While the "console wars" are somewhat clichéd -- not to mention frequently overexaggerated -- it's looking more and more likely that Microsoft and Sony are going to have a very serious fight on their hands.
Interestingly, the two companies seem to be going about things in a completely different way from one another. Microsoft is very much courting the core market who play big names like Call of Duty and Battlefield; Sony, meanwhile, delivered a wide-ranging presentation that took over an hour before it featured either dubstep or a first-person shooter.
Here's the specifics. As ever, we'd love to hear what you think! Jump in to the comments or notes to share your thoughts -- personally speaking, I think Sony absolutely killed it with this conference, though there was a noticeable and unsettling lack of Japanese content. Perhaps that's coming at TGS.
We've seen a few screenshots and videos of the PlayStation 4's UI prior to now, but Sony's Gamescom presentation opened with Shuhei Yoshida quietly sitting in a chair facing the screen, using a PS4 live.
The interface looks like a cross between the Xbox dashboard's tiled interface and the PS3/PSP's XMB. It looks pretty clear and simple to navigate, and, as expected, the social features of the new system are clearly baked into the whole experience.
After browsing through a few games, Yoshida started watching a stream of someone else's Killzone match. Pressing a button to pull out of the full-screen video and back into the interface, he tapped a "Join" button and was almost immediately taken into the game to join his friend.
We also caught a glimpse of the PS4's social sharing facilities, as Yoshida apparently tweeted a message and a screenshot of Killzone live from the stage -- you can see it here.
The PlayStation 3
Although this event was largely about the PS4, Sony took a moment to highlight a few upcoming and recent PlayStation 3 releases, including Gran Turismo 6, The Last of Us, Beyond: Two Souls and Grand Theft Auto V.
In the latter case, there were two deals announced: firstly, there'll be a hardware bundle including a copy of the game, console and custom headset; secondly, if you pre-order Grand Theft Auto V from PSN, you'll get a code for 75% off other Rockstar games.
Only one new game was announced, but it could prove to be a successful one for Sony: a new, free-to-play LittleBigPlanet called LittleBigPlanet Hub. Free-to-play is actually a great fit for LittleBigPlanet, since the games on offer already sell premium DLC featuring level bits and costume packs. It's a natural progression for the game to make the jump to free-to-play, but its success in the long term will depend on pricing and how generous the base free game is.
Also noteworthy in PlayStation 3 news was the confirmation of the 12GB PS3 model for $199 -- not a great deal, since three or four games' mandatory installs will eat that storage space in no time -- and the announcement that those who purchase PS3 versions of Battlefield 4, Assassin's Creed IV and Call of Duty Ghosts will be able to purchase the PS4 versions for a "significant discount" for a "limited time" once PS4 launches.
First up: Vita's getting a price drop. It'll be $199 from tomorrow, and apparently the memory cards are also being reduced "significantly" in price, though specifics weren't given on stage. Probably because they're not all that "significant" -- further details in this PlayStation Blog post.
Vita got a decent amount of love in the conference. Among the big retail titles announced for the platform were a version of Batman Arkham Origins, Lego Marvel, Football Manager Classic 2014 (featuring the "PC classic mode" on handheld platforms for the first time, apparently) and -- surprisingly pretty much everyone -- Borderlands 2.
Five brand new IPs are on the way to Vita, it seems. One of these is the gorgeous-looking Murasaki Baby, an "emotional and tactile experience" designed around Vita's touch controls. Murasaki Baby (Murasaki means "purple," if you were wondering) is an adventure game with a beautiful hand-drawn, hand-animated visual style. It was kind of hard to make out exactly how it would play, but it looks like some sort of touch-controlled puzzle-adventure-platforming type thing.
Meanwhile, BigFest is a free-to-play game in which you manage a music festival. Developed in partnership with Jamendo, the game features music from real-world unsigned bands and looks a bit like Theme Park. The original, good version, not that monstrosity EA released on iOS a while back. Like LittleBigPlanet Hub, though, it will live or die based on how fair its free-to-play structure is -- though Sony have a reasonably good track record with this sort of thing.
The Vita part of the presentation closed with a video of testimonials by indie developers, in which the overriding message was that the Vita was a platform particularly friendly to devs who wanted to make "little games with a niche audience."
