Sony let us know ahead of time that they’d be focusing on four of their biggest upcoming exclusives in this year’s E3 showing. The Last of Us Part II, Ghost of Tsushima, Death Stranding and Spider-Man were the games announced to come under the E3 spotlight – each one of them totally deserving. In a typical year’s conference, any of these four games would make for a stand-out title. This year, they’re the standard. Just these games alone, if shown gracefully and presented engagingly, could have made for an extremely valuable and exciting promotion for PlayStation.
PlayStation took an unconventional approach this year. Instead of huge walls of screens and a sleek stage in a packed theatre, we got Shaun Layden walking out to speak to an audience cramped into a rustic, weathered chapel. During Layden’s spiel about the importance of games to PlayStation and their belief in them as a vocation, there was an unmistakably uncomfortable atmosphere building. The intimacy of this presentation in such a compact space almost felt like a town meeting we weren’t meant to be privy to, yet it was the only place we could find out about cool games. As Gustavo Santaolalla (composer of The Last of Us) took the stage and performed a piece on his banjo, the weird vibe started to feel a little more purposeful, and as a demo for The Last of Us Part II began, the strange set made a little more sense. The building was a recreation of a setting in the game.
The Last of Us Part II
Naughty Dog has been the pack leader in this stuff for a while, so it’s not surprising that their latest game looks to set a new benchmark for performance capture, acting and cinematography in a video game. While we see Ellie and a couple of new characters taking part in some sort of dance in this small-town church, a much warmer tone is established than the first title produced. Not shying away from portraying gay characters as praised in TLoU, Ellie shares a smooch with a young lady on the dancefloor, as we transition to the much colder aspects of her life.
This is where we see gameplay of The Last of Us Part II for the first time, and the demo is masterfully performed and paced. So much about how the game will play is communicated through exemplary scenarios, with what feels like a very genuine playthrough of a piece of the game. The player makes mistakes here – being caught and needing to flee from pursuing baddies and trying to take a shot without realising they’ve expended their ammo. This is what made for such a great demo. It doesn’t only feel like a realistic showing of the game but speaks to its harsh and threatening nature.
Mechanically, things look very similar to its predecessor, though the broader areas of enemy encounters and sneaking through shrubbery of Uncharted 4 and The Lost Legacy seem to have bled into TLoU too. We get a good idea of how the gameplay of Part II will play out here, but the more significant takeaways for me were the detailed and dynamic enemies. In searching for Ellie, her predators moved and searched the area intelligently, following her to specific locations and scouring over them, and checking behind cover specifically, rather than the walking back and forth that many games have relied upon for stealth components since forever. Equally impressive are the expressions and movements of these foes. The clearly readable anger and fear in their faces is an incredibly impactful detail that creates a reality and weight to these encounters even beyond that of the first Last of Us. As if it wasn’t already evident, this is going to be, in many ways, a brutal video game.
After an excellent showing of a tremendously anticipated title, this is where things start to get shaky once again. We leave the church and are instead hosted by Sid Shuman and Ryan Clements of the PlayStation blog. If the church felt antithetical to building excitement, this little outdoor stage – very much in line with PlayStation’s usual pre-show and post-show stuff – didn’t feel like a press conference any more at all. It turns out live attendees were sent from the church to a theatre to play out the rest of the presentation, so we were left with a little interview with Layden to fill the time.
As strange as it started out, this is where the presentation fell apart. As we waited for the attendees to arrive at the new venue, it was clear we weren’t going to see anything too exciting until they arrived. We did get a few little tidbits here, fortunately, including news on God of War’s New Game+ mode, and some Black Ops maps coming to Black Ops 4 – also available in BO3 upon preorder of BO4. We saw a neat little montage of the games PlayStation announced in the days leading up to their conference and a cinematic trailer for Destiny 2’s Forsaken expansion, neither of which really told us much about anything.
Sony was about ready to be done with the weird stuff here and get on with a typical show, but of course, we needed one more musical act before we got to more games. As the screens on-stage display a calm breeze over a peaceful field, a man dressed in traditional Japanese garb played the shakuhachi (I assume?) on stage. This guy was shredding, and it was a pretty cool little performance, but with no visual stimuli but the blowing grass on stage and the man himself – who was unmissably western and pretty off-putting to see in this role – it again felt like more of a time-fill than a hype-build.
Ghost of Tsushima
Finally, we get to see Sucker Punch’s new game in action. We get straight into gameplay, and straight away this feels like Shadow of The Colossus in a beautiful rendition of Japan. The music swells as the protagonist gallops his horse through flourishing landscapes and a dense little forest. With our first look at combat, it’s clear this is a very defensive and deliberate combat system, rewarding reactions to enemy attacks more-so than direct assaults. This graceful approach paired with the resulting violent kills creates a distinctive tone of samurai.
We get a brief but encouraging look at traversal next, as our hero climbs a building to enter through the roof. This is far and away the most exciting few seconds of this demo for me for a simple reason. The climbing and jumping here seem to be very mechanically similar to Sucker Punch’s own inFamous games, rather than abiding by the Uncharted-style platforming that nearly all contemporary games have adapted. If this is the case, Ghost of Tsushima’s game-feel will stand out from most of Sony’s first-party catalogue, which continues to grow more and more similar.
After some Arkham Knight-style chain assassinations, we get a look at a sword duel, in a cinematic and focused encounter. With a perspective more similar to a fighting game and what seems like stances with different sword positions, these fights kind of feel like a cross between For Honor and Nidhogg. As falling leaves catch fire around the battle, it’s clear Tsushima will be a stunning game, and if this Old Snake vs Liquid Ocelot type situation is anything to go off, there’ll be a strong cinematic feel throughout.
