While Xbox was first press briefing off the ranks, PlayStation was clearly aware that there is a competition going on in all this E3 business. CEO Jack Tretton called E3 the “Superbowl” of gaming, with an acknowledgement that the reveals and presentations would be dissected in the days and years to come. For my money, PlayStation won the day hands down, if only for one reason: I never imagined I would walk out convinced that I should buy a PlayStation Move.
The two presentations could hardly be more different in their approach. PlayStation had less rhetoric about “power” and how “amazing” their platform is, and more acknowledgement and appreciation of gamers as their core fanbase with a strong nod to everyman gamer Michael. Consumer loyalty was definitely in evidence from the audience as well. PlayStation eschewed big name guests in favour of presenting attendees with a free year of PlayStation Plus membership, plus generous food and drinks. PlayStation was much more about core gaming and less about wider functionality, and they had made the effort to actually save some impressive announcements for the expo, rather than leaking them beforehand.
The first big reveal was the highly-anticipated next project from Quantic Dream, makers of Heavy Rain and Fahrenheit. An impressive tech demo at GDC had punters waiting with bated breath, and PlayStation lost no time announcing Beyond: Two Souls, an interactive drama that narrates the life of Jodie Holmes, a girl with unspecified extra-sensory powers (though we did see telekinesis in evidence). The big announcement was that the main role would be played by Ellen Page, star of Juno. The trailer began with a cinematic scene emphasising the mystery of Jodie’s character and origins, and developing into an(other) action-blockbuster affair which gave away few hints of gameplay but left the audience wanting more.
As expected, PlayStation was also pimping Vita, getting onto the extra-peripheral bandwagon with Microsoft and Nintendo by emphasising cross-play and cross-controller functions of titles like Assassin’s Creed III/ACIII: Liberation. The idea is that the PS Vita will become an “enhanced controller” for the PS3.
Call of Duty: Black Ops: Declassified was also announced for the Vita, giving credence to PlayStation’s commitment to bring core gaming to a handheld platform; we also saw the announcement of YouTube, Music Unlimited and more content for Vita, as well as the release of many PSOne classics available to play on the Vita.
The presentation skimmed over some elements: Although they spent some time on PlayStation All Stars Battle Royale (a 2D, 4-player beat ‘em up featuring stars from PlayStation exclusive games), the audience were not hugely taken with it. The presentation drifted over the improvements to PlayStation Plus, announcing several free games to be made available to subscribers and giving us an Oprah moment with free subscriptions to all attendees. There was some mention of extra media content through the PSN, but this is clearly not core business for PlayStation.
Interesting semi-reveals included new gameplay for Assassin’s Creed III: Apparently our new Assassin hero, Connor, will also be a sea captain and will take the fight to the English on the high seas of the Caribbean. The live playthrough demonstrated a spectacular sea battle worthy of Master and Commander, and the player is able to control both navigation and cannon fire. Ships being burnt to the water are supplemented by boarding raids in which we see the close-quarters combat the series is better known for. This new style of gameplay for the series was intriguing and looked like it worked well, but it remains to be seen if it can draw new fans and/or appeal to followers of the franchise.
In another Ubisoft presentation, we were shown Far Cry 3, which (apart from its stunning visuals) will also offer a dedicated campaign for up to four-player co-op. This was actually the most impressive live playthrough I’ve seen so far in terms of performance, because the four players (call them actors?) were clearly excited and agitated, offering suggestions to each other and visibly collaborating to achieve team objectives. One even required reviving, which while it looked staged, at least had a strong air of authenticity. The two campaigns and a whole island of multiplayer seems to offer players a vast mission structure which makes this release a lot more enticing. We also saw a high-action, gory trailer for God of War: Ascension, which we are pretty used to for the franchise.
What turned out to be pure genius, though, was the big reveal for the PlayStation Move: It’s not a dead horse after all! The lead-in to the presentation gave us the usual lines about the platform being all about innovation (yawn…) but then went on to reveal Wonderbook, a new book-based augmented reality that makes the Move as a platform actually very desirable. Although current applications look a bit kiddy, the idea is that players place a book in front of the system which then reflects the real world and generates augmented reality digital content for narrative play. Most impressively, PlayStation have teamed up with author J.K Rowling to produce Book of Spells, whereby players can use their Move controller as a wand and cast spells right out of the Harry Potter universe, going on adventures with them too. This platform has astounding potential if supported well and for my money it could well become Best in Show.
Ultimately, the PlayStation briefing was more of what we’ve come to expect from E3 – a bit of corporate chest-beating with some Michael Bay-style visuals thrown in to impress – but it had a stronger focus on its core fanbase and frankly had a lot more to offer. It was clearly about games (which is why most of us have come to Los Angeles after all), had less blatant self-serving rhetoric, less focus on very culturally-specific sports, and it had a potentially show-winning reveal which blew everything else out of the water. I think I’ll put money down on a Move when I get home.