After their stellar showing at E3 last year, there was no reason to believe today that Sony could have met or exceeded the excitement that The Last Guardian, Final Fantasy VII Remake, and Shenmue 3 generated. What else could make as strong of an impact? No one knew, but in the end, Sony pulled off a show to remember.
In fact, with the exception of those three surprises last year, Sony's E3 2016 press conference could be considered their best-executed press conference ever.
The beginning was a little strange and ominous with an orchestra that brought to life a rather dark and sinister theme (and what was up with the lady making the coughing noises?), but it was an effective way of starting the show with a bit of foreshadowing. Then, the theater went dark. Cut to the first bit of game footage shown, which begins with a young boy playing with hand-carved figures and using his imagination as children do.
However, the boy's clothing seems to suggest a more primitive civilization, perhaps something ancient. His playing is cut short by the harsh call of a man from a nearby wooden shack, presumably his father. The man calls out from the dark within the shack, directing the boy to take his mother's knife and hunt... for he is hungry. While saying this, the man steps into the light, revealing a familiar, hardened, pale warrior who bears a red stripe across his face and his chest, and a fully grown beard as well.
Despite not having any attachment to the series (I've never played a GoW title in my life), I have to admit that this was one of the best and most effective introductions, not only to a new game, but to any video game conference overall. The slow buildup and reveal of Kratos was extremely well executed, and for the first time, the audience actually saw a quality in the character that was virtually non-existent in the last few GoW games: humanity.
It is never explicitly said in the gameplay shown that Kratos is the father of the boy, although it is heavily implied; even if he isn't, it wouldn't matter. Having a child, or even just being the boy's guardian reveals a different side to him and makes him a more interesting character than he ever was when he was only driven by anger, revenge, and bloodlust in the first four games. Sony Santa Monica appears to be taking longstanding criticism of the character to heart this time around -- namely, that he doesn't have any depth beyond revenge.
Beyond that, it's apparent that Santa Monica Studio is taking God of War in a brand new direction overall, and one that has a much heavier narrative, not just with the overall plot, but likely with the characters and their personal growth as well. Where will it lead? We'll have to wait to find out, but it's a fascinating turn of events given how different it is compared to the previous games.
After the trailer rolled, and a brief introduction from Shawn Layden, we were treated to a slew of other game trailers, one after another. The Last Guardian finally got a release date. A brand new IP called Days Gone (and yet once more set in a post-apocalyptic era) was announced. Horizon: Zero Dawn was once again given another gameplay demo that showed off how impressive and complex the in-game world is. The trailer for Detroit: Become Human showed more of the game's premise and a strong reliance on the player choosing how the narrative unfolds.
Resident Evil VII (Resident EVII) was revealed and looked nothing like the increasingly action-focused previous installments in the series, but showed a return to the horror elements that the series was founded on. A series of VR game segments were shown, but didn't weigh the show down. Crash Bandicoot was announced to be getting a PS4 remaster. Hideo Kojima was brought out on stage and revealed the trailer for his upcoming game with Sony, Death Stranding, and also revealed that Norman Reedus would be starring in it as well. And last but not least, Insomniac was revealed to be making a new Spider-Man game that looked fantastic.
You might not necessarily find all of these games to be interesting, but there's no mistaking that they're big games that people in general are interested in and are excited for, and all of their reveals were paced extremely well throughout the conference.
Did you notice anything else different about this year's conference versus previous years? Sony cut out the self-promotion, marketing talk, kept the talking from executives to a minimum, and they virtually kept all third-party developers off the stage as well. Instead, they let the games do most of the talking, and it was the smartest thing they've done in years.
Sony's conference wasn't just good because they happened to show a few new cool games. It was good because they respected the audience's time by making the best of the conference and showing them what everyone wanted to see: release dates from past announced games, brand new IP, exciting new games from existing IP, and even a bit of extra production values to top it off (an accompanying orchestra, Kojima's appearance etc.).
Basically, they gave us reasons to continue being excited for the PlayStation 4's future, and if the reception from fans, critics, and journalists alike on social media and various gaming websites is any indication, Sony has succeeded far and above what everyone thought was possible.