I was a Sega fanboy… At the tender age of eight I hated anything and everything Nintendo, simply for the fact it wasn’t Sega. It’s an idiotic reason not to like something and I am deeply ashamed. If I had a time machine I would go back and kill Hitler, then slap my eight-year old self. Twenty-two years later and I am wiser. I own multiple consoles from Sony and Microsoft, as well as a semi-decent PC (I own a WiiU too but don’t tell anyone), and I simply go where the games are. That does not mean that I don’t enjoy a good flame war though. To me there is nothing finer than grabbing some popcorn and watching rabid fanboys giving each other Dutch rudders as they squabble over resolution or who has the largest vagina. In the spirit of this I watch the Sony and Microsoft pressers every year, and revel in the subtle and not-so-subtle swipes they take at each other that spawn arguments that will last until the next E3. However, in between the schoolboy cajoling there are also some fantastic game trailers and stage demos. So it is from a mostly objective standpoint I have weighed up Sony and Microsoft’s press conference offerings, with a steely-eyed resolve to determine who won E3 2015. Let’s take a look at some highlights…
With an online viewer count of around 140k, Microsoft opened with one of their strongest cards: Halo 5: Guardians. We were shown some new campaign footage featuring the famous author Rick Castle (from the TV show… Castle), as well as a multiplayer mode called Warzone that apparently involves you battling against everything but the kitchen sink. It looks set to be a mode that pits humans vs humans vs aliens vs lag, but is still a bit mysterious as to hard details. Personally I would have preferred if they had simply shouted “Dedicated servers for all!” over and over again for an hour but twas not to be. As one of their flagship franchises, the Halo 5 E3 trailers failed to overly excite. It was definitely Halo, of that there can be no doubt, but it was missing a certain wow factor. In a questionable pacing decision, this was followed by an odd looking new IP called ReCore, which was presented only as a CGI trailer and featured a suicidal robotic dog. Moving right along…
Microsoft unveiled impressive tech and platform advances during their conference and these will likely become talking points in flame wars for years to come. Principally they announced backwards compatibility for last-gen games, something both companies should arguably have had at launch, but that was very welcome nonetheless. The service comes at zero cost to both publisher and consumer, with the entire venture’s costs apparently being absorbed by Microsoft. This allowed the presenter to have a quiet jab at the PlayStation Now service, which costs money. For shame Sony, lead us to the light Microsoft! The other bit of tech on display was the HoloLens, a VR-type headset powered by Windows 10 that allows you to play Minecraft seemingly by telepathy and look like a lunatic to those watching while doing so. The technology is incredibly impressive (check out the demo below) and the Twitch chat was on fire with well-deserved accusations of sorcery and witchcraft on behalf of MS. They also unveiled a new pro controller which will make you better at all games you play due to the world’s strangest D-Pad and more buttons. In all seriousness the controller looks good, however reports are that it will cost you a lot more in monetary terms than the cost to your dignity when Big Carl Stoddard takes you downtown in Call of Duty because you don’t own one.
There was also the obligatory EA presence with one of their henchman asserting the power and passion behind the brilliant anti-gamer EA Access scheme. He looked a little like a Bond villain as he stared out across the crowd with dollar signs in his eyes like a cartoon character before giving us our first look at the exclusive Plants vs Zombies 2. Todd Howard also stepped in to rehash some Fallout 4 news as well as announce support for PC-created mods on Xbox One. Take that mustard race!
Cars descended from roofs to announce Forza 6 and the word “ambitious” was said many times. Indies were given their time in the limelight too, but at this point Game of Thrones spoilers in the Twitch chat were more alluring (the books were better). Interestingly the world premiere of Dark Souls III was shown by Microsoft, a respected franchise that I had previously associated primarily with PlayStation. Microsoft also showed the impressive new Tomb Raider game that appears to be a full MS exclusive, not timed like every member of the Sony Defence Force had hoped.
The show ended with the long-awaited announcement of a remake of the original Gears of War. Current-gen needs more remakes of barely old games and MS have their finger on that pulse (is the sarcasm getting through?). Thankfully, we were also treated to a look at the new Gears of War game, which for the moment is simply titled Gears 4. Shrouded in darkness both literally and metaphorically, the demo posed more questions than it answered, but I’m glad the game exists.