This is our first significant step outside of Sony’s main four titles of the show, and it’s an awesome surprise. This is a new game from Remedy, and that’s very apparent with how similar it appears to be to Quantum Break. It’s that same warping-geometry style of sci-fi, with the Inception world-twisting going on and people floating around. Mechanically it seems to be another third-person cover shooter with some extra telekinetic abilities mixing things up.
Resident Evil 2
The long-awaited remake of RE2 finally showed its face with a trailer that cutely concealed its identity before the big reveal of Leon and his zombie adversaries. This game, coming January 25th next year, is absolutely stunning. As REmake made Resident Evil look like a visual powerhouse in the Gamecube era, this makes RE2 look entirely in league with the most gorgeous games of today. It was revealed that the game would use a RE4 style over-the-shoulder style camera (albeit more slow and deliberate), and the new dark, claustrophobic feel of the RCPD station seems to be a fitting escalation of the original classic.
Trover Saves The Universe
Another new announcement, Trover Saves the Universe is an action-platformer for PS4 and PSVR from Rick and Morty’s Justin Roiland. While the trailer doesn’t give me the impression that the game has too much going for it, I’m always way down for a VR platformer.
Kingdom Hearts III
Kingdom Hearts III thankfully didn’t rely on the same trailer for the third showing at E3, instead showing off a Pirates of The Caribbean world, plus diving a little more into the story than the previous appearances. There are parts of this trailer that are indistinguishable to Pirates of The Caribbean: At Worlds End on Blu-Ray, and that’s pretty impressive for a game that boasts a mostly cartoony aesthetic. Skull & Bones and Sea of Thieves can eat their hearts out – Sora’s got ship battles with Jack Sparrow.
Here’s a big one; the gameplay reveal of Death Stranding. Kojima’s fourth showing didn’t give too much concrete information about what we’ll be doing in the game, but after the reveal of throat-baby’s bum, there’s much more directly communicated here than the last three trailers. We see a couple of new characters and a bit of dialogue that provides a little insight into what’s going on, describing the Time Falls as fast-forwarding things, which paired with shots of plants growing and immediately wilting alongside the familiar handprints seems to give us the game’s threat.
Gameplay shots show off the breadth of the environments player character Sam will be traversing. These places look pretty remarkable, most notably what is probably the most believable waterfall I’ve seen in a game. While the only thing Sam is shown doing is carrying around packages, there’s a bit of sneaking and a cool robo-gun that he pulls out at one stage, so the Metal Gear vibes definitely continue to seem present.
Another surprise announcement, a cinematic trailer for Nioh 2 didn’t have much to say. It looks like we’ll be able to transform into some kind of giant horned yokai, but that’s about the extent of what’s to be gleaned here.
Here we go, the big hitter that’s only a few months away with a brand-new gameplay demo. As Electro frees the prisoners from the big boat prison that is The Raft, it turns out he’s in league with Rhino, Scorpion and Vulture, as well as the previously shown Mr Negative. Returning a bunch of crooks and super-villains to prison could be a nice little premise for the game, albeit a simple one, and hopefully having a few big-bads around will offer some variety in enemies and environments.
A lot of the demo shows off Spidey’s maneuverability as he chases down Electro, and those web slings sure look swell. Running up walls, diving down throw the air and arcing back up with a web-swing all flow together encouragingly seamlessly, making what is a pretty quick-moving and involved chase look totally doable as a player.
The rest of the demo is made up of cinematics, giving us a bit more of an idea of what the tone of the world and these characters are exactly. More-so than previous showings, things felt a little cheesy, but in a playful way true to both Insomniac’s lineage and Spider-Man as a character. I find that Peter Parker’s personality can be drummed up and annoying in some Spidey games and down-played and irrelevant in others, and it seems like they’ve found a fun middle ground here.
As it turned out, Sony’s showing for E3 in 2018 was far from graceful, and at times close to tedious. There were games shown that look absolutely excellent and a couple of really cool announcements, but the bumpy, drawn out points in this presentation kept the showings from being as exciting as they could have been. I love the idea of a themed venue for the press conference, very much even, but if doing so is so impractical that we need to cut to an intermission 20 minutes deep, then it does more damage than good.
Musical performances are great too, and Sony have executed on them exceedingly well in the past, but they need to be timed and accompanied more thoughtfully to remain engaging. The Last of Us theme live is excellent, of course, but after an awkward and uncomfortable opening, it only extends the stagnancy of the showing. Ghost of Tsushima’s musical piece was pretty cool too, but after waiting to get through an annoying intermission finally, we’re going to want finally see some games, not some guy fluting his heart out.
The big hitters were healthy, for sure, but they weren’t surrounded by the steady series of third-party titles PlayStation tends to show off. It seems pretty clear Microsoft did their very best to make those deals this year, and it made for a wall-to-wall show of games in their show, while Sony seemingly only had themselves left upon which to rely. Resident Evil 2, Nioh 2 and Control are perfect press conference announcement trailers, but if PlayStation had managed to get Devil May Cry 5 and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice – games that fit the bill for their regular conferences – it could have felt like an incredibly stacked line-up.
That being said, from Ghost of Tsushima’s demo onwards, this was a great selection of games shown well, without further interruptions. It’s commendable for Sony to have tried something wacky at this point, especially considering the appreciation they’ve received for their more conventional shows, but the irritating pace created by it turned what could have been an excellent conference into a drag at points. Grade: C+