Let's talk about E3 2014: Sony's Press Conference / by Alec Kubas-Meyer

Sony's press conference this year was always going to be a disappointment. It was impossible to really follow up last year's brilliant showing, because last year was a perfect storm of their new hardware announcement mixed with the incompetence of their competitors. With Microsoft's reasonably acceptable conference this time around, there was simply no way for Sony to crush them again. And they didn't, but that's not to say Sony didn't have a good showing, because they did... it just wasn't that good. Sony's biggest problem was length. Microsoft's conference was around 90 minutes and Nintendo's (which I'll get to tomorrow) was half that. Sony's ran nearly 2 hours, which was... too much. They showed a lot of things, but the momentum was totally lost in the middle when they began to focus on the PlayStation TV and whatnot. That was when games, games, and more games became talk, talk, and boredom. In general, the presentation could have used some serious tightening, because that could have brought it from pretty good to downright awesome. Because they were showing some pretty cool stuff.

Like No Man's Sky. We're starting there, because that was the coolest thing at the conference (and easily one of the coolest things at the show in general). Yeah, the game will be available on PC, so it loses a little bit of its wow factor at a Sony-specific presentation, but you know what? Shh. That game looks a-freaking-mazing. In the past few years, indie developers have been showing up the big guns on a consistent basis, and this is an excellent example of that fact. The stuff that they're doing in that game is on a scale like nothing else. Even Minecraft, which is arguably the closest thing to it, doesn't really come close. That game is truly singular, and I'm extremely excited. Other indie games like ABZÛ and Entwined were pretty great as well.

Less exciting was the focus on multiplayer betas, something that Sony spent an annoyingly long time focusing on. Betas seem to be the big new thing nowadays (and the term doesn't really mean what it used to), but now we've even got alphas, with the Destiny alpha playable on the PS4 as of yesterday. That's cool, and it's good that Bungie will get to stress test the servers, but early access to unfinished games (even in this new age of Steam Early Access) is not really as impressive as, say, allowing players to play Far Cry 4 even if they don't own it.

That was, in my mind, perhaps the coolest thing Sony announced. If one friend has FC4, they can invite people without the game to play it with them. There may be limitations of some sort, and it's not clear how the system will work (maybe streaming via PlayStation Now?), but that's both a great move and a great precedent. Not only does it give other players a chance to play with friends, it serves as excellent advertising for the game itself. If people enjoy their time but their friends log off, I'm sure there will be a button that says, "Want to continue playing? Click here to purchase the full game and play whenever you want!" And if the game is as badass as it looks, they're gonna get a whole lot of people pressing that button. It's the kind of thing that could only work with a legitimately good game, but I don't think Ubisoft is worried about that. And it's a great move for Sony, one I hope is replicated in the future with other games (worth noting: games on Nintendo handhelds have actually been doing this for quite some time).

Then there were Sony's real exclusives, the big-budget titles that should make the system stand out from its competitors (and also from PCs). The big ones shown were The Order: 1886 and Bloodborne. I'm mildly interested in both of them, but as someone who hasn't spent enough time with the Souls games, I'm not sold on Bloodborne, and The Order looks like something less than its premise originally indicated. It looks like a (very pretty) third person shooter, and that's only so interesting. Still,  even if neither would be a system seller, they'll definitely be good additions to the libraries of anyone who already has the console. So there's that.

Free-to-play was also another major focus, which is pretty interesting, and is definitely a good move (even if it doesn't really play to my tastes). Sony has already had several FtP games on their console, and it sounds like they're going to have a massive influx of those in the near future. Unfortunately, one of those games is Suda 51's next project, Let It Die. There was a time when I was extremely excited for a new Suda game (and I still think he's awesome), but multiplayer games are about gameplay rather than narrative, and Suda 51's games are notable for their fascinating narratives and not-so-great gameplay. This is playing to his weaknesses rather than his strengths, and that makes me sad. I want a new Killer 7 or something; that would be amazing. Let It Die? Meh.

Also, LittleBigPlanet 3 really should be right up my alley, but did you see how bad the developers were at playing their own game? That's a really bad sign, and the series has notoriously shoddy platforming physics... so I'm not interested, which is too bad, because there's a lot there to like on concept. Oh well.

But I'm being harder on Sony's conference than I should, because there was definitely some great stuff, and I generally enjoyed myself while I was watching. I was also excited as a PS Plus subscriber to hear that they're adding a new perk to the service: free access to the Powers show when it gets released. Now, I don't really care about Powers (I'd never heard of it before the conference and I'm not itching to look into it now), but whereas Microsoft was notable for taking things away with their Xbox Live Gold program (which isn't as true anymore), Sony has been good about adding value. Even the fact that they removed the ability to play online for those who don't have PS Plus games doesn't phase me, because everyone should just have a PS Plus account. There are now going to be two free games every month for every system. That in and of itself is more than worth the price of admission, and saying, "Hey, you get this show for free too!" is pretty cool, even if I'll never watch the show.

Whatever. It's all about No Man's Sky anyway. That game's going to be amazing.

Grade: B