E3: Sony Confirms PSP Go, Final Fantasy XIV, Motion-Control Wand

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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 pre-show 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 the system's yet seen. As a helicopter spit gatling fire, Nate dangled from the lips of crumbling ledges, hurling himself across gaps between bursts of bullets. He scurried across rooftops, ducking behind boxy protrusions for cover, and 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?). The demo ended as the helicopter raked the building, ripping out walls, windows, ceilings, and pretty much trumpeting "Look at all the stuff we can make go boom!" Coming fall 2009.

The Insanely Populous Game: MAG

Zipper Interactive unveiled the first bits of live play, giving us a peek at a 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. 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 disc-based UMD drive and everything running off internal storage or supplementary memory cards. It has the same operating system as the PSP, 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 Wi-Fi directly. The new expandable memory stick tech? We called it here first. Think 16GB SanDisk Memory Stick Micro, aka M2.

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's calling a "more intuitive interface." A second new app, called "Sense Me," will use a 12-tone recognition system (whatever that means--no relation to Schoenberg's dodecaphonic system) to analyze your PSP's 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've 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 additional PS-original 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 indefinitely (sorta like Nintendo's non-overlapping DS and DSi). All subsequent PSP titles will be distributed digitally online as well as at retail on UMD, and the PSP Go should be in stores in North America and Europe on October 1.

How much will it cost? Brace yourself: $250, says Sony, which 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--a veritable force field to impulse buyers. Sony seems to enjoy being the most expensive ubiquitously, it seems.

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--smooth in more ways than one. Yamauchi claimed the game 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/or share cars between your garage and the garages of other players. Yamauchi warned that gathering all 800 cars solo would be difficult, so you'll want to work with friends to get the full deck. What's more, it's the full-size GT experience, he emphasized, not a scaled-down subset of the series. 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, right?) is headed back to the PSP in Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. It isn't a spinoff or a side story, either, but a true sequel to Metal Gear Solid 3, set ten years after the latter PS2 game in the 1970s. Kojima stressed he'd 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, then it cut to Latin America, before I lost track of the tangly, rapid-fire plot blips altogether. All I know is, at one point, there were what appeared to be four stubbly, bandana-sporting Snakes on screen at once. Bizarre, and by all means explicate, MGS buffs.

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 the 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!>...and leading to the new setting: the Italian Renaissance.

The demo took us to 1486, if I read the screen captions correctly, and a setting that looked Venetian. Desmond's ancestor stood up from a bench, stabbed someone, then leapt 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 (and there's our impetus to play explained). He's also friends with Leonardo da Vinci, who lends him the famous bat-winged flying ornithopter 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 Square Enix's unexpected reveal too brief. I'm also pretty sure I wasn't the only one thinking Tretton was kidding around when he said, deadpan, "This next trailer's for Final Fantasy XIV, coming in 2010." Final Fantasy 14? Say what? 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 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. Whatever you think about MMOs (or console MMOs) it's quite the coup for Sony.

The Second Shoe Drops: PlayStation Motion Control

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

Imagine a microphone with a translucent bulb in lieu of the mic's metal mesh, capable of lighting up and changing color, almost a wand of sorts. "Just a prototype," said Sony, and the final look will probably change, but you hold it like you're gripping the hilt of something like a sword. Now imagine that device (or devices--Sony eventually rolled out two) 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' 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 down objects, say a line of dominoes, then send them toppling. A real-time strategy demo looked visually primitive, but illustrated how you could lasso troops by circling them, then 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 a respectable (if not as intrepid) second.

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