Sony’s E3 2014 press conference: greater daring and diversity seal another confident PS4 victory

PlayStation continues to outstrip Xbox at every turn this generation. Sony’s showcase had more surprises, more impressive game demos and far greater diversity than Microsoft’s briefing. Sony also had a wider range of things to talk about: there was PlayStation TV, Vita, PS Plus, Project Morpheus and the same kind of services Microsoft once focused on too much, but above all, the games therein simply looked better and more daring. This was a high pressure, high stakes showcase, and yet Sony’s executives were clearly brimming with the kind of easy confidence and good humour that comes with a significant lead in the console race, a superior games line-up and a richer ecosystem.

Bungie’s Destiny led the way. A new hardware bundle complete with a white PS4 plus alpha and beta access for existing PS4 owners show the strength and extent of its partnership with Activision’s expensively-constructed next big thing. It’s an important deal for Sony, and not just because it feels like Xbox mainstay and Halo creator Bungie has somehow ‘switched sides’. It felt as if Sony was parking its tanks on Xbox’s lawn and declaring itself the ‘shooter box’ of choice this generation, countering Microsoft’s well-established Call Of Duty partnership with a wider variety of its own ‘better on PS4’ shooters. Later, a spectacular Far Cry 4 demo was backed up with the news that even PS4 owners who hadn’t bought the game could jump into the game’s co-op; Sony also had Battlefield Hardline in its armoury, with PS4 players able to sign up for its beta now.

It all fed into what Andrew House talked about at the show’s outset, that his goal was to ensure that the biggest multiplatform games would look better and have exclusive content on PS4. Often, they’ll come to PlayStation first; there was a surprise remastering of Grim Fandango, for example, and all of Devolver Digital’s mouthwatering indie offerings – including Hotline Miami 2, Broforce and The Talos Principle – will debut on Sony consoles. Batman: Arkham Knight will have exclusive scarecrow missions on PS4, and those intending to pick up the newly ’next-gen’ GTAV will be able to transfer their online profile and progress to PS4 from PS3 and even Xbox 360. And let’s not forget No Man’s Sky, a game of stunning ambition which continues to dazzle with every new sighting. It was difficult to tell whether Hello Games’ Sean Murray wanted to cry or vomit (maybe both?) as he took the stage to confirm that it’ll arrive first on PlayStation.

This assortment of incentives added up to a rounder, more diverse offering than we saw at Microsoft’s briefing several hours previous, and was also joined by meaty, old-fashioned exclusives, from both firstparty and thirdparty studios. It was difficult to tell where the cutscenes and live play in The Order 1886 began and ended, such was its terrifying fidelity. Hidetaka Miyazaki’s Project Beast is now officially Bloodborne, a PS4 exclusive for 2015, with Suda51 striking the same deal and targeting the same launch window for his latest project, Let It Die.

It was impossible not to raise a smile at LittleBigPlanet 3’s unveiling, though it was interesting to note that the series is now being helmed by Sumo Digital, not Media Molecule. Uncharted 4’s presence at the finale of the Sony briefing was just as expected as Crackdown’s appearance at the end of Microsoft’s, and its presence was just as welcome. Though like so many of the game announcements we’ve seen over the course of the last 24 hours, it was a CGI trailer for a game not to be released until 2015.

Other, more offbeat surprises added to the mix. In place of the new Thatgamecompany project, we got Entwined and Abzu – the former got a good chunk of time on stage and went live on PSN as the conference unfolded, a game created by a small, young team whose gently abstract whimsy and soothing soundtrack might be described as Rez meets Flower. Giant Squid, a developer with more explicit ties to the Journey developer, was founded by that game’s art director and composer; its debut Abzu’s sedate, dreamy underwater adventuring signals another credible indie first on PS4.

Our first reference to “raising the bar” arrived a little earlier during this mammoth, overlong conference. It was in reference to Infamous Second Son’s performance capture and lead into the first sighting of standalone DLC for that game in the form of First Light, coming in August. Later, Dead Island 2’s bro-friendly, taste-free unveiling was short on detail but its trailer had some of the sunny cartoon exuberance of Xbox One’s Sunset Overdrive, without its class; a fun promo for Paradox Interactive’s Magicka 2 provided a few laughs but will generate even fewer headlines, and a brief mention for Project Morpheus, which will host two new demos plus Eve Valkyrie on the show floor, reminded us that Sony is continuing to gaze into one of our medium’s potential futures with interest.

SCEA president and CEO Shawn Layden, a newcomer to the Sony press conference circuit, was lumbered with the less exciting ‘platforms and services’ stuff. 95 per cent of PS4s are online, he said, and the Share button continues to be an important part of of the platform – the ability to upload PS4 capture straight to YouTube is coming, and more bells and whistles on Sony’s Share Factory and Playroom apps will add to its video sharing functionality. A section on forthcoming free to play games was pitched as if Sony itself had invented the model, while PlayStation Now’s arrival in the US and Canada on July 31 as open beta on PS4 was confirmed, as was its later rollout on PS3 and Vita. Selected Sony smart TVs would also host the service, but details of rentals and subscriptions remained elusive. Layden said that over 100 Vita games were in development but didn’t show any of them off, though there was confirmation that Minecraft would be arriving on Vita soon.

The bigger news was the rebranding and western launch of PS Vita TV, now christened with the rather snappier moniker PlayStation TV. It’ll be $99 and released in autumn in the US and across Europe, with a slightly pricier $139 bundle including a Dualshock pad and a free download of the LEGO Movie Videogame. The latter package is indicative of Sony’s target market with this lower-end, more casual device, which will also play host to its PlayStation Now service and a slew of Vita games and other more bitesize downloadable titles.

A grim, gory and wholly unnecessary showing of Mortal Kombat X was a strange move, and an overlong discussion of PlayStation’s efforts in making original TV and movies introduced Powers, an adaptation of a comic series, and the Ratchet And Clank movie. A remastering of the first Ratchet and Clank game would also be released alongside the movie, overseen by Insomniac, but by the time that announcement rolled around, interest was waning terribly. Thankfully, there was a change in pace and focus for the lead-in to the finale, a stirring five-strong string of big-name titles The Last Of Us Remastered, The Phantom Pain, GTAV, Batman Arkham Knight (which looked properly incredible) and the final flourish, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.

Just as in Microsoft’s showcase, CGI trailers for games that won’t arrive until late 2015 were slightly too dominant throughout, but it just goes to show that building these ever more complex, expansive and expensive experiences takes time and manpower. Until the next generation truly arrives in late 2015, then, we’ll have to make do with remastered and repackaged titles like The Last Of Us and GTAV, a not entirely unwelcome prospect.

PS4 and Xbox One’s line-ups for the end of this year might not actually look all that different, in fact, and yet Sony’s PS4 continues to represent the better option for players both right now and for the future. The games on show here were more diverse, its firstparty studios can boast of marginally more compelling output and in its partnerships with Activision, Ubisoft and EA it has ensured that some of the biggest forthcoming thirdparty releases will be better on PS4. And unlike Microsoft, it wasn’t scared of talking about its wider ecosystem, either – PlayStation Now, Project Morpheus and PlayStation TV are each smart and intriguing new ways in which PlayStation is broadening its horizons without abandoning its core support altogether.

Another confident display in which Sony trumped Microsoft’s efforts once more, then. PS4 shows no signs of relinquishing its lead over Xbox One anytime soon – and if Sony’s superiority continues like this for much longer, that lead could become all the more drastic by the time E3 2015 arrives.