I think it’s fair to say that Sony created some massive ripples within the industry during their press conference at E3 last year. First party titles such Horizon: Zero Dawn and Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End wowed audiences with their visual finesse while the return of the The Last Guardian brought much-needed hope to all who have been waiting patiently. Most notably, though, Sony got on board with supporting a Kickstarter campaign for Shenmue 3 along with dropping the megaton that Final Fantasy VII would be receiving a remake. I’ve since heard this showcase referred to as the “E3 of Dreams,” and I’d agree with that. However, in my opinion, talking about the conference itself, there were still pacing issues, technical hiccups, and several games that didn’t need to be there. Basically, there was room for improvement.
I can’t say I was confident going in whether it would be possible for Sony to top the announcements of last year, but almost immediately I noticed something different about the presentation. For the first time in years, Sony returned to share their latest and greatest from within walls of the architecturally renowned Shrine Auditorium. There was no focus on trying to fit as many screens and stages as they could in a single space this year; instead opting for an iconic red curtain and full symphony orchestra. Without any words, the lights went dim as we eagerly watched the conductor took his place at the front of the orchestra to open the conference with something familiar yet unrecognisable. Upon hearing chants and drums, however, it became all too clear what this meant. Kratos, the God of War, was on his way.
Sadly, this triumphant return, as well as the setting, were not totally unexpected due to a leak earlier in the year, but what we didn’t expect to see was gameplay right off the bat, and with a live playthrough and music no less. No CGI here, folks. It was classy as hell, not to mention epic. With the growing popularity with Vikings, the Nordic theme was a welcome change, and with a new camera perspective and combat style, as well as a more humanised persona, it was everything we could have hoped for and more. It was evident when Shawn Layden, President of Sony Interactive Entertainment America, took to the stage that he was extremely proud of their direction this year. And, after taking a moment to acknowledge the tragedy earlier in the week, he proceeded to introduce us to a new IP from Bend Studio.
What happened next is what really surprised me; and, in my opinion, demonstrated that Sony are the first company, ever, to truly get what these conferences should be about. Following an in-engine trailer for the post-apocalyptic Days Gone, starring an ex-biker mercenary, we were treated to four game previews back-to-back. That’s right—no one walking out on stage to babble on, no filler, no awkward moments; just the games we all wanted to see. We received a breathtaking new trailer for The Last Guardian that confirmed the 2016 date we were all praying for. We were treated to a new gameplay demo for Horizon: Zero Dawn that didn’t mess about in getting us hyped. There was a preview for Detroit Beyond Human starring a new character that was very convincing of its potential, and, then, the first megaton.
Last year, behind closed doors, there was a VR demo called “Kitchen” that press were able to try on PlayStation VR. For the first time, we got to see this first-person horror experience in action, and, while being very different in tone, the game was clearly inspired by the tragically cancelled, Silent Hills. What I never expected, however, was to see the trailer close out with the letters VII. Yes, that’s right—Resident Evil VII. Not only was it shocking, a demo was going to be available to PS+ members after the show. I didn’t think anyone could pull another surprise like with P.T., especially with so many leaks, but they did it. And while fans may be mixed on the direction; personally, as a huge horror fan, I tried the demo myself and am now filled with hope for a series that has been creatively stagnant for almost a decade.
VR is always a difficult sell as it doesn’t demo nearly as easily as a regular game. However, apart from Shawn coming back out to re-iterate the cost, release date, and that more 50 games would be playable on the headset between launch and the end of the year, they jumped straight into showcasing some ambitious VR concepts. First up was Farpoint, a sci-fi action/exploration game, that was easily the most interesting of the bunch given it was an original full-scale game. There was also Star Wars Battlefront VR missions, a Batman Arkham VR game and a special mode in Final Fantasy XV where you can play as Prompto. And, just in case the RE VII announce was confusing, that game will be both playable conventionally and in full VR. I wasn’t sold on VR prior, but this was enough to push me over the line.
I’d say the following segment was probably the most controversial, if you could even call it that, as it was still handled pretty well. We received a gameplay demo for Call of Duty Infinite Warfare, which, up until the title reveal, seemed to be well received—go figure. Following which, Shawn returned to the stage along with some fantastic projection effects that replaced his shadow with that of Crash Bandicoot. Now, we knew a comeback was practically impossible given Activision’s ownership, and it was leaked not long ago that Crash would in the new Skylanders, which Layden officially confirmed. However, it was to the surprise of fans everywhere that a remastered version of the original trilogy would be coming to PS4. While not a sequel, it’s more than we could’ve hoped for. Lego Star Wars also made an appearance.
What happened next took me by surprise, especially as the person in question confirmed just prior to the conference he was only at E3 to spectate. As some may know, Hideo Kojima, since he was finally set free from Konami, has been travelling the world to visit studios of all types and sizes. Naturally, we knew that he was working on a new game in partnership with Sony, and that he is a master troll when it comes to announcements, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise to see one of the industry’s biggest legends reveal himself. Descending from a pathway of light, no less. With sheer joy, Kojima announced he was back and he had an in-engine trailer to tease us with. I won’t describe it, though. All you need to know is that it’s insane, the game stars Norman Reedus, and it’s called Death Stranding. Just watch it.
Riding on that high, Sony proceeded to showcase a new PS4 exclusive Spider-Man game from Insomniac Games, following which, Mr. Layden wrapped up the show with a live gameplay demo of the just-announced Days Gone. While I was already sold from the debut trailer, seeing it in action reminded me of The Last of Us meets World War Z. The velocity and number of beasts were incredible, and it left me walking away feeling hyped. Did the announcements surpass last year’s? Well, that depend on your tastes. What is clear, however, is that Sony get it. They were here to wow audiences with what they can look forward to, and they didn’t mess around. Despite a short lull three-quaters through, this is how you do it. Without a doubt, the best presented press conference seen at E3 to date. Grade: A+