E3 2014 Press Conference Recap & Review: Sony

Sony won last year's E3 by being the anti-thesis to the unpopular, and now defunct, policies of the Xbox One. That advantage was lost this time around, as Microsoft delivered a conference that was devoted solely to games, to the delight of fans and critics alike. Without any major weaknesses to attack, was Sony able to capture another victory?

A shiny new story trailer for Destiny opened things. I'd forgotten this game has a plot. Other than a small, floating A.I. bot that reminded me of Portal 2's Wheatley if he was devoid of personality, the trailer was solid, but didn't make me anymore excited for the game than I already was. Mostly a montage of gameplay with Wheat-lame providing some exposition.

Andrew House is our new MC since Jack Tretton rode off into the sunset. He announced Destiny will be playable on PS4 first via an exclusive beta that goes live July 17th. Well, that's awesome. Players will also be able to get in on a playable alpha that ran this past Thursday and ended this weekend (it's since been extended).

In addition, there will be a PS4/Destiny bundle that comes with a glacier white console and controller, the game, and 30-day voucher for PS Plus. That bundle launches with Destiny on September 9th. Big props to Sony for scoring that exclusive beta. The Destiny bundle is quite a deal and it's about time a white Playstation made it's way to the west.

Up next was a rather harrowing gameplay trailer for The Order: 1886. In it, Galahad investigates a dark tunnel until he stumbles upon a corpse being ravaged by what looked like a zombie. Turns out it's a half-breed and it transforms into a larger, more bestial form and ferociously hurls Galahad through a wall and into the next room, injuring him. After taking a swig of his...life juice, Galahad, now bleeding, proceeds to sneak to a hiding place while the terrifying beast sniffs his blood in search of him.

Since his discovery is inevitable, Galahad goes Han Solo and shoots first, filling the monster with lead as it charges towards him. The trailer suddenly cuts just as half-breed reaches him. It was a thrilling trailer and the graphics are unbelievably realistic. If not for the HUD appearing, the cinematics and gameplay would be indistinguishable. The graphics are jaw-dropping and I'm still super bummed that The Order joined the 2015 delay club as it's easily my most anticipated PS4 exclusive.

A new indie game called Entwined made it's debut in more ways than one. Not only was this the first announcement but also it's launch. That's right, Entwined is available...RIGHT NOW! You control both a bird and a fish using the analog stick simultaneously ala Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons to soar through a variety of colorful, abstract worlds. Uniting the two spirits, who are actually lovers, transforms them into a dragon. Entwined is available for $9.99 so, like, go play it or something. The PS3 and Vita versions will release sometime in the very near future. This looked interesting, so I'll pick it up down the line.

We got a trailer for Infamous: Second Son's first story DLC. It's centered around Fetch, the hardcore, neon-powered conduit and will shed more light on her origin, which was only briefly touched on in the game. It's a standalone expansion, meaning you don't need to original game to play it. Infamous: First Light is the title though I thought Sucker Punch missed a huge opportunity by not naming it Infamous: Fetch Quest. Maybe even Fetch-ters Quest. I liked Fetch and neon was my favorite power in Second Son so this is fine by me.

LittleBigPlanet 3 flashed on screen next and my heart went all a-flutter. Sackboy has made three new friends! Oddsock is a dog-like character that can wall-jump. Toggle is a hefty sack-person that uses his large mass to activate weight-based switches but he can also shrink to a smaller size to fit into tiny spaces. Swoop is a bird and I'll give you one guess as to it's specialty. Swoop can also grab other players for a helpful lift, kind of like Tails in the old Sonic games.

Four Media Molecule devs played a somewhat disastrous co-op session that featured a number of failed jumps and hilariously awkward mis-communication. If nothing else, it resembled the average LittleBigPlanet co-op session. We got a good look at each character's abilities and how using those abilities together to solve puzzles will make LittleBigPlanet 3 the most engaging in the series. Sony Worldwide Studios President Shuhei Yoshida popped up and announced that LBP3 will support user-created content from the first two games and with improved graphics. The game releases this November. Glad to see Sackboy make the jump to next gen as LBP was one of my favorite series of the last generation.

