It was a hazy, crisp fall day on October 3rd, outside of the Palais Royale on Toronto's beautiful waterfront. But, inside was a completely different story. Inside, things were just heating up as we were made privy with hands-on demos for the coolest games and products to come from Sony's camp this holiday season. Ok, the graphics of these games were pretty crisp, but that's just a homonym for the cool kind of crisp I was talking about with the weather outside. Who says gamers don't have a way with words? Well, you probably do now.
The first thing I saw when I went into the venue was not a hotly anticipated first party title like The Last of Us, or God of War: Ascension, but rather a TV that defies logic in its awesomeness. This $24,999, 84 inch behemoth has a resolution so high that it made the full HD Gran Turismo demo on it look like a PlayStation one era game! With a resolution that Sony is calling 4K, but comprises it's image of 8 million pixels (current HDTV's sport about 2 million), you too can make all your games look entirely obsolete for the low, low price of a down payment on a house, of perhaps that sports car you've always wanted. Hey, no one ever said that a nerdy mid-life crisis was cheap. The TV allowed viewers to don a set of glasses for player one or player 2, and only see the image for their screen. It's a cool play on 3D technology.
Once I smuggled the TV (only two of which exist in Canada) covertly into the trunk of my car, I decided that enough was enough, and it was time to check out the games, Where was the Last of Us? That was at the top of my list for games to check out... and... crap, it wasn't on display anywhere. Undeterred, I cut my losses and checked out the LittleBigPlanet Karting demo instead. Picking up where ModNation Racing's less marketable effort left off, here is a game with such a powerful creative suite that despite the game's racing moniker, is more a loose guideline when designing your own stuff. The helpful rep from the development house in Vancouver assured me that the tools are so powerful that not only can you design whatever tracks and racing genre you want (top down, 3D, 2D, so on), but you can even tinker around with physics, AI, weaponry, speed, and pretty much anything you could think of. It was at this point that I demanded to know how long it would take to recreate the entire Mars curiosity landing using the editing suite. I was relieved to hear that with a little patience, you could replicate the entire process of landing a mobile laboratory on Mars, but most players probably wouldn't want to sit through the 8 month journey through the vacuum of space for a seven minute landing process on the red planet. Instead, I settled for some races and battle modes, both of which controlled and played great. Even the new PlayStation move steering wheel worked quite well with the game, despite being shaped like a mutated Batman logo.
Next up, it was clear that we would have to give some love to the Vita, so we headed down to the basement lounge that had twice as many helpers as people actually demoing Vita games. ":No matter," I thought, "The Vita is a great piece of hardware, and who knows what great concepts I can expect to see on the device?"
I got to say, the Sound Shapes demo I played had me hooked. Developed in Toronto by Queasy games, this unique little platformer lets you alternate between sticking to surfaces and rolling really fast through rhythm based platforming levels was a total hoot. The simple graphical style in the vein of LocoRoco or N could have been done on any system most likely, but addictive gameplay has no home. It's a nomad like the Littlest Hobo. If you're not up to snuff on your '70s Canadian TV, you probably won't get that reference, so moving on.
I next played Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified on an ad hoc connection with one of the testers and designers on the game, along with another member of the media. Let me get this out of the way now. I suck at Call of Duty. I can play a multiplayer match online just to end up with an average of five kills to go along with about 15-20 deaths... on a good day. The fact that I finished in second place and within 50 points of first place simply goes to show that the people who play Call of Duty online all day actually spend more time and are better at with the game THAN THE PEOPLE WHO MAKE AND TEST IT! With the rant out of the way, I have to say, the game is actually impressive. The action is fast and fluid, features all the killstreaks and bullet point features of the big brother version on PS3, uses the touch screen in inventive but not intrusive ways, and makes a great selling point for the Vita. If you're a Call of Duty fan, and the law of averages upon a video game website's readership says you likely are, you'll want to check this one out.
