The Sony Gamescom Conference 2013
If the console wars were a great deal more literal rather than a buzz-term used by journalists to make competing companies sound more exciting rather than terribly, terribly boring, then after E3, Microsoft would have been just about ready to start waving the white flags. Since being dealt a critical blow and with their support now diminished so badly, they’ve been struggling to keep a steady supply of soldiers to recruit to their side, and their actions since have only made them look more desperate. Almost every detestable feature of the Xbox One (otherwise known as the Xbone, which just makes me think of a dog trying desperately to kick-flip off a half-pipe while drinking a sponsor’s energy drink. Keegan and Ric agree that the dog’s a Beagle) has since been scrapped, downplayed, or U-Turned on so viciously that Vin Diesel’s thinking of casting Microsoft’s PR team for the next Fast and the Furious. Meanwhile, Sony’s been revelling in positive attention thanks to their dedication to Indies and the fact they haven’t been ridiculously moustache-twiddlingly evil from the off-set. With the build-up to the next battle fast-approaching, the Japanese super-giant rallied the troops for another effort and showcased exactly why you should be waving their flag this holiday season.
If there’s one element of our console and gaming experience that really matters but sounds absolutely mental when explaining it to a normal person who doesn’t bleed pixels, it’s the user-interface. So with demand to see how the hub works for the Playstation 4 apparently so high, Sony felt that it was the best opener to their conference, and to explain it in the most technical way I can, it doesn’t look awful. At the very least, it seems far more user-friendly than its predecessors, or the Xbox 360′s since they decided to pander to the Kinect crowd and force everyone else to dance to the same tune whether they wanted to or not.
To many, the ability to instantly upload video is a must-have feature, and one which Sony were looking to court the myriad of YouTubers and Let’s Players with (if you’ve never seen one before, imagine someone who sounds like your old Geography teacher monotonously talking over a game they’re playing badly, and you’ve saved yourself the time and mental anguish of actually having to watch one). Admittedly, I found myself far more enamoured with the fact you could also use it to take a screen-shot of whatever is in your view at that particular time; it saves the pain of having to look up interesting screenies for articles and hopefully highlight some hilarious bugs into the bargain. What actually sent the crowd hollering and whooping was that you can view a live video of your friend playing and – if you have a copy of the same game and they’re in multiplayer – join them near-instantly.
As the crowd died down, the presentation kept the ground running with the swansong content for the Playstation 3 as it approaches its eighth year with a release date and a preview trailer for pretentious car sim Gran Turismo 6. According to the stage spiel, it’s so realistic that car manufacturers have used it to design playable concept cars, with a view to actually putting some into real-life production. The trailer itself was so po-faced and so absolutely serious that I couldn’t help but start laughing a little, and continued with the confirmation of a Gran Turismo movie which, when I last heard about it, was supposedly being produced by the same people behind the upcoming Fifty Shades of Grey adaptation. There’s a joke about fanwank in there somewhere.
Media Molecule aren’t just hitting us with the beautiful Tearaway, but Littlebigplanet is making a return with a free-to-play hub that’ll allow you to enjoy the make-your-own platformer free of charge, as long as you don’t want certain features or costumes. As my mind drifted with thoughts of DLC to unlock Stephen Fry’s lilting voice, the discussion moved to the struggling Vita, which is now receiving mega-packs – collections of must-have titles for one affordable price – a port of gun-collection simulator Borderlands 2 and a long-awaited and inevitable price drop to $199 and the same in euros, with no mention of the cost in Pounds Sterling, so expect to be slightly shafted if you live in the British Isles. There was also some talk of GTA V and a bundled console, but I could swear we’d already heard the exact same announcement back in June.
The Vita also received a couple of welcome boosts with two new exclusive titles, one the weirdly-artistic and Burton-esquely creepy Murasaki Baby – an adventure featuring an infant with her mouth and eyes in the opposite places controlled exclusively via the touch-screen. It looks like it could be quite inventive, but I wonder if it’s going to end up just like launch title The Escape Plan – unique art-style, touch-screen-only controls and almost instantly forgotten after release. What interested me far more was Big Fest, a free-to-play festival management simulator with every player aiming to put on the most popular shows possible; not just for the gameplay heavily reminiscent of Theme Park, but because all of the musical acts the players can choose from are unsigned, with the implication that players rallying around certain artists could help get them become the next music sensation as a result. It’s rather unclear whether that involves the more popular acts being signed to a record label or the idea that the free exposure is enough, but I could easily imagine myself whiling away the hours on it more than most of the other titles they ended up showcasing.