Bloodborne, the complete opposite of what we'd just seen, is From Software's previously leaked new title. Formerly known as Project Beast, the trailer shows scenes of the protagonist - wielding a sort of scythe-like weapon and a gun - hunting and brutally killing several infected-looking people. The setting appears to be a dark, Victorian-era village. Bloodborne definitely hits the same dark, moody notes of Demon/Dark Souls though I'm not sure it'll be the same type of experience. Blood will be...borne in 2015. Sorry.

Next up was a new Far Cry 4 gameplay trailer.The player, known as AJ, treks across a scenic cliff side in search of an enemy fortress. After using a nifty grappling hook to traverse the rock wall, he locates an enemy convoy. Instead of taking them on directly, he sneaks past them, silently taking out guards with a lethal crossbow. AJ suddenly says screw it, sets an explosive charge on a gas barrel, kicks it off a platform onto an enemy, and all hell breaks loose. Shots and arrows are fired, more explosions are triggered, and the player flees into a kind of golf cart and races away from the carnage.

As he's driving along the mountain side,he eliminates an enemy jeep in front of him by sending it plummeting over the edge. He follows that up by driving alongside another truck, leaping inside, and effortlessly dispatching of the occupants before taking the wheel. That was awesome. A sudden rock slide knocks his truck over the edge, though, forcing him to deploy the new wing suit and glide to safety. By "safety", I mean he lands outside of another enemy outpost. Since this camp is far more fortified, the AJ enlists the help of a second player to show off some co-op.

Player two arrives on a mini-copter and with AJ on a machine-gun turret, the pair fly into the fortress to rain death from above. Rockets whiz by, scores of men are mowed down, and nearby elephants go bonkers and stampede into everything. AJ gets dropped onto a rooftop with his now-detached turret and goes Rambo-mode on everyone. The best part is one especially enraged elephant that rampages through everyone and everything, tossing dudes with it's trunk and charging head-first into a vehicle, blowing to smithereens. This demo was fantastic and I want this game in my hands immediately.

President of Publisher Relations Adam Boyes took the stage to announce that friends can join you in Far Cry 4 even if they don't own the game themselves. That's a Playstation exclusive feature. Boyes then turns the topic into a discussion about some alleged letters sent to Sony by fans requesting games they'd like to see on Playstation. Apparently, one of the hottest topics was zombies, because lord knows we don't have enough of those in games. This segues into a trailer announcing Dead Island 2. The trailer shows a guy jogging with everything being all honky dory before slowly becoming more zombified. No one, myself included, seemed that excited. That's probably because Dying Light makes this game's existence seem rather pointless/redundant. No release date.

After that, Boyes revealed that Diablo III will receive The Last of Us themed content. Clickers, Bloaters, and other foes will come in an exclusive dungeon for the upcoming PS4 version of the game (and possibly as DLC for the PS3 version, thought it wasn't stated). Back to Dead Island 2, which will have a 30-day beta and an exclusive character class. No date for the beta.

Battlefield: Hardline had a very brief trailer showcasing the most destructive bank robbery in history, complete with rocket explosions and falling cranes. I'm still not sure why this is branded as a Battlefield game and not just a new IP.

Disney Infinity 2.0 is getting exclusive, Hulk-themed content as well as a collectors edition for PS3 and PS4. Sure, why not.

Destiny popped up again for news of exclusive in-game content that will be available on launch day. Unique weapons, armor sets, vehicles, a multiplayer map called Exodus, and an exclusive Strike on Mars mission, which is a stand-alone co-op adventure, will only come to PS4. When you combine this news with the beta and the PS4 bundaru, I can't think of many reasons to play Destiny on Xbox which is the idea.

