Tuesday, 5 June 2012

E3 2012: Sony conference round-up

Watching Sony's conference involved staying up 'til 2AM waiting for the bloody thing to start, but after Ubisoft's promising show I had my hopes up. A couple of slugs of vodka gave me the kick up the arse I needed to stay awake, and I settled down to see what Sony had in store. The thought of maybe seeing something, anything, new about The Last Guardian was keeping me going as well. In truth I'd have been better just getting a decent night's sleep. Thanks goodness I'm not a Vita owner either, otherwise I might have gone to bed even more irritated.

The ever ambitious David Cage kicked us off with his latest movi- er,Playstation game, called Beyond. Surprise surprise, it's a Holywood style stab at interactive storytelling, but this time spanning a 15-year period in the life of the title character, played by Ellen Page. Despite crowing about her performance before showing a demo where she did nothing but sit around looking gormless, Cage's clear enthusiasm for the project made it seem as though it has potential. Not particularly striking though, and following it up with Playstation All-Stars: Battle Royale didn't lift my mood much.

The Smash Bros inspired title looks fun enough, and we were treated to the announcement of cross-platform support with Vita, as well as two new characters in the form of Nathan Drake and Bioshock's Big Daddy. The problem is that Sony lacks the rich history of interesting exclusive characters that Nintendo boasts. It's proof, if anything, that the best thing about the Smash Bros series was its character roster. no matter how much I try I just can't get excited about playing the same game with such gaming icons as... Sweet Tooth from Twisted Metal, or the charismatic Fat Princess. The whole thing reminds me of the Mario Kart clones that every company released at one point or another.

Could be to Smash Bros what Crazy Frog Racer was to Mario Kart

The loveable Jack Tretton did his best to keep up the enthusiasm levels, but with Vita getting royally shafted in the market what it really needed was some solid support here, and none was forthcoming. Offshoots from Call of Duty and Assassins Creed III were announced, as well as DLC for LittleBigPlanet 2, but it felt like too little. With Nintendo throwing their weight behind 3DS, dedicating a whole seperate conference to talking about it tomorrow, there's the feeling that Vita might get left behind rather quickly.

Attention quickly steered back towards the PS3, and we were treated to more footage from Ubisoft's conference in the shape of Far Cry 3 and Assassins Creed III. The latter was actually very impressive, showing a wind-swept naval battle that looked beautiful. It was actually a more impressive demo of the game than Ubisoft offered at their own conference, moving away from the tired sneak-and-stab formula to actually show us something new. Who was expecting Ubisoft to come out of this as the stars of the show?

We were then treated to Wonderbook, an augmented reality storytelling title that utilises the Playstation Eye camera. Despite the rather over-zealous claim that it was the "Reinvention of the story book", in truth the tech looked pretty innovative, showing off effects like a paper dragon rising from the pages, and flames burning over your hands. The fact that Sony have negotiated a tie in with J.K Rowling's Harry Potter series practically guarantees that this will be a money-spinner, ant the potential of the software could lead to some interesting titles in the future. That is, if it works better than the glitch-ridden on stage demo does.

Wonderbook at least looked like an interesting bit of kit

Sony followed up that delightful reveal by plowing head first into ultraviolent territory, with a surprisingly boring look at the new God of War game, and straight back onto the bum notes. Jumping straight form childish magical spells to caving an elephant man's head in was a radical shift in tone clearly designed to get the audience back on board after the slow Wonderbook demo, but it came across as yet another misstep by Sony. It then veered straight into Naughty Dog's latest, The Last of Us, which I initially mistook for yet another Uncharted game. Guess I can only keep track of so many rugged, beardy protagonists.

It looked to offer a slightly different take on the stealth/action genre, with an Ellen Page-alike young sidekick, and a slightly more lethal take on bullets (if that makes sense), but the whole thing just left me cold. What was controlled and what was a set piece wasn't made entirely clear, and some of the AI looked rather shonky, but it's early days. A point-blank shotgun blast to an enemy's face was met with slightly disturbing levels of whooping and hollering from the audience, and on that bombastic note the conference abruptly ended.

So that was Sony's E3 conference this year. Was it worth staying up til nearly 4AM for, or the vodka induced hangover I enjoyed the next day? Nope. The lack of Vita support was worrying, the game demos either went on for too long or didn't show us anything, and despite Jack Tretton's boundless enthusiasm I couldn't keep my spirits up. I'll illustrate the reason for that with a graph, in the traditional Sony manner.

God damnit Sony

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