E3 2015: Sony Press Conference Impressions

Sony kept folks guessing during its E3 2015 conference. We got the usual spiel about the success and connectivity of its platforms, just for the execs to hit us with *drum roll please* The Last Guardian's first instance of gameplay in eons. For all my dislike with how the creature looks, I will say the developers animated the beast beautifully. Working together, the boy and his bird-dog cross a normally impassible chasm before rickety platforms collapse in their wake. As soon as they reach the temples above the demo ends, but not before dropping a flaky 2016 release date.

Keeping the first-party content train rolling, Guerrilla Games pitched an open-world RPG, Horizon: Zero Dawn. Thousands of years in the future, people have reverted to a tribal civilization in the aftermath of a humans versus cybernetic robots war. As the mechanical dragons, giraffes, and other animal stand-ins rule what remains of the Earth, protagonist/hunter Aloy vies for survival using crude tools like her bow and arrows.

However, Aloy proves a surprising match for a T-rex doppelganger as she slowly exposes weak spots and repurposes the scrap metal cannons she blasts off its sides. Not just a demo for Horizon’s boss fights, either, gameplay incorporated herbivore-like automatons as a target of Aloy’s hunts. Her weapons also appear to be shaped from scavenged alloys instead of conventional wood and stone. So I take it back, For Honor. Horizon: Zero Dawn’s mysteries (did man bring the cyberpunk apocalypse upon itself?) gain my vote as the E3 2015 IP to watch.

As for more formerly rumored projects, Io Interactive's next Hitman game showcased Agent 47 training in a frozen icy forest while his possible assassination targets enjoy the last moments of their penthouse lifestyles. Still scarce on plot details (and reports that the whole story will be released piecemeal throughout 2016), PlayStation owners receive six exclusive contracts some time after launch. Above all, I want to chuck crowbars at dudes’ heads.

We were then reminded that Street Fighter V only ships on the PC and PS4, alongside news of an upcoming beta. Think you can handle my button mash prowess? Capcom also confirmed Cammy and Birdie as the next set of fighters to join the game’s roster.

Viewers eventually got to witness No Man's Sky played in real time, too. After a short flight to show off space combat, creator Sean Murray activated his ship’s hyperdrive to validate the staggering number of galaxies that await avid players. Upon warping to an uncharted planet, initiating a quick scan for alien life, and harvesting rocky flora, the protagonist came under attack by the sentinels that safeguard against such destructive habits. I just need to know whether I can mine resources and construct defenses to keep rotten humans off my planets.

Media Molecule's upcoming game may as well be the polar opposite to No Man’s Sky. Whereas No Man’s Sky sets no restrictions on visiting worlds the game creates, Dreams allows you to be the architect of your imagination. In Dreams, you sculpt characters and their settings with little pre-existing talent, kindling comparisons to respectable claymation films. The trailer contained clips of polar bears sliding down snow-covered hills, robot hoverbike police chases, and a pianist playing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” I am not sure Dreams classifies as a game per se, but I believe in Media Molecule’s ability to let the fans decide.

Also an exclusive in some form, Campo Santo's Firewatch arrives on the PS4 first. A preview mixed lighthearted banter and outdoor settings saturated in color, from golden fields to verdant woodlands. Although the developers left the meat of the story under wraps, the video dialed in the horror as the park ranger protagonist and his handler come to learn they are not alone.

I guess people still care about Destiny, or Bungie and Activision care about making money. Likely both, because the audience endured a trailer for the latest, pricey expansion ($40!). Called The Taken King, the big bad Oryx, father of Crota, is assembling an top-notch ensemble of creatures to eliminate you, so naturally guardians must annihilate him first. Subtle, though who would refuse laser bows and more loot?

Because we require extra doses of murder, too, Assassin's Creed: Syndicate gave the limelight to Evie Frye, the more ... “persuasive” of the twins. She is a nightmare for London’s underground gangs. In 30 seconds, she executes no less than eight thugs with a smelting furnace, throwing knives, an automated hammer and anvil, and her awesome cane sword. She also looks good in the heat of battle, so maybe try not to piss her off, yeah? Evie and Jacob star in the downloadable Dreadful Crimes homicides based on famous detective novels.

Toning back on the blood and gore, Sony teased World of Final Fantasy, a chibi perception of the universe due out on the PS4 and Vita. A preview included familiar heroes and enemies, like Cloud and Magitek Armor, yet the game does portray the sibling main characters as humans (or what pass as humans in Final Fantasy) rather than just giant heads on toothpicks legs. If World of Final Fantasy merely retells the events of past installments, I’ll pass. Square Enix published that game already. It’s called Final Fantasy Record Keeper and features battles across all the core titles.

Sony hastily moved on to fulfill other desires that night: a Final Fantasy VII remake. I assumed that dream had become another industry white whale alongside Half-Life 3. I’m not ungrateful, of course. This news topped Sony’s conference for me, but I have reservations. I pray this remake does not go the way of The Last Guardian’s development hell. As someone who finds Final Fantasy VII hard to replay because it looks like ass and was poorly translated, I will devour any half-decent reimagining of Cloud's adventure should it, you know, release to the public.