After that we got a very funny live-action trailer announcing Magicka 2 that featured an depressed and unemployed fire mage looking for work. The game is coming to PS4 but no release date was given.

One of my favorite announcements of E3 as a whole came next. A letter, supposedly written (and narrated) by a 10-year old girl, was sent to Double Fine asking Tim Schafer to bring back one of his most beloved adventure games since she missed out on it back in the day due to lack of being born. The camera panned out to reveal not an adorable child, but Schafer himself holding the letter. The fix is in! After 15 years, GRIM FANDANGO is being remastered exclusively for PS4 and Vita. I'm a big fan of Tim Schafer and Double Fine and have ALWAYS wanted to play Grim Fandango so I freaked at this announcement. No release date.

Boyes announced that upcoming games by indie developer Devolver Digital will debut on Playstation platforms first. The games are Broforce, Titan Souls, Not A Hero, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, and The Talos Principle (which got it's own trailer). Looking forward to all of those, especially Hotline Miami.

We went back to the letters with one person saying how games let them experience the imagination of another artist. One such artist is Suda 51, who's cray-cray new game is a PS4 exclusive. The trailer was a mix of live-action and gameplay that showed guys having holes blown into them and being struck by spiked bats and axes. The gritty but somewhat zany tone gave me a Fight Club vibe for some reason. This decidedly weird title is called Let It Die and will allow us to do so in 2015. Suda's games may fluctuate in quality but you can never say that they aren't creative or memorable.

Boyes: "You what that game doesn't remind me of? Journey." The best segue ever led us to Abzu, a new downloadable adventure by Giant Squid, the new studio formed by the artist and composer of Journey. It appeared that players control a deep sea diver to explore the ocean and both the art and music were absolutely wonderful. Abzu will make it's exclusive console debut on PS4.

We then got the old "display the logo of every upcoming indie game on screen" thing. Boyes left us with one last game that, in his words, "surprised and amazed him". That turned out to be a brand new, extended gameplay trailer for No Man's Sky, Hello Games ambitious new title that stole the show during last year's abysmal VGX. The player explores a tropical planet filled with exotic, alien beasts including awe-inspiring dinosaur-like creatures. As the player views each lifeform, he categorizes them as ships fly overhead.

A kind of rhino-y monster then charges into the area, so the player hops into his spaceship and blasts off into space. There, he joins up with other ships to engage in a dogfight with an enemy fleet that had suddenly warped from hyperspace. After a Star Wars-style space battle, the player slips away to land on a new, Mars-like planet. The geographical features of this arid world include red, dusty canyons, as well as a few buildings that suggest life. The trailer concluded with the player flying back into the cosmos. This was amazing, to say the least, especially since everything that happened, from leaving the first planet, entering space, and landing on the another one, was completely seamless.

Hello Games founder Sean Murray stepped onstage to chat about the game. No Man's Sky is a procedurally generated open universe with infinite possibilities that anyone can share. Each player will begin on a totally different planet, so no two adventures will be alike. Murray left us with one last montage to flaunt the variety of locations, ships, and alien life. No Man's Sky will make it's console debut on PS4. Everyone has their preferences, but I don't know how anyone with any interest in gaming could not be excited for the, well, infinite possibilities of No Man's Sky.

Andrew House returned to brag about how the PS4's diverse game portfolio, features, network capabilities, and peripherals would redefine next-gen gaming. One key peripheral Sony has offered to gamers since launch, "at a choice" (well, they had to get a jab in there somewhere), was Playstation Camera. House declared that they will enhance the camera's worth with Project Morpheus and that creative teams around the world are hard at work on Morpheus titles. Where have I heard this before? That's right, there were similar promises for other "groundbreaking technologies" such as the Eyetoy, the Move, the Vita, and 3D gaming in general. Don't worry, though, this time will be different.

House wrapped up his segment with footage of Vib-Ribbon of all things (remember THAT?) to introduce Shawn Layden. Layden demonstrated the power of PSN and sharing by showing us some always-exciting statistical data about the hours spent gaming, playing multiplayer, and the number of share button presses. This led to the announcement of YouTube for PS4 and all I could think was "About damn time". Players can now upload videos directly to their YouTube channels. That's going to be huge.