Next up was the Wonderbook. Sony has partnered up with the author of The Casual Vacancy and some other children's books, J.K. Simmons... um, Rowling to create a neat product that I would be all over if I was 10 years old. Since I'm not in fact ten years old, I simply observed others playing with it instead. By using the PS Move controller and specific books, you can literally (not literally) make your books come alive on your TV. Characters will literally jump out the pages as you flick your on-screen wand around and turn the pages. It's a great concept with fascinating tech, but I can't shake the feeling that once you animate stuff coming out of a book on a TV set, it's not really reading anymore. Still, getting kids interested in books in the first place is something I'm not going to argue with, and kids are gonna love this one.
It was around this point that I met up with the lovely Liana K to try out some PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale. Despite being a pretty much indefensible rip off of Super Smash Bros. in concept, I can assure you that in execution, it's a whole new can of worms. Delicious, delicious worms! Every character plays uniquely to how they play in their own franchises, and there's a shocking amount of back catalog for Sony to reach into. The levels crazily jump from one title to the next, and the character balance is great considering how differently each character plays. I never thought I would see Twisted Metal's Sweet Tooth and BioShock's Big Daddy taking turns shotgunning and shoving a giant drill respectively into Parappa da Rapper's face while the Colossus of Hades from God of War is smashing the scenery, but my dreams came true at that moment. Featuring far more depth and character variety than Smash Bros., All-Stars is definitely one you'll want to check out for some multiplayer mayhem. We played five matches in a row before they took it away from us. The only option now was to drown our sorrows at the open bar that Sony graciously provided.
From there, we jumped from demo station to demo station, playing highly anticipated titles like Medal of Honor Warfighter, Metal Gear Rising Revengeance, Resident Evil 6, Devil May Cry, God of War: Ascension, and Assassin's Creed III. If you're hotly anticipating any of these titles, I can attest that they played smoothly and featured some unique concepts to each of their own, except for Resident Evil 6. While lots of fun to play, you definitely know what you're getting with that one.
After playing through the quick demos of the aforementioned titles I found Liana giddily trying out the new Skylanders: Giants in the corner of the venue. For those who slept through last year's holiday shopping season, Skylanders is a unique concept that allows players to place toys (sold separately) on a USB pedestal to play as them in game. The hook this time around is that you can play as Skylanders or Giants. Liana, of course, was giggling like a school girl as smashed her way through the game as one of the aforementioned Giants, I realised that this really is a game for anybody who has hundreds of dollars to spend on little plastic figurines, age be damned! Like everything else on display, the tech behind the game is very cool, and the Activision rep we spoke to assured us that all of last year's toys are compatible with the sequel, which is probably not so much a feature as much as a fire safety system for Activision offices when the parents who bought all the toys last year would have shown up with torches and pitchforks. Much like Wonderbook, if I were just a little younger, I would have been all over this game. 12 year old me is totally jealous of being able to put your figurines IN THE VIDEO GAME. You know what I had at 12 years old?! A Game Gear that chewed through six AA batteries in 4 hours. Oh, I also had the outdoors and books, but I'm pretty sure those are obsolete and outdated by now.
All kidding and sarcasm aside, Sony really did put on one hell of a good holiday preview. There was nothing I saw there that didn't impress me in one way or another, whether it was through polished play mechanics, impressive technology, innovative designs, or just good old fashioned fun with a new-fashioned shine, there's never been a better time to be a gamer on a Sony product. I'm not just saying that because Sony gave out winter hats and touch screen gloves at the exit, or hired beautiful bartenders that are equally proficient in juggling and pouring liquor bottles either. That's actually just further proof that Sony knows their audience and uses their considerable resources to cater to said audience.
It's safe to say that there's no where else I would have rather been on that hazy, crisp Toronto day, than sitting in the warm, pleasing glow of that 84 inch TV that now sits in my living room. In retrospect, I did find it odd that they didn't stop the show when the TV went missing, but no one would have expected the skinny Jewish guy anyway. That would have been like pinning the murder of Santa Claus on the Easter Bunny. Actually, that would make a lot of sense, considering Mr. Kringle has been cutting into the Easter Bunny's holiday action for too damn long. Anyway, if any Sony Reps ask you if you've seen that beautiful screen, you never met me.
Our kudos goes to Sony for putting an absolutely fantastic show. They really did provide a great glimpse into the future of gaming, and proved once again that this generation has plenty of life left in it.