E3 2017: Rating Sony’s Conference

Sony began its conference in a similarly high-brow fashion to last year, with a cold open and a bit of live music. This time, there was a wonderfully Asian flavor to proceedings, with a sort of psychedelic water feature on the screen behind the musicians. The frippery was kept to a minimum, though (a theme of the conference) as the music soon led straight into the first of this year’s trailers. And it was a good one, too. We got an extended look at Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, with a sequence that showed off both the remarkably cinematic nature of the game’s story and some pretty impressive-looking gameplay too.
Following on from that game came another impending 2017 release. Horizon Zero Dawn’s first DLC, The Frozen Wilds, looks to add more of that lovely open world adventuring people loved, only, you know…snowier. There wasn’t much detail, but it seems the add-on will bring back Aloy and her robot-dinosaur buddies, with a story concerning a giant crumbling mountain of some sort. Fascinating.
The triple-strike opening salvo was completed with some further gameplay footage of Bend’s don’t-call-them-zombies survival adventure Days Gone. We got another look at those extraordinary in-game visuals and a greater feel for how narrative focused the game is. There was also a little more detail on how the game will play, seemingly allowing the player to tackle situations in various ways in a manner similar to, say, a Far Cry. We were also treated to some motorbike travel, a QTE-driven combat encounter, and some actual swinging bodies of actual people, actually swinging, live in the auditorium, in a totally unnecessary bit of performance art.

Shawn Layden hit the nail on the head as he strode out onto the stage to interrupt the flow only briefly. “It’s all about the games,” he said, and that seemed about right. That’s been Sony’s mantra since the start of this generation, after all. He went on to emphasize PlayStation as “home to the biggest franchises” mentioning the brand partnerships that have become increasingly important to Sony’s marketing strategy.
Then, a fresh assault. And if the previous three games were impressive looking but mostly expected, the next couple were genuine surprises. Monster Hunter World sort of snuck up on the audience: for a while, it wasn’t altogether obvious what was going on, as a vaguely anime-looking fellow with a sizeable sword wandered around a densely forested area, foraging, scavenging and fighting creatures. But then the size of creatures he began to encounter increased markedly until suddenly, he was taking down a huge tyrannosaurus-type beast using what looked like his harpoons and tow cables. In truth, the textures looked a little muddy alongside some of the other stuff we saw in the show, and there was a feeling of clunkiness that was hard to ignore. Nevertheless, if Capcom can bring the series’ rightly lauded gameplay to PS4—and I’m especially thinking of the challenging and wildly fun co-op experience here—then this could find a sizable audience.
If Monster Hunter’s reveal was unexpected, then the next game was one level above even that. A Shadow of the Colossus remake was the last thing many (myself included) were expecting, and re-visiting a game considered by many to be their favorite of all time is definitely a gamble, but having seen the footage, I think it makes logical sense to introduce this masterpiece to a whole new generation of gamers, especially in the current climate, where indie quirkiness is appreciated perhaps more than ever. Graphically accomplished, and crucially possessing of that beautiful Team Ico art direction which is so important to the game’s essence, this could really shine on release next year, providing no childhoods get stepped on in the process.
Then, a deluge of less exciting stuff. Which I suppose shouldn’t include Call of Duty: WW2, because millions of people really do care about the franchise. But there isn’t much to say about the gameplay shown apart from that it looked slick and polished in the way you’d expect from a Call of Duty trailer. Marvel Vs. Capcom: Infinite showed that even in a genre where silly stories are de rigueur, a fighting game can still rise above the rest and surprise you with the sheer ridiculousness of the nonsense it calls a coherent narrative. But hey, it sure was colorful! After that came a wave of PlayStation VR games, kicked off by a version of Skyrim that is definitely showing its age. Other VR games ranged from the weird (A Final Fantasy XV virtual fishing game called Monster of the Deep) to the quirky (a cute mouse with a sword game called Moss). There was some other, less remarkable stuff too, but Sony didn’t dwell on them, so neither will I.

After that brief interlude of guff, it was back to the big names with God Of War. Following on from the unexpected trailer shown at last year’s show, this was another excellent gameplay showcase. This new look reiterated that this will be a much more story-focused game than previous outings, but also showed a bunch more combat, too. Meaty and brutal, it certainly looked up to the series’ high standards. Early 2018 was the rough date given, and for fans of the series, that can’t come soon enough.

Robot slavery liberation simulator Detroit: Become Human got a longer, more in-depth trailer which showed off the third playable character, Markus, and some of the game’s branching story options. As expected from Quantic Dream, the decisions you make look to shape your individual experience in a big way: will you use violence to free your android brethren, or enact real change by peaceful means? There’s probably no rush to make your mind up, as no release date was given. Again.
The fact that Destiny 2 is coming isn’t news, so alongside the new footage shown, Sony took the opportunity to hammer home the sentiment that Bungie’s upcoming sequel is best played on its family of consoles. Exclusive content in the form of gear, a PvP map, and a Strike, were all highlighted, cementing PlayStation’s status as the true home of Destiny for many players, despite its upcoming venture onto the platform that birthed online multiplayer and the FPS genre, PC.

After a final Shawn Layden interlude, and with the conference barely approaching the 50-minute mark, it was time for what most would argue was the Sony’s jewel in the crown this year: Spider-Man. The impeccable trailer was the centerpiece of the whole presentation, the ten-ish minute long chunk of gameplay on display utterly mesmerizing. The section of the story shown gave us a look at the combat system, which had more than a bit of the flavor of the recent Batman games in its execution, with its flagging-up of incoming attacks (a visual representation of Parker’s spider sense, I assume) feeling particularly Arkham-like. Towards the end, a breathtaking sequence with a helicopter was high on dramatic spectacle (and QTEs), and showed-off the traversal system, which, joyously, seemed to take cues from the fondly remembered Spider-Man 2 on PS2. If Insomniac can blend influences from such excellent titles into this game in the skilled way we’d expect from such a top-tier studio, we could have a classic on our hands. This impressive showing will have put the game right at the top of many peoples’ best-in-show lists, make no mistake about that—it was the perfect mic-drop finish to a thoroughly well-executed conference.
If the Microsoft presentation was more assured than in recent years, then Sony took confidence to the next level here. It was a thoroughly assertive display from top to bottom, and despite there being arguably less shocks and big moments than last year’s showing (the conference only just hit an hour in its entirety), it’s clear that Sony is comfortable enough to let its lineup of exclusives, and third party partnerships speak for themselves. The necessary focus-shift from far out releases to mainly content coming this year and next inevitably took a little of the dazzle off the finish, but overall, this was a presentation from a company extremely happy with it current performance, with nothing at all to prove.

Rating: 8/10

Andy is a freelance writer for Game With Your Brain. You can follow him on Twitter.