This summer the Play Room will add custom broadcasting sets so you can make your Twitch streams look like you're surrounded by things such as air-painted speakers and lights. In other words, you can look like a total dork in front of god and the world. 25 free-to-play games, Kingdom Under Fire 2, Planetside 2, and Guns Up!, are coming to PS4 within the next year. Also, free-to-play on PS4 means just that: Free to play. We then got an overly epic montage trailer of some upcoming FTP games that had the rather humorous fine print of "Certain features available for a fee." I know that comes with the territory, but I couldn't help but chuckle at that.

The open beta for Playstation Now starts July 31st in the U.S. and Canada (with PS3 and Vita shortly after). Later this year, PS Now will come to select Sony televisions. Just as long as you live in one of the selected areas and have a Dualshock 3. Over 100 PS3 games will be available to stream during the beta. I'm very interested in digging into the beta to see if this service is everything it's cracked up to be.

Using PS Now on the Vita will let you stream Playstation games on the go. Hayden proclaimed that proved Sony's commitment to the handheld, despite it making sound even more like an accessory than a stand-alone platform. To prove my point further, Layden followed up by saying over 100 games are in development for Vita, including Tales of Hearts R (a remake of a 2008 DS game) Child of Light (already on consoles), Tales from the Borderlands (coming to consoles as well) and Minecraft (do I need to make fun of this one?). Layden promises that Vita will remain a key pillar for Sony. Announce about dozen more Tearaways and I'll believe that.

Up next was Playstation TV (formerly known as Vita TV) which will be launching in the west this fall. By pairing the device with a PS4, players will be able to remote play games on a second television in their homes. PS TV provides access to video and music streaming apps, stream PS Now, and will play most Vita titles as well as PS1 and PS2 classics. That's nifty. Disney Infinity 2.0 is coming for PS TV as well. All of this will cost only $99 which isn't bad at all. There will also be a $139 bundle that includes a Dualshock 3, HDMI cable, an 8GB memory card, and a digital voucher for The Lego Movie Video Game. Alrighty then.

Layden gave another Vib-Ribbon shout-out, gushing over how that game wasn't afraid to take chances. With all the random Vib-Ribbon talk, I kept thinking it would lead to an announcement of the game getting either rebooted or the Grim Fandango treatment, but nothing came of it, making all the references seem more like a unnecessary tease. He then went on about how he got his start working in the industry doing localization for games including Mortal Kombat 3. That seemingly pointless anecdote culminated with the first gameplay footage for Mortal Kombat X.

The trailer showed off two battles at once: the klassic showdown between Sub-Zero and Scorpion, and a bout featuring newcomers D'Vorah, an insect woman, and Ferra/Torr. The latter a silent, lumbering titan while the former is a tiny, loud-mouth woman riding on top. Think Master Blaster from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Comba-excuse me-Kombat looks as tight and gory as ever, with slick new moves and kombos, kringe-worthy new x-rays, and Injustice-style level interactions. This looked GREAT and the new kharacters look like they fit in just fine. No matter how much money I threw at my screen, the game still wouldn't materialize on my lap.

Another trip to Andrew's House took us to the dreaded media/tv programming slump that brought the adrenaline rush from the MK trailer down to a crawl. Powers, a graphic novel series co-created by Marvel Comic's Brian Michael Bendis, is getting an original series on Playstation. The five minutes Bendis spent explaining the general premise and production of Powers felt like a small eternity. I just did not care. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of Bendis' Marvel work (especially Ultimate Spider-Man), but this almost put me to sleep. Afterwards, House announced that Powers will be free to PS Plus subscribers. For free, I'll definitely give it a look.

