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E3 2017: Sony’s Strong Showing Sadly Lacked Surprises

When it comes to E3 conferences, Sony has well and truly backed themselves into a corner in recent years. From killing the Xbox One before it was even released in 2013, to a continuous stream of blockbuster, show-stealing announcements in each of the years that followed, they’ve been bringing their A game for the entire generation so far. In the streaming era, Sony has successfully transformed what it means to have a compelling E3 conference, culminating in last year’s orchestra-backed spectacular that was widely regarded as one of – if not the – best E3 conference of all time. So how do you follow that up?

The answer is, as evidenced by their conference last night, you don’t. When you keep raising the bar, sooner or later you can’t raise it any higher, and that’s the situation that Sony found themselves in last night. Sony delivered a strong conference at E3 2017 chock full of impressive exclusives – but with precious little in the way of games announced to be coming this year, and with a distinct lack of surprises in comparison to years previous, it’s easy to see why some may feel underwhelmed by what was shown. In all but name, Sony’s E3 2017 conference was a sequel to their 2016 presser, complete with updates to most of the big games they showed off at that event, but never managing to top the original.

It was apparent right from the get-go that Sony had been paying attention to the popularity of their conference last year, as this one was, structurally, almost a carbon copy. Shawn Layden was the only executive on stage, and he turned up only a handful of times throughout the entire presentation, with none of the rest of the usual cast of characters like Andrew House or Shuhei Yoshida showing their faces at all. Whether this approach feels hands off and impersonal, or if you appreciate the fast pace of the show Sony puts on is largely down to personal preference, but for my money, the barrage of trailers is far more compelling than getting some guy on stage to show off a car, or hosting an interview with Pele to pad out the running time. We’re here for games, and Sony’s relentless approach to these conferences is certainly much appreciated as far as I’m concerned.

The action packed trailer for The Lost Legacy seemed to indicate that the Uncharted series will have no problem going on without Nathan Drake in the lead.

Kicking things off this year, we had a live band to provide some Eastern-influenced music to lead us into a ludicrous trailer for Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, which is coming to PS4 this summer. Showing a lot more of the story and things blowing up than we saw back at PlayStation Experience in December, The Lost Legacy looks to continue the trend of incredible graphical fidelity and jaw-dropping set-pieces that the series is famed for. It looks like everything you’d want from an Uncharted game, all for the very attractive price of $40.

Next came story DLC for one of 2017s best games, Horizon: Zero Dawn, in the form of The Frozen Wilds, also slated for release this year. Continuing the story of Aloy, and appearing to take place after the ending of the vanilla game, the DLC involves some sort of fantastically terrifying robot dinosaur living on a snowy mountain that no doubt needs to be taught a valuable lesson in being dead at the hands of everyone’s new favourite ginger-haired PlayStation mascot.

Speaking of gingers, Days Gone was the red-headed stepchild of Sony’s conference last year, seen by most as the weakest link in an incredibly strong line-up of game reveals. It wasn’t that it looked bad, per se, but rather that we’re all, like, so totally over zombies, man. The 2017 showing of Sony Bend’s open world game was far more compelling, showcasing a varied approach to gameplay and some impressive action, that looked like a happy centre-point on the hypothetical Venn diagram for Horizon: Zero Dawn, The Last of Us, and Sons of Anarchy.

Alright, settle down, lads.

In a cool moment, our biker hero used C4 to destroy one of the external walls of an enemy encampment, allowing dozens of frenzied zombies to storm the stronghold, while he hid behind a log presumably feeling very proud of himself. The sheer number of zombies on screen at any one time is a laudable technical feat, and while this writer’s boredom with zombies is second only to his utter contempt for the proliferation of open world games, Days Gone looks like it might have just enough tricks up its sleeve to warrant a little more attention than it first appeared.

It was at this point that Shawn Layden turned up to remind us that this was an E3 press conference and not just a stream of trailers, but beyond telling us how awesome PlayStation is, he needn’t have bothered getting suited up. He quickly abandoned the stage to make way for our first surprise of the conference, namely Capcom’s Monster Hunter World, coming 2018. Monster Hunter is a franchise with a serious cult following, and World looked to be above and beyond what the series has delivered so far in the name of the hunt. While there’s no doubt that there was a bunch of people around the globe doing an Irish jig in their living rooms at the very thought of Monster Hunter on PS4, for somebody who knows even less about the series than I know about basketball, it wasn’t quite the home run announcement that we’ve seen in previous years.

