If there was a theme to Sony’s showcase this year, it would be confidence. Sony has spent this entire generation with a comfortable sales lead over their competition. This was the E3 where they flipped on cruise control and were clearly enjoying the ride at the expense of the viewers at home, and especially at the expense of people live at the venue. It opened with Playstation’s Shawn Layden addressing the audience inside of an old barn, likening it to a church congregation, joking that those in attendance were okay to skip next Sunday’s sermons. The humor landed like a lead weight. It was followed by a solemn old man playing a simple, somber ditty on his banjo — a lengthy setup for the first trailer of the night: The Last of Us 2.
The trailer for The Last of Us 2 set the tone for most of the showcase. The original game dealt with a slightly different twist on the zombie apocalypse, with a fungus-born infection that birthed a monster known as the “clicker.” Blind and toxic, just being near a clicker was often bad enough, let alone being attacked by one. No clicker zombies were featured in this trailer for The Last of Us 2; instead, it was replaced with some of the most unflinchingly brutal, up-close murder possibly ever seen in a video game. A character from the first game, Ellie, now grown up in to an adult woman, watches the life slowly drain the eyes of several attackers as they bleed out by her hand, including one man who seems to audibly drown in his own blood after begging Ellie not to kill him (she obviously does).
The entire venue then packed up and physically moved to a new theater, out of the makeshift church Sony had set up, and in to a more traditional theater where the rest of the conference took place. During the process, Shawn Layden returned, warning viewers at home that they shouldn’t be looking for “big, flashy, new ideas” but rather, a different way to explore how these games get made. While everyone got seated in the other theater, the stream proceeded to burn through half a dozen or so rapid fire trailers for games, each getting only a few seconds of screen time. We see Tetsuya Miziguchi’s psychadelic, VR-enabled Tetris Effect, and Days Gone, which was once a pillar of Sony’s showcases in previous years but is now treated like another footnote. Some games, like Twin Mirror and Ghost Giant, come up and go by so quickly it’s impossible to know what they’re about or even play like.
With everyone seated, it’s time for the next musical performance: another elderly man, this time dressed in a kimono, playing the shakuhachi — a traditional Japanese bamboo flute. He sets up a game called The Ghost of Tsushima, from Sly Cooper and Infamous developers Sucker Punch Productions. You take the role of a wandering samurai during the first Mongol invasion of Japan. After The Last of Us 2, it wasn’t hard to flinch watching more people get violently cut down and run through with Katana, even though The Ghost of Tsushima wasn’t quite as unrelentingly gory. It was, however, beautiful — the trailer ended on a one-on-one samurai duel amidst fallen leaves, each step causing them to stir slightly.
From there, the rest of the showcase continued as any other has in the past. After so many years working under Microsoft, Remedy Entertainment made a surprise appearance with a game called Control. Featuring Remedy’s tendency to provide new, weird twists on shooters, Control seems to involve psychology and telekinesis, as a woman floats around a harshly-lit environment that continually rearranges itself. It’s surreal, beautiful and somehow even more supernatural than Remedy’s past works (Alan Wake and Quantum Break). It releases next year.
After that was the first of the Resident Evil 2 Remake. Announced nearly three years ago, many had wondered what happened to the Resident Evil 2 Remake, given Capcom’s almost total radio silence on the matter. As it turns out, what happened was something far beyond even the original Resident Evil Remake; instead of merely retaining the original game’s pre-rendered background concept, the Resident Evil 2 Remake goes fully 3D, adopting a behind-the-back camera similar to Resident Evil 4. The look of the game lands somewhere between classic Resident Evil and the most recent Resident Evil 7, featuring characters with updated, modernized outfits (in particular, Claire Redfield now appears to be sporting the same leather jacket she wore in Resident Evil Revelations 2). Despite rumors of increased action, horror appears to be alive and well in the Resident Evil 2 Remake, with plenty of dark, foreboding hallways and slimy monsters waiting around every turn. It releases on Playstation 4, Xbox One and PC on January 25th, 2019.
Trover Saves the Universe offered a helping of tonal whiplash following Resident Evil. It’s an action platformer from Squanch Games, Justin Roiland’s game development company. Roiland is half of the brain behind Adult Swim’s Rick and Morty show, and Trover seems to borrow heavily from the show’s absurd, aggressive sense of humor. The logo for Trover Saves the Universe is even written using a font similar to the one used in Rick and Morty, just in case you weren’t sure who this was made by and who it’ll be selling to. Not much else was shown about it, only that it’s exclusive to Playstation 4 and Playstation VR.
Kingdom Hearts III made yet another appearance, this time debuting a trailer showcasing Sora’s return to the world of Pirates of the Caribbean. All the usual suspects were in tow: Jack Sparrow, Captain Barbosa, and more, along side the now-customary ship-to-ship combat every game with pirates features. Seeing more photo-realistic looking characters contrasts well with the other trailers for Kingdom Hearts III seen at E3, though out of all the footage shown of the game, the greater detail required by the Caribbean seems to have a negative impact on the game’s performance, as more than a few framerate dips were on display.
Things began to wind down with the gameplay reveal of Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding. For years, Death Stranding has mystified us all as to what, exactly, it was. While the gameplay trailer still leaves more questions than answers, it’s starting to come in to focus. Norman Reedus is the recipient of what is either a curse or a virus called “Extinction,” and must continue to live his life delivering supplies across the wasteland of… well, I guess we don’t really know where the game is set, do we? Is it a future earth? Is it an alien planet? Is this after some kind of apocalypse or rapture? Both ghosts and time travel appear to factor in to the game’s story somehow, and both seem to be connected, as at one point Norman Reedus is advised not to get caught by the ghosts or else he’ll be sent back in time. How far back? We don’t know. It’s tenuous little to grasp on to, but I think it’s just enough to finally pique my interest.
After a brief CG trailer to announce Nioh 2, Sony’s Playstation Showcase drew to a close with extended gameplay of Insomniac’s Spider-man. In it, Spider-man is hot on the heels of Electro, who enters The Raft — a maximum security prison for supervillains. Electro proceeds to wreak havoc, freeing all of the most dangerous inmates, like Rhino, Vulture, and Scorpion. When Mr. Negative shows up, it has the makings of a new Sinister Six team up, with the trailer ending before revealing the sixth and final member. All throughout the gameplay, Spider-man looks more nimble than ever, easily launching himself through the tight corridors of the prison with a degree grace and speed that looks absolutely incredible.
But it all adds up to a surprisingly thin showing. For all of Shawn Layden’s talk about having a look inside the “process” of making these games, it was still just a bunch of trailers, most presented without much ceremony. The days of Sony hitting home run after home run are clearly behind us, as the company has settled in to a comfortable position at the front of the pack, where they apparently don’t even have to pressure most of their developers to give estimated release dates. Couldn’t they be bothered to follow up on Shenmue 3? It’s been years since anyone’s seen the Final Fantasy VII Remake. These are games that Sony vetted as important to the Playstation brand, but nowadays it seems like they couldn’t care less. Obviously, games will be done when they are done and Sony only has so much control over some of these games, but the Playstation as a platform just didn’t show any signs of hustle at this E3, and that’s kind of a bummer.