You know what didn't cause me to nearly slip into a coma? The Ratchet & Clank movie trailer! If you removed all of the gameplay from any game in the series, that's quite literally how this film looks. I mean that in a good way. The film hits theaters in 2015. House revealed that the original Ratchet & Clank game is being re-imagined for PS4 with new gameplay and next-gen visuals. Speaking of porting old games, we got a trailer for The Last of Us Remastered. In short, it's an even prettier version of arguably the best game of the last generation. I felt bad for anyone watching who hadn't played the game yet as it was loaded with spoilers.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain got a new trailer. Like every Metal Gear Solid trailer ever, it was hyper cinematic, had a fitting, kick-ass song, and was filled to the brim with scenes of vague (and not-so-vague) foreshadowing. At one point, it showed a mass cremation of Big Boss' fallen comrades. It then cut to him grabbing a handful of the ashes and rubbing them all over his face because he's down for the cause like that. There were also child soldiers, Emmerich with a bag over his head, Big Boss battling (and being bested by) that snotty Eli kid, a severely injured Kaz Miller, and a blood-soaked Snake screaming to the heavens as if his soul was ascending to a higher plane. So yeah, this is definitely a Metal Gear game.

Grand Theft Auto V is coming to PS4 (and Xbox One) this fall. GTA Online save progress can be transferred from the last gen versions to this one. That's great.

The new Batman: Arkham Knight gameplay footage made me want to put on a cape and dive bomb off my roof in excitement. Batman, on the hunt for Penguin, patrols the streets and my goodness is Gotham pretty. It's also huge. After gliding around like a badass for a bit, the Batmobile suddenly drifts around the corner to pick him up on the landing, seamlessly and in real-time. Batman is all fast and furious for a while before switching the Batmobile into battle mode, causing the vehicle to transform to reveal mounted guns and other weapons. Bat-Megatron, basically.

We get to see the car combat in action as the Batmobile drifts and strafes, firing rounds and missiles to destory enemy vehicles. This looked slightly unwieldy, but still cool. Also, I'm sure he shot rubber bullets and stun rockets, because Batman doesn't kill, ever. Batman gets back on foot and scales a rooftop, situating himself directly above Penguin's hiding place. He brusts in and just as he begins interrogating Cobblepot on Arkham Knight's whereabouts, the feed is hacked and a rather terrifying-looking Scarecrow appears onscreen. He says Batman is the product of everything he fears and he'll have to watch as Gotham is dragged into oblivion. By the way, Arkham Knight will have Scarecrow Nightmare missions exclusive to Playstation.

The final game of the show was Uncharted 4: A Thief's End. The stunningly-beautiful footage finds Drake in a familiar state: beaten and incapacitated from god knows what. He lifts himself out of a puddle in a moonlit rainforest as we hear an earlier conversation between Nate and his long-time mentor/partner, Sully. Drake proposes the two set out on a new quest but a hesitant Sully reminds him of the potential danger and that he's been out of the game a long time. Drake says knows the risks and insists anyway until Sully eventually gives in for one last adventure. In case you missed, Drake was sporting a shiny new wedding ring. Looks like he and Elena finally tied the knot.


Overall

My initial reaction was that this was...long. I mean, at nearly two hours it obviously was in a literal sense, but that stretch during the second half with the Playstation Now/TV/Powers stuff was pretty rough on the attention span. However, this was another good showing for Sony though it lacked the K.O. punch of last year's memorable conference.

For starters, Microsoft had a damn good show. Without any gaping holes in their strategy, Sony had to rely entirely on it's own offerings and not cheeky attacks against the formerly evil empire. Interestingly enough, there was some role-reversal this year as it was Sony who had the dull, media/tv/extra features stuff while Microsoft was games and nothing else.

About that extra fluff. I'm cautiously optimistic for Project Morpheus, not because I doubt the technology, but rather Sony's commitment to it. The company has a long history of over-hyping whatever zany new technology outside of their core Playstation brand and when it releases, it starts hot before being quickly neglected and, eventually, abandoned. I'll have a separate hub on that in the near future. VR is almost impossible to demo on stage so listening to someone tell you how awesome it is means next to nothing. The only way to discover the potential for VR is to try it yourself.

