Confirmed: PSP Go, Final Fantasy XIV, Motion-Control Wand

Of the three shows, I'd mark Microsoft's and Sony's down for "tied," with Nintendo's a respectable (if not as intrepid) second.

Leave it to Sony to prove that sometimes the best really does come last. Striding onstage only to be dwarfed by a titanic 40-by-80-foot screen, Sony President Jack Tretton wasted no time kidding about preshow press leaks. "We consider ourselves to be industry leaders, and Sony leads the world in press leaks," quipped Tretton, who set the tone for the presentation--"Only possible on PlayStation 3"--by stating that only the PS3 was capable of outputting visuals to the towering screen behind him.

After commenting on the strength of the unflappable PlayStation 2 (nearly ten years old), Tretton ran through the usual sales figures, spun, like everyone else's, to highlight the PlayStation brand in the kindest possible light.

And then he rolled out The Games.

The Game I'm Most Excited For: Uncharted 2--Among Thieves

Naughty Dog took the stage to demo live gameplay of the sequel to one of the best action-adventure games on the PS3. Hoofing it along the highest points of a lively, sprawling city, returning protagonist Nate showed off some of the most impressively detailed environs I've seen. As a helicopter spit gatling fire, he dangled from the lips of crumbling ledges, hurling himself across gaps between bursts of bullets. He scurried between rooftop protrusions, ducking for cover, and then leaping over debris with ease. Curiously, the sequence was almost entirely shooter-oriented (a possible turn away from the meditative puzzle-climbing of the original?), as the helicopter raked the building, ripping it to pieces. Look for this one fall 2009.

The Insanely Populous Game: MAG

Zipper Interactive unveiled the first bits of live play, giving us a peek at the first-person shooter that pits 256 players against one another in massive, war-torn battle-scapes. Did I say 256 players? Sony claimed as many were actually live for the show, as several squads of eight were revealed to be subsets of even larger platoons, in turn parts of entire companies assaulting a vast base. The appeal of MAG? Serious battle simulation with sophisticated chain-of-command and delegate battle ops. It's definitely not a game where, as in the Battlefield series, you can run off and fool around willy-nilly. Also available this fall.

Leak Confirmed: Sony's PSP Go

Kaz Hirai, president of Sony's Networked Products and Services Group, was up next to describe the design process for the new PSP Go. Hirai said they had a couple of names for the system, including "The worst kept secret of E3."

In case you missed our coverage, the PSP Go is essentially a smaller, lighter, Mylo-inspired PSP without the UMD drive and with everything running off internal storage or supplementary memory cards. It has the same operating system as the PSP and integrated Wi-Fi, and it plays all the same games. Hirai said that Sony is targeting the "digital consumer," and that it's more than 50 percent smaller and 40 percent lighter than the original PSP-1000. As expected, it'll have 16GB of internal flash memory, a slide-out control pad, integrated Bluetooth, and the ability to download games and movies from the PlayStation Network over the built-in Wi-Fi. The new memory stick tech? We called it here first: Think 16GB SanDisk Memory Stick Micro, aka M2.

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What wasn't leaked beforehand? Media Go, a new PSP app that replaces the Media Manager and lets you access the PlayStation Store directly from the PSP in what Sony is calling a "more intuitive interface." A second new app, called Sense Me, will use a 12-tone recognition system to analyze your PSP music library in order to deliver playlists based on moods you select.

Hirai claimed that the PlayStation Network now has more than 24 million registered users in 55 countries, who have apparently downloaded more than 475 million pieces of content. He then revealed that Square's PlayStation-original RPG Final Fantasy VII is (finally) coming to the Playstation Store, along with 50 more PS classics. Also: Sony's PSN video delivery service (movies, TV shows) will now be available natively on the PSP platform as well.

That brings up the lineage question: The PSP Go does not replace the PSP-3000 or the UMD, says Sony, which will support and market both devices. All subsequent PSP titles will be distributed digitally online as well as at retail on UMD. The PSP Go should be available in stores in North America and Europe on October 1.

How much will it cost? Brace yourself: US$250, says Sony. That made me cringe. No price drop on the PSP-3000 either. Considering that you're basically paying for the miniaturization factor here, that price seems awfully high.

Handheld Racer: Gran Turismo PSP

On to Polyphony Digital and Kazunouri "Gran Turismo" Yamauchi, who announced Gran Turismo for the PSP before smoothly pulling a PSP Go out of his pocket running the game. Yamauchi claimed that it was running at 60 fps, and that the final version comes stacked with 800 cars, 35 tracks, and 60 track layout variations. Unique to the PSP: You can trade and share cars between your garage and the garages of other players. Yamauchi said gathering all 800 cars yourself will be difficult, so they've intentionally designed the game so that you'll want to work with friends to get the full deck. On top of that, it's the full-size GT experience, not a scaled-down subset of the series, he emphasized. It's coming October 1 to complement the PSP Go's launch.

