Looking Back On Sony In 2015
2015 was another year where the games division of Sony mostly played it safe with a solid line-up of exclusive games and downloadable content but also showcased some forays into virtual reality experimentation.
Let's examine the publisher's highs and lows this year.
Sony Ships Over 30 Million Units
In October, Sony revealed that the Playstation 4 had shipped over 30 million units worldwide since the console's launch in November 2013. This makes the PS4 the best-selling console for Sony, outperforming the Playstation 2 when it was at the same point in its lifespan.
The Vita Continues Its Backslide Into Obscurity
The PlayStation Vita is a fantastic device for playing JRPGs, digital PS One games, and a handful of indie titles. Still, 2015 was another year where quality exclusives for the portable powerhouse were in short supply. The PS TV, introduced in October 2014, provided a glimpse of hope that there might be a wave of incoming first-party games but 2015 proved that wasn't the case. Shuhei Yoshida, the president of Sony's Worldwide Studios explained that the TV didn't succeed because "It didn't capture the consumers' imagination."
In that same interview, he goes on to talk about the lack of big-budget AAA games for the Vita, like Killzone Mercenary, because "the expectation and size of the world for these types of games have risen after the launch of the Playstation 4."
One of the most hotly-anticipated exclusives for the PS4, Bloodborne was released in March 2015 to strong reviews and favorable reactions from both Souls fans and newcomers alike. Daniel Tack gave it a score of 9.75 in his review and wrote:
"Bloodborne is a blood-drenched horror gem that has only the faintest of cracks in its façade. Bloodborne succeeds through sparse storytelling, lush atmospheres (conjuring up notions of the best of Lovecraft's work), and tight combat that forces you to be aggressive. While this new IP doesn't stray far from the established Souls franchise, it is a magical, wondrous work that admirably instills both terror and triumph in those brave enough to delve into it.
Shenmue 3's Kickstarter Is Announced
A third installment in the Shenmue series was revealed at Sony's E3 show. Well, kind of, anyway. It was a Kickstarter announcement for the game, one that managed to hit its goal of 2,000,000 in less than a day. While this seems like a dream scenario for fans of the series, others found the Kickstarter campaign to be deceptive and preying on would-be backers' nostalgia. Our news editor Mike wrote at length about the shady quality of Shenmue 3's crowdfunding campaign:
"In order to make an informed decision, backers deserve transparency. The first Shenmue game cost $47 million to make, so the $2 million won't go far in making a true sequel that fans expect Suzuki to deliver. That primary funding coming from other sources is essential to this project's potential success.
Whether Suzuki received bad counsel from Sony or other investors or thought it wise to obfuscate the true nature of the project budget doesn't matter. There is one currency that rules everything on Kickstarter. It is not cash. It is trust, and Yu Suzuki has so far squandered it."
No Backwards Compatibility for Playstation 4
Earlier this year Microsoft announced that they were working to make a number of Xbox 360 titles capable of being played on the Xbox One at no extra charge to users. Sony has introduced no such feature with The Playstation 4, instead putting a small amount of emulated PS2 games on the store page for purchase.
Playstation 4 Players Get A Lot Of Exclusive DLC
Games likes Destiny and Assassin's Creed Syndicate weren't PlayStation exclusives but owners of those games sure got a lot of perks if they played them on PS4: platform exclusive guns, armor, and costumes. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that PlayStation users will get access to Call of Duty maps before Xbox One users when it used to be the other way around.
The Order 1886 Doesn't Make Waves
The Order 1886, the first PS4 exclusive released in 2015, stirred up some controversy when leaked videos of the game suggested it was only around 5 hours long. After release it was praised for its beautiful aesthetic and gorgeous graphics, but faulted for being sloggy and taking control away from the player too often. Our own Matt Miller appreciated the game more than most and has high hopes for a sequel that fixes the problems 1886 had:
"While The Order: 1886 is a fun adventure with lots of intriguing reveals about the nature of its world, it's also clear that Ready At Dawn intends for this to be the first game of a grander story. Players should brace themselves for a lot of unresolved character arcs and unanswered questions. This is an origin story, but a fascinating one. 1886 goes against the current tide of open-world wandering and emergent sequences, and banks on the idea that players can enjoy a straightforward and relatively brief cinematic adventure - if it's well told and original. I hope Ready At Dawn is right; I'd love to see what happens in 1887."
PlayStation Now Is A Mixed Bag
PlayStation Now allows users to rent and stream PS3 games on their consoles. A great idea on paper, but the service itself is finicky, often disconnecting players from their game. The pricing plans for the service ($19.99 for a month, $44.99 for three months) are also pretty expensive. Sony recently released a $99.99 for 12 months plan, which is actually a substantial discount but it's a limited time deal.
Sony's Gives A Solid E3 Presentation
Sony impressed watchers this year by showing off a slew of interesting looking games for slated for 2016: No Man's Sky, The Last Guardian, Dreams, Horizon Zero Dawn, and the Final Fantasy VII Remake. However, E3 did little to alleviate Vita owners' anxieties about the lack of support for the portable console.
Powers Turns Out To Be Unspectacular
Powers was supposed to be Sony's answer to Netflix's original programming, a show based on the comic book series by Brian Michael Bendis that follows a former super hero turned powerless detective who spends his days investigating crimes involving people with super powers. The show has a great setup but bad acting and a meandering story led to a chilly reception from critics and watchers. Still, the show got a second season, so maybe it can turn everything around next year.
Project Morpheus Becomes PSVR
Sony's unveiled its virtual reality project, codenamed Project Morpheus, as the PSVR. The publisher also showcased a bunch of games for the device: Rez Infinite, Golem, Job Simulator, 100ft Robot Golf, and Ace Combat 7. It will be interesting to see how PSVR pans out in 2016 and its games will be strong enough to draw a big enough crowd to buy it.
Until Dawn Delights
Until Dawn was one of the biggest, best surprises of the year. Originally intended as a PS Move title, Until Dawn underwent a number of changes during its development and emerged as a PS4 game that brilliantly used tropes and branching paths to immerse the player in an interactive horror film. Scoring the game with a 9 in his review, Jeff Marchiafava wrote:
"The beginning of Until Dawn boasts that the decisions you make during the game will craft a unique and personal story. By the time the credits rolled, I was a believer. Sure, every player follows the same narrative skeleton, and a few of the more "expendable" characters aren't instrumental to the ending (I'd also kill for a way to fast-forward scenes on subsequent playthroughs). However, the script kept me entertained and feeling like my decisions mattered throughout my 10-hour playthrough. Thanks to some good twists, a few fake-outs, and limitless jump scares, Until Dawn would make a solid horror film. As a piece of interactive fiction, however, it's a remarkable experience that horror fans shouldn't miss."
Sony's 2015 was a year that was neither marked by astounding blunders or brilliant successes but instead a steady journey filled with minor ups and downs, a strong (though somewhat sparse) line of releases alongside streaming service problems and neglected hardware. However, Sony looks to be shaking things up and getting a little risky next year with the PSVR. It'll be interesting to see how that gambit plays out as well as Sony's roster of 2016 exclusives.