The world’s largest consumer electronics show, E3, will be upon us in less than a week, and the biggest games publishers and developers will be eagerly showcasing their wares in an attempt to build up anticipation, excitement and a shed load of hype for the biggest releases set to appear over the next twelve months. This week, I’ll be highlighting what are personally my most eagerly anticipated first-party titles coming from Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft. Today? Well, it’s all on Sony. Prepare yourself for bloodthirsty Spartans, multiplayer madness, a battle for survival and the (hopeful) rise of portable gaming’s most technologically powerful contender.
God of War: Ascension
Platform(s): PlayStation 3
Developer(s): SCE Santa Monica Studio
ETA: Spring 2013
Since its début in 2005, God of War has chronicled the exploits of Kratos, the Ghost of Sparta, as he sought revenge against the gods who wronged him, and been one of the shining jewels in Sony’s crown, further cementing the PlayStation brand as one of the heavy hitters in the long-running “console wars”. Its blend of puzzle solving, light platforming elements, visceral combat and tremendously over the top encounters with larger than life deities and abominations from Greek mythology has grown in bombast and scale with each subsequent instalment, with God of War III representing the series’ most outlandish and gruesome entry to date.
However, with Kratos having finally avenged himself against Zeus and the rest of the gods – and subsequently seemingly dead to boot – at the climax of God of War III, where could Santa Monica Studio possibly go from there? As anyone who’s played the PSP entries in the series – Chains of Olympus and Ghost of Sparta – will attest, the answer is simple: prequel! God of War: Ascension will finally reveal in detail exactly what bloody and brutal antics Kratos embarked upon before the events of the games that have appeared on PS2, PSP and PS3. Ascension’s narrative will focus on a younger Kratos, and we’ll be following him through the events that led to his bloody and unwavering thirst for revenge against the gods of Olympus.
A “revamped combat system” has been promised, along with new puzzles and “promptless mini-games”, so the quick time events that have been such a staple in the series up until this point may very well be a thing of the past, although precisely how Santa Monica Studio will translate the boss battles made possible by QTE’s into encounters that don’t feature PlayStation buttons flashing up on-screen and still retain their cinematic flair is unclear.
Arguably the biggest addition comes by way of online multiplayer, which is a first for God of War. Up to eight players will be thrown into an arena and tasked with winning the favour of one of four deities – Zeus, Hades, Ares or Poseidon – in objective based matches. Performing well in these matches will see players rewarded with weapons, armour and abilities inspired by their god of choice, while they’ll also be able to customise their avatars.
God of War: Ascension certainly looks fantastic, both on a technical level and as a solid continuation of one of the most superbly polished and epically cinematic franchises available on Sony consoles. Needless to say, God of War has amassed its (Spartan) army of fans for a reason, and from what we’ve seen so far, Sony and gamers alike have nothing to worry about when it comes to Kratos’ latest outing.
PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale
Platform(s): PlayStation 3 (and more than likely Vita)
Developer(s): SuperBot Entertainment, SCE Sony Santa Monica Studio
ETA: Q3/Q4 2012
We now move from one massive Sony icon to potentially dozens. The long rumoured existence of a cross-franchise PS3 brawler – akin to Nintendo’s own Super Smash Bros. – was finally confirmed as a reality in April, when PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale was officially unveiled as a combat heavy, multiplayer focussed title being developed exclusively for PlayStation 3. However, being that this is a PS3 exclusive featuring characters from Sony-owned franchises, the cast of available combatants on offer will be markedly different – and perhaps even more versatile and varied – than those appearing in Nintendo’s not-nearly-frequent-enough gathering of its most beloved mascots.
