Let's get it out of the way — The Last Of Us? Stellar E3 demo. Up there with Watch Dogs in terms of wow factor. But if the Sony conference had a three act structure, my review would be this: strong opening, middle act needed some work, many loose ends need tying up.
I love the general atmosphere of Sony conferences — Jack Tretton is far more comfortable on stage compared to Don Mattrick, the jokes come easier, they hit the mark. He's infinitely more watchable. This time, however, I could almost feel the padding. It took so long to get to the first video game... to the first anything for that matter!
Lucky, then, that the first 'thing' shown was David Cage's Beyond.
Beyond had a strange atmosphere. Tense. Once we heard the announcement that Ellen Page would be playing the main character it was straight into the demo. There was little 'gameplay', but the scene shown evoked a real sense of drama. It's safe to say that, whatever tech Quantic Dream is using, has evolved considerably since Heavy Rain. Performances have been elevated substantially.
Part of me was instantly disappointed, however, when the SWAT team showed up. Because I knew, instantly, that traditional action tropes were incoming. The rest of the Beyond's E3 demo felt like it could have been taken from any game shown at the conference — explosions, fire, destruction. I'm sure this isn't completely representative of the game as a whole but still, I had hoped to see more of how interactivity would actually work in Beyond.
PlayStation All-Stars was PlayStation All-Stars. A fun diversion featuring some neat PS Vita and PS3 integration but... nothing mindblowing. Assassin's Creed on Vita, with a female assassin — interesting enough, but given the track record of the PSP it'll be a hard sell for me personally. Handheld iterations of major franchises tend to feel non-canonical, and a bit derivative in my experience. A b-team game. I hope I'm proved wrong. The only exception to this rule I can think of is Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker.
But Assassin's Creed III. Wow. Just wow. Genuine, genuine game of the year contender.
Then the lacklustre middle act. Look, I understand that Sony needs to promote facets of its business outside of core games, but it felt as though the Wonderbook demo was aboout 10 minutes to long.
It's a high concept that we instantly understand — books brought to life. It never really felt like it needed any kind of live demonstration, particularly a dull one full of gaffes. I understand the potential here, and I really like the idea of pushing video games into more traditional types of entertainment. I get the mass appeal this brings to games, and the potential for education, but E3 didn't feel like the time, or the place, for such a lengthy demo.
Then God of War — interesting Blinx the Timesweeper mechanic, but not enough to distinguish a series that desperately needs reinventing. Gritty origin story doesn't work when the original story is insanely gritty to begin with. God of War by numbers — that's what it felt like.
That said, God of War is a tricky game to tinker with. We're talking about a game, like Halo, with a refined 30 seconds of fun core, a great sense of weight, and a pacing formula that works. I'd just like to see a little more risk I suppose.
The Last Of Us felt like the perfect way to round off the conference. In many ways it felt like a traditional E3 demo — gunplay, cinematic set pieces, stunning locale — but at the same time it felt a little subversive. Violence was predominant, but unlike Uncharted where the violence felt completely lightweight and inconsequential, The Last Of Us felt far weightier and real. Silent takedowns weren't a matter of simply snapping necks, the process was far more elongated and brutal. The final shot, where the protagonist fires a shotgun at the face of a downed enemy, didn't elicit laughter, it drew gasps. Violence in this game is constant, but feels more meaningful and contextual.
I very much liked what I saw.
In the end Sony's E3 conference was defined by what wasn't shown — no The Last Guardian, precious few Vita games, no new hardware.
That's two for two. Both Microsoft and Sony have disappointed so far. Here's hoping Nintendo will have something more interesting to show.