First impressions count, as Sony intimately knows. Which is why it seemed odd that it decided to hold PlayStation 4’s reveal in the faintly shabby Hammerstein Ballroom in the Manhattan Center. Most balcony seats had views of the stage obscured by pillars and lighting equipment, and all were covered in stretchy black polyester which made the rising temperature during the two-hour show just that little bit sweatier.
Still, expectations were high in the scrum waiting to be let in from New York’s bitterly cold wind. And Sony, remarkably, met most of those expectations: it announced PlayStation 4, with technical specifications and controller meeting those of the most recent rumours, and we saw a large crop of games running on the new hardware. We got a name, a general release date and a logo, too. And a definition of the next-generation. Though, admittedly, ‘simple; immediate; social; integrated; personalisation’ is less than snappy.
But we didn’t see the hardware itself, somehow making PS4 slightly harder to pin all those nebulous ideals upon, and nor did we see any true surprises. This at an event where some of the biggest whoops were reserved for the unexpected appearances of two familiar games: Blizzard’s Diablo III and Jon Blow’s The Witness.
There was a new FPS, Killzone Shadow Fall, but it didn’t exactly prove the creative potential of the next generation. There was Sucker Punch’s new Infamous, too – “That just won the backstage prize for coolest game introduction,” commented Michael Denny limply. And then there was Knack, a underwhelming cartoony thirdperson brawler (can we be forgiven for finding it so strongly reminiscent of Kameo?) which Sony bizarrely chose as its first glimpse at a whole new generation of its new technology.
David Cage rattled out his same old pitch about emotion in games and tried to suggest that it was all down to a matter of polygon counts. At least his tech demo, of an expressively faced old man in need of a haircut, offered a flash of promise, as well as some keen parallels with PS2’s old man demo.
More encouraging was the appearance of Media Molecule‘s Alex Evans, showing off a – well, we don’t really know what it was precisely, or how it all worked, but there was some sculpting and puppetry and music-making, and it was all very charming and probably very technically sophisticated. And Deep Down, apparently Capcom’s take on Dark Souls with melty shield technology, looked fun, too.
“The stakes are high,” said Andrew House in his introduction, presumably privately quaking under the expectations of a corporation. But there was the sneaking suspicion that there was little here that couldn’t also be achieved by Sony’s competitors, or was already being so. The appearance of Destiny and Watch Dogs only seemed to serve the point: cross-platform, cross-generation projects that PS4 can’t hope to own.
In the details, however, PS4 rang truer – removing barriers for instant play for any game on the PlayStation Store; the Share button, which taps right into a new generation of player culture and makes it truly accessible; integrating Move into the controller so it’s no longer a secondary part of the system; the reestablishment of games as the central component of a console’s role.
And if there was another message in tonight’s event, it was about developers’ importance to PS4. On paper, PS4 is a supremely capable machine. If we want new things from PS4’s generation, it’s up to developers to dream them up.