Devolver Digital then unveiled a brief indie montage of the titles soon to appear on PS4s and Vitas:

Ronin takes the jumping mechanics of Gunpoint and stuffs them into a turn-based revenge simulator. It also plays up a heroine who wears a motorcycle helmet and wields a katana.

Eitr merges Diablo’s action-driven combat, pixel art, and Norse mythology into a package that seems to rival Dark Souls in difficulty.

Mother Russia Bleeds throws Double Dragon’s 2D brawler mechanics into a universe populated by gimps and zombies, and dripping more entrails than a Saw film. Time will tell if its body count can match Hotline Miami’s.

Crossing Souls is a strange one, lending itself poorly to meager seconds of video. An action adventure game at heart, however, the main characters must fight skeletons, high school rockstars, and angry Dobermans on the wildest summer vacation of their lives.

That was not even the most bizarre revelation of the conference. Everyone that works at Sony is secretly a genie, and on the audience’s third wish they conjured Shenmue III. I bet several admirers soiled themselves on the spot. The $2 million Kickstarter bewilders me, though. Fans will toss ridiculous gobs of cash at games to get them funded, and Sony says it is chipping in. Does that mean providing financial assistance and the manpower if necessary? A couple million dollars remains a pittance when stacked against the $70 million it cost to develop and market the original Shenmue.

And marketing DLC for next week’s release, Batman: Arkham Knight peeked behind the mask of a Scarecrow nightmare mission limited to the PS4. A run-of-the-mill stop at a diner turns deadly when the cop in control presumably succumbs to the Scarecrow’s fear gas. While he believes he is opening fire on emaciated undead overrunning the restaurant, my money says he just gunned down several innocent bystanders. Think happy thoughts, think happy thoughts.

The Morpheus segment of the event left some critics equally bitter. Andrew House rattled off future plans for the VR headset, like enabling local friends and family to share in the gameplay as you hog most of the fun for yourself, while games and demos (EVE Valkyrie, Godling, The Deep) played in the background.

Nonetheless, RIGS is the sole VR experience that secured an introduction. A 3v3 mecha shooter from Killzone: Mercenary’s developers, I hope the whole “eSports, Morpheus style” line is a gag. No one wants to compete professionally with an augmented reality toolkit strapped to their face. How many people can afford the equipment?

Regarding more optimistic news, Sony overcame PlayStation Vue’s hurdles. Residents in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and so on can sign up for individual TV channels, and Showtime and an undisclosed Machinima program will join the list of stations soon. PS+ subscribers earn a discount, too.

PlayStation owners also receive first dibs on maps for Call of Duty: Black Ops III, heralding a cooperative demo from Treyarch’s developers. After failing to rescue an ally from a crashed chopper, the video presented four people – each exercising special abilities – clearing a courtyard of walking tanks and cyber-enhanced soldiers. They even blew up and made enemies barf by pointing at them. Of course, they brought a skyscraper down, because set pieces. Capping off with multiplayer footage, Black Ops III still moves at a fluid pace when shooting robot bees and miniguns.

Out of nowhere, Sony treated the audience to a sizzle reel of third- and first-party titles: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, Until Dawn, Ratchet & Clank, and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain to name a few.

If you needed further reasons to spoil your kids (read: yourself), however, John Vignocchi pushed Disney Infinity 3.0's Rise Against the Empire playset, bundling in an exclusive Boba Fett figure. I can envision the overpriced eBay auctions now.

As for the Star Wars content I’m truly interested in, Battlefront – in its euphoric-looking glory – provided snippets of the new survival mode. Holding the line against AT-STs, shock troopers, and recon troopers while traversing a canyon’s complex trenches is the Horde experience I could sink hours into. I think I watched the video preview 30 times already. Send help, I can’t blink.

I couldn’t take my eyes away from Uncharted 4, either. Despite a rocky start, Drake and Sully’s utter ruination of another foreign country brought Sony's conference to a close. The two test the limits of the environmental destruction, putting many vendors’ stalls out of business. More than that, A Thief’s End puts the PS4’s power to impeccable use. Drake navigates his surroundings with a practiced elegance when sliding over cover or springboarding off attackers to access higher ground.

The demo also endorsed the series’ innate humor and self-awareness. Drake jumps off a ledge, superman punches a guard, and catches his pistol mid-air. “I’ll take that,” he quips. Later, Nate and Sully careen downhill in a stolen jeep, mocking Drake's questionable driving skills before he inevitably does something dumb and grapples to a moving crane. Probably not his most thought-out plan, but come on, we know he survives. 

Me, though? How does Sony expect me to withstand the wait when it has Horizon: Zero Dawn, No Man’s Sky, Uncharted 4, and a Final Fantasy VII remake poised for 2016 release dates or later? Yes, Sony paraded just as many, if not more trailers than Microsoft. Based on the games shown, on the other hand, Sony steals my ballot for E3 2015’s finest press conference. The demos had my attention, and Sony will have my money.  

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