The PlayStation 4
The big news: it's out on November 15, or November 29 in Europe. A free 14-day trial of PlayStation Plus will be available to new console owners, providing them with free copies of Driveclub and newly-announced shmup from Super Stardust dev Housemarque, Resogun.
Augmented reality game PlayRoom will come pre-installed on every PlayStation 4, allowing you to do weird things with little dancing robots and/or pretend that your hair's on fire. Hardly a system-seller, but looks mildly amusing in an EyeToy Play sort of way.
Sony was keen to stress that the PS4 is both 10 times more powerful than the PS3, and that it's easy to develop for. Apparently we're in for a "renaissance of gaming" -- a return to the era of creativity that defined the early days of the PlayStation.
Sony's indie champion Shahid Kamal took the stage to discuss independently developed titles that would be coming to Sony's platform. Of all these titles, most were making PS4 their platform of choice so far as consoles go, with either complete exclusivity or, at the very least, making a "console exclusive debut" on PS4. Many of these games are also set to be cross-platform titles for both PS4 and Vita, though it remains to be seen how many will support Cross-Buy and Cross-Play.
Notable titles include the excellent platformer Rogue Legacy, Edmund McMillen's revamped roguelike action game The Binding of Isaac Rebirth (free to PlayStation Plus customers when it launches), N++ (which looked bewilderingly abstract, but apparently has new multiplayer modes and a level editor), Mike Bithell's new title Volume (coming to PC and Mac a month after PS4), Guns of Icarus Online (which Cassandra is very excited about), Vlambeer's Wasteland Kings and, to round up an incredibly strong indie lineup, Hotline Miami 2.
Other noteworthy upcoming PS4 games include a new title from Dear Esther developer The Chinese Room. Everybody's Gone to the Rapture is a post-apocalyptic adventure set in the 1980s, and looks enormously atmospheric. It's built on CryEngine 3, so it looks lovely, but you can also expect some thought-provoking narrative content, too.
Meanwhile, Tequila Works, the Spanish developer behind Deadlight, is working on a title called Rime that you're probably going to want to keep an eye on. Blending a Wind Waker-esque aesthetic with an open world and an atmosphere strongly reminiscent of Team Ico's titles, Rime is looking absolutely lovely.
Magicka developer Arrowhead Game Studios has a PS4 project on the go, too, known as Helldivers. It's a top-down shooter set in a "satirical and dystopian future where mankind is ruled by a managed democracy," apparently. Friendly fire is a key part of the game experience, much as it is in Magicka. Expect raised voices and harsh words.
Next up, you could tell how old people were by how they reacted to the following announcement: PS4 is playing host to a brand new Shadow of the Beast game. If you're unfamiliar with the original, it was an Amiga game from 1989, was graphically spectacular and introduced a whole generation of gamers to the term "parallax scrolling." It also wasn't all that fun, really -- particularly if you had to suffer the vastly inferior Atari ST version like I did back then -- but it was certainly atmospheric, and the new game captures the look and feel of the original game perfectly.
Finally, we saw some new footage from Infamous: Second Son and Killzone: Shadow Fall, the latter of which was particularly noteworthy for showing how incredibly customizable the multiplayer mode appears to be thanks to the "create a warzone" feature.
After Sony's first-party material, we saw some footage from Assassin's Creed IV showing off how Remote Play on Vita will (hopefully) work -- very slick -- and yet another Watch Dogs trailer. Apparently there's also a Watch Dogs movie on the way, too.
The Non-Game Stuff
Sony confirmed that there will be 20 different video services available on PlayStation 4, and they won't be locked behind the PlayStation Plus subscription. Among these services is Twitch, allowing you to stream and spectate gameplay on PS4 games, and Music Unlimited, which will integrate with the system and allow you to listen to music in the background while playing other games.
Sony is also entering into strategic partnerships with a number of European service providers to provide PS4-friendly packages that reserve parts of the pipe for gaming. This will allegedly provide speeds of up to 200Mb/s for gaming, though I'll believe that when I see it. No word on whether we can expect a similar partnership in the States, however.
One More Thing...
Oh, right. Minecraft is coming to Sony platforms. Specifically, PS3, PS4 and Vita. It'll be a launch title for PS4. Take that, Microsoft.