The Microsoft conference left me a little disappointed with its lack of actual surprises or revelations, but I was impressed by the tech they displayed and some of the exclusives they unveiled. But could a historically accurate giant Japanese crab crush their hopes and dreams…?
With a similar 140k online audience, Sony kicked off their conference by revealing a game whose existence had become as mythical as the love child of Big Foot and the Loch Ness monster: The Last Guardian. After eons in development hell, we finally saw it in action and it was glorious. Featuring what looks like the boy from ICO and a gigantic hybrid bird-dog, I’m still gobsmacked by the fact it is actually real and is set to release next year. With such a massive opening, it was hard to believe Sony could maintain momentum, until the new game from Guerrilla Games was shown: Horizon Zero Dawn. This game has a stunningly original and fantastic premise in which humanity is reset back to a pseudo-primitive past by a societal collapse, with the only legacy of the fallen civilisation other than some cave paintings being the presence of…. Robot dinosaurs! Seriously, with a game setting that interesting I have more or less forgiven Guerrilla Games for the nonsensical Killzone games. One clever chap in the Twitch chat dubbed it The Order: 1886 BC (seriously the chat was comedy gold).
Sony did its fair share of pointing and laughing at the competition by announcing a slew of timed exclusive content for popular games such as Assassin’s Creed, Batman: Arkham Knight, Destiny and Star Wars: Battlefront. In a big surprise move though Sony announced a partnership with the Dark Lord himself: Activision. No longer Microsoft’s copy and pasted feather in its cap, Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 will have content delivered first to PS4, with sloppy seconds to go to Microsoft some months later. A new Hitman game was announced too which will have PS exclusive content, and looks quite intriguing from the trailer (have a look below).
The hits kept on coming too. Street Fighter V was revealed as a PS/PC exclusive as well as an incredibly strange and wonderful game called Dreams, by studio Media Molecule (of Little Big Planet fame). Dreams seeks to recreate the sensation of lucid dreaming and allows the player to sculpt, share and experience eerie sequences that run the gamut between sublime and terrifying. The ever mystical No Man’s Sky was also shown but I’m still not sure what to make of it, perhaps the word “ambitious” has to be thrown around a little more.
Sony America bigwig and generally annoying bastard Adam Boyes made his presence known by announcing a remake for the beloved Final Fantasy VII. It seems Square Enix were done with giving Final Fantasy fans everything they didn’t want for the past ten years and finally made the no-brainer decision to update this timeless classic. Even Boyes’ cringeworthy delivery could not spoil this moment, and the crowd erupted in an apoplectic fit. He also showed off four Devolver games (Hotline Miami developers) which continue their unique visual style and confronting gore (here’s hoping they don’t get banned in Australia).
The show ended as we all knew it must, with a look at Uncharted 4. The demo got off to a shaky start with a technical glitch showing an unmoving Drake, and the part of me that hates Uncharted (all of me) chuckled inwardly. Once the demo did kick off though it was all familiar happy-go-lucky mass-murder Rambo/Bad Boys action with gun shooting and car driving aplenty. Sully did actually manage to kill an enemy though (compared to the previous instalments where he couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn if he was in it), and there’s still hope this won’t be a mediocre third person shooter sheep in adventure game wolf clothing like the others in this vastly overrated series.
Sony’s show let the games and timed exclusives do the talking. Solid gameplay demos and good pacing made it a joy to watch from start to finish. So who emerged victorious? Well, if Xbox was a dog, then PlayStation just punted it off a bridge out of a moving car. Their show was far superior in terms of reveals and surprises and it has me excited for the future of gaming, and scared for the future of my wallet/job/social life. But the real winner in this race might surprise you, perhaps because technically they weren’t even in the race. Yes folks, the winner is… Bethesda! Bethesda had an absolutely massive conference that showed them to be heroes of this industry. While Sony and Microsoft claim to love their customers they also love to play us against one another and fight their wars for them in the quest for the mighty dollar. Meanwhile, Bethesda make gigantic content-rich games and worlds that gamers simply love and play many years after they have been released. These games transcend commercialism (but still manage to be commercial successes) and provide experiences that are unique to our medium, and can only be truly understood if you have that all-consuming nerdy fire that burns within you. So congratulations Bethesda on winning the war between Sony and Microsoft for 2015!