LOS ANGELES -- Sony closed out a day of high-profile press conferences here at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) with a showing that not only played to all of the PlayStation maker's strengths but also managed to surprise as much, if not more, than it confirmed what we already knew was on the way.
The event's even blend marks a rare moment for E3 at a time when the game industry's biggest annual confab is plagued by industry leaks and an aura of met -- but hardly ever exceeded -- expectations.
Sony's PS4 press conference was, above all else, an opportunity for the company to prove that it could not just take the lead in consoles but could be aggressive about holding onto it. "To ensure that PlayStation is above all else the best place to play," explained Andrew House, Sony Computer Entertainment president and CEO, of the PlayStation strategy since last year's E3. "We know what best means: It means the best visual quality, it means choice, it means not being a lone gamer but part of a extensive community of rivals and friends."
Beyond that slew of game trailers, release date confirmations, and unveilings of a number of previously unannounced titles, Sony managed to squeeze in its first refreshed PS4 hardware. The first white version of the console will be bundled with Destiny and will hit store shelves concurrently with the sci-fi space shooter on September 9.
Sony also managed not to exclude from the event its virtual reality headset, Project Morpheus, its online game-streaming service, PlayStation Now, or its new streaming box, PlayStation TV. The company illuminated varying amounts of detail on the three ambiguous yet ambitious projects that have many questioning their viability as breakout products in untested categories and their position in markets full of robust competitors.
Morpheus still has no release date, but now has two new game demos -- Jurassic Encounter and Street Luge -- ready to be played at Sony's booth later this week. PlayStation Now, on the other hand, is coming to select Sony televisions later this year, requiring only a controller to play. An open beta for the service is also opening up on July 31, and will include AAA titles like The Last of Us, Dead Space 3, God of War: Ascension, and Ultra Street Fighter 4. The service will ultimately have more than 100 titles available during the beta's lifespan.
As for PlayStation TV, the streaming box is coming stateside for $99, or $139 with a controller (priced competitively against Amazon' Fire TV), with more than 1,000 titles available at launch, though no release date was announced.
PS4 game rundown: From GTA V to Uncharted
House took the stage first to reveal not only the PS4 Destiny bundle but also deliver some reassuring news for PlayStation fans: Destiny's first-look alpha is available exclusively to PS4 players this Thursday, while the Destiny multiplayer beta will be available exclusively to the PlayStation platform on July 17.
Thanks to an extensive partnership with publisher Activision and developer Bungie, of Halo fame, the PS4 is also getting a collection of exclusive Destiny day-one content, including new weapons and character customization options.
"The trailer for Destiny that kicked off our show is the embodiment of our vision -- it will help define our next generation of games," House said. "Destiny isn't just first on PlayStation. It's better on PlayStation."
Though Destiny was an obvious opening choice, Sony proceeded to trot out a calculated string of titles both anticipated and unexpected.
There was the first ever gameplay shown of PS4 exclusive The Order: 1886, an alternative history horror game, and new downloadable content for the Infamous series, titled First Light, will arrive in August. Far Cry 4, a multi-platform title that was officially unveiled earlier today Ubisoft's press conference, also received screen time for an exclusive content deal announcement, a refrain from Sony as it attempted to beef up its platform power for games that span Xbox and PlayStation.
One of the key features of the game is the ability to play through a level with a companion, a new feature for the series that Yves Guillemot, CEO of Ubisoft, said was in part in response to changing market conditions. In particular, he said, games that are downloadable initially for free and later charge for various in-game items, have attracted many players by offering the ability for them to play cooperatively or against one another.
In addition, Guillemot said, he noticed that when his son would play a game's storyline, which is typically played alone, friends would send him messages to play with them instead. "It's true that when you can play with your friends and when it can be seamless -- you play when you want or together when you want--you have a better experience," he said.
Those who have been keeping tabs on the E3 rumor mill will be happy to know that Project Beast, the mysterious new title from Dark Souls and Demon's Soul creator From Software, was confirmed as Bloodborne, slated for a 2015 release. Another new intellectual property (IP), as new games not under the helm of an established franchise are called, is Let it Die, a brutal looking fighter on par with the upcoming Mortal Kombat X. Classic adventure game Grim Fandango is also making its way to PS and Vita platforms in a remastered edition later this year.
There was one generally unexpected sequel unveiling -- LittleBigPlanet 3 -- but also a whole lot of exclusive content deal announcements, for not only Destiny and Far Cry 4, but Disney Infinity 2, Magicka 2: Learn to Spell, and Dead Island 2.
When it comes to fresh titles from small independent teams, Sony unveiled Entwined, a game in the vein of that game company's Flow and Flower built by Carnegie Mellon graduates at its San Mateo studio about "two souls who are in love but can't be together." Giant Squid, the studio from the former art director of Journey, got the spotlight as well for its new game Abzu.
Rounding out the independent game lineup was No Man's Sky, a title with an infinite and dynamic world that can be explore via spaceship, with each player starting out on a different planet so that each experience differs from player to player.
Wrapping up the dizzying amount of game-related announcements at Sony's press conference was the first ever gameplay footage of Mortal Kombat X, a new trailer -- directed and edited by series creator Hideo Kojima -- for Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain, and a gameplay demo for the upcoming Batman: Arkham Knight.
One of the more surprising reveals, however, was the news that Grand Theft Auto V would be making its way to PS4 this fall. While it was long expected that the Rockstar open-world title, which became the best selling game in history when it launched last fall, would be coming to the next-gen consoles, it was unclear when. The title is also coming to PC and Xbox One, though Sony failed to mention that in a strategic, yet coy, attempt to make it appear at first as if PlayStation had reached an exclusive deal with developer Rockstar Games.
To wrap up the show, Sony at long last confirmed an upcoming Uncharted game from developer Naughty Dog, set for 2015. It was unclear whether or not the adventure series would continue or deviate from the numerical moniker after Uncharted 3, but Sony did indeed confirm that the game will be titled Uncharted 4: Thief's End.
Sony eyes the crown
Sony came out of E3 2013 last year having captured the console crown in terms of public opinion. Playing off the dispassionate -- and sometimes outright angry -- response to Microsoft's Xbox One, Sony catered to the core gaming audience with safe but sound messaging, punctuating its position by undercutting the Xbox One on console price by $100.
That momentum carried through the months up to and after launch last November. Sony has now sold to consumers 7 million consoles, while Microsoft has only sold to retailers 5 million and has since unbundled the Kinect motion and camera peripheral to push more units. This time around, Sony knew that it had to not only had to unleash a barrage of game announcements, but also make sure it was offering a strong enough value proposition for the PS4, especially so in a landscape increasingly dominated by cross-platform games.
Sony hammered home on its focus with exclusive titles -- including Uncharted 4, Beastborne, The Order: 1886, and indie standouts Abzu and No Man's Sky -- its repeated insistence on exclusive content deals for titles like Destiny that cement its argument for choosing PlayStation for multi-platform games, and the company's refusal to shy away from sidelining its more longterm projects like Morpheus, PS Now, and PS TV. In doing so, the game maker showcased a confidence it hopes will give it enough momentum to fend off Microsoft, which had an equally robust set of exclusives, and the now-cheaper Xbox One.
Summing up Sony's takeaway nicely, Shawn Layden, the new head of Sony Computer Entertainment America after Jack Tretton's departure earlier this year, took the stage later on in the event. "After all guys," he said, "it's all about the games, isn't it?"
reading•Sony hits all the PlayStation 4 high notes at E3 2014
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