Sony Unveils PS4

Watch Dogs, a launch title for PS4

Sony, eager to pip Microsoft to the next-gen post, revealed their brand new console (conceptually, not physically) in New York three days ago. Whilst providing a bigger technical leap forward than the Wii-U, a large amount of apprehension already surrounds the PS4. The conference was conventionally more an exercise in rhetoric than it was a grand display of the console’s abilities; nevertheless, it got the ball rolling and set the stage for what promises to be the best E3 in years.

Once the usual spiel about “ecosystems” and “player-focus” had faded, we finally got a broad look at the specs of the new system. Sony were presumably eager to make these points early on as the complex cell processor of the PS3 continues to remain a point of contention within the industry. Acting as somewhat of a double-edged sword, ports of games from other platforms are almost universally inferior due its complex hardware; equally, games built from the ground up to be PS3 exclusive provide some of the best visuals seen this console generation. With the PS4, Sony are taking a more accessible route with much more familiar, but supercharged, PC architecture. Not only with this level the playing field, it may also be a sign that Sony are looking to usher in even more indie development.

Then, whilst we didn’t get a look at the box itself, the official controller was finally revealed, vindicating rumours from days before. It’s an undeniably odd design and looks less ergonomic than its father. DualShock 4 has a variety of new additions. A share button, light bar and headphone jack are added to proceedings, as is a tiny, almost sarcastic looking, touchpad. The share button seems to have a wealth of uses and is the physical manifestation of the inevitable social route Sony would take, given their trouncing in this department with the PS3. Through web-streaming service, Gaikai, gameplay can be instantly shared online, help can be sourced quickly; you can even jump into someone else’s game, take control away from them, and sort a problem out yourself. Gakai’s streaming service also served as a consolation prize for the PS4’s lack of any backwards compatibility – it’s Sony’s plan to get their entire library online and playable. Also revealed was the ability to stream any PS4 games on the PSVita, a needed announcement considering Sony’s latest portable platform has wavered somewhat in reception and content.

Finally, we got a taste of the games. Things got off to an underwhelming start as Mark Cerny, ex-designer come lead PS4 architect, showed off a title he’d been working on, Knack. As a simple brawler that was clearly aimed at children, it was a curious start. It seemed to only exist to show off the many objects PS4 can render, as the robotic protagonist is made almost entirely out of golden detritus.

Herman Hurst took to the stage next to reveal the newest, shiniest way to shoot seven shades of the proverbial out of your fellow man – Killzone Shadow Fall. It was one of the best looking games shown, with textures and animations all looking great. It also served as somewhat of an aesthetic departure for the Killzone franchise, replacing the dominating browns and reds with a more realistic, colourful palette. As visually impressive as it was, it seemed to offer little mechanical innovation but, at this point, we were taking what we could get.

Matt Sutton of Evolution Studios went on to announce Drive Club – an almost fetishised appreciation of the modern automobile with levels of detail hitherto unseen in gaming. The weave of the seat material, for example, has been rendered precisely. The engine, whilst not providing any specific gameplay purpose, is produced comprehensively within each car. It’s frightening stuff, but massively impressive.

There was an assault of pretention about mid-way through the conference as both David Cage and Jonathon Blow materialised in quick succession. David Cage, head of Quantic Dream and creator of Heavy Rain, had the cheek to come on stage and talk about ‘emotion.’ In fact, his little speech embodied the primary problems with his philosophy. He was using an impressively rendered face of an old man to suggest the subtlety of emotion that can be achieved with new technology. Fine, but, as anyone who has played Heavy Rain will know, David Cage has no real idea how to write even vaguely interesting or relatable characters. His game always look stunning, but the groundwork is never laid effectively. There was no news on Cage’s new title Beyond: Two Souls which stars Ellen Page. Jonathan Blow, creator of the critically acclaimed indie-title Braid, after wondering how we would follow “all those explosions”, showed footage of his promising-looking puzzler, The Witness.

Japaense powerhouse, Capcom, unveiled their latest engine, Pantha Rhei along with their newest title, Deep Down. Here, we witnessed some glorious-looking Dragon slaying, but the extent to which it was real-time gameplay became increasingly questionable.

The already shown, but hugely anticipated, Watch Dogs, courtesy of Ubisoft, made another appearance as a much longer demo was showcased. Built around the ability to manipulate the modern world with communicative technology, it is trying new things in the open-world space. It went down well at the conference itself, and remains very much on the radar.

There were some underwhelming revelations. Sucker Punch’s Nate Fox revealed the next Infamous title, Infamous: Second Son – a jaunty play on words, referring to the protagonist’s ties to previous games and his ability to basically set anything on fire. It was a CG trailer, so couldn’t be taken at face value. Little Big Planet creators, Media Molecule, showcased their new artistic-take on the dying PlayStation Move controller, which, whilst conceptually intriguing, was difficult to judge without the process behind their sculpted results. The team responsible for Halo, Bungie, shimmied on to the stage briefly to discuss Destiny, a massively-multiplayer shooter, but offered little new information; whilst Blizzard made a surprise appearance to announce a port of the generally disappointing Diablo III. Similarly, Square Enix showed already revealed footage of their new title, Agni’s Philosophy, which underwhelmed nearly as much as Shinji Hasimoto – brand director for Final Fantasy – coming on stage and telling the audience to look forward to E3. Oh well.

Overall, it was good to see one of the two titan’s make the first move, and with Sony going on to reveal that they will not be curbing the used game market this generation, Microsoft needs to tread carefully with whatever is planned. Sony seem eager to cater to as many people as possible and whilst that ultimately made for a somewhat lacklustre bolt out of the gate, the potential is certainly there for them to reclaim past glories.

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