Well, that felt a little bit odd, didn’t it? Sony’s E3 press conferences of the last few years have brought trailers by the bucket load, lighting up your eyes with dozens of game announcements and barely slowing down to take a breath. This year was different, and Sony Worldwide Studios Chairman Shawn Layden forewarned us that it would instead hinge around four long “deep dives” into Death Stranding, The Last of Us Part 2, Spider-Man and Ghost of Tsushima. Great in concept, and with space for third party announcements between, it’s difficult to say that Sony managed to pull it off.
I’ve been rather critical of Sony’s E3 pressers over the last few years, leaning far too heavily, I feel, on speculative, long term game announcements. Unfortunately, as great as it is to be able to announce a big game two or three years in advance, especially when it’s coming from an industry luminary like Hideo Kojima, that game is then hanging around for what seems like forever, dragged out every year for a little update. It means that you can end up where Sony are right now, with no new first party games to announce, and yet with a gallery of games that they aren’t prepared to pin release dates on, Spider-Man excepting.
That doesn’t mean that these games don’t look excellent, though. The Last of Us Part II’s lengthy demo was exceptional, blending an exquisitely rendered cutscene that showed a moment of beauty in Ellie’s life with a desperate, soul destroying fight for survival that takes the first game’s brutality and dials it up several notches. It was impressive and the perfect demo for a game that is surely at the top of many people’s wish lists.
Ghost of Tsushima is the newest of the four games, and having only just been announced at Paris Games Week last year with a brief teaser, it was intriguing to see what this game was actually all about. It definitely feels like a Sucker Punch game, from the character animations and ability to clamber up the scenery, through to the finer details of the visual style. However, it’s a very, very different setting for them, and I was impressed by the nuance in how Jin moved in and out of combat, from drawing the sword and striking the enemy in a single motion, to cleaning it in the crook of his elbow and sheathing it once more. The battle against Masako was an excellent twist, changing almost to a side-scrolling fighting game like Soulcalibur for a few moments, while the world around them continued to evolve.
Similarly, it was great to see Death Stranding and finally have a hint as to how all of the strands that Kojima has revealed previously can tie together, with Reedus’ character Sam traversing the world with boxes stacked on his back, before showing the more horror-based elements of the game with the bottle baby revealing these shadowy beings floating all around.
None of these games were given release dates, they weren’t even given release years, and only the fourth game of the bunch, Spider-Man, is in the final stages of development. It was a good way for Sony to end the show, with something tangible, something bombastic, something that’s brighter, breezier and coming out in just a few months time. But wait, Spider-Man wasn’t actually the end of the show! Hundreds of thousands of people stopped watching as the video stream kicked back to the Sony video presenters behind a desk to natter about what we’d just seen and try to hype the games up further, except then they decided that they could reveal just one more game, FromSoftware’s Déraciné for PlayStation VR – PSVR was otherwise given barely a mention at this year’s conference, sadly.
And this was really the crux of why it all felt so disjointed. The opening segment for The Last of Us II was introduced by Shawn Layden in a big tent designed to look like that in the game. His microphone had a touch of feedback. Once the demo was done, all of those people then had to be shuffled off to the main auditorium, while the talking heads gabbed with Layden, and dropped a couple of more incidental third party announcements – Black Ops’ map remakes and freebies and a weird game from the creators of Rick & Morty. Then it was off to see Ghost of Tsushima and all the rest, but because of these logistics, precious little time was actually left for third parties.
It seems that Sony have ceded an awful lot of ground to Microsoft for this year’s E3. They had Resident Evil 2’s remake, the first reveal of Control from the makers of Alan Wake, the umpteenth trailer for Kingdom Hearts III that we’ve seen at E3, a blink and you’ll miss it Nioh 2 announcement, and that was just about it. Sure, you could watch Microsoft’s conference and know that all the big third party games there were also coming to PlayStation, but symbolically it says that games like Metro: Exodus, Cyberpunk 2077, Fallout 76, FromSoftware’s Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and Dying Light 2 are closer to Microsoft than they are to Sony.
But perhaps, as the PlayStation 4 heads into the final third of its life, this is the press conference that Sony needed and one that delivered a lot of what gamers will have wanted for a long time. They’ve knowingly been gazing off into the future with their press conferences for quite some time, but we’re now at a point where all their studios are either working on things we know about, or where they’re still rather early in a project. At this point, it was important to let those games announced over the last few years flourish, instead of teasing something else that we won’t see for years to come.