Confirmed characters thus far are: Kratos (God of War), Sly Cooper (Sly Cooper), Mael Radec (Killzone), Sweet Tooth (Twisted Metal), Fat Princess (Fat Princess) and PaRappa (PaRappa the Rapper). That’s already an undeniably eclectic band of fighters right there. Furthermore, in a recent post on Twitter, Eric Ladin (voice of Cole MacGrath in the inFamous series) stated that he had been working alongside fellow voice actors Nolan North and David Hayter for the game. That being the case, it doesn’t take a genius to put two and two together and surmise that inFamous’ Cole, Uncharted’s Nathan Drake and Metal Gear’s Solid Snake will also be stepping into the ring to throw down with the already confirmed characters.
And the Sony-themed mayhem doesn’t end there, with stages and arenas based on environments from Ratchet & Clank, Buzz!, Everybody’s Golf, Patapon, LittleBigPlanet and Jak & Daxter also being confirmed. Does this mean we’ll be seeing characters from those franchises appearing as combatants? It seems highly likely, given that most – if not all – of those properties have proven to be big successes for Sony and the PlayStation brand.
But what of the gameplay? Conceptually, it appears to be similar to that of Super Smash Bros., with a few new twists on the formula. Up to four players will do battle in a wide variety of arenas, with the aim being to score points by defeating your opponents. However, whereas Smash Bros.‘ fighters each have their own health meters that cause them to – when attacked – fly further in correlation to the amount of damage they’ve taken, in All-Stars Battle Royale damaging opponents awards the player with orbs that fuel one of three levels of super signature moves that are then used to defeat opponents. There are also character specific abilities that come into play; for example, Sly Cooper forgoes the ability to block enemy attacks in favour of being able to turn invisible.
PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale certainly looks like it’s shaping up to be as much of a piece of fan service to Sony veterans as Nintendo fans have come to expect whenever a new Smash Bros. game rolls around. If SuperBot Entertainment and Santa Monica Studio can inject as much creativity, flair, homages and Easter eggs into their title as Nintendo does, All-Stars Battle Royale should prove to be a no holds barred fun fest for Sony aficionados of all ages. Recent URL registrations by Sony also point to a Vita version of All-Stars Battle Royale being on the cards. Hopefully, given that the Vita is more or less a portable PS3, Vita owners will be able to indulge in the online play present in the console iteration, but perhaps we’ll even see cross-platform play, with Vita and PS3 owners battling it out against each other.
The Last of Us
Platform(s): PlayStation 3
Developer(s): Naughty Dog
ETA: hopefully late 2012… but more than likely 2013
My other most eagerly anticipated game isn’t a continuation of a long running franchise, nor does it bring a myriad of characters together. However, it is a game that – personally – can’t come quick enough, as it’s the latest title to come from Naughty Dog, a developer that has arguably proven Sony’s most valuable asset within the games industry, especially during the current generation of consoles, being responsible for the Jak & Daxter trilogy on PlayStation 2 and the Uncharted trilogy on PlayStation 3.
Naughty Dog’s latest blockbuster game is The Last of Us, a third person shooter at first glance, but something all the more special once you dig deeper into its mechanics. It tells the story of Joel and Ellie, two survivors eking out an existence in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in a quarantined zone safe from the dangers that lurk outside it. What are these dangers, you ask? Well, years prior to where The Last of Us begins, a fungal infection caused a substantial percentage of the world’s population to mutate into ugly, mindless killing machines; the ensuing chaos bringing about the same kind of splintered post-apocalyptic society you’d expect in any self-respecting videogame
Joel is a world-weary individual with a chequered past. He’s been around since long before the infection caused all hell to break loose, and he’s done some questionable things to get by. Ellie on the other hand was born post-infestation, and knows nothing of how the world was before, apart from what she’s seen in magazines and comics published before the infestation occurred. Naughty Dog has promised a touching, loving, emotional tale that focuses on the father-daughter relationship between Joel and Ellie, as they make their way out of the quarantine zone and into the great unknown. Exactly why they’re braving the dangers of the outside world is at this stage anyone’s guess. All we know is that Joel made a promise to someone to escort Ellie… somewhere. Irritatingly vague, I know, but at least with this few spoilers to how the story will play out, the narrative should have more of an emotional and twist-riddled impact once The Last of Us finally arrives.