Sony’s commitment to aiding the Indies wasn’t just confined to the musicians but developers too, as a litany of titles old and new were announced to have console or handheld-exclusive debuts on the Playstation 4 and the Vita, including Rogue Legacy, The Binding of Isaac, N++, Hotline Miami 2, Guns of Icarus, Vlambeer’s Wasteland Kings and Mike Bithell’s Volume. Fans of walking around empty environments with vague hints of story and nothing interesting ever happening will find themselves in luck thanks to Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture, brought to us from the makers of Dear Esther.
There were also announcements from Tequila Works and a cross-platform adventure from the developers of Magicka, as well as a shoot ‘em up called Res0gun and something called Shadow of the Beast, but at this point I became acutely aware that all of the conferences I’ve attended this year thus far have had a deluge of titles revealed with only a few seconds of gameplay or a cut-scene that told you absolutely nothing about what it was. It’s all well and good telling us that something is going to release on your console, but when all you’ve got is a name, less than half a minute of gameplay or a short animated trailer, you can’t reasonably expect people to get hyped. with that in mind, I’d like to suggest a new rule: any title revealed at a conference has to come with at least a minute of non-interrupted gameplay just so we know what the bloody hell it is and how it’s played so we can actually bring ourselves to care.
However, this plan was almost-immediately broken by The Playroom, which I wish I hadn’t actually seen anything of and incidentally want immediately wiped from my mind thanks to the slew of gurning faces and people pretending the Eyetoy wasn’t totally played out when it was released ten years ago. In truth, I don’t actually see what the point of it is but, if you’re feeling curious, it comes pre-installed to the console. Infamous: Second Son followed with yet another trailer that only vaguely hinted at what you could do and showed such a paltry amount of gameplay and I’ve retrospectively forgotten what the first two in the series even were. While I’d started drifting off at this point, my interest was briefly restored with the news that Sony were partnering up with broadband providers so that they would dedicate bandwidth specifically for gaming, aiming to prevent connection speeds being throttled and allowing the multiple social features of the PS4 to be used unhindered.
Unfortunately, the footage of Killzone: Shadowfall and Assassin’s Creed 4 proved to be so overwhelmingly dull that I opted to waste all my lives in Candy Crush Saga instead. My interest was briefly piqued with the announcement that you could play the latter, and indeed most Playstation 4 titles remotely with the Vita, completely stealing the Wii U’s Off-TV play feature wholesale – albeit for a cost equivalent to buying two of the fledgling Nintendo console – but dropped off the map again when it was revealed the Sony-exclusive mission was an awkward attempt to shoehorn in the main character from that Assassin’s Creed on the Vita that nobody played.
More console-exclusive content from Ubisoft included four missions and a hacking boost in the upcoming Watch_Dogs, complete with an announcement of a feature film from Sony Pictures and another trailer that showed barely any gameplay, further re-enforcing my convictions that it’s probably going to be an eight out of ten at best, no matter how much I really want it to be good. There was another inevitable announcement with the news that Minecraft was coming to the Playstation 4, and a video revealing Wargaming competitor War Thunder will also be available at launch. With the aforementioned Watch_Dogs and Assassin’s Creed launching on both Playstation 3 and 4 players may be forgiven for wondering why they should buy one version over the other, but if you’re the type of player who wants both, some titles bought on for the older console will allow players to buy a digital copy for the newer one at a heavily reduced price for a limited time only.
Finally, the long-awaited release dates for the Playstation 4 were revealed, with Sony’s newest competitor arriving on the 15th November in America and the 29th in Europe, alongside a couple of choice swipes at Microsoft’s constant U-Turning and another debilitating blow in the form of over a million pre-orders worldwide, which is all the more impressive when you take into account previous reports that it’s been out-doing the Xbox One at a ratio of over four to one. Although, as the conference drew to a close, I wasn’t fixating on what had been shown, but what hadn’t been shown; Puppeteer wasn’t even mentioned despite its release next month, Beyond wasn’t shown despite its impending release, the wonderful Tearaway wasn’t discussed in any detail either here or during the E3 conference, and previously-announced titles like Rain and Until Dawn seem to have fallen off of the radar entirely. Even though the focus on their future console proved to be a big hit, it’s a shame it had to come at the expense of the Playstation 3′s swan songs.
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