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E3 2013: Sony's Knock-Out Blow

A review of Sony's opening salvo at the end of E3's first day.

This morning at E3, Microsoft did its best to assuage doubts over the Xbox One's game-ownership and internet-connection policies by showing a strong and not entirely predictable line-up for next-generation games that put the ball squarely back in Sony's court. This evening, Sony responded with some cool-looking games of its own – followed by a series of slow-motion punches to Xbox's groin. In eight years of covering video games I have never seen a conference that aimed so directly for the opponent's jugular. It was a targeted assault.

For the first hour or so, though, it was business as usual. Sony reiterated an enduring commitment to the PS3 with Beyond: Two Souls and The Last of Us before ambling through its next-gen line-up at a leisurely pace, positioning Vita as the ideal companion to the upcoming PlayStation 4. We got to see the box – which, to be honest, I couldn't get enormously excited about despite the several months of build-up. It was familiar territory: Drive Club, Infamous: Second Son, Killzone: Shadow Falls, and Knack all made second appearances, alongside two new games: The Order: 1886, a steampunk-looking fantasy shooter set in 1800s London, and a new thing from Quantic Dream, The Dark Sorcerer, starring the old man with lovely eyes from February's tech demo – although that may or may not turn out to be a game.

It was when Sony brought out a representative selection of its indie developers that things started to get more interesting, especially when compared to this morning's Xbox One conference. Sony's commitment to new talent is evident in the amount of time dedicated to showing these games (and their creators) off on stage, from Don't Starve to Transistor. Self-publishing on the PlayStation 4 is going to be a huge deal for smaller developers, and the language Sony was employing - “richness”, “breadth”, “variety” - suggests that the company is well aware of that, and will continue to actively court them.

In eight years of covering video games I have never seen a conference that aimed so directly for the opponent's jugular.

From there we moved on to the third-party developers: two huge surprises in the form of Final Fantasy XV, formerly Versus 13 (which I never EVER thought we'd see again), and Kingdom Hearts III, followed by gameplay demos of Watch Dogs and Assassin's Creed IV that went deeper than what we saw at Ubisoft's conference earlier in the day.

But the turning point of the conference was the first and most damaging of several body-blows to Microsoft, which came when Jack Tretton returned to stage and said without a trace of ambiguity that the PlayStation 4 will support lending, trading, reselling, and indeed playing your games on your console in pretty much the same way as we have been since they came on floppy discs. No DRM, no restrictions, no online requirements, and no authentication. If anyone still thought that this was a minor issue for gamers, the reaction to that news will surely have disavowed them of that assumption. In the conference centre, the room went madder than it would have if Naughty Dog had shown up with Uncharted 4.

From there, the attack became more and more targeted. After making it absolutely clear that you can trade, sell, and share PS4 games without restriction, Tretton added that disc-based games don't need to be connected online or check in for authentication – not every 24 hours, not ever.

All of this was exactly what gamers wanted to hear. The reaction was so overwhelmingly positive that Tretton could sneak in the revelation that you'll now need to be a Plus subscriber to play online multiplayer without anyone complaining. PlayStation Plus is squaring up more directly against Xbox Live now, and though it boasts a better rewards offering with its free games than Live, PSN's track record with cross-game voice chat and (most importantly) security puts it far behind Live at this point in time. This will be a significant battleground for the next generation, and Sony will need to shore up its online infrastructure to justify the price and support online multiplayer as well as Live.

Nobody would have expected Sony to undercut Microsoft on the price to such an extent.

Speaking of online multiplayer, Bungie's Destiny was a closing gameplay presentation that came across as a more serious Borderlands, a cross-platform sci-fi shooter that looks like it could give respawn's Xbox One exclusive Titanfall a run for its money. But it did make me think: without the Xbox One's reliance on cloud-power, PS4 games might not be able to expand to the same scale that Xbox One games might be able to in the future, if Microsoft is to be believed. The phrase “persistent world” cropped up a lot in the earlier conference.

After Destiny, though, there was the announcement of the PS4's price – which, at the time, felt like a knock-out blow. $399, 399 euros, £349. It's still a slightly raw deal for Europeans and Brits on the exchange rate front, but not to the same extent as Xbox One. Nobody would have expected Sony to undercut Microsoft to such an extent. God only knows what it's going to cost them in the beginning, but the audience's reaction to the announcement was unambiguous. It's a hugely popular price point for a next-generation console.

After the revelations of the last half-hour, it was easy to forget that this conference didn't add all that much to the PS4 line-up that was revealed in February. There were no really killer new exclusives from the franchises that PlayStation gamers already love, like God of War, LittleBigPlanet or (of course) Uncharted. Those will, no doubt, be coming, but it was disappointing not to see them teased in the same way that Halo was this morning.

Other than that, though, it's difficult to find much wrong with Sony's E3 showing .That conference was Sony setting out its principles: this is how you support independent developers, this is how you respect your customers, this is how you present your games and your console to the world. The games looked good, the box was nice, the price was right, but it was the attitude that really smacked us in the face tonight. Sony was saying: if you care about games like we do, you'll buy a PlayStation 4.

Right now, I think most gamers would agree.

Keza MacDonald is in charge of IGN's games coverage in the UK. You can follow her on IGN and Twitter.

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Game Details

Developed by: Quantic Dream
Genre: Adventure
Release Date:
United States: October 8, 2013
UK: October 2013
Australia: October 9, 2013
Japan: Q4 2013
M for Mature : Blood, Intense Violence, Sexual Content, Strong Language, Use of Drugs and Alcohol
Also Available On:
Also known as: Beyond