E3 '09: Day One – Sony Keynote

June 2, 2009 § 2 Comments

Great conference from Sony, all-in-all. Despite Microsoft’s surprise unveiling of Natal – and, along with it, those incredible promises from Peter Molyneux – Sony put up a great fight. There were some, frankly, amazing looking games on display, sequels from franchises most gamers know and love, as well as Sony’s Johnny-come-lately entry into motion control.

God of War 3, Gran Turismo 5, The Last Guardian (Team ICO’s new game, formerly known as “Trico”) and Uncharted 2: Among Thieves lined Sony’s crown of exclusive titles, all of which looked graphically stunning. There was also gameplay footage present for Final Fantasy XIII and Assassins Creed 2, with another unexpected announcement from Square-Enix: Final Fantasy XIV Online – presumably a sequel to their previous MMO, Final Fantasy XI, and exclusive to the PS3 platform.

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Aside from some AAA quality titles previewed, Sony spent a great deal of time on re-emphasising their commitment to the handheld market and the PSP platform. The PSP Go was, at long last, officially unveiled to the public. However, since the details of the new platform were leaked before E3 even started there was very little to be surprised about. Kaz Hirai, president of SCE, did, however, raise two points of interest: one, the PSP Go will not replace the older PSP models but will, instead, sell alongside them as an alternative; and two, it will retail for 249 dollars or 249 euros in Europe (we get screwed again). It still hasn’t cleared up my scepticism in regards to where exactly the PSP Go fits within the general scheme of the portable marketplace (and within the PlayStation brand). In any case, it’s way overpriced.

Sony didn’t just stop with the PSP Go, though; in a show of support they revealed three very high-profile new titles for the PSP platform: Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, Resident Evil Portable and Gran Turismo PSP. As a PSP owner and fan of each and every one of the aforementioned series, I am totally stoked to hear about all this. We didn’t see anything of Resident Evil Portable, but Gran Turismo and Peace Walker both looked fantastic. I was very impressed by Peace Walker in particular; it really looks like Kojima is taking care of this game – not as an offshoot, side-story or spin-off of the main series, but as a high-quality title in itself that deserves its own place in the Metal Gear Solid canon.

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Jack Trenton, executive vice-president, also went so far as to emphasis the PS3’s online capabilities and the potential for community-created content; ModNations Racers was shown as case-in-point. In the game, users can customise their avatar, their motor and create and upload their own custom tracks online. The kart racing looked alright, but the real beef here is the track creation toolkit, which looked both comprehensive and highly accessible. Trenton also mentioned continually the same old guff about PlayStation Home and how the games exclusive to PS3 could only be made on PS3. (Pfft, whatever, Jack.)

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My favourite part of the conference and possible E3 so far, is probably when these two engineers came up on stage to demonstrate a very early in development prototype of Sony’s up-and-coming motion sensor “wand” thinga-ma-jig. In essence, it looked and operated like an advanced version of Nintendo’s Wii Remote, but instead of using an external wireless sensor, the bobble end of the wand is synched with the Sony PS3 camera. There was at least one key benefit, though, that I could pick out: the accuracy was way better on this thing and was much faster to pick up bodily responses. (As far as I could tell, there was no noticeable lag at all.)

What won the crowd over, I think, was this, though: there were these two guys on stage – honest, humble and, obviously, very anxious about being in front of such a terrifying number of people – and for a while it looked like this was going to be an extremely awkward moment. One guy looked like he was choking back on his own bile and the other hung nervously close to him. When the demo got going, however, things started to change and they seemed to loosen-up a bit. They started to enjoy demonstrating this new toy they had to show us, and, what’s more than that, it wasn’t some bullshit sales talk from a script; it was just two engineers, obviously quite pleased with what they were working on and happy to show it to us. It was probably the freshest, least contrived moment of the conference so far.

The demonstration was impressive from a technical standpoint, as were the demos being shown. Unfortunately, the whole thing did come off as a knee-jerk reaction to Microsoft’s unveiling of Natal. You do get the impression that they saw Microsoft’s conference and thought, “Oh shit, we need something to show here.” I think it’s pretty clear that Sony would have preferred not to show their hand so early in the game, given a choice

Having said all that, it was a consistently good conference. There were plenty of announcements, trailers and gameplay footage to keep things rolling at a decent pace, and given that I hold Sony as a highly arrogant company, contemptuous of their Western customers, I can’t really fault anything they’ve said. I still think they’re overshooting the mark with the PSP Go’s price, but, for once, I’m actually a little jealous of what PS3 owners have to look forward to in the next twelve months.

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