Handheld Sneaker: Metal Gear Solid--Peace Walker

Hideo Kojima was on deck next, revealing that Snake (which one, you ask?) is headed back to the PSP in Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. It isn't a spinoff or a side story, but a true sequel to Metal Gear Solid 3, set ten years after that PS2 game in the 1970s. Kojima emphasized that he would be deeply involved with the game, writing the script as well as handling production duties, and that the MGS4 team was participating as well. The trailer teased nukes and the whole mutually-assured-destruction/balance-of-power shtick, and then it cut to Latin America, before I lost track of the plot altogether. All I know is, at one point, there were what appeared to be four scruffy headband-wearing Snakes on screen at once. (Explicate away, MGS diehards.)

The Brilliant Nonexclusive Demo: Assassin's Creed 2

After several frenetic game montages and a way-too-quick spoken nod to an upcoming exclusive Rockstar espionage game called Agent that Tretton claimed would "have same impact as GTA," Ubisoft took the stage to demo Assassin's Creed 2. The theme? Diversity! The game takes up where the original ended, when <spoilers--go play the game!>, leading to the new setting: the Italian Renaissance.

The demo took us to 1486, if I read the screen captions correctly, and what looked a bit like Venice. Desmond's ancestor stands up from a bench, stabs someone, and then leaps into the rococo architecture, bounding across wooden beams and scrambling up walls. He's apparently a young Florentine noble on a quest for vengeance, someone who has to learn how to be an assassin. He's also friends with Leonardo da Vinci, who will lend him his famous bat-winged flying machine for some vertiginous aerial sleuthing.

Hiding spots are no longer safe, says Ubisoft--a new AI called "the seeker" will hunt you mercilessly. You can disarm enemies, too, and use up to 30 different weapons against them (not to mention six unique weapons if you play Assassin's Creed Bloodlines on the PSP and then plug it into your PS3). "The game is massive in scope," said Ubisoft's reps in closing. Look for Assassin's Creed 2 and Assassin's Creed Bloodline this holiday.

The First Shoe Drops: Final Fantasy XIV Online

Boy, was this totally unexpected footage far too brief. I'm also pretty sure I wasn't the only one thinking that Tretton was kidding around when he said, deadpan, "This next trailer's for Final Fantasy XIV, coming in 2010." And then the footage ran, and we knew he was serious, and we collected our jaws from our laps.

Here's what I grabbed from the CGI footage, which sadly isn't much: "Only a forgotten page of eternity...there lies a land embraced by mighty gods...her name Erozea...as fates cross, swords will clash." So it's Square Enix's next big online project, and it's exclusive for PS3. Quite the coup for Sony.

The Second Shoe Drops: PlayStation Motion Control

"Take that, Microsoft." Not what Sony's Dr. Richard "Eye Toy" Marks actually said when he took the stage, but you could practically hear it whispered as Sony divulged its own take on motion control.

Imagine a microphone with a translucent bulb in lieu of the mic's metal mesh, capable of lighting up and changing color. ("Just a prototype," said Sony, and the final look will probably change.) Now imagine that device working in tandem with the PlayStation Eye to offer stunningly precise 1-to-1 tracking, and you have what Sony informally dubbed "PlayStation Motion Control."

At first, it looked pretty classically Wii-like as Marks's assistant waved it around. Then they popped up overlays--objects laid over your hand on screen, which you manipulate according to their physical properties--and the audience got excited. Virtual 3D bats, tennis rackets, golf clubs, stop signs, swords, morning stars, fans, flashlights, foam darts, gold Desert Eagle guns, and electro-whips--each fully manipulable and controlled with ultraprecision by you. Very smart, impressive stuff.

You can also use the controls to lay out paths of objects, say a line of dominoes, and then send them toppling. A real-time strategy demo looked visually primitive, but illustrated how you could lasso troops and tell them where to go--even zip down into first-person shooter mode and bang away. According to Marks, the system tracks at submillimeter accuracy. Believe it or not, they're talking spring 2010 for product launch.

The Biggest Disappointment? No PS3 Price Cut. 'Nuff Said.

And that's a wrap, folks. Of the three shows, I'd mark Microsoft's and Sony's down for "tied," with Nintendo's a respectable (if not as intrepid) second.

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