Skipping over the delights of navigating the downtown Toronto core, our adventure begins at the College Park Shop, a multi-storey art-deco landmark across the street from Ryerson University. The rather unremarkable first-floor shopping area drastically changes as we round the corner to an out-of-sight elevator lobby, whose lavish decor seemed at odds with the adjoining Canadian staple Tim Hortons coffee shop, not to mention the small crowd of eager journalists sporting jeans and game-related printed t-shirts. The elevator brings us up to the seventh floor, which opens to the huge lobby of the newly renovated Carlu event venue, complete with artsy lighting and an array of black leather couches. The game room was equally swanky, though the red strip lights lining the back of the standing game stations gave an appropriate techno spin to the setting. Clearly, Sony was gunning for an ultra-modern look and the only missing pieces (thankfully) were tight pink or turquoise shirts and an abundance of Cosmopolitan cocktails. It occurred to me to give some thumbs up to the event planners, but my thumbs were already too busy with a game controller.
Numerous publishers attended the event, which featured a mix of released and unreleased games. A number of titles had already been showcased at Microsoft’s X’07 event at the end of August, and PS3 fans will be glad to know that big cross-platform games like Call of Duty 4, Rock Band, Guitar Hero 3, and Devil May Cry 4 look equally impressive on Sony’s next-gen console. But Sony brought out other highly anticipated titles, including Electronic Arts’ Army of Two and NFS: Pro Street, Ubisoft’s Haze, D3Publisher’s Dark Sector, Rockstar’s Manhunt 2, and Sony first-party titles Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction and less known Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. Our impressions of most of these titles will be available shortly. Oddly enough, some other big games set for release this holiday season were absent, such as Assassin’s Creed which was shown at X’07, and two games that remain below the radar, Timeshift and Turning Point: Fall of Liberty. Set for 2008’s second quarter, GTA IV was also missing, but Rockstar’s man on the scene told GamingExcellence that they had begun testing the various plots and that the developers were considering the possibility of having an open world completely unlocked from the start of the game. We also understand that the game’s multiplayer mode, unseen in the GTA franchise since GTA2 in 1999*, is aiming for at least 16 simultaneous players, with more than just the usual deathmatch mode.
We also caught up with Matt Levitan, PR and Marketing Manager for Sony Computer Entertainment Canada, to discuss Sony’s plans for the holiday season and the near future. Asked about rumours that a new 40GB PS3 model may be coming to North America, following the model’s release in Europe and Japan very recently, Levitan would only say that “no such announcement has yet been made.” He mentioned that there are no further price reductions planned on current products, as the company is comfortable with current PSP sales and that the 60GB PS3 had already seen a significant decrease in price. As it gears up for its eighth holiday season, the PS2 won’t be getting the proverbial boot any time soon: Levitan says they typically expect a ten-year lifespan out of their consoles and the PS2 is still very much alive and kicking.
Levitan also commented on the delay in releasing PlayStation Home, stating that he had recently been very much impressed with an early beta version. The development team has been adding features while ironing out some bugs, making sure that the network is fully compatible across the globe. It’s now slated for an early 2008 release.
It seems many third-party game publishers have moved away from platform-exclusives lately, with many titles primarily targeting the Xbox 360. Levitan pointed out that developers haven’t had as much time with the year-old PS3 console, which is just shy of a year younger than the Xbox 360. However, Sony is confident that they will maintain the exclusivity of big PlayStation franchises, such as the much-anticipated Final Fantasy XIII, as well as other popular titles like Metal Gear Solid 4. In the meantime, Levitan reports that Sony has much improved its internal development, and is relying on first-party titles to carry the console this holiday season. Ratchet and Clank are back at it again at the end of the month, followed by the tropical action adventure Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune in mid-November. The huge first-party shooter Killzone 2 is set for release late next year. As for the future of cross-platform titles, Levitan predicts a growing divergence between systems in graphics and gameplay, and believes that the SIXAXIS technology will be a considerable factor in shifting gamers and developers to the PS3.
Sony’s Holiday Preview attracted a fair amount of journalists and presented a suitable array of titles. However, the subtle, almost imperceptible detail that made the event a success was that at the end of the show, the lights came on instead of off.
Without further ado, here’s what you can expect to see on Sony consoles.
