E3 2009: Sony Impressions

By Andrew Shin

Last week I shared my impressions on Microsoft’s and Nintendo’s E3 media briefings. Today I cover Sony’s media briefing. So let’s get to it.

Jack Tretton, President and CEO of SCEA (Sony Computer Entertainment of America) was the MC for the entire media briefing. Jack always puts on a good show in my opinion. He keeps it simple, to the point and limits the jokes. Jack started with an introduction telling the media crowd that he was thankful people showed up to the briefing considering all of the media leaks that had gone on leading up to E3. This comment got a good chuckle from the crowd. He also touched on some light sales figures and stated that 2009 would be Sony’s best year ever. I’ll reserve judgement on this statement at the conclusion of this article.

First up on the agenda was the PS2. Jack mentioned the recently lowered price point at $99 (US) and that the PS2 outsold nextgen consoles in the month of April. Not sure if that is a good point to be made considering that also means it outsold the PS3. Isn’t the focus to sell more PS3s? He also stated that Sony is committed to the PS2 as long as consumers want it. Committed indeed as Sony has plans for 100 new PS2 titles over the course of the year. Jack then went on to say “today’s PS2 owners are ultimately tomorrow’s PS3 consumers". I’m sure Sony is hoping this happens sooner than later.

Next Jack touched on the PS3 with some console sales figures. Specific points made were that sales grew 40% in fiscal 2008; global install base is currently at 22 million and sales in Latin America tripled in 2008. All fairly impressive numbers that show the PS3 has been gaining momentum over the past year. In addition, Jack mentioned that the PSN had grown to 24 million members worldwide.

With all the numbers boasting out of the way, the best part was to commence. The games. It began with a few exclusives. First Jack touched on inFAMOUS and that it is one of 35 exclusive titles in 2009. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was announced next along with a demo of the single player campaign. As I watched the demo it was apparent that Naughty Dog didn’t miss a beat with this game. The visuals look great and the gameplay action is a good mixture of intensity and exploration. This is without a doubt going to be one of the titles that will bring the PS3 success this year. MAG (Massive Action Game) by Zipper Interactive was demoed as well. This is another game that I’m eagerly looking forward to. Being a big fan of online FPS gaming (my favourites right now are COD 4: Modern Warfare and Killzone 2) I was in awe of the sheer massiveness presented in MAG. To be able to have an online game with 256 players just seems ridiculously awesome...yes ‘awesome’ is the only way I could describe it.

The PSP was touched on for a brief moment where Jack talked about its media capabilities such as internet radio and compatibility with Skype. He also ran off a number of new games in its line up for 2009 includes Rock Band Unplugged, Assassin’s Creed: Bloodlines and a Hannah Montana bundle to which the crowd humourously applauded. Jack then went on to introduce Kaz Hirai the President and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment.

This was the portion of the briefing where Kaz introduced the PSP go. Obviously the PSP go was one of the worst kept secrets leading up to E3. The important thing to note as Kaz mentioned was that the PSP go would not replace the PSP 3000 and the UMD media format. Sony’s intention is to support and sell both systems. The positioning for the PSP go was described as being for consumers that live a digital lifestyle. I suppose that means those of us who are constantly on the go (no pun intended) and want to be able to have a portable device that will give us access to all our digital entertainment needs from listening to music, playing games, accessing the internet and watching movies and TV shows. My feeling is that the PSP go will likely sell decently when it releases on October 1st, but will be touch and go for many PSP owners who will likely weigh the pros and cons of upgrading. At the same time, if retailers like EB Games offers a trade-in deal on old PSPs to upgrade to the PSP go, this would help in the decision.

Grand Turismo PSP was then announced as a game that would be available as a launch title when the PSP go is released. This was followed up with a trailer for the game and it looked beautiful. I’m expecting some good things with this game. It certainly sounds impressive with the large number of available vehicles, multiplayer mode and being a full scale game that runs at 60 FPS.

Things got even better with the introduction of a new Metal Gear Solid game for the PSP called Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. Hideo Kojima made an appearance to talk about the game. This of course got a great reception from the audience. And why wouldn’t it? Kojima labelled this game as the true sequel to Metal Gear Solid 3. The game takes place in the 70s, 10 years after the events of MGS 3. Kojima will be deeply involved in the game as both writer and producer. A game trailer was played that revealed what seemed to be a co-op play feature. So one thing I immediately thought of when Kojima made the statement that this game was the true sequel in the Metal Gear Solid franchise was that Microsoft got the short end of the stick with their Metal Gear Solid title. Meaning that MGS Rising for the 360 was Kojima’s way of appeasing Xbox 360 gamers with an MGS title while Sony supporters would get a new MGS game with Kojima’s direct involvement and also that of the team that worked on MGS 4. But hey, that’s just my view of things.

