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With  Beyond, The Last of Us , Wonderbook, Sony understands appetite for newness

With Beyond, The Last of Us, Wonderbook, Sony understands appetite for newness Exclusive

June 4, 2012 | By Leigh Alexander

A noisy, enthusiastic crowd (the multitude of food trucks and free beer served ahead of the event might have helped) seemed eager to spring back from of a pall of listlessness and cynicism that seemed to hang over media sentiment today.

Microsoft, Ubisoft and EA showed gluts of first-person shooters and had very little new surprises to reveal, challenged to excite audiences at the end of a console cycle and amid a transition to new digital platforms.

With the final press conference of the day, Sony had an opportunity to play rescuer, and went for it, emphasizing things it hoped would strike audiences as inventive, from new games to a brand new interactive reading service for kids called Wonderbook.

After Tretton's reflections on the nature of E3 and a verbal "tribute" to the gamers, he spent little time in introducing Quantic Dream's David Cage, known for pioneering the strange and brand-new.

Cage unveiled Beyond, what looks to be a supernatural thriller that tells the story of a character named Jodie over fifteen years of her life - starring actress Ellen Page.

"For the first time in our life, we will live the life of a character, grow with her through difficult times, and help her to become who she is," Cage stated.

Page's performance is "something I have never seen in a game," he added, to applause from an audience that seemed especially eager today to see something they had not seen before.

"It will be emotional, mature and unique," promised Cage, probably also music to most ears after Ubisoft's presser host, Aisha Tyler, made quips about "girl wood" to probably too much bare breast and unnecessary cursing in the (otherwise lovely) Far Cry 3 trailer.

Also new, Sony's long-speculated PlayStation All Stars: Battle Royale aims for its own Smash Bros. -style brawler mashup among its first-party characters, from God of War's Kratos to PaRappa The Rapper and Fat Princess, plus Nathan Drake and BioShock's Big Daddy, with more to be announced. Attendees of the press conference seemed genuinely excited at the potential and cheered their favorite characters.

Sony also keeps up with the two console manufacturers that have already unveiled new control schemes for their hardware; upcoming cross-controller DLC will allow players to use the Vita with the PlayStation 3 as an input device.

Tretton emphasized its investment in indie and digital, noting that more than 200 games will come to PSN in the months to come - and through PlayStation Plus, this includes games like Infamous 2, LittleBigPlanet 2 and Saints Row 2. Tretton described plans to allow for big game collections for users at $5 per month.

The company also knew it needed to demonstrate robust Vita support, as the console has struggled to find its place in the market. After 4 months, the Vita has a library of some 40 new games, but fans who have amassed downloadable collections have been wanting to play original PlayStation games on the brand new portable, a wish Sony granted at today's conference, as numerous classic titles are due to hit the handheld in the coming months. In addition, the Vita will also see additions such as Crackle television, Hulu Plus, and a Music Unlimited service (the company recently announced YouTube coming from Vita).

Tretton also announced Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified, an incarnation of Activision's massive shooter franchise for Vita, along with Assassin's Creed III: Liberation, a Vita-specific edition in Ubisoft's fan-favorite franchise that features a woman as protagonist for the first time in the franchise. The latter will launch in a bundle with a new "Crystal White" unit.

Sony also highlighted its advantages in its relationships with publishers. The portion of Assassin's Creed III that Ubisoft trailed featured combat in the woods, but at Sony's event, the game's creative director showed off a unique element of the game's civil war story - battles at sea, with the hero in control of cannons and navigation on beautiful seas where the weather changes naturalistically. In a further show of support from Ubisoft, the Far Cry 3 team chose Sony's show as the stage for its four-player co-op mode.

Its new interactive reading service, Wonderbook, will debut with a collaboration with famed Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling called Book of Spells, which lets readers use the PlayStation Move controller as a "magic wand" as they read the interactive book. The company also teased its app suite - renamed from "PlayStation Suite" to "PlayStation Mobile" -- and a certification program for mobile phones, under which the first partner will by HTC.

"PlayStation is always thinking about the future," asserted CEO Andrew House.

Sony clearly understood it needed to emphasize that it was still full of creative energy and inventor's spirit at the end of a day that, for most, had been mainly about the risk aversion and genre fatigue inherent at the end of a long console cycle on display to other pressers today, it demonstrated a bigger breadth of focus, committed to its Vita and its mobile phone strategy, to creating a robust and quirky PlayStation Network through relationships with indie, and through backing unusual AAA IP like Quantic Dream's.

The show-closer began with a reveal of God of War: Ascension, which looks much like every other God of War (Kratos battles a giant kraken and rips an elephant's skull out), but the last title on the slate was Naughty Dog's newest project, The Last of Us. Its visceral beat-em-up sequence raised hearty cheers -- but also more than a few people initially whispering, "is that Drake?"

It's possible the core market is narrowing, although whether or not that's because the AAA industry is targeting such a specific vertex of players is a chicken-or-egg situation. But Sony clearly did its best to show it knows what people want from E3: Something different, already.

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