“My biggest takeaway after the #PlayStationShowcase: I don’t really know anything more about PlayStation’s first party lineup now than I did before going into the show,” he tweeted about an hour after the May 24th event.
My biggest takeaway after the #PlayStationShowcase:
I don't really know anything more about PlayStation's first party lineup now than I did before going into the show.
— Shinobi602 (@shinobi602) May 24, 2023
It’s a perfect way to sum up how I’ve been feeling after the show. Despite this being Sony’s first so-called “PlayStation Showcase” since September 2021, the company didn’t really provide much in the way of updates on its many in-house studios. If anything, it had more in line with a traditional State of Play presentation with its emphasis on third-party titles. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, especially when many of those games look solid, it does beg the question of why this needed to be a “PlayStation Showcase” to begin with.
After all, that branding has weight. It’s what the company used in September 2020 and 2021 for big PS5 reveals, including Final Fantasy XVI, God of War Ragnarök, Marvel’s Wolverine, the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic remake and Marvel’s Spider-Man 2. And, whether reasonable or not, holding the Showcase in the traditional E3-esque summer window — which includes impending events from Summer Game Fest, Xbox and more — implicitly brings with it the expectation of a bigger show.
To be sure, gamers often expect a lot, and it’s always a good rule of thumb not to go into a show with too many lofty hopes. But considering we know PlayStation plans to release at least 10 live service games by 2026 and make huge investments in that space, it’s strange that we still don’t really have any clarity into those plans. Sure, we got the surprise announcements of Montreal-based Haven’s Fairgame$ and Bungie’s Marathon, but both are undated and seem to be similar types of shooters based on their frustratingly vague cinematic reveal trailers. Only Concord, another shooter from another recently acquired PlayStation studio, Firewalk, was actually given a release window: 2024.
The problems with this are two-fold. First, spotlighting live service games that are seemingly all variations of first-person shooters doesn’t exactly set a good first impression for PlayStation’s plans for online games. The strength of the studio’s first-party catalogue has always been its variety, whether it’s the powerful drama of The Last of Us, superhero fun of Marvel’s Spider-Man, colourful weapons of Ratchet & Clank or high-octane races of Gran Turismo. Beyond these three samey titles, we lack any real insight into the company’s ambitious plans to expand its predominantly single-player catalogue into the online space.
To that point, the Showcase also failed to offer updates on some of the studio’s multiplayer games that do actually seem more unique. Where was Naughty Dog’s long-gestating The Last of Us multiplayer game? The Last of Us‘ Factions online component featured a more methodical and tense take on third-person shooters, which should stand out even more in this oversaturated live service market. What about Guerrilla’s leaked Fortnite-esque Horizon multiplayer spin-off? Considering Horizon‘s combat has always refreshing been centred around crafty bow mechanics, it’s easy to see how that could stand out. Sony Santa Monica has been working on multiple things between 2018’s God of War and its 2022 sequel, including director Cory Barlog’s next project. Could one of these be a live service game? Who knows!
Of course, the easy answer to all of this is that a lot of that wasn’t simply ready to be shown. Naughty Dog actually officially said as much in a May 26th tweet, although it’s unclear why this couldn’t have been shared prior to the showcase; instead, an illuminating Bloomberg report on the game’s troubled development has since come out. Some credible insiders suggest that PlayStation actually did have more to reveal but held it back for whatever reason, although that, of course, remains to be seen. But regardless of whether PlayStation wasn’t ready or willing to show more, the question remains: why even hold a “PlayStation Showcase” in the first place? If you were just going to show cinematic trailers with little details, did they really need to be in a show instead of, say, a PS Blog post? Even the way PlayStation boss Jim Ryan briefly teased the rumoured PlayStation handheld device felt underwhelming. In other words, it felt, at times, like the PlayStation Showcase was the equivalent of the “sitting in a meeting that could have been an email meeting” meme, at least when it came to PlayStation Studios titles.
Because otherwise, the only real meaty first-party showing was Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, which looks fantastic, even if it still doesn’t have a release date beyond the “fall 2023” window. In that sense, this honestly could have been a State of Play event (with smaller expectations accordingly); in the past, those have focused on third-party games before ending with an extended demo of one particular exclusive, like Sony did for Deathloop in 2021.
It’s a shame to be talking so much about all of that because the third-party showing in the Showcase was really solid. On the one hand, there were a bunch of impressive bigger titles beyond the aforementioned Spidey, like the hauntingly atmospheric Alan Wake II, magic-focused first-person shooter Immortals of Aveum and long-awaited action-RPG Dragon’s Dogma 2. But indies thankfully had a strong presence, too, like the charming 2D-3D Plucky Squire, slick, stylish sword combat game Phantom Blade Zero, the emotional Neva from the makers of GRIS and stunning Sword of the Sea from ex-Journey devs.
That was mostly where we got actual gameplay, offering us proper looks at the kinds of cool experiences we can expect from PS5 in the months ahead. While these, too, generally lacked a concrete release date, it’s at least refreshing to see so much actual footage when it could have been more cinematics-heavy. There’s a great variety across those, as well. And while a new trailer was probably unneeded here, Final Fantasy XVI continues to look incredible and is coming out next month, giving PS5 owners a massive new exclusive to enjoy.
Ultimately, this show had a lot of good to it, but that arguably got overlooked because of understandable expectations for more from PlayStation Studios after a year-and-a-half. Anecdotally, the reception to the show seems to be fairly mixed, and it’s interesting to consider how it might have been received if it were presented as a shorter State of Play or something else altogether. PlayStation’s had many great showcases before, including the last one in September 2021 — here’s hoping the next one offers a little of its strong first-party catalogue.
Image credit: PlayStation