It’s that time of year again. The time to steel yourself against the chilly winds of winter, wrap yourself in furs - just mind the Frostclaws - and try not to be the one who says ‘oh, I forgot that happened this year.’ Once again, it’s been a strong 365 days to own a PS4, if one with plenty of tantalising teases for a line up that might just melt our hard drives in 2018. But none of that looking to the future just yet. Consider me the Ghost of PlayStation Past so let’s go back to the start of the year. Yes, I am whispering, and it’s absolutely for dramatic effect.
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After Resi 7’s surprise reveal at E3 2016 and subsequent incredible lack of any delays for ‘extra polish,’ the survival horror franchise reared its ugly flaming head in January right on schedule. Not only was the trip to the Baker mansion a terrifying return to form for the series as it took inspiration from a stack of modern horror movies, but you could only truly experience the terror first-hand on PlayStation VR. Whether you wanted to or not was another matter. Resi 7 VR certainly isn’t for everyone - if you’ve got a sensitive inner ear, I’d advise against it if you don’t fancy sitting with your head between your legs for an hour - but a big studio taking a risk on developing a full game for virtual reality was a hint of the quiet success of PS VR to come later in the year. Back then though, the choice was very much up to you and I won’t be the one to judge you for choosing the still squirm-inducing 2D version.
If you survived lunch with the Bakers in January - just ignore the leftovers in the fridge - February was the month that literally defined PlayStation’s year. The release of Horizon Zero Dawn from Killzone devs Guerrilla Games made the word ‘surprise’ suddenly gloriously inadequate. Aloy’s post post-apocalyptic adventure doesn’t just have a frankly (thunder)jaw-droppingly beautiful open world but a story to match that’ll get you right in the feels. Throw in the fact that you’ll want to play with every single part of this robot-filled ecosystem and you never want to leave.
Ask Guerrilla co-founder Herman Hulst about his Sony moment of the year, and he reveals not just how it felt to release the game, but also just how big a risk Horizon Zero Dawn actually was for the studio. “Selfishly, my PlayStation highlight of the year really has to be something I’ve been working towards for almost 7 years,” he says. “It was really giving birth to everything about it. It was so long, it was such a huge bet-your-game-studio kind of risk that we took, we really didn’t know for sure if it was going to work out and then it did work out, and then we followed through immediately expanding within the universe. I mean, this calendar year that’s just coming to an end has very much been defined by Horizon Zero Dawn for us, for all of us here at the studio selfishly. Normally, any other year where you ask me that and I’d start raving about other games but this year I’ll rave about my own game, if that’s ok.”
It's time to go Pro
Aloy’s journey is pretty enough on a standard PS4 but it’s here where Sony’s Big Mac of a console, the PS4 Pro, suddenly became very, very relevant in 2017. The combo of HDR and, err, ‘rendering 2160p checkerboard’ meant that Horizon Zero Dawn on 4K screens looks positively absurd. Details on robots, stitching on Aloy’s outfit, draw distance and even just the foliage swaying in the wind suddenly boosted the PS4 Pro from an interesting under TV trinket to an ‘oh god, give it to me now’ purchase. “Horizon Zero Dawn gave PS4 Pro its killer app, an eye-poppingly beautiful world that Sony's beefier machine made the most out of,” agrees Ben Tyrer, Games Editor on Official PlayStation Magazine. “Xbox One X might shade the specs, but it doesn't have anything that can touch PS4's games lineup.”
And this line up only got stronger as we progressed through 2017. Persona 5 hit shelves in May, marking another landmark release for the franchise which went on to sell more than 2 million copies worldwide. The game is, to quote our review, “astounding” and “an experience that’s perfectly realised from the moment it begins,” and marks another single player success on the console in a year marred by controversy of the future of games profitability. Who knew people liked to play games on their own?
Up next was E3, and I think if we’re all honest with ourselves, we were somewhat disappointed at the time. With Shawn Layden and co. literally printing out Golden dream Tickets for the previous two years, Sony’s PlayStation Showcase in June was light on big reveals. What it wasn’t light on was potential. More Uncharted: The Lost Legacy was shown off, Kratos killed everything in extended God of War footage, Days Gone revealed seas of shambling terrifying reasons this zombie thriller will be worth the wait, and a seven minute chunk of Marvel’s Spider-Man showed off exactly what Insomniac is doing with our favourite webslinger. Look back and it was a glittering showcase of exclusives, a firm statement of intent in the direction of a rival manufacturer who might have a few extra graphics processing chips in its new console but zero to no exclusives to call its own. Sony’s E3 showcase was a not so quiet declaration of war on Xbox and, on top of its exclusive AAA line up, it even decadently dedicated a section of the conference to VR.