Coming somewhat out of left field, the next announcement was more of a touchdown; a remake of Shadow of the Colossus. Shadow of the Colossus is legit one of the greatest games ever made, and my jaw was firmly on the floor seeing a glorious re-imagining of the PlayStation 2 classic on PS4. If there’s a downside to seeing Colossus on PS4, it’s that the 2018 release date seems difficult to take seriously given the tortured route to release that The Last Guardian took. It looks amazing, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s as likely to come out in 2018 as it is to land in 2028. Still, it was a lovely surprise in the vein of the Crash Bandicoot revival seen at last year’s show.

Fair play, Sony. Didn’t see this one coming.

Next, we saw a story trailer for Marvel vs Capcom Infinite, which appears to be taking a leaf out of the Injustice playbook and giving us one big superhero story rather than individual tales for each character. The roster of characters shown seems fairly robust, and seeing Rocket Raccoon using Dante from Devil May Cry’s dual-pistols was a treat. It’s nice to see Mega Man in high-definition, CG glory, too.

Call of Duty: WWII arrived to remind us all that blowing shit up real good is even more awesome when you’re sticking it to Hitler’s boys in the name of freedom. The trailer didn’t exactly do anything new for the franchise, but then if you were expecting anything new from Call of Duty I don’t know what to tell you. You’re gonna get a bunch of macho men shooting, stabbing, and exploding their way through eight hours of cheesy heroics, and on that front WWII looks like it’ll deliver. For what it’s worth, I’ve always thought that the campaigns of these games are fairly strong, and so while the multiplayer community for the games might be made up almost entirely out of nasty people who have, apparently, had relations with my mother, the single player portion shown here at least seems to be worth a look.

It was the obligatory PlayStation VR section next, indicated by a short video showing off Sony’s headset, as humans were apparently banned from appearing on stage more than once in a thirty minute period. There were a bunch of VR games debuted here, including the whimsical looking Star Child and Moss, the most generic looking and named game ever in the shooter, Bravo Team, and Square Enix’s latest unnecessary addition to Final Fantasy XV – a first person, VR fishing mode named Monster of the Deep. The bright spots were The Inpatient – a brand new virtual reality experience from Supermassive, the developer behind the superb PS4 exclusive, Until Dawn – and the surprise announcement of Skyrim VR, making Nintendo Switch’s version of the five year old RPG seem even more irrelevant than it already did.

That was it for VR, and it was time to see what Kratos is up to in the new God of War. I was rather hoping he’d have calmed down in his old age, and perhaps he’d be spending his retirement watching reruns of Columbo and doing crossword puzzles, but it appears that you can’t teach an old god new tricks, and he’s still kicking the lips off of anyone and everyone with reckless abandon. The tone and the story seem to be a little more grounded this time around, but the action appears every bit as brutal as fans of the series are used to. We see Kratos using his axe to divorce numerous monsters from their lower halves, and then potentially striking up some sort of alliance with a giant, bearded, snake thing – presumably so they can go kill a bunch of baddies as an incredibly angry tag-team. All hopes of this one landing in November this year were dashed when the words “early 2018” appeared on screen, but despite the disappointment some may feel, it makes the most sense for Sony to hit this window, which has proved fruitful for other exclusives like Bloodborne and Horizon in the past.

Kratos has finally developed the ability to show an emotion other than rage. He’s also just started listening to The Cure.

Detroit: Become Human had another interesting trailer, further detailing the political implications of creating artificially intelligent slaves like we’ve seen in so many stories before. It beggars belief that people are still thinking it’s a good idea to create AI beings given how many sci-fi stories have acutely demonstrated just what a disaster that can be, but then it’s nice to see Quantic Dream tackling the story in a way that appears to be sympathetic to synthetic life. I’m hoping that Detroit delves deep into the politics and the philosophical quandaries at the heart of creating life, and doesn’t fall into the Heavy Rain trap of burying what could be an interesting narrative in meaningless action sequences and people taking their clothes off for no discernible reason.

