Sony had an absolute blinder of a conference last year; on the back of three major game reveals that absolutely nobody saw coming it hands down dominated the show. This year the audience went in knowing there was no possible way they could match that show, but boy did Sony still try.
The show opened with an epic sounding symphonic score and low guttural choir, culminating in the reveal of the next God Of War. Bringing with it a new over-the-shoulder perspective instead of the fixed camera angles of past games, it introduces Kratos as an amusingly bad parent with a young protege in a new Norse setting, with shades of The Last Of Us in the action.
After a cinematic trailer for new survival franchise Days Gone (we’ll get to that later), last year’s opening hit The Last Guardian received a new trailer and — finally — a release date: October 25 this year, at once sooner than expected and about damn time.
Next up was a gameplay demo of Horizon: Zero Dawn, another game that impressed last year. As what seems like a hybrid of Fallout and Skyrim, the game showed off Aloy’s hunting and gathering skills, and the ability to tame the wild robotic animals of the game world. This was interrupted by a set piece, showing off the game’s Mass Effect-style conversation engine, and a boss fight against a fast-moving robotic ‘demon’ entity, seen turning the native animals feral somehow, teasing at the game’s overall narrative perhaps.
After last year’s debut of Detroit: Become Human, we were given a better idea of how the game would be structured. We got a look at Connor, an android police officer and detective, called into a hostage situation involving another android. Tidbits of detective gameplay were shown of Connor investigating crime scenes and questioning people, building up to a dramatic standoff on a balcony, showing off the game’s branching narrative. Again, a very impressive looking title.
This was followed up by a moody, gritty horror title, opening with a man exploring an abandoned house, followed by clips of in-game death and decay. It wasn’t until the title card that we learned we were actually looking at Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, marking a great departure from the corny, arcadey narrative style of past games. The game left an impression that’ll remain until it launches next year, complete with PlayStation VR compatibility.
Sony’s foray into VR will start on 13 October, promising 50 games before the end of the year, including Farpoint, Star Wars Battlefront: X-Wing VR Mission, Batman Arkham VR, and Final Fantasy XV: VR Experience where VR players will taking the role of sidekick Prompto.
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare flew onto stage boasting its newfound spacefaring gameplay. Combat takes place in traditional boots-on-ground environments, zero-gravity settings where navigation is by grappling hook, and in aerial and space fighters, allowing for deployment to enemy positions. The gameplay itself looked very far removed from past Call of Duty games, to the point that it was barely recognisable until the logo appeared.
Then came something of a major surprise: Crash Bandicoot will return to the Playstation after a long absence. Remasters of the first three Crash titles from the original Playstation were announced, coming some time after Crash returns as part of Skylanders: Imaginators, which itself promised a new level of creativity.
Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens boasted the Lego games’ typical quirky sense of humour. It also featured the franchise’s new cover-based shooting mechanics, which alienated at least this particular viewer.
Hideo Kojima then walked on stage with the sort of entrance reserved for one of EA’s super sports guest stars and to a reception from the crowd like the next coming of the messiah. Kojima unveiled his first project from his new development house: A strange trailer titled Death Stranding featuring naked former PT star Norman Reedus. It’s hard to tell what sort of game we saw, and it’s likely at a very early stage, so who knows when we’ll see everything else.
We then received confirmation of rumours that Insomniac Games and Marvel are getting together to create a Spider-Man game. Visually, the game seems to draw inspiration from Marvel’s cinematic universe, but what gameplay snippets were shown demonstrated what could be the best attempt at capturing the essence of Spider-Man in game form yet, something that’s been tricky for most developers.
The conference closed with a gameplay demo of Days Gone. The cinematic trailer earlier showed off a world decimated by an apocalyptic attack of some kind, putting the player in the shoes of a biker turned bounty hunter and mercenary, focused on survival. In action the game has something of a Last Of Us vibe, with the player scavenging ruins for gear, adapting for instance an old car part as a makeshift silencer for his gun. The apocalyptic menace is later confirmed to be zombies which, in a unique twist, are the World War Z-style fast-and-agile variety.
This year’s Sony press conference came much, much closer to topping last year’s phenomenal effort than I’d dared dream, only falling just short. Bucking Sony’s usual trend of favouring games not expected for years, a number of the bigger titles this year, like The Last Guardian and Final Fantasy XV, are relatively close at hand. Ultimately, there was still a lingering impression that something was missing. Maybe it was the lack of indie titles, maybe it was the absence of the PlayStation Neo so soon after Microsoft showed us Project Scorpio; Sony needed just one more knockout punch title. Despite that, it was still a fantastic outing for Sony fans, who have a lot to look forward to in the coming year.