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Vita Is Dead, Long Live Playstation 3 – Sony E3 2012 Press Conference Analysis

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Sony had a fairly decent presser if you’re a PS3 owner. Less so if you’re the owner of a shiny new Playstation Vita handheld.

It’s obvious to anybody with a clue that Sony just like Microsoft, certainly held back a great deal of announcements for next year where like the Redmond based software giant, they’ll announce their foray into the next-generation of console hardware. Unlike Microsoft however, whose presser reeked exclusively of the fetid smell of coasting this generation out, Sony also had to ensure that they put across a strong ‘Vita isn’t dead’ message; a crucial objective given the struggling fortunes endured by the handheld powerhouse recently.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at how they fared shall we?

Playstation Vita – It’s alive! IT’S ALIVE! Oh wait, no, no. It was just a twitch.

This little fella needs all the help it can get. Someone forgot to send Sony the memo it seems.

The market hasn’t been kind to the Playstation Vita. It was supposed to be the machine that was going to triumphantly put two fingers up to the App Store and its ilk with home console quality gaming on the move and the finest visuals yet seen on a handheld device. That however, remains somewhat of a pipe dream; as the machine struggles at retail due to a relatively high price-point and lack of any real killer titles.

Sensible pricing and killer titles – the two key components of any successful console, handheld or otherwise should have been the crux of Sony’s bid to rejuvenate consumer interest in the Playstation Vita. As it was, their attempt to give the beleaguered handheld a shot in the arm, came across as both limp and unsatisfying with no sign of any decently priced bundles, discount initiatives or any real new titles for them to caw about outside of the previously expected Call of Duty and Assassins Creed spin-offs.

This was all we got to see at the presser for one of the Vita’s two great white third party hopes for the Vita. A logo. Soak it in bitch, soak it in.

Really, in retrospect, Assassins Creed 3: Liberation and Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified, is all they had to show for the machine and even then, all we really got was a logo unveiling of the latter and a gameplay video of the former that barely crossed the one minute mark. That was basically the brunt of their whole Vita push during the conference; two games – two spin-off games no less. Now, before you leap down by throat and gut me from the inside with your serrated dual-shock controllers, having two entries from what will surely be two of 2012’s most popular properties obviously isn’t a bad thing, it’s just a touch unspectacular when it isn’t being backed up by ANY other franchises – first party or otherwise.

Where was the God of War Vita title that is supposedly in production? Or the Killzone title that was shown last year? Or the Little Big Planet title that was announced at the same time as the handheld itself was? Where was any real, new first-party investment on Sony’s behalf in the platform other than the Playstation All-Stars port that every man and his dog knew was coming? I find it completely fucking crazy that they would attempt to realign in a positive fashion, consumer perception of their struggling handheld without some seriously compelling first party software to back it up.

Even third-party wise, a great deal of new games for the Vita simply just weren’t seen at the Sony conference and were sorely missed as a result. Instead of being part of the conference, Vita versions of games such as the newly announced Need for Speed: Most Wanted were relegated to footnotes in the respective publisher’s own press conferences. Really, rather than dispelling the fact that the Vita needs more decent, quality software, the slim pickings which were on show did little else then embolden the prevailing thought that the machine really has very little out, or coming out for it.

There are actually other third party titles coming out for the Vita y’know. Honest guv.

They didn’t even have a showreel for heaven’s sake, which would have been useful to at least highlight and remind folks about some of the forthcoming games like Persona 4: The Golden, Street Fighter X Tekken and more besides.

Some people have been keen to point out that this was Sony playing it safe and that there would be more unveils further down the road, but really this wasn’t playing it safe; this was tantamount to Sony putting the Vita out to die.

I mean really, they wouldn’t have had to do very much either to make things considerably better either; it’s already a well-known fact that Vita owners are craving HD collections, so why not feed that need and showcase the likes of Ratchet & Clank and Jak & Daxter HD collections running on the Vita? Sure, it’s double-dipping perhaps, but just about everybody I’ve spoken to would prefer those sorts of experiences in the palms of their hands rather than on their PS3 and let’s face it, the Vita *really* needs those software sales, so it seems like a total no-brainer.

