Not Live From E3 2012 – The Sony Conference

A wry eye on Sony's big conference.

The Electronic Entertainment Expo is happening and yours truly is nowhere near sunny Los Angeles (a redundant statement: Los Angeles is always sunny) to cover the proceedings. Around 5500 miles nowhere-near in England to be precise, where the weather is as ever-changing as the whims of a La-La Land hipster sipping Lattes at the Bourgeois Pig on Franklin Avenue. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology however, nobody really has to actually go to E3 anyway to see what Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo are announcing since it’s all streamed over the intermatrix into our bloodshot eyeballs. I’ve sifted through the hour and a half of Sony’s conference so you don’t have to.

Straight from the get-go Sony’s affair bombarded attendees and viewers’ ears with a wall of brief dubstep that mercifully ended before I could be physically sick. Meanwhile the wall of lights behind the stage showed snippets of various games we all knew about beforehand, yet still managed to hypnotise most of the audience into whooping compliance like something out of Orwell’s 1984. The few that weren’t hollering like chimps at the zoo probably had no choice but to sit in stunned silence while their brains rebooted.

After five minutes of this audio-visual weapon of mass destruction Sony America CEO Jack Tretton stepped out onto the stage to begin the proceedings. “If that video didn’t get your heart pumping,” he said, “you’ve come to the wrong place.” Triggering photosensitive epilepsy in people probably isn’t the sort of heart-pumping you had in mind Jack but I’ll let that go for now. By now all this pomp and circumstance was grating on my nerves so I was almost relieved when David Cage of Quantic Dream appeared to unveil their new game, Beyond: Two Souls.

Cage rambled on about “emotion”, how Beyond will be “the first time in a videogame we will live the life of a character” and that the game stars Ellen Page (of Hard Candy and Inception fame) before finally showing a video of what it’ll look like. After a cinematic scene reminiscent of the opening to an episode of Fringe, showing-off some impressive character animation and voice acting, it then moved into more standard trailer territory. Helicopters exploded, clock towers crumbled and a teenage girl threatened a burly SWAT officer. Overall it was heavy on cinematography with nary a shred of actual gameplay mechanics in sight, although we can probably expect quick-time events. Cage closed his presentation by cramming in one more use of the word “emotional” and promising a “unique journey” before vanishing from the stage in a puff of his own pretentiousness.

“M’aam, can you tell me where the gameplay is?”

Next up was PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale on Vita and a demonstration showing off some of its cast, which includes Sweet Tooth from Twisted Metal, God of War’s Kratos, a Big Daddy from BioShock and, um, Parappa the Rapper. I suppose “eclectic” is one word you could use to describe this pitting of a mass-murderer, a furious slayer of gods, a mindless genetically-engineered monster and a loveable canine rapper in a fight to the death. Tretton reappeared to explain its cross-play feature as well as its cross-controller feature that allows your Vita to become an “enhanced controller” for your PS3. Games that cater for it will let you use all the Vita’s motion sensing, camera and touchpad doohickeys, as well as use the Vita’s little screen for gameplay if your mum suddenly wants to watch Eastenders on the big telly. Hmm, now where have we seen something like this before? At least the Vita’s getting some attention I suppose. Ultimate Marvel Vs Capcom 3 has already implemented cross-controller support and Little Big Planet 2 will be getting it in a future DLC.

Moving on, Journey was nicely trumpeted as the most successful PSN game of all time and a revamped PlayStation Plus promising more bang-for-your-buck was announced. After this came the trailer for Assassin’s Creed: Liberation on the Vita which piqued my interest for having the series’ first female protagonist, in a stylish assassin outfit that doesn’t make her stick out like a Redcoat in the middle of a snowy field. It was almost enough to make me consider getting that and a Vita over Assassin’s Creed 3 itself, until Ubisoft’s Alex Hutchinson and Philippe Ducharme dropped from the rafters to show off some new Assassin’s Creed 3 footage. In a departure from previous clips of wintry woodland and redcoats on horses we were treated to protagonist Connor, in a more dashing and era-appropriate outfit than we’ve seen previously, captaining a galleon in a battle against British ships in the Caribbean during a storm. Assassin’s Creed 3: Sid Meier’s Pirates edition? Sign me up.

