Gamescom: The Sony Conference

Each of gaming’s big three held court in Los Angeles this year. Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony each presented their visions for the future of gaming at E3, after which, many agreed that Sony had given the best accounting of themselves.  Here in Cologne however, things are different. Nintendo and Microsoft have both abstained from Gamescom, leaving Sony to reign over proceedings alone. With memories of their E3 conference still fresh, however, they needed to change things up to keep everyone interested.  So they did.

In contrast to the heavily PS3 biased E3 conference, their focus here was almost entirely on the Playstation Vita. Their powerful handheld console has struggled to gain the sort of sales expected of it and has, at times, been outsold by the now very dated PSP, yet Sony have forged on, and judging by their Gamescom conference, their efforts are starting to bear fruit.  Starting out with what is sure to be one of their most steadfast sellers in the coming months, LittleBigPlanet Vita, they ran through some of the games that the console could expect to see within the next few months and touched upon a few big names on the way.

Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation was arguably the star of the show for a time, showing off both the high quality graphics and fluid gameplay that has come to be expected in an Assassin’s Creed title. It also had the bonus of flaunting the first female hero in the series.  Liberation’s hold on the gold was quickly lost however, when two members of Media Molecule (of LittleBigPlanet fame) took the stage to announce the company’s brand new IP – a surprise that no one saw coming. Over the next ten minutes the crowd was treated to a look into their new game, Tearaway.

Set in a world made of paper, with a protagonist whose head is a letter, the game seems comfortably placed to make the best use of the Vita’s many features that we’ve seen yet. With sequences of events such as swipes of the screen to open up the environment and shouts from the player used as attacks, it is clear that the game was designed to show off just what the Vita could do and it does so extremely competently. One point, where the player shoved his fingers into the game world through the use of the back touch pad was both ingenious and very memorable. With the intensely creative minds of the folk at Media Molecule throwing themselves into making this game as awesome as possible, it is sure to be one of Sony’s big sellers in the future.

Before they finished with the Vita section, there was another big announcement. Sony explained that with their new cross-buy system, you could buy a game for the PS3 and get the game for the Vita free. This created a stir, as it meant that some of the biggest games that Sony have planned for release in the coming months were involved; Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale and Ratchet and Clank among them.

Closing their PS Vita section with the announcement of Killzone Mercenary they also let everyone know that they had set their eye on mobile gaming, with Playstation Mobile. This seems to be a distribution platform for mobile games that gives developers a bit of extra oomph behind their game. No one seemed particularly interested, so Sony moved onto some more familiar ground – the PS3. After a brief exultation over the virtues of Playstation Plus and the Playstation network, they showed off the Wonderbook. It looked like more of the same from there, but as everyone was getting comfortable for the long haul, Sony pounced, announcing a new, more mature, game for the Wonderbook.

Diggs Nightcrawler combines some fairytale favourites with the noire setting that Rockstar made everyone fall so madly in love with. It was a little bizarre at first to see a game about death and a grizzled private investigator (who is also a worm) on a platform that is so obviously aimed towards children, but it took only a few moments of Diggs’ dialogue before I was completely sold. The game’s tongue is firmly lodged in its own cheek, which is evident from the moment Diggs begins talking about his first case – Humpty Dumpty. He briefly explains the situation surrounding Humpty Dumpty’s death, before launching into some cracking egg puns (I’m not sorry). The game gives the vibe that it’s not taking itself too seriously, and may well find a following. I certainly wouldn’t mind playing it.

After that the new IPs just kept coming – three of them in a row. Until Dawn is a Playstation Move game, which seemed to take the worst parts of teen culture and put them into a survival horror title. Even worse than the fact you’d be playing a game about whiny teenagers is the fact that you’d be using the Playstation Move to do so, and some of the actions it seems you can do with it. Using the Move to strip down a teenager anyone?  The next title announced was almost the antithesis of the teenage horror slash that proceeded it. Thoughtful and arty, Rain looked like an interesting game, and making your main character invisible will always be a slightly bizarre move. Granted, the game is endlessly raining, but still. The jury is still out, however, over whether it will be worthy of a place in Sony’s rapidly growing portfolio of so-called art games.

Another worthy addition may well come in the form of Puppeteer, a game about a boy who is, surprise surprise, turned into a puppet. Though hardly an original premise, it does present some interesting ideas; I liked the fact that the entire game would take place wholly on a single stage, with the environments changing around the character. A simple concept, but it would really work well with the whole puppet dynamic.

At this point the auditorium was flush with excitement. What a triumphant way to end. Three new IPs in a row, five in total and the crowd had eaten up every single one of them. Sony had put forth an excellent conference, ended on a high note and had impressed everyone. Surely it was now time to leave. Nope. Sony wasn’t quite done with us yet. First we had to see more video of The Last of Us which, in fairness, is an exciting new IP that Sony (understandably) keep building up.

Then however, the moment we had been dreading arrived. Everyone had breathed a sigh of relief when it was mentioned only in passing earlier in the show, but it seemed we had been tricked. There was no escaping Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified. The first CoD game on a Sony handheld (though not an any handheld, as they would like us to believe) looked distinctly sub-par. It was clearly a CoD game: guns blazed, people fell over and there were declarations that there would be multiplayer. That was the peak however.  Graphically the game was disappointing to say the least, and though multiplayer would be available, it was overshadowed by the tiny game sizes. Both issues, combined with the fact that it is yet another CoD game, meant that people couldn’t care less about it, and left the conference feeling slightly confused as to why they had closed with it.

Although they gave into the faceless masses at the end, Sony actually provided plenty to look forward to in the coming months. Games like Tearaway, Rain and Puppeteer all looked exciting, and just the fact that they announced five new and unexpected IPs in a single show just goes to prove that Sony are still committed to creating fantastic and exciting games for their consumers to enjoy. It may have started with a bang and ended with a whimper, but it was still an enjoyable exhibition of the games that are coming to both the PS3 and PS Vita in the coming months. It’s just a pity that we were left with the lingering image of the dull grey shooter rather than the colourful excitement of a new IP.




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2 Comments

  1. MarkuzR says:

    Two years in a row, Sony killed the opposition at E3. Two years in a row, I didn’t attend the conference at Gamescom and wish I had at least been there, although it obviously wouldn’t have given me any more insight than I have here from this. I do love what Sony are doing though and, even though my console of choice is the Xbox 360, I have nothing against Sony themselves… I just got the 360 first and haven’t taken the time to really delve into our PS3.

    The Vita though… damn, I love that machine. Loved it when I first held it at E3 2011 and loved it even more when I finally had one of my own. The tech is incredible, the build quality is as you’d expect from a Sony handheld but the games just keep surprising me. I haven’t played LBP yet, and that’s solely because it’s a PS3 thing, but when it comes out on Vita I’ll be all over it. I love the thought of everything here, except maybe Battle Royale as I’m not mad keen on fighting games.

    Great coverage though mate, seriously; well done.

  2. Edward says:

    Keegan, your coverage was second to none, and I know this because I was right next to you making silly jokes the entire time :D

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