Thoughts on Sony’s E3 2016 presentation

Games, games, games – it was an unusually fat-free presentation from Sony this year at E3. The only detour they took was to announce the release date and price for PS VR, but again that was swiftly followed by VR games. The stream of quality AAA games shown off spoke volumes for the strength Sony possesses in its Worldwide Studios (SWS). The new God of War from Santa Monica, Horizon: Zero Dawn from Guerrilla, Days Gone from Bend, Detroit: Become Human from Quantic Dream are all in-house IPs that aren’t going to be appearing anywhere else. SWS is the best weapon Sony has in the platform wars, and it looks to be adding momentum to PS4’s runaway success. There were few fillers. No indie game montages, no grandstanding from Sony execs, not even developers playing through live demos on stage (instead, they were discreetly tucked away to the side). Favourite moment was the new trailer for the long-awaited The Last Guardian (another 1st party effort), whose music and washed out visuals gave me chills. It wouldn’t be Sony at E3 without some weird moments, though, and they were duly delivered by – who else? – Hideo Kojima with the trailer for Death Stranding. It will receive attention for bringing back Norman Reedus from the Silent Hills debacle, but I noted some Berserk influence with the five eery figures floating in the air.

There were no ‘one more thing’ gotcha moments, but a few things stood out. One was when Kratos steps out from the shadows to reveal that the trailer was for God of War. The ‘gameplay’ looked heavily scripted and somewhat inspired by The Last of Us, but as God of War 3 has shown, what we see at E3 can be misleading. Another game that had more than a whiff of Naughty Dog’s masterpiece was Days Gone, but it distinguished itself with World War Z-esque zombie action that looked very fun to play. The other major surprise was Resident Evil VII. It looked for all intents and purposes a promising VR horror experience, but the reveal was a tantalizing hint of the venerable series going back to its roots and even beyond.

Now for some speculation: Playstation Neo was rumoured for a long time, before Andrew House confirmed its existence in an interview with Financial Times just before E3. Yesterday Microsoft came out with the news that a potentially very powerful Xbox upgrade, named Project Scorpio, will be released in late 2017. The timing of House’s interview, as well as the sheer concise nature of Sony’s presentation, leads one to conjecture whether Microsoft’s plans for console upgrade has impacted Sony’s, perhaps forcing the latter to pull Neo announcement from the show. If Microsoft’s claims about Scorpio hold true, Neo as currently rumoured is going to be a considerably weaker hardware. If both companies are going to release the upgrades I don’t think Sony can afford to release theirs at a big graphical disadvantage (not after they have so enjoyed the fruits of such an upper hand with PS4). Certainly the performance improvement promised by Scorpio is aggressive and surprising, and you have to wonder how Microsoft is going to price it. AMD’s Zen APUs and Polaris GPUs may enable both companies to bring out relative powerhouses at competitive prices, but it may be that Sony was taken aback by the leap Microsoft plans to take with Scorpio. Interesting times.

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