Far Cry 3’s co-op mode and Far Cry 3 in general left me unimpressed aside from for a brief flicker of interest at the mention of a map editor. Sony then half-heartedly told us why Move is still worth caring about with the unveiling of Wonderbook, an augmented reality-type thing that “brings books to life” or some such nonsense. The trailer for it was charming enough, if a little twee, but it didn’t really show much other than smiling kiddie-winks gasping in awe at animated paper dragons walking around on an open book. A Harry Potter spin-off for Wonderbook called Book of Spells featuring exclusive new boy-wizard-related writings from Rowling herself, who failed to make an appearance beyond a pre-prepared quote. Consider it one of those things for die-hard fans.

God of Bore

Speaking of stuff for die-hard fans we then got some gameplay footage of God of War: Ascension. Do I really need to describe what goes on here? Oh all right then. Angry Spartan Kratos steps off a boat and immediately starts tearing the heads off a posse of armoured goat-men, then has a boat thrown at him by some hostile tentacles. Kratos climbs stuff and fights some more goat men, because they’re killing people and that makes him angry or something. After that little tussle he then fights a big but otherwise ordinary man wielding a flaming hammer. A huge elephant man then appears and kills some more faceless irrelevant people, fuelling the well of bottomless rage in Kratos’ twisted blackened heart because Pathos. Elephant man and Kratos fight. Elephant man suffers bloody, humiliating, fatal defeat. It’s more God of War. Nuff said.

In stark contrast to this bloody adolescent power fantasy was gameplay footage from The Last of Us, which Sony elected to close the proceedings with in a textbook example of saving the best for last. It begins with a quiet and atmospheric section exploring the flooded ruins of a city overrun with greenery while the two main characters talk about how everything went to shit. In that handful of dialogue I got a better grasp of the main characters’ personalities and what was going on then in the entirety of Beyond’s ponderous – though admittedly well-crafted – “cinematic” presentation. After that there’s some combat against a group of ne’er do-wells in an abandoned building that shows off the combat and stealth mechanics to impressive effect. I mention them separately but the impression I got from the footage is that you need to utilise both violence and stealth in order to survive.

Unlike the battles against hordes of gun-toting mooks in Uncharted, combat in The Last of Us looks to be a gritty and dangerous affair where taking on just two enemies at once in a gunfight is seriously risky. It also looks to be rather brutal with many faces getting smashed in with the butts of guns and one guy suffering a long drawn-out death by strangulation from behind. Enemies appear to react realistically to the ebb and flow of combat, holding-fire if you’ve taken one of their number hostage or rushing out to engage you if they hear your gun’s out of ammo. If I had to sum it up in one word it’d be “desperate.” Delightfully and deliciously desperate.

The protagonist is the guy on the left.

The Last of Us is shaping up to be something bold, beautiful and ambitious, and was without doubt the sparkling jewel of Sony’s  otherwise dire-to-middling E3 conference. It impressed me far more than Beyond, which seems to offer not much more than being visually impressive and having Ellen Page in it. Until we see some actual gameplay that is ideally more than a bunch of quick-time events I’m filing Beyond in my “Could be interesting, could be pants” cabinet. Wonderbook clearly isn’t for the likes of me and I’m fine with that, since I’m not violently opposed to so-called “casual” fare like some morons out there. I literally couldn’t care less about another God of War game if I tried and Far Cry 3 doesn’t interest me in the slightest. PlayStation All Stars on the other hand looks like it could be a blast to play with some mates and a few drinks.

Check back later this week – and later than everyone else – for an incisive look at Nintendo and Microsoft’s conferences, before I authoritatively declare who “won” E3 this year like some massive twat.

Matt

About Matt

Matt is the irresponsible degenerate behind bitscreed.com and the sarcastic writer, editor, director, presenter and tea boy of Pixel Burn.