Anybody who believes that these two games wouldn’t be IDEALLY suited to the Vita, needs to be sectioned. Immediately.

Price-wise too, people are reluctant to buy into the hardware because its base price (not to mention the still insane price of Sony’s propriety memory cards) is still relatively high and all of the bundles that currently exist for it are utterly shit and to that end, Sony made no real headway in addressing the issue; unless of course you live in France where quite puzzlingly, they were given a fifty Euro discount off the machine for two weeks.

Absolutely pointless in the extreme.

THIS was about as exciting as Sony’s first party support for the Vita at E3 got. Wonderful. I feel better about that Vita purchase already.

Most alarmingly, this was the ideal (and possibly last) window of opportunity for Sony to reinvigorate the handheld since next year Sony need to be all about the Playstation 4/Orbis, in order to attempt to grab some a share of the next-gen attention that Microsoft will be openly and loudly grabbing for. I mean come on now, the machine is not even a year old and is in need of some real, heavy support and really needs sorting out in order to make the machine even remotely relevant to gamers tightly clutching their 3DS’s and swanky smartphone devices. As it stands, they completely failed in that task and going on their E3 showcase alone, I simply don’t see one or two third-party titles making a significant overall impact to the fortunes of the embattled handheld.

Playstation 3 – First Party Crashers

If the Playstation Vita; a format desperately in need of a boost of first-party support, was sadly missing it then you wouldn’t have to look far to find where it all went. Indeed, PS3 owners were in for a treat as Sony showed off the bombastic triumvirate of God of War: Ascension, Beyond: Two Souls and The Last of Us.

God of War: Ascension held little surprise for the audience but nevertheless showed itself to be a formidable offering. Showcasing some gorgeously violent combat, superb visuals and seemingly what appears to be a very robust and enjoyable multiplayer mode, the game looks to be effortlessly capable of dutifully fulfilling that awkward spot as a worthy follow-up to God of War 3, but not the next ‘real’ canonical entry in the series which is presumably being prepped for the next-generation Playstation home console.

Beyond: Two Souls, the latest title from Heavy Rain code-house Quantic Dream, turned out to be every bit the cinematic wonder that we all thought it would be. Boasting some of the best visuals probably ever to be seen in this current generation of console hardware, the demonstration of David Cage’s newest opus went predictably heavy on cinematic bombast and equally predictably light on any sort of gameplay expose’. With some hugely richly detailed environments, highly sophisticated modeled faces that would put LA Noire to shame and an extremely nuanced and delicately subtle performance by a digital Ellen Page (who seemingly has a supremely polished cranium), the game never lacked anything in stagger-factor whatsoever. However with that said, the lack of any real gameplay was disappointing yet somewhat understandable given the developer pedigree.

Finally, Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us (the one with NOT Ellen Page) painted us a spectacularly grim picture of a post-apocalyptic future; giving us our first look at the game in motion. Visually, the game looks to be on par with the beautiful Uncharted titles that the company is mainly known for, but really, it’s the tense atmosphere and unrelentingly brutal and dynamic combat system that are the stars of the show. Showcasing a makeshift inventory system which allows you to combine every-day items for deadly effect (see the improve Molotov cocktail in the video) and an AI partner that reacts dynamically to the events which unfold (see the helpful stabbing she gives to a soldier wrestling with the main character), the game looks to be every bit as cinematic as it does eminently playable. In short: I can’t fucking wait for it and for me, it was easily the highlight of Sony’s first party offerings for the PS3.

Don’t worry, I didn’t forget about Playstation: All-Stars or Ratchet & Clank: Q Force. Sure enough All-Stars is a solid enough Smash Bros esque mascot crossover fest, but outside of its highly touted cross-play feature with the also announced Vita version of the title, it’s pretty apparent that it lacks both the gravitas and the appeal of its aforementioned Sony stablemates.  The same thing applies to the announced, but not shown, Ratchet & Clank: Q Force; with developer Insomniac games promising a return to the gameplay style of old that brought them to the dance.  Really the fact that it was only mentioned and not shown in any sort of meaningful capacity, doesn’t exactly say much about Sony’s confidence in the title.

The US version is subtitled ‘Full Frontal Assault’. The UK version is subtitled ‘Q Force’. Just, wow.

