If you were to ask me about PlayStation’s strengths, relative to its competition, I would 100% point to the video games themselves.
God of War, Horizon Zero Dawn, Spider-Man and third party exclusives like Bloodborne put a blistering pace that Microsoft and its in-house studios simply couldn’t match.
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Last generation Microsoft and the Xbox brand weren’t even in the race.
So when it came time for Sony to finally reveal its next-generation console at its Future of Gaming event, Sony didn’t rely on specs or cumbersome pipe dreams of making consoles the entertainment center of your living room. Sony just showed video games.
Lots and lots of video games.
Sony’s PlayStation 5 showcase opened with Spider-Man Miles Morales and closed with Horizon Forbidden West, sequels to absolute corkers with established fan bases and critical acclaim. But sandwiched between those two heavyweights was a massive line-up of games revealed in a shotgun blast fashion so intense it was almost impossible to evaluate what we’re actually in for.
Playstation 5 looks goofy as hell, and I gotta have it!
On Thursday, at the Future of Gaming event, Sony’s real strength was variety. AAA games like Spider-Man were sat alongside nostalgia-bait like Demon’s Souls and Ratchet and Clank. But indie titles — including a coming-of-age tale about high school dinosaurs (?) and a game where you play as a cat in a cybercity populated by broken robots (??) — were very much front and center. Offbeat games that Sony and Microsoft traditionally toss in a ghetto indie montage were given the same platform and weight as stalwarts like Resident Evil. It was truly refreshing.
Launch events like these are traditionally showcases for lifelike graphics, but here it was the broad, varied palette of art styles that shone through. The PlayStation 5, much like the Xbox Series X, will no doubt be a powerful machine. But you get the sense that art direction and the pure heft of human resources will drive visual improvements in the next generation — not the nuts and bolts of the console itself.
Games like Little Devil Inside, an otherworldly adventure title that looked unlike any video game I’ve ever seen, sat comfortably alongside games like Horizon Forbidden West, a game that will set new benchmarks in a more traditional sense.
The future of games
In focusing on the games exclusively, Sony broadly sidestepped questions that might play more to Microsoft’s strengths with the Xbox Series X. Microsoft is making big bets on both cloud and subscription gaming. Its Project xCloud will let you stream games like Forza Horizon 4 on your phone, while Game Pass is essentially Netflix for games. Will PlayStation Now emerge as a competitor to Project xCloud? What’s Sony’s answer to Game Pass, the service that Xbox Chief Phil Spencer believes might be more important than the Xbox Series X console itself in the long run?
For a presentation titled “The Future of Games”, this was very much a presentation rooted in the here and now: This is the console and these are the games you will play. Sony is promising further details in later presentations, but it’s easy to wonder. Is this the point at which Microsoft and Sony diverge paths? One more focused on video games as a service, the other committed to building the best possible library of traditional exclusives.
The PS5’s physical design seems to suggest that. Microsoft is banking on the traditional home console slowly disappearing from view, replaced with cloud gaming and a monthly subscription model. Sony wants to keep the good times rolling.
Gaudy, white and unmissable, the PS5 is a bold departure from previous consoles designed to blend with other devices sitting quietly beneath your television. This is exactly what teenage me expected consoles to look like back in 1999. It says, loud and proud, “Hey it’s me, the PS5, I play those video games you’ve heard so much about.”
Again: Sony playing to its strengths.