Sony: Home and dry

It could, therefore, have tried to steal the show with an orgiastic outpouring of announcements and forecasts, but, quite frankly, it didn’t.

Instead the tone was set by the conference’s lead-off speaker, SCEA boss Jack Tretton. This is not a man from the PT Barnum lineage. He’s a reluctant front man, but a safe pair of hands. The right person for the job.

He played on his lack of showbiz, pointing out that he preferred the podium death grip” style of presenting rather than the free-roaming, stage-commanding technique of his boss, Kaz Hirai, or, let’s be honest, his rivals Peter Moore and Reggie Fils-Aime.

Tretton first appeared as his virtual self in PlayStation’s Home. This feature was utilised throughout the presentation, with various presenters treating the online feature as a sort of faux backstage area. It’s obviously important to Sony, and the firm is obviously pleased with it, especially after a recent makeover that sees the ‘lobby’ replaced with an almost Back to the Future-style Town Square.

It also seems a little more zeitgeisty and funky than other offerings. Like the PS3, in fact. You sense it’s packed with cool stuff and clever features and things which will make more sense as time and technology march on. It’s just not focused and flying, yet, with an autumn roll-out scheduled to make it the centrepiece of the PlayStation Network.

Once the real Tretton had taken to the stage, and acknowledged his lack of showbiz stylings, he set about redressing the style problem with some substance. He talked of the new 80GB PS3 and the price cut of the 60GB model to $499. But this wasn’t a successor to the ‘Go big or go home’ announcements of previous E3s.

Then it was onto PSP, with Tretton pointing out that UMD software sales are up 35 per cent from this time last year. New games on the format’s show reel included SOCOM, Syphon Filter, WipEout Pulse and Sims 2 Castaway.

It was left to Hirai to introduce the new PSP, however. It looks the same, but is 33 per cent lighter, 19 per cent slimmer, boasts longer battery life and shorter loading times.

SCE studio boss Phil Harrison later told MCV, however, that he believes the key new feature is a link cable which will allow users to view PSP content on their HDTV screen. It is launched globally in September, including one SKU that will see a customised Star Wars unit, complete with a Darth Vader logo etched on the back and bundled with Star Wars Battlefront.

Harrison then returned to Network and Home, showing some new games available for download, including an interesting looking Japanese puzzler called Echocrome plus a Jackass-kinda thing called PAIN and a WipeOut kinda thing called WipeOut HD.

He also unveiled two games, SOCOM US Navy SEALs: Confrontation and Warhawk that will be available simultaneously as downloads in PlayStation Network and at retail.

The meat of the presentation was, of course, a swathe of PS3 games. The first party exclusives at the top of the pile were Killzone 2, Gran Turismo 5, Ratchet and Clank: Tools of Destruction and a new IP called Infamous.

Much of the third-party stuff had already been shown by Microsoft and/or Nintendo, but there were exclusive deals with NCSoft, Ubisoft, Midway and Konami. The latter, of course, involves Metal Gear Solid 4, which franchise creator Hideo Kojima confirmed will be the end of Snake’s story”. But don’t bet on this being the end of the series.

The footage of some of these games was astounding, GT5 and MGS4 in particular. And Home is shaping up to be the smart, modern hub of a potentially packed online experience. But most visitiors to E3 knew that already.

Sony remains in no doubt that it has its long term strategy right and will burn off its competition in time. It just can’t seem to find the turbo switch yet. At E3, its engine purred impressively, but it still seemed to be cruising in third.

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