Sony Press Conference Round-Up

For gamers looking for comparisons between the two companies, the Microsoft and Sony press conferences were as different as the time of day they were held. While Microsoft used its E3 2012 soapbox to tout the Xbox’s role as an all-encompassing social/media set top box that just also happens to play games, Sony took to the stage intent on showcasing the next experiences coming to the PS3. Vita owners, on the other hand, were left to wonder just what’s next for the handheld powerhouse.

The presentation opened with a short look at Beyond, the next game from Heavy Rain developer, Quantic Dream. Studio head David Cage was on stage to offer a short explanation of the game, which looks to focus on a girl who has telekinetic powers. The game is also somehow tied to the afterlife. The presentation focused on a non-gameplay section featuring a cop talking to the girl, who refused to answer his questions. After placing a cup of coffee on the desk, she uses her powers to send it hurdling into a wall. The footage then cut to a montage of scenes from the game.

Cage also announced that Academy Award-nominee Ellen Page (Juno) will provide the voice and likeness for the main character.

Other than the confirmation that PSOne games (including Tomb Raider and Final Fantasy VII) would be available for download later this year, major Vita announcements were few during the conference. Most of the attention was paid towards cross-play between the PS3 and Vita. With cross-play, Vita owners can transfer save games from the PS3 to the Vita, allowing continuous progress no matter where you are. Cross-play also allows for play across devices. During a live 4-player demo, Sony showed off their upcoming Smash Bros.-looking brawler, PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale, played by two players on the PS3 and two on the Vita.

Sony also confirmed Nathan Drake and BioShock's Big Daddy will appear in the game, in addition to the characters demoed, including Sweet Tooth, Fat Princess, Kratos and Sly Cooper. Colonel Mael Radec from Killzone and Parappa the Rapper were also shown, but not demoed.

PlayStation Plus is getting a slight overhaul and, later this year, subscribers will have access to free games, such as inFamous 2 and Saints Row 2.

Cross-play was also announced for LittleBigPlanet 2 and will be introduced later this year as an add-on. Not much info was available, though the cross-play add-on will offer a new story mode and new ways to enjoy the level building game with friends.

Ubisoft was on-hand with two exclusive showings – naval combat gameplay from Assassin’s Creed III and the unveiling of four-player co-op in Far Cry 3. Both games will ship with PlayStation 3 exclusive content.

Only two new Vita-exclusive games were announced; Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified and Assassin’s Creed: Liberation. Nothing was shown of Black Ops beyond a confirmation slide, but Ubisoft did show a very short video of Liberation, which will take place in a pre-American Revolution New Orleans and will star the series' first female protagonist. Sony also announced a special edition crystal white Vita, which will ship bundled with a copy of Assassin’s Creed: Liberation.

PlayStation Move also received little attention, though it does factor heavily into Sony’s new Wonderbook product. A lengthy demo was shown of Book of Spells, a Wonderbook produced in association with author J.K. Rowling based on lore from the Pottermore website. Book of Spells is an AR code enhanced “book” that allows people to interact with 3D models viewed on the TV screen via the PlayStation Eye. The action is something you really have to see in action to “get” completely, but you use the Move as a wand to cast spells learned in each chapter. After learning a spell, you use it to complete mini-games, such as burning paper bugs with a fire spell.

In addition to Book of Spells, Sony announced a partnership with Moonbot Studios, the Academy Award winning (and Louisiana-based!!) animation house to produce another Wonderbook.

Sony saved its two biggest guns for last. While we’ve already seen a bit of multiplayer action from God of War: Ascension, the E3 press conference offered a first look at the single-player side of the game. The demo showcased the gory, violent action fans expect from the series, but also showcased what could be one of the game’s more interesting powers – time-shifting. At one point in the demo, a sea monster destroyed a scaffold, trapping Kratos on the docks. Kratos was able to use his new power to rewind time, repairing the damaged structure. He was even able to pause mid-time shift, climb the debris, then finish the rebuild.

Based on Twitter trends, Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us was easily the star of the show. The demo featured the game’s two protagonists, Joel and Ellie, as they searched abandoned buildings after some sort of post-apocalyptic event. To me, at least, the game gives off a dirtier, grit-filled Uncharted vibe, with Joel climbing obstacles and taking cover during combat. Speaking of combat, Naughty Dog has found a way to make fewer enemies on screen feel just as intimidating as the countless minions Nate Drake mowed down during any given level in Uncharted.

Though Joel has access to guns, ammo is apparently a rare find, forcing Joel to rely on his environment and fists when facing enemies. Joel was repeatedly tackled to the ground; using everything he could to break free. The demo ended with Joel pulling the trigger on an empty gun, prompting his foe to come from hiding (“I know what that sound means…”). Just as Joel was about to engage his assailant, Ellie caught his attention, allowing Joel to tackle the enemy. Later, Ellie tagged into a fight, stabbing an attacker with a knife. The distraction offered enough of an opening for Joel to grab a shotgun and execute him with what will surely be the most brutal shotgun blast of E3 2012 (which, at a show filled with shotgun-equipped games, is saying something).