Despite this though, they do have one advantage over their three more enticing brethren; both of them are actually coming out this year. So then, despite the spectacular nature of their demonstrations, the sad fact eventually sinks in that you won’t be playing these games this year and it really serves to underline the fact that despite their strong first-party showing, Sony actually have very little for you to enjoy this year.

The Last Guardian. If this guy isn’t next-gen bound i’ll eat my hat; or something vaguely hat-like.

Oh and the very distinct lack of The Last Guardian goodness was duly noted; anybody who expects it to appear on this generation of Sony hardware is clearly kidding themselves at this point; especially given the recent omission from the developer that they are having a ‘myriad of technical issues’ with the highly anticipated title.

Next year then.

Playstation Move – No Motion To Carry It

No decent Playstation Move support at E3? Kevin Butler wouldn’t stand for that shit.

It seems that Sony no longer wants to compete with Kinect, or at the very least, they aren’t too hot on talking about it. Microsoft on the one hand, seem completely hell-bent on including Kinect functionality in just about every title they can and forcing developers to smile and wax lyrical through gritted teeth about it. Sony however, seem a lot less keen to do so and additionally, appear a lot less interested in getting developers to continue sing the praises of the motion control device (the last guy who did was Ken Levine at last year’s E3 regarding Move integration into the forthcoming Bioshock: Infinite).

This year’s E3 presser did little to destroy the illusion that Sony don’t have much to say regarding the Playstation Move and despite some *relatively* solid sales numbers, you would think that they would have had more to show for the device than merely a sequel to 2010’s Sports Champions. In contrast to the previous year, where we had an enthusiastic (but again lone) demonstration of Sorcery, Sony’s presser was lacking – just a trailer announcing the game with minimal fanfare and that was your lot.

At this juncture, nobody should be surprised if Sony doesn’t opt to utilise Move as transitional technology (like Microsoft are doing with Kinect) for the next generation Playstation. They just come across as barely willing to give it the time of day, let alone any attempt to re-create a groundswell of interest in the thing at a developer level.

Playstation Plus – Pay It Forward

More free shit than you can shake a hairy stick at. Bravo Sony!

Playstation Plus has for the most part, never been much of a lure – at least to me anyway. Here was a service that you paid for monthly, quarterly or annually which gave you the odd free game, discounted game or beta access to a game that you didn’t really care too much about. Then E3 2012 happened and Sony went full-tilt with ‘Hey! We have lots of free shit to tempt you with!” and it worked.

A whole raft of games suddenly turned up on the service absolutely fucking free – the likes of Infamous 2, Warhammer 40K: Space Marine and the newly released Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown all together proved to be irresistible lure for many folks (including myself) and really, if this stuff continues (and the monthly game swap out plan suggests it will), I can see my new Playstation Plus subscription enduring for a good while yet.

Brilliant stuff.

Sony @ E3 2012 – Conclusion

Despite the considerable shortcomings with their Vita showing, Sony still managed to come across more like a company that cares about the current generation of gamers than Microsoft does by comparison. The demonstration of three highly anticipated, spectacular first-party offerings did much to bolster the perception that they remain invested in the current generation of Playstation and despite the fact they won’t arrive until 2013, it nonetheless speaks volumes about their support for the existing machine going forward through the next year.

While it was largely impossible to shake the feeling that Sony is saving its biggest guns for next year’s next-gen showdown, they really should have done better with supporting the Vita. It needs every bit of help it can get right now and the almost complete lack of demonstrable first and third party support at the presser, will do little else to mitigate the stymieing of growth that the handheld is current experiencing.

Overall though, the presence of some solid first party love for the PS3, bolstered by the new PS Move incentives wasn’t quite enough in my estimation erase the nasty taste that the PS Vita shafting left in my mouth. Sony should have gone for broke with new software announcements and bundles for their struggling handheld this year, since next year, the focus will irrecoverably have to shift to avoid being upstaged by Microsoft when they lock horns with them for their next-generation debut.  Hopefully, we’ll get some more Vita love in the coming weeks and months, but as far as E3 2012 goes, Sony had their chance and blew it.

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Written by bitsnark

June 21, 2012 at 6:40 pm

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