Explosions, flames and bombast galore as Sony announces very little at its E3 2017 press conference
Sony’s annual E3 showcase is usually one of the biggest draws of the entire conference; a cavalcade of games, developers and speakers highlighting the year ahead for the PlayStation platforms. By that measure, this year was decidedly unusual.
Sony opened the show with bombast – live music performed on traditional Indian instrument and a stunning background of flowing water art flowed into a new look at Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, a spin-off of the core Uncharted games. Focused on the characters Chloe Frazer and Nadine Ross, the cinematic trailer saw the pair on the hunt for ancient treasure in India, before revealing the release date of August 22.
It lead into a similarly grandiose trailer for Horizon: Zero Dawn’sfirst story DLC, The Frozen Wilds – a visually incredible return to the open world of protagonist Aloy’s post-apocalyptic future world, but the glimpse was again cinematic, and only a 2017 release window was given. Days Gone followed, this at least offering some new gameplay footage of the zombie themed survival horror first revealed at last year’s E3 and showing signs of ingenuity beyond its genre-mates, allowing players to use undead hordes as a diversion against human enemies.
Then, a pause. Was this trio of trailers meant as a sneak peek at some of Sony’s biggest games to warm the crowd up before the real show began? It was not. More trailers followed – one reveal for Capcom’s Monster Hunter World, a 4K iteration of its perennially popular action RPG due to arrive early next year; another for a remake of PS2 classic Shadow of the Colossus. Crossover beat-’em-up Marvel vs Capcom Infinite got to share a story trailer and the news that a free demo is available on the PlayStation Store now, while Call of Duty: WWII – Activision’s return to the time period for its annual shooter – dropped a suitably explosive video.
All the while, stagecraft was Sony’s friend. Bursts of actual flame shot up during the Monster Hunter trailer, so large and powerful that the heat could be felt in the stands. The CoD: WWII trailer was accompanied by staged explosions, timed to grenades or bomb drops onscreen, while performers descended from the rafters, mimicking the dead bodies ominously hanging in one part of Days Gone’s showcase.
It was pure theatre (fitting, as the conference was held in Los Angeles’ Shrine Auditorium) and kept the crowd thoroughly engrossed – enough that many didn’t realise Sony wasn’t actually showing them anything.
At this point, Shawn Layden, chairman of Sony Interactive Entertainment Worldwide Studios, graced the stage, praising fans and the games industry alike, before the program shifted to yet more trailers. It was now PlayStation VR’s turn – a reveal of Skyrim VR, a fishing game spin-off for Final Fantasy XV titled Monsters of the Deep, and new games Star Child, a curious sci-fi platformer; The Inpatient, a psychological horror; Bravo Team, a military shooter; and Moss, a platformer where you control a brave young mouse, and which bares an uncanny resemblance to the comic Mouse Guard.
And so the show continued, trailer after trailer. At no point did a single developer take the stage to talk about their games, or explain what audiences had just seen. Is Shadow of the Colossus a straight-up remake of the original, or a complete rebuild, a lá Final Fantasy VII Remake? Is Skyrim VR really the full Skyrim experience, or a version trimmed down for virtual reality? What will The Frozen Wilds consist of, other than snow-covered robot dinosaurs? For those watching the conference, the answer is “who knows?”, because Sony opted for spectacle over insight.
There were slivers of information to be found – a Destiny 2 trailer revealed the game will receive PlayStation-exclusive content, including the ‘Lake of Shadows’ strike mission, an exotic weapon called Borealis, and in-game gear, while a clip for Detroit: Become Human showcased what Heavy Raindeveloper Quantic Dreams’ next game is actually about: android slaves revolt, claiming their own autonomy in a corporate-owned future, and where every decision you make as the messianic leader of the uprising affects the outcome of the story. A closing look at developer Insomniac’s Spider-Man game, due out 2018, also provided some genuine information, showing the superhero’s powers in action and confirming that Miles Morales – the new, younger Spider-Man – will also appear in the game. Sadly, such detail was rare elsewhere.
But it wasn’t only clarity on what exactly Sony was pitching to viewers this year that was missing. Also notable by absence was any sign of indie games, a sector that’s traditionally been well-represented by the company at E3. The usual collection of quirky, inventive, colourful titles that often balanced out the publishing schedule with more offbeat games were nowhere to be seen this year.
Ultimately, this felt like an off year for Sony. Most of the new games revealed were actually remakes or ports (Skyrim VR, Shadow of the Colossus) or gave no real information on what they were (the majority of the VR line up). What was left was an unbalanced focus on big-budget games that had already been revealed. A big, flashy, show that lacked heart and soul.