Say what you want about giant enemy crabs, since the launch of the PS3 Sony’s E3 appearances have had an air of quality about them.
Of course they have to justify selling hardware several magnitudes more expensive than that of their rivals. When the PS3’s price-point was announced--not to jeering but eery silence--some bright spark with a Little Professor calculated that for the price of one of Sony’s wonder-consoles a gamer could own both Wii and Xbox 360 and still have bus fare to the nearest CEX. With the Wii a household name and 360s in every eight-year-old’s bedroom Sony have the most to prove at events like these--especially given the lack of interest in their latest heldheld, the PSVita. E3 2012 was their chance to shine.
And shone the PSVita did, in a spectacular galaxy of negative starlight. There was a black hole in Sony’s conference where the Vita should have been--something keenly noticed by all those who’ve bought one since launch. While Nintendo announced a second press event to showcase their handheld, Sony swept theirs under the rug, offering nothing more than a desultory look at a couple ‘system exclusive’ side-stories for Black Ops 2 and Assassin’s Creed 3 and--for the umpteenth time--Sony urging us to use their handhelds as peripherals for ‘proper’ consoles. If there was ever a raft of Vita games to look forward to, it had been sunk beneath the prow of its older, bigger brother.
Sony certainly got off to a good start, with a montage that seemed to promise more games than they actually showed. Swaggering Jack Tretton--Sony’s mafiosi don to Nintendo’s enforcer Reggie--even talked about ‘the gaming industry’ rather than ‘the future of digital multimedia entertainment’, a promising sign if ever there was one..
Sadly, Sony future included taking Super Smash Brothers and replacing the characters with a grab-bag of fighters from, well, any developers Sony deigned to throw money at. In 1998 we’d have had Solid Snake, Crash Bandicoot and Ape Escape on the roster. In 2012 we have a Big Daddy from Bioshock, prompting the response: “Yeah, I suppose that did come out on PS3.” Without recognisable licenses of its own--or any original ideas, apparently--the shameless rip-off that is Sony All-Stars: Battle Royale was further impeded by an on-stage demonstration so confusing even the commentator seemed lost.
Between this and a limp finale showcasing QTE kills in God of War: Ascension--looking so similar to previous iterations I defy you to tell the difference--Sony dropped a Butterbeer-scented bombshell: they were making a new Harry Potter book.
J.K. Rowling’s Book of Spells was the game they used to illustrate Wonderbook, an augmented reality device that works in sync with Sony Eye and Move (remember those?) controllers. The demonstration split online commentators, with non-readers proclaiming books ‘Borin’ innit’ while other saw its potential. While the presentation was hardly compelling and Sony have a history of AR failures under their belt, this kind of technology could revolutionise classrooms and home learning. If I worked for Leapfrog, I’d be paying very close attention to Wonderbook.
If any one of the three console manufacturers could be said to have ‘won’ E3, it would be Sony. Outside the interminable Wonderbook presentation they unveiled a future where games are still important. Quantic Dream’s Beyond might have looked like a movie, but if you stripped away the cutscenes and Uncanny Valley simulacrum of Ellen Page there’d probably be gameplay in there somewhere. Likewise, the lucid brutality of Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us might have been the mildest example of E3 2012’s preponderance for ultra violence (the God of War demo concluded with Kratos literally stabbing an elephant’s brain out) but by jingo, it was a video game.
It’s sad knowing all it takes to triumph at E3 is to show off some games, but it’s even sadder knowing this is something Microsoft and Nintendo are reticent to do. With the Vita a sucking wound both in Sony’s pockets and in its presentation, if Sony truly won E3, they only did so by default.