PS5’s Prestige Pivot Makes The Innovative Games Stand Out
While Sony’s closure of Concrete Genie developer PixelOpus earlier in May didn’t make the headlines the way yesterday’s PlayStation Showcase announcement of the Metal Gear Solid 3 remake did, it still hangs like a dark cloud over the PlayStation brand, even when Sony displays an hour’s worth. of upcoming games.
Type S: Chiaki’s Journey II Volume 1
The PixelOpus closure was the latest in a long line of moves by the brand to position itself as a company of prestige, blockbuster video games. It’s gotten to the point where Sony is reportedly derailing its studios to work on Uncharted games instead of new IP. Gone, it seems, is the Sony that championed quirky and unique titles like Media Molecule’s Tearaway or Japan Studio’s Gravity Rush.
This is the track PlayStation has been on since the PS4 era. The demise of PixelOpus feels like another sign that a brand that once prided itself on encouraging creative bets is increasingly only interested in chasing big-budget hits. This PlayStation Showcase felt like a reminder that while there are still plenty of beautiful, innovative games coming to the PS5, most of them come from studios more influenced by the PlayStation brand’s innovative past than its seemingly prestige-obsessed present and future.
Sony’s doubling of prestige blockbusters
Sony’s big leadoff game was Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, which looks great but leans heavily toward the cinematic action storytelling that made Naughty Dog’s Uncharted popular. The full game will be full of the fast-paced superhero theatrics, but the gameplay we did see made a point to highlight the direction and set pieces that have become synonymous with the PlayStation brand. I enjoy these aspects of Sony’s games, but I also recognize how these concepts have become a point of friction for many fans since The Last of Us first exploded in 2013. At first, the sentiment that all of Sony’s first-party games felt like they were chasing Naughty Dog’s heights felt overblown to me. But lately I’m starting to wonder.
I feel like gliding around as Spider-Man, but would like to see Parappa the Rapper again at some point. Image: Marvel / Sony
Yes, there’s definitely something to be said for how some games—Horizon, the Norse God of War duology, even some ill-fated franchise efforts like Days Gone—clearly take inspiration from Naughty Dog’s post-apocalyptic series. But claiming they’re all the same when conceptually and systemically they couldn’t be further apart has always felt like a reductive view of what’s actually happening at Sony. That nuance is often lost because, for some, the idea of ”cutscenes as a storytelling device” was somehow asserted by The Last of Us, which ties into some people’s misperception that, “any game that features a humanoid including character in a third-person perspective is actually the same.”
But as Sony moves further toward an emphasis on photorealistic visuals and HBO adaptation-ready storytelling, it’s leaving more ideas on the cutting room floor. And more talent is pushed out. Check out a PlayStation Showcase where the first-party lineup consisted only of big-budget, prestige-driven efforts or direct service games, leaving creative highlights like Puppeteer, LittleBigPlanet, Tokyo Jungle, and even the early Sly Cooper games as relics feel of a bygone era.
Whatever one might claim that Sony’s first-party output feels homogenous, it’s troubling that Sony is now less interested in different visual art styles, game mechanics, and storytelling approaches as it tries to bring everything under the PlayStation umbrella into a multimedia universe. to turn Ratchet and Clank is one of the only old-school survivors of what appears to be a cull of the games and creatives behind PlayStation’s formerly eclectic first-party catalog.
Tearaway and its PS4 remake feel like they come from a different era of PlayStation first-party. Image: Media Molecule
Sony’s upcoming slate has no shortage of sequels to its modern prestige games, and Spider-Man 2 and Sony-published Death Stranding 2 are likely to be great. But it feels like their existence is now coming at the expense of smaller-scale, innovative projects like Concrete Genie and Parappa the Rapper. Outside of Spider-Man 2, many of Sony’s first-party PlayStation Showcase projects featured only cinematic trailers without gameplay, and quite a few were also multiplayer-focused, such as Haven’s FairGame$ and Marathon. Live service and prestige games seem to be the two pillars of PlayStation Studios right now.
We still get a lot of that old creative spirit in indie games
Meanwhile, much of the company’s old spirit has been captured by indie studios that have at least given Sony the spotlight on its big digital stage. Games like Neva, Cat Quest and Revenant Hill stand out alongside generic games with generic names. Three years and counting of ambient pandemic noise and endless “digital showcases” have only made the increasing homogeneity of many big-budget games more apparent, causing this same output to increasingly coalesce in our minds. Now Sony’s own games are falling into that trap themselves.
Games like Revenant Hill stood out during the PlayStation Showcase because it wasn’t another prestige and direct service game. Image: The Glory Society
Sony wants PlayStation to grow into a megalithic brand with a hand in every form of entertainment. It apparently feels it leaves no time to return to its more light-hearted history, or devote resources to likable larks that can’t be spun off into wildly successful HBO series or live-action movies. And while the PlayStation Showcase only had a few first-party games to show, I can’t help but feel like the company has quite the same imagination it once had. The PlayStation 3 era, widely regarded as the generation that Sony “lost” the console war against Microsoft’s Xbox 360, was one of its most experimental phases. Exciting new games were constantly appearing, and it just felt like the company was more willing to try new things and make mistakes. Now, Sony’s output always feels too carefully crafted and on message to show much starry-eyed wonder.
This isn’t a Sony-specific problem, as nearly every major brand in entertainment has become increasingly fearful of perceived failure, to the point where any deviation from the public mission statement must be shunned or culled. Sony says it hopes to have half of its output be new IP by 2025, and I just hope that whatever games the company shows us in the coming years will be able to recapture some of the old magic. But since Sony also seems to want live service gaming to be a significant part of its supposed upcoming renaissance, I’m not holding my breath.