- Call of Duty 4: Activision's graphically-orgasmic shooter returns in a modern-day warfare scenario, taking you to undisclosed Russian locations to fight new waves of terrorists bent on world revolution or destruction, whichever comes first. Featuring realistic body and materials physics, many multiplayer modes and handling up to 18 players online, this one will be flying off the shelves in early November.
- Haze: Ubisoft proudly presents their drug-induced shooter set in a futuristic world where “nectar” is used to enhance your character’s abilities. The premise of the game sounds like one giant conspiracy and sees the player gradually come to realize that his military unit is not what it seems. Gamers can start shooting up in mid-November.
- Dark Sector: D3Publisher introduces us to a game with amazing lighting and dual-wielding controls, where a CIA operative that can’t feel pain cleans up the baddies in an unknown Soviet state with the help of a glaive. This weapon is basically a boomerang with three sharp knives, which is part of the character’s body and can be used to generate light. The game is targeting January 22 for release.
- Army of Two: EA showed us its latest shooter, centered around two mercenaries who charge into dangerous environments to make a buck or two. The underlying Unreal 3 Engine has been extensively modified to produce amazing character detail, and there’s a very strong emphasis on co-operative play. Army of Two blasts onto shelves November 13.
- Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune: Featuring decent outdoor environments and action-packed gameplay, Sony’s third person shooter/adventure is centered on a modern-day treasure hunter who finds himself pursued by mercenaries on an uncharted island. The hunt begins in mid-November.
- Devil May Cry 4: Capcom launches into the world of devils and demons for the fourth installment of an action game providing players with interesting swordplay and acrobatics. As if that weren't enough, the game also promises an interesting storyline but hasn't yet set a fixed release date, though it's expected to arrive close to the New Year.
- Manhunt 2: Rockstar presents a disgustingly violent sequel to Manhunt after having the ESRB downgrade the game's Adults-Only rating to Mature. Don't worry, it's still graphic enough to satistfy even the most demented of serial killers. Manhunt 2 comes out Halloween day.
- Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction: The metropolises of worlds of the future are more alive than ever as the Lombax and his robotic friends start their adventure on the PS3 on October 30.
- WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2008: THQ brings the franchise back on a number of consoles, including the PS3 for the first time. Expect the usual wrestling mayhem when the title is released in mid-November.
- Need For Speed: Pro Street: EA’s racing franchise returns to portray the next level in underground racing. It’s no longer about territory feuds in this title but rather about taking on the best racers the world has to offer. The game speeds onto store shelves November 14, with over 60 cars, a new car modification model, and an unprecedented realism of physics.
- Cars: Mater-national Championship: The Disney/Pixar movie is the basis for THQ’s game, where players are treated to their favourite car/characters and more in settings they’ll recognize from the movie. Targeting a younger audience, the game is unlikely to appeal to hardcore racing fans but we have to admit that the mini-games, including tractor-tipping, did have some appeal. Cars come alive early in November.
- MX vs. ATV: Untamed: THQ appeals to the motocross crowd once again as they publish a game where motocross and ATVs race side-by-side, and a lot of attention was given to players flinging off their rides because you’ll be doing that often. If you’re up to the challenge, you’ll have to wait until mid-December.
- Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity: Sega brings Sonic Riders back on PS2 and the Wii with a variety of vehicles and the ability to “temporarily suspend” gravity, allowing players to experience the tracks from multiple angles. The game is now scheduled for Spring 2008.
- Rock Band: MTV, Harmonix and EA partner-up to produce the ultimate music game incorporating all elements of traditional rock bands: guitar, vocals, drums and bass. The game is certainly entertaining but our only concern is the likely heavy price tag attached to the equipment required to enjoy the game to its fullest. Rock Band is set for release November 23.
- Guitar Hero 3: Activision will be heading the release of the latest in the hit series after the acquisition of RedOctane. Available October 28th, the gameplay hasn't changed too much but the awesome track list should be enough to carry this title.
- SingStar: Sony’s popular franchise makes its debut on the PS3 and will feature the SingStore, allowing players to download a customized track list. The title won’t be home for Christmas; it’s set for early 2008.
* Updated October 14, 2007: It has been brought to my attention that GTA2 was released in 1999, not 1997 as previously stated. The original game (and therefore the franchise) launched in 1997.