Playstation TV sounds like a win for Sony faithful looking for a Roku-like device that caters to them. $99 isn't a steep investment at all - even I'm a little intrigued, and I usually don't give a crap about smart TV's and the features surrounding them. I can't see this finding much of an audience outside of the gamer community, but maybe that's the only demographic Sony is banking towards.

Can we declare the Vita legally dead at this point? There were approximately zero brand-new, original, exclusive titles announced for that thing. And yet Sony wonders why no one's buying it.

That brings me to Playstation Now. This beta will be crucial for Sony. If this works as advertised, this could help revolutionize the way games are played and distributed. Being able to stream titles from the vast Playstation catalog, on a variety of devices, on the cloud sounds great but how good does your internet connection need to be to work properly? I'm not a tech guy by any stretch, but even I imagine you'd need a damn good connection to stream something as big as, say, Skyrim or GTA V. Also, will the servers buckle under the weight of consumer demand, creating a less-than-stellar experience in terms of game quality? We also still don't know exactly how the subscription/payment model will work.

Destiny is probably the biggest game of the holiday season and Sony has guaranteed their version as the one to beat. Unless Microsoft does something soon - and I doubt they can considering the boatload of money Sony likely threw at Bungie to lock all this stuff - gamers waiting for Destiny before jumping into next-gen will most likely have their eyes on the PS4 version, especially with that sweet bundle. Great move all around.

LittleBigPlanet 3 was a pleasant surprise and the new characters look great. The Order, Far Cry 4, No Man's Sky, Mortal Kombat X, and Batman: Arkham Knight all had incredible demos that showcased actual gameplay. Uncharted 4 had a great reception, though the initial teaser may have weakened it's impact a tad. Sure, it was still big news but imagine if that game had been a complete surprise. Now that I'm on the subject, that's something this conference lacked as opposed to last year's: a huge surprise.

Last year's came in the form of the dual Final Fantasy XV/Kingdom Hearts III shockers. That was such a surreal and unforgettable moment. I literally jumped out of my chair and screamed in joy and disbelief and it ranks among my favorite E3 memories ever. With both of Square Enix's heavy-hitters skipping the show this year, the only game that could have recreated that pure, unadulterated magic and excitement would have been The Last Guardian, which was absent for the umpteenth year in a row.

As for the games making their debut, Bloodborne looks very promising, though being a From Software game will do that. Entwined is already out, which is a really cool move. Grim Fandango was totally left field and was probably my favorite moment of the entire show for reasons stated earlier. Abzu looks like Journey underwater, which gets no complaints from me. Let it Die looks...interesting, but I need to see more of it. Dead Island 2 just fell flat and I'm genuinely befuddled as to why this and Dying Light are happening at the same time.

Announcements for new-gen ports of last gen titles felt unneeded and better suited for the show floor. The new trailer for Deep Down, one of the PS4 exclusives that was unveiled with the console, would have been cooler to see in one of those spots.

All in all, Sony has a ton of side-projects in the pipeline this year that I bet only one of which will have a major presence a year from now. Their presentation was more scatterbrained than Microsoft's but, on the flip side, might have showcased bigger, better games. Microsoft had more surprising titles up it's sleeves, but Sony's offerings showed actual gameplay. Which strategy was better?

In the end I wish they could have followed Microsoft's format and the more I think about it, I think Sony kind of backed themselves into a corner. Playstation Now and TV were announced only a year ago with little to no news since then so they pretty much had to follow-up on that stuff on the biggest stage of the year. This was a strong showing, no doubt, but the divided focus hurt things a tad. Plus, they had the impossible task of trying to follow their flawless victory the year before.

And seriously, WHAT WAS WITH THE VIB-RIBBON STUFF?

For my review of Microsoft's press conference, click here

For my review of Nintendo's press conference, click here

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