Destiny 2 was up next because it’s now been made illegal for Sony to put on an E3 press conference without Destiny showing up. For what it’s worth, it looks like Destiny 2 actually has a story this time around, which is a marked improvement on the first game’s Dinklage-led narrative dud. Hopefully they’ll give players a genuine reason to shoot things in the face for hundreds of hours in the much-anticipated sequel, and by players, I mean players who aren’t me, because the chances of me buying Destiny 2 are somewhere between no hope and Bob Hope. At least I’m honest. I just can’t face another permanently online shooter when I’ve still not played games like Breath of the Wild or Nier Automata.

Somebody then went and reminded Shawn Layden that it was time to stop knocking back cosmopolitans backstage, and that the show was about to come to an end, so he walked out one last time to thank us all for watching, and to get in a not so subtle dig at Microsoft by mentioning how many “true exclusives” they’d shown off during the conference. As he left the stage, he told us there’d be just one more demo, leading into the first proper gameplay footage of PS4 exclusive Spider-Man.

Autoglass now fix broken windshields and sun-rooves while you’re on the go.

We got a ten minute look at Insomniac’s take on Spider-Man, showing off a couple of villains, plenty of swinging about, and an awful lot of people getting kicked in the face. The combat looks fluid, like a more cinematic version of the rhythmic battle system seen in the Arkham series, while traversal around the game world looks like a blast. Speaking of blasts, Insomniac has obviously been playing the Uncharted series, because half of the time spent showing off the web-slinger’s PS4 debut was stuff spectacularly exploding and collapsing around the teen superhero in a series of increasingly ridiculous set-pieces. The sequences on display here were incredible, but one wonders just what the moment to moment gameplay of the title will involve when away from the heavily scripted sections like this. Regardless, Spider-Man really looked like something special, with the only sour note to the ten minute gameplay demo being the announcement of a 2018 release date.

And that was that. All over for another year.

While I’ve no doubt that many people will be upset by the relative lack of brand new games on display in Sony’s conference, and that’s a position that is understandable given the high bar that they set for themselves over the last few years, the real story here was in Shawn Layden’s comment during his third and final appearance on the stage. He used the phrase “true exclusive” and it couldn’t be any more obvious as to the intent. Both Sony and Microsoft saved their most impressive demonstrations for last in their respective conferences – Anthem and Spider-Man – but while both of those games will be on PS4, only one of them will be on Xbox One. That’s a pattern that was shown throughout both conferences as a whole, and the biggest problem that Microsoft faces going forward.

Anthem is a brand new Xbox One X exclusive*. (*Also on Xbox One S, Xbox One, PS4 Pro, PS4, PS4 Slim, and PC.)

Microsoft’s conference used confusing language to conflate how many exclusive games they had coming up on Xbox One – 22, they said! – when in reality they actually showed no true exclusive games whatsoever. Even if you consider Microsoft’s first party games to be exclusives despite the fact that they all appear on PC, the vast majority of the games they showed will, at some point, be on PS4. By comparison, Sony had God of War, Detroit: Become Human, Spider-Man, Uncharted, Horizon, Days Gone, Shadow of the Colossus, as well as no-shows like Gran Turismo, Matterfall and Ni No Kuni II all being confirmed to be coming in 2017 off-stage. With all that, as well as games we know are coming like Death Stranding, The Last of Us Part II, Dreams (?!), Final Fantasy VII, Shenmue, and the plethora of third party offerings, the future looks very bright indeed for PlayStation gamers.

Even when they’re having an off day, the strength of PlayStation’s first party studios is simply too much for Microsoft to overcome. Sony’s conference was a notable step-down from last year, but given that Microsoft’s show was largely an advertisement for games you can also play on your PS4 alongside a definitive failure to make any compelling case for the $499 and awkwardly named Xbox One X whatsoever, it’s difficult to chalk this one up as anything other than an E3 win for Sony once again.

Still, it’s a mildly disappointing win nonetheless. With rumoured titles like Bloodborne 2 and whatever Sucker Punch is working on never materialising, and 2018 release dates for almost all of PlayStation 4’s upcoming heavy hitters, Sony, much like Microsoft earlier in the week, has delivered a showcase that wasn’t up the standard of previous years. If Nintendo turn up later today with two new Metroid games, a virtual store that doesn’t suck, and a free Star Fox game to say sorry for Zero last year, they could potentially steal this one. I wouldn’t bet on it, though.

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