PlayStation’s first Showcase event since 2021 lacked momentum and wasn’t the knockout blow that some were expecting – and it might just let Xbox back in.
Going into this week’s PlayStation Showcase, there were more than a few onlookers wondering if Sony would be looking to inflict the kind of grievous blow upon Microsoft that we’ve seen it do in summers past.
Following the Redfall debacle, not to mention the halting progress of its potential acquisition of Activision, the weakened state of Xbox in 2023 has been laid bare, with even Microsoft’s Phil Spencer himself recently making making a downbeat admission to the effect that yes, Xbox might still win its share of battles, but the war with PlayStation for console supremacy may be over.
Heading into the first PlayStation Showcase since 2021 then, anticipation was running high that Sony would once again lean upon its greatest strength: killer first-party exclusives to announce exciting new titles and thus create an unassailable lead over its rival for the generation to come. However, that’s not really how things played out. Whilst we saw a few promising exclusives announced, there was a notable lack of release dates and gameplay footage, not to mention some hotly-anticipated titles that were very conspicuous by their absence.
To an extent, it became as much about what wasn’t there as what was.
Given that it’s been two years since PlayStation gave us one of these events, you’d think the company would be looking to come out all guns blazing rather than looking to keep its powder dry, but looking at the rather nonplussed reaction to much of Sony’s solid, if unspectacular show, it seems that most fans were expecting a little more, whether that be in the form of announcements, gameplay footage or release dates.
One element that did hurt the event was the amount of news that leaked ahead of Sony’s grand reveals.
The announcement of Helldivers 2 near the show’s opening was a rapturous moment for fans of the hallowed 2015 original and was one of the better moments of the show, not least because it included actual gameplay footage and a release window. Still, those who have been paying attention will know that the game’s existence leaked last summer whilst more recent leaks betrayed the existence of the announced remake of Metal Gear Solid 3 (now known as Metal Gear Solid Delta: Snake Eater) and a new remaster of the OG games.
Likewise, the reveal of Project Q, a handheld grafted onto a Dualsense controller had already been leaked, meaning that Sony’s arrival on the Nintendo’s Switch’s turf wasn’t quite the big hardware unveiling that the company might have hoped for.
Of course, leaks are an unavoidable part of the business but when a slew of your bigger reveals are all but confirmed before the show even begins, you need to up the wow factor through other means and Sony didn’t really manage to do that.
State of No Play
Traditionally, Sony uses its intermittent State of Play events to give us extended looks at its upcoming slate and that’s all well and good. However, of the titles that were revealed at the PlayStation Showcase, a depressing number of them didn’t feature any gameplay footage, leaving us to wonder just what to make of them.
The more memorable reveals were the ones which gave us an idea of what to expect, with Dragon’s Dogma II, Phantom Blade Zero, Spider-Man 2 and the aforementioned Helldivers 2 all offering glimpses of in-game footage.
However, lots of the newly-announced titles such as The Talos Principle II, the new Bungie shooter, Marathon, Concord and Metal Gear Solid Delta: Snake Eater were just pre-rendered cinematic sequences, giving us very little to actually be excited about. To be fair to PlayStation, this is an industry problem rather than a Sony problem, but in a show where other key elements weren’t as tight as they could have been, it certainly didn’t help matters.
One of those problematic elements was the lack of solid release dates, another issue that added to the muted feeling following Sony’s big show. Whilst we got a fair few release windows, we’d almost reached the halfway point in the presentation before we were greeted with our first hard release date, that being Alan Wake 2, a multi-platform release that also includes Xbox.
Even Spider-Man 2, the company’s big single-player tentpole release for 2023 didn’t get a locked in release date, something that was a little surprising.
We’re not going to rail Sony too hard for this one. After all, announcing a hard release date late in the day and sticking to it is far more preferable than going down the route of multiple delays that we’ve seen blight marketing campaigns for huge titles in the past few years. The botched 2020 release of Cyberpunk 2077 really did mark a turning point in the way most developers hype their releases. Still, along with the other underwhelming aspects of the show, the lack of hard dates for anything was undeniably a factor too.
Live It Up
Single player was arguably the area that may have spooked most fans, even though when it comes to this one, the writing has been on the wall for some time. Hints from Sony itself, last year’s acquisition of Bungie and budget reports have told us for some time that Sony would be moving at least some of its focus away from the sort of narrative-led, single player experiences that has made its brand so strong, shifting instead towards the shiny economic potential of the live service landscape. This was the show where that direction became clear though, with an absence of the kind of first-party AAA single player announcements that gets your average PlayStation gamer’s blood pumping.
This isn’t to say that these games don’t exist, there’s Insomniac’s Wolverine, Sucker Punch’s (heavily rumoured) Ghost of Tsushima 2 and although it might be a long way off, whatever Santa Monica Studios is turning its attention to following God of War: Ragnarok.
But given that Wolverine was announced two years ago and that Ghost of Tsushima 2 has clearly been Sucker Punch’s priority for some time, the balance in this show felt weirdly weighted towards upcoming live service titles like Marathon, Foamstars and Fairgame$.
Whilst we all knew this shift was coming, it still felt somewhat jarring and the show would have benefitted from at least one more huge single-player reveal to demonstrate Sony’s commitment towards players who remain loyal to the brand because of those big single player games. Perhaps the return of Snake was supposed to be that moment, but that’s where the issue of leaks becomes increasingly problematic as that ‘surprise’ announcement came as a shock to nobody.
There’s a theory doing the rounds that PlayStation purposefully chose to withhold its biggest IP guns for a strategic reason: its ongoing attempt to block Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision. After all, Sony’s opposition to the buyout is that it will give Microsoft a monopoly of intellectual property rights that will mean a worse deal for the consumer. By shielding the visibility of its own (rather impressive) IP portfolio, could Sony be purposefully making itself look weaker in the eyes of regulators in an attempt to sway decisions on a deal which is very much hanging in the balance?
Perhaps. We can’t see any other reason why The Last of Us: Factions wouldn’t make an appearance. Whilst Insomniac might want to focus on building hype for Spider-Man 2, the studio has had a full development team on Wolverine since 2021. And then there’s devs like Firesprite and of course, Sucker Punch, with the latter sitting on a Ghost of Tsushima 2 announcement, as well as a blockbuster film adaptation of the franchise seemingly in the works.
Marvel games. AAA sequels getting the Hollywood treatment. These are big, big pieces of IP and perhaps Sony is just playing possum, keeping them out of the limelight.
In the meantime, it does mean that Sony has left the door wide open for Microsoft to get back in the conversation should the latter prove to have a strong summer of announcements and demonstrations. Just a few weeks after even Xbox boss Phil Spencer seemed to think it was all over, Sony has failed to deliver the knockout blow that many expected its show to be.
Should a reinvigorated Microsoft comes out swinging, a battle that looked to be all but over could instead be very much game on.