When I decided to go back to E3 this year, I imagined my post-show wrap-up would contain tons of excitement over the Playstation 3. I imagined Sony blowing me away with their new console, and I thought they'd steal the show simply because, in my opinion, they had to. They're entering the race late this generation, meaning they don't have the advantage of being first to market, so they had to come out with something really captivating, and as far as I am concerned they didn't.
The biggest problem I had was the complete absence of justification for the Blu Ray format as it pertains to actual gaming. Blu Ray is an expensive feature to include in a game console, especially if it has almost nothing to do with games, and I was really expecting Sony to give us all a reason why they're introducing it with the PS3; something that would make me say "Ooooh, I get it now." That didn't happen, which left me sitting and wondering why they even bothered to include it, and the answer is an all too disappointing realization that Sony is essentially leveraging their Playstation brand in an attempt to force a new media format for all aspects of entertainment. It has nothing to do with games and everything to do with business, and we're all going to pay for that. Literally. I walked away from E3 feeling more like a pawn in Sony's struggle for multimedia dominance than a Playstation fan, and that just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
Frank's already covered the blunder that is Sony's decision to offer two different packages at two different costs, so I'll just say that I agree with him, and that you'd think Sony would have learned from the negative reaction to Microsoft's similar pricing structure. Apparently they didn't.
I'd like to know more about Sony's online plans this generation, and I bet you would, too. Right now it's mostly guesswork as to what, exactly, they're going to offer, but it seems like Sony is going to emulate the proven formula that is Xbox Live, and to be honest I don't care if they completely rip off Microsoft so long as we get a centralized service this time around. Nothing is more irritating than hopping off Halo 2 and onto Subsistence and having no way to communicate with anyone on my friends list unless I'm already in a game with them. Sony needs a unified online structure, and if they have to copy Microsoft to do it, I really don't care. This is one thing they can't afford to screw up this time around.
The new controller has me scratching my head as well. Did they rip off Nintendo with the tilt sensor, or was this something they had planned all along, even before the redesign (which I'm sure we're all grateful for; I know I am)? That's only a momentary concern, however, as what really matters is how well they'll be able to impliment this new design feature into their games, and whether or not it will be worth the tradeoff of having to ditch rumble functionality in the process. Having played Warhawk I am at least convinced that there is potential, as Warhawk played very smooth using the tilt sensing feature, but how many developers can really add this sort of mechanic to their games without it being a gimmick? Nintendo's Wii is almost entirely designed around their new control scheme, one which I was pleasantly surprised by, to be honest. How far will Sony go with their tilt sensor? I hope they find a lot of ways to include it, because it's an interesting concept, and it's at least different than what Nintendo is doing with the Wii.
Oh yeah, Sony had games at E3, too, but strangely enough it was the Playstation 2 that had the biggest presence for Sony at the show, which is good news for PS2 owners and bad news for Sony. Final Fantasy XII, Dirge of Cerberus, Okami, God of War II…. these were the truly solid titles Sony could say was coming to their hardware, but unfortunately for Sony they're not coming to their new hardware. From a gamer's perspective, though, it's great news because it means all of us who've invested in the Playstation 2 will not be seeing the kind of diminishing returns that Xbox owners saw with the launch of the 360. Microsoft basically ditched their current gen console when they switched over to the new stuff, and it's nice to see that Sony is going to keep supporting their loyal fanbase of over 100 million players worldwide.
As for the Playstation 3 games, there just weren't enough. I was charged with covering third party developers for most of the show as Frank covered Sony proper. My main points of interest going in were Square-Enix, Namco, Capcom and Ubi Soft. Unfortunately, Ubi Soft had nothing playable for the PS3, as their booth was almost entirely focused Splinter Cell and Rainbow Six on the Xbox 360. The trailer for Assassin's Creed was pretty slick, though, I must admit. Namco had some pretty nifty PSP games such as Ace Combat X and Tekken, but there certainly could have been more from them on all fronts. Same goes for Capcom as well, as they really only had Okami for the PS2 and Lost Planet for the Xbox 360 on the show floor. Overall, covering third parties for Playstation 3 content was rather like fishing in the desert. What I did see of the PS3 looked pretty damned good, though, especially from a visual perspective. Games like Warhawk and Full Auto 2 looked really sexy for early builds of next generation games, and even Gran Turismo in high definition looked sweet. Sony's Cell architecture is definitely going to live up to the hype, in my opinion, especially when you have teams like Kojima Productions working on new Metal Gear Solid games.
Speaking of Metal Gear Solid, Guns of the Patriots was definitely the highlight of the show for me, and I don't know if that's a commentary on the lack of playable Playstation 3 content or just my own rabid MGS fanboyism at work; probably a bit of both. Either way, MGS4 was the sexiest game on the show floor, especially when it came to the art direction and overall animation. Crysis on the PC may have been a more technically impressive affair, but MGS4 certainly felt more real to me, more alive. The Octo-Camo that Old Snake showed off really demonstrated the power of Cell, especially when Kojima himself points out that such effects are only possible on Cell, and given Kojima's track record with technical precision in games, I tend to believe the man. Simply put, even as a 15 minute demo, Guns of the Patriots probably managed to suck up at least four hours of actual show time for me.
The best booth for Sony overall, though, had to have been Square-Enix, if only for it's Playstation 2 and PSP content. Dirge of Cerberus is really shaping up to be a must have title, even if you're a bit tired of the growing number of Final Fantasy VII rehashes being pushed out the door, which I am. I personally thought that both the gameplay and the art direction would have lended itself better to a Final Fantasy VIII sequel, if anything, due to the militaristic nature of that particular game. Everyone and their mother seems to still be in love with Final Fantasy VII, though, because there are a TON of FFVII titles coming from Square-Enix in the future. I had a chance to check out Square-Enix's private theater with my girlfriend, and the 45 minute feature consisted mostly of games related to Final Fantasy VII and XIII. As interesting as the trailers for Final Fantasy XIII looked, we both walked out feeling a tad burned out on Cloud and company.
Final Fantasy XII was also prominently displayed at Square-Enix's booth, and while it didn't quite live up to the visual standards the developer has set for itself over the years, the combat was fresh and new, and the overall production values were impressive. There were also two new Valkyrie Profile games on display, one for the PSP and a sequel for the PS2, so RPG fans have a lot to look forward to when it comes to Square's 2006 lineup.
I was really looking forward to this year's E3. It was the first year I'd gone in which Sony had a new console to show off, and I was eagerly awaiting a bunch of news about it, news which I didn't get, news which I think Sony definitely needed to share if they were going to justify their pricing point for the Playstation 3, and I think it's pretty clear they failed to do that. E3 needed to be the Playstation 3's "coming out" party, the time when they stood up and reassured their fanbase that the PS3 would be worth the wait, and worth the price. What they did instead, at least for me, was make me take a long hard look at Nintendo's new console. Considering that the Wii will most likely retail for about a third of the price of the PS3, I doubt I'm the only one. Make no mistake- I'll own a PS3 at some point, that point being whenever MGS4 ships, but Sony gave me exactly zero reasons to become an early adopter of their new system. The financially responsible adult inside me is fine with that (it's not like I need to drop a thousand dollars on a console bundle any time soon), but the gamer in me is pretty disappointed.