When it came time to announce their next-generation Playstation console, Sony did not hesitate. The introduction of the Playstation 4 occurred at a media-packed event in New York, which featured appearances by some of the greatest, most popular, and most self-important videogame creators in the world. They showed off a slate of games that ran the gamut from “exciting” and “visually stimulating” to “confusing” and “wait, so Killzone is still happening?”
The presentation was, in some ways, a bold refutation of Nintendo’s Wii U — Sony made a point of stressing that it had involved third-party developers in the process of crafting the Playstation 4. But this gaming generation wasn’t kind to Sony. The Playstation 2 was a culture-impacting, boundary-bursting force of nature; the Playstation 3 was a high-powered machine with great games that had a hard time competing with the muscular Xbox 360 and the mass-appeal Wii. So, there came the inevitable moment in the Playstation 4 presentation when Sony made it clear that a key part of the PS4 pitch was its compatibility with the PS Vita, Sony’s low-selling mobile-games device. The intention is to allow you to play all PS4 games on your Vita — if you have a Vita, which you probably don’t — a compatibility system which basically makes the Vita into the Sony equivalent of the Wii U’s GamePad.
But comparisons between the PS4 and the Wii U arguably stop there. Although the first hour of Sony’s presentation was weirdly devoted to non-games product-y yammering — “Hey, look, you can post video of yourself playing a game online, just like PC gamers have done for over a decade!” — the tech giant wisely ceded the stage to some of the medium’s most intriguing creators, who paraded quick peeks at their games. The titles they showed off included:
Knack: A nifty oddity which looks like a kid-friendly 3-D cartoon, Knack lets you control a tiny robot who can morph into a huge robot composed of apparently hundreds of distinct parts. Think Pikmin meets Transformers. Excitement Level: 8
Killzone: Shadow Fall: The graphics in the short demo for this game were beautiful, featuring a gorgeous giant utopian metropolis with floating spaceships and a waterfall. Then a building exploded and it became yet another game about people shooting each other with futuristic weapons. So, to confirm: Yes, we are about to enter the second decade of Playstation trying to make Killzone happen. Excitement Level: 6
Driveclub: Evolution Studios is making a team-based racing game. This is a passion project for them — they trademarked the name almost a decade ago — and the presentation made it clear that the PS4′s graphics engine would explore every microscopic fleck of paint. Excitement Level: 8
Infamous: Second Son: Wins the prize for best pre-game introduction, when the developer noted that he had been teargassed by policemen in 1999 and then went off on an extended philosophical tangent about the U.K.’s obsession with security cameras (1 for every 14 citizens) and the Bush-era investigation of random citizens’ cellphone records. Unfortunately, that awesome introduction led everyone to believe that he was showing off Watch Dogs, and not a threequel to a sorta-decent open-world superhero game. Still, this game looks a bit like the X-Men storyline Days of Future Past, which is always a good thing. Excitement Level: 7
The Witness: Jonathan Blow made Braid, the 2008 masterpiece which gave momentum to the whole indie games movement. Since then, he’s made a career for himself as the Great Denier of the whole videogame industry. Sure enough, he arrived onstage and made a joke about all the explosions in the preceding game demos, before noting that his new PS4 exclusive game was going to be very different. Most open-world games are huge; The Witness is purposefully small. “A lot of games try to pad their game-time,” he said. “We work hard to cut anything redundant. There is no filler.” Insufferable? Maybe. But Blow’s critiques about mainstream video games mainstream always been on-point. And if The Witness looks a bit like a modern incarnation of Myst, it was also the weirdest — and least explosion-y — game on display. Excitement Level: 10
[Untitled Media Molecule WTF Project]: The LittleBigPlanet developer didn’t actually have a game to show off. Instead, they demonstrated how they were using the PS Move controller in tandem with the PS4 to create digital sculptures. Sound confusing? Their presentation ended with a video of digital sculptures playing guitar, drumming, and dancing, while gray-shirted people apparently controlled them in the background. It looked really cool, although I have to admit I had no idea what was happening. This ended with a notation that the PS4 was billing itself as “The Creative Console.” Excitement Level: N/A (Although, yay creativity!)
Deep Down: Capcom came onstage and showed off a new videogame where you play a knight who kills dragons. Deep Down is just a working title. Pray it becomes an actual title. Dragons! Excitement Level: 8
[Untitled Square Enix WTF non-Project]: Square Enix showed off a graphics demo about gunmen fighting monks, and one of the monks is a hot chick with lightning powers, and also a dragon. It apparently wasn’t for a real game; it was just one of those hot-lady-monk-shooting-lightning-bolts videos that we all make when we’re trying out new graphics technology. Then the Final Fantasy Brand Director appeared and said, quote, “Please be excited for E3 this year.” Currently, the only scheduled FF game is Final Fantasy 13, Part 3, which could mean they’ll be announcing Final Fantasy 15, or maybe a new update for Final Fantasy 14, or maybe Final Fantasy 7, Part 19 Minus 5. Anyhow, please be excited. Excitement Level: 5
The Last Guardian: Nope. Excitement Level: 10, because it’s totally going to happen someday and it will be just perfect. Right? RIGHT?!?!?!
Watch Dogs: Ubisoft’s open-world stunner stole the show at E3 and it was the standout title here. Watch Dogs is looking more and more like the videogame version of Person of Interest — the demo showed off at the Sony presentation saw the player character tracking a random person on the street, who had a “potential victim percentage” attached to her. The random person wound up being attacked by a criminal; the player character rescued her, chased down the assailant, and then ran from the cops, all while hacking various cameras and bank accounts. It looked awesome. Excitement Level: 10.1
Diablo III: It’s coming to the PS4. And the PS3. So, if you’re someone who really likes Diablo, but you didn’t play it on the PC, which is the optimal way to play it…”Well, I guess buy a whole new console and play Diablo III on the new console?” is how the pitch meeting concluded at Blizzard’s offices. Excitement Level: 6
Destiny: Bungie’s mysterious and ambitious new post-Halo project is coming to the PS3 and the PS4, with exclusive content. The video that played was gorgeous, although it didn’t exactly look worlds away from Mass Effect or Killzone (or, for that matter, Halo.) Bungie developers were on hand to trumpet the overall hugeness of Destiny, which hopes to let you mature your digital character in an active online world. While shooting things, naturally. Excitement Level: 9
Sony’s event purposefully mixed together big franchises with more eccentric fare. Indie philosopher-kings like Jonathan Blow and David Cage traded off onstage with bigwigs from Blizzard and Ubisoft. It felt like a bold statement: Sony clearly envisions the PS4 as the incubator for the next evolutionary step forward in videogame technology. It’s not radically altering the hardware: the PS4 controller might feature a TouchPad and a “Share” button, but it’s still recognizably a Playstation controller.
The presentation ended with the bold statement that the new console would hit the market for Holiday 2013. That will be one year post-Wii U, and — assuming the rumors are true — six months after Microsoft announces a new Xbox. By then, we’ll have a better sense of where the PS4 fits into the new generation. Right now, it looks like a weird mixture of aspirations. It could be the Arthouse Console; it could be the Console for Decaying Sony Franchises; it’s clearly chasing after that hot-hot social-network cash, what with the Share Button and the video-capturing software; it also has Diablo III, why not.
In short: There will be a Playstation 4, and we have a year to figure out what that means.
Follow Darren on Twitter: @DarrenFranich
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