What Naughty Dog has shed some light on is how the game itself plays. Players will take control of Joel in The Last of Us – while Ellie will be controlled by the AI – as he engages in third person shooting and hiding behind cover that have more than a whiff of Uncharted about them. But it’s not all about making a lot of noise and popping enemies’ heads with an assault rifle from behind a chest-high wall. Naughty Dog is keen to emphasise the survival aspects of, well, surviving, in a post-apocalyptic world. First and foremost, that replenishing health you’ve grown accustomed to since Halo is out the door; in The Last of Us, health packs are a valuable and rare commodity, and utterly essential if you’re to stay alive. Ammunition is also hard to come by, so Uncharted’s philosophy of “spray a clip of ammo and hope you hit something” will do you no good here. Stealthily traversing environments and killing enemies – be they infected creatures or human survivors — silently and quickly is an ideal plan, unless you relish the idea of later on finding yourself swarmed by opponents with no way to fend them off.
Given the game’s focus on two characters, it’s a little disappointing that there won’t be any co-op mode in The Last of Us, although Naughty Dog has hinted that some kind of multiplayer might be available upon release. Be that as it may, The Last of Us is shaping up to be yet another shining example of what it means to develop a Triple-A, console-exclusive title. It boasts absolutely stunning visuals even at this stage – get on YouTube and check out the various trailers, all made using in-game assets – and looks like right the wrongs from Uncharted; as staggeringly brilliant as Drake’s Fortune, Among Thieves and Drake’s Deception are, there were aspects of Nathan Drake’s character that were at odds with the trilogy’s gameplay. With The Last of Us, Naughty Dog seems to be rectifying those minor quibbles to bring us something with more depth, more emotion, more heart and even more polish than anything else it’s developed this generation.
Nintendo had a tough first year with the 3DS. Qualms over questionable battery life and a late-to-the-party eShop didn’t do it any favours, but what hurt it the most was the utter lack of decent games available from its March 2012 launch right up until the release of Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7 in November 2011 and December 2011 respectively. Given that Sony’s latest foray into portable gaming arrived in the West a full 11 months after the 3DS, you’d think they’d have learnt from their competitor’s mistakes. But, alas, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
After what was arguably one of – if not the – strongest launch line-ups of any console ever, early adopters of the PlayStation Vita have since been left with naff all to play on their shiny new systems, with Sony seemingly quite content to simply chuck out extra DLC for MotorStorm RC on a weekly basis and not do much else. What exactly went through the minds of the people sitting around the top floor of Sony’s skyscraper HQ (or at least, that’s how I imagine it) is anyone’s guess, but the fact is that there’s a severe lack of quality titles appearing for the Vita at the moment, and – as someone who is still in two minds about purchasing a Vita, even if the idea of PS3-quality gaming on the toilet is extraordinarily appealing — this is something I’d like to see rectified at E3 next week.
Sony: give me a reason to want to plonk down the asking price and invest in a Vita. Don’t be teasing us, hinting at things to come in the near future or a year down the line. Go all out and put on a Vita-focussed spectacle that’ll show any naysayers or anyone still on the fence that you mean business with the Vita and bring out the big guns. Show us a new portable Uncharted. Show us the new portable LittleBigPlanet. Show us Killzone Vita. Show us Jak & Daxter, inFamous and Sly Cooper. Show us God of War and SOCOM. Show us absolutely, never before seen, new IP’s that make use of the Vita’s technical prowess and control functions. Show us absolutely everything you have in store! You have a technological powerhouse in terms of portable games consoles. It has HD almost-PS3-quality visuals, for God’s sake! And two analogue sticks without the need of an ugly peripheral. Show Vita-less gamers what they’re missing out on. Come on: I need convincing.
Games that didn’t quite make the list:
The Last Guardian (PS3, Team Ico, TBA 2013)
LittleBigPlanet Karting (PS3, United Front Games/Media Molecule, TBA 2012)
Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time (PS3/Vita, Sanzaru Games, Q3/Q4 2012)