LOS ANGELES—After rival Microsoft showed 50 games from a wide range of genres in a very traditional E3 press conference yesterday, Sony promoted its PlayStation platform with a focused and unconventional presentation. There were only a handful of games, but they were nearly all heavy hitters.
The event started out in a small, church-like space with hanging lights—very unusual for this kind of press conference. It was here that Sony opened the show with an extended gameplay trailer of Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us Part II. It became immediately apparent why Sony constructed this unusual venue: it was plucked right out of the game.
After that, the press conference awkwardly moved to a commentary desk for discussion while attendees relocated to a much larger, more traditional venue. From there, Sony unleashed rapid-fire trailers and gameplay clips from Kojima Productions’ Death Stranding, Sucker Punch’s Ghosts of Tsushima, Insomniac Games’ Spider-Man, and several others. There were no speakers (apart from a brief introduction at the start of the event), just trailers.
Once the main event closed with Spider-Man, Sony cut again to the discussion desk, where live gameplay of Spider-Man’s open world was performed, and where a new VR game from From Software was debuted with a trailer.
Let’s dig in.
The Last of Us Part II
In an extended clip of The Last of Us Part II, we saw previous-game-survivor Ellie at some kind of dance. She chatted with a friend, then danced with another girl. The other girl was clearly interested in her, and they discussed the fact that everyone in the room was staring at them, then they kissed. The facial expressions and details were remarkable, as you’d expect from Naughty Dog these days.
This cutscene sequence was interspersed with gameplay footage of Ellie stalking through a ruined town—every bit as bleak as you’d expect from the franchise—and massacring hostile humans in brutal and hyperviolent ways. The realistic graphics made the violence very intense. Ellie took some hits herself, but she emerged the sole survivor.
Notable details included environmentally contextual animations for combat, which Naughty Dog has played with in the past but which seem to have reached a new level here. Also, when Ellie was struck by an arrow, a cutscene-like sequence made it clear that either she was scripted to get hit then, or getting hit in this game is very bad. The arrow stuck in her and she struggled for a while after being hit by it.
The gameplay was in line with the first game’s—stealth, combat, brutal takedowns—but the polish and graphics were on a new level.
Fans of eccentric and ambitious Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima went into this event wondering what, if anything, they’d see of his new game Death Stranding. Would it just be another cryptic cinematic trailer? Would something about the story be revealed? Was this game really just an elaborate ruse in which Kojima released a bizarre trailer every year with no actual game to be released? (Probably not that one.)
Those fans got a real deep dive in the form of a long gameplay demonstration. But it introduced just as many questions as it answered.
The demo showed the game’s apparent protagonist (played by Norman Reedus) traversing vast landscapes in some kind of protective suit, with a baby in stasis on his back. The landscape looked desolate and hostile, but not entirely alien. In a cave, he was stalked by an invisible monster that seemed to have hands for feet, judging from its ominous footprints in the mud.
He then met a woman—a new character we haven’t seen before—and they commenced with some cryptic dialogue that didn’t reveal anything helpful about the plot. Again: plenty of new questions.
A later sequence showed Reedus’ character walking through a shadowy landscape with a sensor dish emerging from his backpack. The dish seemed to reveal shadowy figures floating in the air; they looked like adult humans, but some of them were attached to umbilical cords. Several of them surrounded him and dragged him into the mud in a horrific way.
The trailer ended with the new female character eating a strange slug. I’m not even going to try to speculate about what any of this meant, but the visuals were unique and gripping.
Ghosts of Tsushima
First-party Sony studio Sucker Punch is best known for its Infamous franchise of unconventional, open-world superhero games. For the first time in a while, the studio is tackling something new.
Ghosts of Tsushima is an open-world samurai game with what appears to be deep and bloody combat. In the demo we saw, the protagonist samurai approached a village under siege. He battled several enemies with satisfying, smoothly animated, harshly violent attacks and counters. The combat looked a bit like Dark Souls if that game had a much heavier emphasis on Batman: Arkham Asylum-stye counters and The Last of Us-style brutal finishers.
The samurai then met an archer friend, and they went on a mission to stop the Mongols from assassinating an ally. He performed an Assassin’s Creed-like aerial attack to kill some of his ally’s tormentors, but then the archer friend betrayed him and attacked the ally. What ensued was a duel beautifully staged against a sunset and a leaf-shedding tree. With lush foliage and beautifully framed shots, the game has an atmospheric quality to its visuals that makes it stand out.
We didn’t learn much beyond that, but the combat looked satisfying.
Sony closed things out with Spider-Man. We’ve seem some gameplay before, and the main demonstration didn’t show us too many new concepts. We saw Spider Man grappling with a prison break: several of his supervillain nemesis broke out all at once, including Electro, Rhino, Vulture, and Scorpion. The demo showed him having a rough time, barely surviving fights and chasing villains through a prison on fire to stop them from escaping.
The sequence led to Spider Man swinging from collapsing cranes in the middle of a massive thunderstorm, then getting handily beaten by several villains at once on a rooftop.
We noticed combat heavily inspired by Batman: Arkham Asylum, but it was faster paced and offered some additional tactical options thanks to Spider Man’s web shooters. In a nice touch, the incoming attack counter notifier was the comic books’ visual for spidey sense. Ratchet & Clank‘s DNA was clearly visible here too, from the wisecracking protagonist to chase sequences that resembled the rail-riding portions of recent Ratchet & Clank titles.
Sony also showed some open-world gameplay in a post-show stream. We saw Spider Man swinging through a large recreation of Manhattan, with several familiar buildings in sight. He commenced with a prolonged brawl, pulling car doors off with his webs and swinging them at enemies.
Those were Sony’s tentpole games. At first, Sony gave the impression it would stick to those, but a small number of other titles made their appearances too. Here’s what we saw.
- Capcom showed footage from a remake of Resident Evil 2. It’s a ground-up overhaul with modern graphics and cutscenes, not just a 4K port.
- Square-Enix showed the Pirates of the Caribbean and Monster’s Inc worlds from Kingdom Hearts III.
- Dreams, Sony’s anticipated but mysterious game and world creation platform, didn’t get a proper demo, but creations from the game were interspersed between the bigger demos.
- Max Payne and Alan Wake developers Remedy showed a striking, gorgeous, and strange third-person shooter in which a woman can use magic-like powers to manipulate her environment. It’s called Control.
- Squanch Games, the game studio founded by Rick and Morty co-creator Justin Roiland, finally unveiled its first full video game: Trover Saves the Universe, which got a short, funny, and not particularly revealing trailer. It’s exclusive to the PS4, but while Squanch Games was originally announced as a VR-specific game studio, this game will have both VR and non-VR PlayStation 4 versions.
- Nioh 2 was announced, but the brief trailer didn’t reveal much.
- A new VR game from From Software was announced. It doesn’t look anything like the Souls games. The trailer mostly involved focusing on a flower sitting on a table. We don’t know what to make of it, but it’s called Déraciné. It’s PlayStation VR-exclusive.
Listing image by Nathan Mattise