Another year, another mortal struggle for dominance among the big three console publishers. While Microsoft opened strong with a renewed commitment towards first party games and a slew of other showings, Sony doubled down on their strong first party presence. There may not have been a lot of surprises, but some of the games shown off looked quite impressive.
The Last of Us Part II
Naughty Dog’s initial reveal of the sequel to their 2013 masterpiece was a little bit rocky. It depicted hyper-violence in the extreme, some sort of wayward death cult performing horrific acts of torture on random people. The most recent trailer seems cognisant of the fact that only depicting the brutal violence of this post-apocalyptic world, without any of the underlying pathos, results in a lot of nihilistic nonsense.
The trailer that kicked off Sony’s press conference felt like a direct rebuttal of what came before. We see Ellie somewhat out of her comfort zone, milling around at some sort of communal dance. The subtle character dynamics, incredible facial animation, and powerful voice acting combined to make for a spellbinding and sensual scene. Just as Ellie closes in for a kiss, we get a match-cut that jumps to an equally intimate act of violence, Ellie desperately slitting a man’s throat. The duality of intimacy and violence is poignantly captured by this clever cut, summarizing the powerful dichotomy that the previous game so perfectly captured.
After this we saw gameplay that seems to boast a fluidity of movement that the previous game lacked. Ellie squeezes in between the small crevices of store shelves, barely evading her pursuers. There was also a much greater emphasis on melee combat, with well-timed dodges being necessary to avoid death blows. It’s good to see confirmation that Naughty Dog hasn’t lost the ability to portray the intimate moments that grant all of the violence meaning. Even if there were absolutely no gameplay evolutions from the first Last of Us, and in the face of accusations that the footage was fake, it will still be interesting to see the second chapter of this story.
Hideo Kojima is one of those rare auteurs in the gaming world, with the mere mention of his name evoking a specific sense of style and tone. His strange worlds boast an amalgamation of modern political machinations and absurdism tied together with an anime flavor. And most importantly underneath all of the weirdness there’s a beating heart of empathy. After departing with Konami on less than amicable terms, he’s set out on new endeavor with a team of some of his previous co-workers.
Death Stranding looks so very Kojima, bursting at the seams with world-building and mind boggling insanity. Based on the trailers, it seems to be set in some sort of world where invisible ghost creatures have the ability to instantly age anything or anyone they come into contact with. The protagonist, played by Norman Reedus, seems to be a delivery man, tasked with bringing mysterious packages throughout this dangerous world. We finally got to see gameplay, and while it wasn’t much, it’s proved that this is, in fact, a real video game, and not just a series of abstract short-films. Norman Reedus’ character climbs various rocky terrains, which eventually leads to a tense encounter with otherworldly beings in what seems like a stealth sequence. Admittedly, what we saw of gameplay wasn’t entirely mind-blowing, but the climbing physics were impressive, and it’s now clear its presented from a third person perspective. While some are tiring of he enigmatic nature of Kojima’s latest, I couldn’t be more intrigued.
Ghost of Tsushima
While Ghost of Tsushima had been teased last E3 as the next game from Sucker Punch, we finally received some tangible specifics. Set in feudal Japan during the invasion of the Mongols, we follow a lone samurai who begins a counter-attack against the invading forces. Dealing in that specific brand of cool that extends from the work of Akira Kurosawa and other Chanbara film directors, Tsushima seems to be aiming to deliver on a more cinematic approach to a samurai game than many previous efforts. If there is a theme to the high-profile Sony first parties of late, it’s that weighty narrative based AAA games have become their bread and butter.
Whether Sucker Punch has the writing chops to pull that off remains to be seen, but the combat certainly skews towards a more grounded approach than many of its character-action contemporaries. There was a deliberate pace to the clash of swords, with blocking and timing blows triumphing over button mashing. Who knows if this is emblematic of how the game will actually play, but for now it at least makes for a cool presentation. This all culminates in a sunset duel between two samurai, a classic image.
Additional information has come out about the nature of game, revealing that is built around an open-world, and that the demo we saw was only a side-quest. The fact that this level of cinematic detail was granted to an optional diversion certainly bodes well. The progression systems allow players to specialize in either the way of the samurai or that of the stealthy “Ghost” (basically a ninja), the former presenting better combat options, while the latter provides mobility and stealth abilities. Sucker Punch is even granting the option to play through the game with Japanese voice acting, further reinforcing this reasonably grounded take on 13th century Japan. Ghost of Tsushima looks to be a love-letter to the work of Kurosawa, from the reference to the solemn graveyard in Seven Samurai, to the heavy use of wind and background motion, and I couldn’t be more enthused to see if it’s grand historical vision pays off.
Admittedly I don’t have a ton of personal reverence for Spidey, but I do have fond memories of plenty of Insomniac titles, as well as a firm nostalgia for the PS2 Spider-Man 2 tie-in. With that said, it looks like the new Spider-Man game has some interesting gameplay hooks. Featuring some fluid combat that bears some inspiration from the Rocksteady Batman titles, there is a seemingly natural integration between regular fisticuffs, aerial juggling, and the use of web slinging. This resulted in a theatrical ballet of pummeling low-rent thugs, the smooth combat looking like a blast to play.
Beyond that I find it a little tough to be excited about the plot, as this seems like a typical “round up all the big bads who escaped” kind of tale. While I don’t necessarily expect a full deep dive rewrite of the fiction like in the Telltale Batman game, it would be nice to see that the storytelling looked as interesting as the gameplay.
The Other Talking Points
Kingdom Hearts III
Ten year old me would have been losing his mind over the fact that Kingdom Hearts III is imminent, but adult me has lost almost all his previous excitement after more than thirteen years between major releases. Still it’s hard to not be impressed by how good the new Disney and Pirates characters look, both art styles feeling fully realized. With years of stop-gap games further complicating an already convoluted lore, it’s going to be hard for casual fans like myself to jump in, but if end-product justifies the hype, we’ll see.
It was exciting to see Remedy’s new game Control in action. They may be coming off the mixed reception of Quantum Break, but the Max Payne and Alan Wake developer is not to be slept on when it comes to stylistic homages. From the looks of it, their latest stars a woman with telekinetic powers who is traversing through some sort of morphing dream world. If their previous titles echoed hard-boiled noir and Twin Peaks respectively, this looks to be a take on dream-fiction such as Satoshi Kon’s Paprika, and Nolan’s Inception.
Resident Evil 2 Remake
Following up on the well received 2015 HD remake of the original Resident Evil, Capcom unveiled another remake title, this time for fan favorite Resident Evil 2. With Dead Space seemingly out of commission, the only prominent survival horror game series besides Evil Within is Resident Evil. Seeing how they managed to modernize and iron out many of the issues with RE1, I’m optimistic that they can do the same for its sequel, while capitalizing on their Resident Evil 7 momentum.
We only had the briefest glimpse of Nioh 2 in the form of a trailer, but a follow up for the best Souls game outside of From Software’s own output is exciting. Admittedly, it was somewhat odd that From Software also unveiled a samurai-themed Souls-like, but seeing how Team Ninja will iterate on their complex original title is still an exciting prospect.
As per usual, the post-E3 press conference hype is palpable, a large string of exciting titles on the horizon. While the deck seems increasingly stacked against single player games, Sony continues to dedicate itself to backing big-budget narrative-centric first parties. Although only Spider-Man and Kingdom Hearts III have hard release dates (September 7, 2018 and January 25, 2019 respectively), it’s good to know that Sony’s future looks bright.