Expectations were high for Sony’s E3 showcase this week. Last year, Sony arguably stole the show with games like Detroit: Become Human, Days Gone, God of War, Spider-Man, Horizon Zero Dawn, a new Call of Duty, The Last Guardian, and a VR thing for Final Fantasy XV, to name a few.
So what did Sony show as the future of PlayStation this year? Detroit: Become Human, Days Gone, God of War, Spider-Man, a new Call of Duty (this time in World War II), a remaster of The Last Guardian predecessor Shadow of the Colossus, and another VR thing for Final Fantasy XV.
That isn’t to say Sony had a bad event — far from it, in fact. E3 is designed to generate excitement not just for this year, but for the years to come. Sony wants to sell the idea that you’re investing in a platform for the long term. That big projects should appear one, two, or even three years in a row, isn’t unprecedented. But with so many repeats this year — and so few surprises — it’s hard not to see this year as a rare miss for a company that’s been pretty dominant at the show for some time.
Sony is far from the only company with repeat performances. Every major company with an E3 event has a game or two that never seems to graduate. The Xbox exclusive Crackdown 3, for example, was first shown off in 2014. As for Ubisoft’s Beyond Good & Evil 2, hell, that project was first announced in 2008. It’s nine years old and still has no release date.
And all those games that Sony repeated have seen major improvements from last year. Detroit’s gameplay was demoed last year, and this year Sony unveiled more of its main storyline. Father-and-son parable God of War, meanwhile, showed more of the frenetic combat and some massive-scale monsters. Spider-Man, the capstone of the night, now looks playable.
To be fair, there were plenty of games that weren’t reruns. Sony announced a number of VR titles in quick succession, including Skyrim VR, a virtual reality port of a game that is legally required to be mentioned at least three times every E3. There was also a new Uncharted chapter and some Destiny 2 teasers.
But even those games, exciting though they may be, are familiar in their own right — sequels and remakes. They looked good, sure, but the big piece that Sony lacked — and one of the big reasons people have loved their past E3 showcases — was surprise. There were no new IP, big or small. Indie games had little to no presence onstage this year — a stark contrast from years past. Monster Hunter World, a new entry in the massively successful Japanese franchise, stands out as an impressive showing, but it’s also a game coming to Xbox One or PC.
The biggest surprise, in fact, might’ve been what Sony didn’t show. Standouts like Hideo Kojima’s I-don’t-even-know-how-to-describe-this Death Stranding (first seen last year) and The Last of Us Part II (unveiled at PlayStation Experience last December) were completely MIA. And after Microsoft spent over an hour trying to convince the world we’re ready for a 4K Xbox, Sony said nary a word about the PlayStation 4 Pro, its own 4K console that already that’ll be (at least) $100 cheaper by the time Xbox One X comes out. A big question has been how developers will use the hardware to enhance the visuals of its games, and after this week, we still don’t have a good answer.
Then again, it’s not as if Sony needs to “win” every E3. In this generation of gaming, the PlayStation 4 is clearly ahead of the competition, with Xbox One still playing catch-up in sales and Nintendo doing its own thing entirely with the Switch. And with events like December’s PlayStation Experience, the company has been creating other stages to showcase its offerings. But E3 is still the big one. Sony can afford a risk-averse year to refine, to say, “We wowed you last year with a lot of surprises, now give us a moment to clean these up a bit.” But that’s a rarity.