes to PC but let’s see how this one shapes up on consoles.
Indie games got a lot of love from Sony but that was expected. However, it far exceeded everything we could have expected. Supergiant Games was there with a trailer for their upcoming game Transistor. Sure, it was the same trailer as PAX East but getting the console exclusive for the PS4 is a big coup considering what a hit Bastion was.
Other indie game shown off on PS4 and likely to launch first (and possibly exclusively) on the PS4 included Don’t Starve, Mercenary Kings, Octodad: Dadliest Catch, Secret Ponchos, Ray’s the Dead, Outlast, Galak-Z: The Dimensional and Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee.
Sony didn’t lose focus on the current generation. They had a sizzle reel with some of their big upcoming games with new trailers for the likes of The Last of Us, Beyond: Two Souls (which looked completely different from everything else we’ve seen this time out) and Gran Turismo 6. We also saw new IPs Puppeteer and Rain shown for the first time.
On the portable front, the Vita got some love from Sony beyond the remote cross-play with the PlayStation 4. They’re getting a bunch of new ports to the system including The Walking Dead, Dead Nation and Flower. A bunch of apps are also coming to the Vita. Poor Vita still seems to be lacking that Vita native killer app to sell the system.
There was also the token entertainment presentation. Sony is bringing Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited to the PlayStation 4. The console will also get all the usual apps and the new addition of Flixster. There is no TV through the PS4 like the Xbone but I don’t see that as a downside. Also, this took up five to ten minutes of Sony’s nearly two-hour presentation. Beats the hell out of Microsoft’s Xbox One reveal.
So Sony took the opportunity given by Microsoft and the Xbox One by the horns. There was no controversial Microsoft policy that Sony didn’t directly address and take shots at the Xbone over. The only real concerns coming out of E3 is the comparative lackluster PS4 exclusive lineup and the fact that Sony is copying Microsoft’s policy of paid access to online mulitplayer.
Sony could have gone on-stage, talked about policies for ten minutes and mic dropped their way to victory but we also got scads of games too. As you can tell by the recap above, fears that Microsoft was paying off publishers to make it look like the PS4 would be short on games was greatly exaggerated. Sony is trying to hit the ground running with a strong launch window line-up and appears to be succeeding. Based on quantity and variety, I’d give Sony the early edge but I wouldn’t count out the appeal of some of those Xbone exclusives like Halo, Titanfall and Sunset Overdrive.
We’re still five months from the next-generation of home consoles launching but all signs point to Sony being lightyears ahead of Microsoft. The battle for the living rooms could be over before it had a chance to start. I don’t wish ill against Microsoft because competition is a good thing and spurs the industry forward. However, I won’t complain if Microsoft gets a swift kick up the arse over its anti-consumer policies. Sony has already won this generation, not because of the games it has or how the console performs but because Sony made a console for gamers and Microsoft made a console for publishers.