To end the PSP coverage, Jack came back on stage to run off another list of new games coming to the PSP. Notably Resident Evil Portable, LittleBigPlanet, SOCOM: Fireteam Bravo 3 and Motorstorm Arctic Ridge.

The focus was then turned to the PSN. Again, some numbers were mentioned regarding total members, amount of content that has been downloaded and the number of exclusive titles available. The most interesting and exciting news for me in regards to the PSN was that announcement that Final Fantasy VII would be one of 50 PS One classic to be released on the PSN in 2009. I can’t wait for it as FFVII is one of the most definitive games in RPG history. PS Home was touched on as well but there really wasn’t anything new to make note of.

It was PS3’s turn to be showcased next. It began with a video that provided a glimpse of recently released and upcoming titles. Cameos included Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, inFAMOUS, Final Fantasy XIII, MAG, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Brutal Legend, Ghostbusters, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2, WET, Heavy Rain, The Saboteur and Fight Night Round 4. A new Rockstar property called The Agent was revealed as an exclusive for the PS3.

Patrice Desilet and Sebastien Puel from Ubisoft came out on stage to demo the upcoming Assassin’s Creed 2. The demo showed off very detailed and interactive environments as well as a variety of new weapons and techniques to use in the game. It appears Ubisoft has stepped it up for the sequel as the game looks absolutely fantastic. The game will be available Holiday 2009 along with Bloodlines for the PSP.

Jack continued on with a trailer for Final Fantasy XIII. Ok, so nothing really new here. However, what came next was a complete surprise and in my opinion a big announcement for the PS3. Final Fantasy XIV: Online would also be coming to the PS3 as a console exclusive and also to the PC. What? Did I hear this correctly? First FFXIII and now FFXIV. This was definitely one piece of news that didn’t get leaked out at all. FFXIV is a massive multiplayer online game. I’m predicting this will be a significant title for the PS3 when it does release and will generate a lot of sales and revenue for Sony and Square Enix.

Next was the motion controller technology for the PS3. A live demo was conducted with a prototype motion controller. There were various in-game applications covered from painting to first person shooting and archery. After having seen the demo my thought is that this form of motion controller will allow Sony to provide a new experience to hardcore gaming. Where Microsoft’s Project Natal seems to be for very casual gamers with no need for any physical controller and the Wii Motion Plus is to enhance their motion control mechanics, Sony’s motion controller technology comes across as something that can appeal to casual gamers but at the same time will cater to hardcore gamers as well. I’m looking forward to seeing and hearing more about this technology leading up to its scheduled release in Spring 2010.

Another new exclusive game called Mod Nation Racers from United Front Games (Vancouver, BC studio) was featured. To sum it up, this is a game in the same fashion as LittleBigPlanet. It's an arcade style kart racer that has an extensive amount of tools and features to allow players to fully create and customize everything from cars, characters and tracks. Creations can also be shared online with other players in a community style environment. From everything I saw, the game appears as entertaining as LittleBigPlanet. Good to see another Canadian studio in the mix.

A few more trailers were shown with The Last Guardian and then Grand Turismo 5. The more interesting of the two being The Last Guardian. The trailer was the exact same as the one that had been leaked onto the internet but with the addition of some in-game footage. This has to be an important title for the PS3 as there are many gamers who’ve played and are huge fans of ICO and Shadow of the Colossus. Both titles were developed by the same team that is working on The Last Guardian.

And finally, to end the briefing was a demo of God of War III. What more is there to say about this game other than it looks absolutely incredible. It’s classic God of War mayhem with sheer brutality and engaging quick time sequences for finishing off certain enemies. The game is scheduled to launch in March 2010 and I’m anxious for it. Good thing there will be a number of games to occupy me between now and then. I have full confidence that God of War III will end the trilogy triumphantly and with style.

To sum it all up, Sony did their usual good job at E3. Of all the media briefings, Sony’s tends to be my favourite because it’s well presented. There are no oddly rehearsed segments or too much focus on sales figures and corporate gloating. For me, it’s all about the games, new technology and improvements to the overall gaming and interactive experience. Sony did well on all these fronts. The announcement of a number of great new exclusive titles and 3rd party titles brings much needed excitement to the PS3. The introduction of the motion controller technology has opened eyes to what is possible to take gaming to the next level. The only area where I felt lacked some lustre was on the online front. Where Microsoft announced some significant partnerships with Facebook and Twitter, Sony didn’t offer up any comparable news. So after all that, will 2009 be the year that the PS3 shines and exceeds all expectations? That remains to be seen. With more significant titles in the line up this year compared to last, it should definitely help Sony have their most successful year.