Did Sony's press conference underwhelm?

E3 2008

It came and went with virtually no surprises, mostly just confirmations of long known rumors, but are we being too hard on Sony? No two ways about it, the company's been rolling a stone uphill (both ways!) for the last couple years, and with few exceptions (Metal Gear Solid 4, I'm looking at you) the media's cut the company no breaks. Hey, I love my PS3, play it pretty much daily, and I'm seeing plenty to get halfway excited about after today, but just as much to stifle a yawn over.

Let's start with the 80GB PlayStation 3, same as the 40GB PlayStation 3 for $US400 this September. 80GB good, of course, even if it's still not spacious enough to let you archive your video collection digitally. But still, 80 GB = better than Microsoft's 60GB = better than Sony's original 40GB. What I still find baffling, though, is the lack of PS2 backward compatibility after it shipped in the initial versions (like my 60GB original). I don't get it. What's the message here? "Buy a PS3, but keep your PS2?" "Don't play PS2 games, they're really obsolete?" "Stop playing PS2 games on your PS3 because we're not selling enough $60 software?" I don't know, and Sony's not saying, so you're left to sort of marinate cluelessly in your own disappointment.

God of War 3 came and went, a one minute trailer with lots of cool stuff crumbling and blowing around, illuminated by CGI lightning and crackling thunder and His Royal Surliness, Kratos himself growling "In the end, there will be only chaos!" but little more.

No gameplay equals no "game of the show" awards from any of the trade sites, so I guess we're just supposed to be thankful it's happening at all. (Which, of course, I very much am.)

The other big PS3 title was inarguably Resistance 2, including actual footage from the game, also including footage of the Brumak--err, I mean Really Big Lumpy Thing that doesn't need to leap tall buildings because it can simply barrel through them.

There was good news for anyone still thinking about investing in a PS2 and also hot for a little Caped Crusader. Literally little, and kinda blocky too. As in LEGO Batman plus your friendly neighborhood PS2 for $150 in a box (which is so much better than Justin Timberlake in a box). Color me a touch bored by this announcement though. I mean, LEGO Indiana Jones was kind of a ho-hummer, no? Still, this could make a solid gift for the kiddies, whose brains haven't yet congealed into a mealy sardonic paste from playing the same idea over, and over, and over...and did I mention it's got Batman?

Over to the PSP, we've got a new Ratchet and Clank: Size Matters pack laser-targeted at youngsters. For $200, they'll get a silver PSP bundled with the game, a 1GB memory stick, a voucher to download the 3D puzzler Echochrome from the PlayStation Network, and a UMD copy of National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets. You know, I had to watch that flick on my flight over to Budapest earlier this year and the hideously embarrassing-to-admit truth is, I almost enjoyed it more than Indy 4. I know!

The only really Potentially Great News for PSP owners was Resistance Retribution, an over-the-shoulder shooter and alternative take on the whole aliens-ate-your-baby (your family, your friends...the world) franchise due next spring. I say "potentially" because the PSP's single analog stick makes aiming and moving simultaneously a pain in the butt. You know what I'm thinking, right? Where's our dual-analog PSP? The PSP's overdue for a facelift, and no, just knocking a couple grams off the base model doesn't really count. But alright Insomniac, you get your turn in the grinder: make me a believer.

My favorite news of the show was of course LittleBigPlanet, the World's Cutest Game I've been gabbing about for some time now, and which I'll be covering extensively for PC World when it finally ships this fall. It's "teeny and plush and floppy, comes in twos, threes, and even fours, can heave isosceles boulders into mounds of jostling rocks, launch itself kite-like from toothy cogs, party on curling wood slats pegged to rocking trees, and whiz around a screen like a cartoon balloon venting steam." Can you say where-can-I-try-that-please-and-thank-you?

My second favorite reveal was Sony's push into smaller casual-priced games based on first-tier franchises. First up, Ratchet & Clank Future: Quest For Booty, a pithier version of the popular platformer for $15 bucks. The episodic content shtick's ancient history, but when a company like Sony hops on the bandwagon and drags its first party property into the fray, pay attention. I'm thinking quite a few years out, but imagine a system where you buy a game in installments instead of all at once. I mean more than just episodes, but like the whole game, sliced into cake layers. Want the first few levels of Resistance 3 or 4? Grab 'em for $15 a pop instead of $60 for all 15, etc. If you want it all, maybe you get a discount.

Either way, it's auspicious stuff for studios who want to extend existing franchises, even if all it amounts to are quick little prologues, epilogues, or companion pieces to full-blown releases.

And finally, I'm stoked about Sony's TV/movie service, but no one in either Sony or Microsoft's camp has said a word to put my mind at ease about potential storage space issues. Are we supposed to delete stuff as we go to make room for new stuff? Will we be able to download videos as many times as we like, or is it one-time and if you don't back up your downloads, sayonara digital bits, sorta like Apple's iTunes? I keep coming back to full seasons of popular TV shows on Blu-ray and wondering how in the heck we're supposed to fit all that on a trifling 60 or 80GB. Or maybe that's not the demographic Sony and Microsoft are after. But I wish they'd clarify this by offering more than the usual "TV and Movies! Downloadable! Yahoo!" Don't you?

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Matt Peckham

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