For those who wondered if PS VR was another Wonderbook or Eye Toy, the definitive answer from 2017 is a resounding no. While things look a little quieter on the surface, Sony is busy paddling away unseen on a stack of experiences and exclusives. The Inpatient, a horror set in the same world as Until Dawn, is on the way from Supermassive Games, Star Trek Bridge Crew was welcome wish fulfillment, and then there was the small matter of Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR being revealed at E3, and then selling PS VR out across the globe when Sony wisely reduced the price for Black Friday.
People are still hungry for VR and Sony is still delivering the cheapest and easiest way to get your head in the game and the accessories to go with it. "Every time someone decides PS VR's bubble has burst Sony rolls out better and better sales stats – almost two million units sold now and 100 games out and in development,” confirms Official PlayStation Magazine editor Ian Dean. “That's impressive. In hindsight, 2017 feels like the year PS VR dug in and proved the critics wrong."
June delivered yet another way that Sony proved the critics wrong. Just when you thought you could escape the orange marsupial, Crash Bandicoot came back after 20 years with the N. Sane Trilogy and sold more than 2.5 million copies with his remastered trilogy. Updated jumping mechanics be-damned, the unofficial Sony mascot stayed at number one in the UK sales charts for an astonishing seven weeks proving that remasters can still be big business. Expect Crash Team Racing sooner rather than later.
PS4 exclusives at the top of the charts became a serious theme in the UK. Between Horizon Zero Dawn, Crash, Persona 5, the WipeOut: Omega Collection, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, and Gran Turismo Sport, PS4 exclusives were at number one for 15 weeks, a feat not managed by a single company since Nintendo ruled the roost with (included Wii game) Wii Sports back in 2009 for 16 weeks. Toss in the fact that physical PlayStation games in the UK made up 50.2% of all software sales this year and 2017 has been a staggeringly successful year, even without digital figures. Oh, and in case you were wondering, Xbox One accounted for 31.6%. Ouch.
The story mode so far
Move onto July and we got another helping of Horizon Zero Dawn in the shape of a new game plus mode, a massively updated photo mode, and two new difficulty settings, one cranking the game up to seriously tricksy and the other turning it down so you could just experience the story. For a year apparently so obsessed with the ‘death’ of single player as EA scrapped Visceral’s Star Wars project, 2017 actually delivered far more ways to experience things alone than ever before. And, according to Guerrilla’s Herman Hulst, everything the team added is a reaction to what the community wanted. Audiences love single player, they just want more ways to play.
“I think mostly these features came into existence almost organically,” he explains. “Photo mode was something that when one of our designers said ‘let’s do a photo mode’ it worked so well and the game really lent itself so well to being photographed. New Game plus was on the radar but it’s just something that the fans really wanted, like many things we’re listening very carefully to what all the players are saying and what they want and then try to react to it as swiftly as possible.”
Up next in August came Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, a stand alone single player *ahem* journey where we got to leave Nate at home and go on a dangerous holiday to India with Chloe Frazer and Nadine Ross. It might seem an odd way to celebrate a decade of Naughty Dog’s cinematic franchise without its hero, but Lost Legacy means you’ll quickly forget Drake. Sorry, pal. Brilliant leads and explosive cinematic set pieces cement Lost Legacy as a classic Uncharted title with all the quipping and gunplay you’d ever want. A sequel to this would be nice, Naughty Dog…
After the release of Destiny 2 with a slew of PlayStation exclusive items, it felt like the year should be wrapping up but as if reaffirming its passion for the cause, Sony released a new updated PS VR headset. While nearly everything is the same in version 2.0, an all important update of HDR passthrough means that you won’t need to unplug the box when you don’t want to use it. Given that the PS4 Pro, complete with HDR was already available before the PS VR was first released, it was an odd decision to leave it out of the original version but it’s another good sign for the future of Sony’s commitment to VR.
You haven't seen The Last of Us
The rest of the year is blurred in a sea of new footage. With the latter half of the year bare for exclusives bar Horizon Zero Dawn’s chilly Frozen Wilds DLC, PlayStation had to show exactly what it had coming soon. While InFamous studio Sucker Punch revealed a samurai open world adventure called Ghost of Tsushima at Paris Games Week, Sony took the opportunity to reveal even more of future titles. More stark, gory The Last of Us 2 footage might have been somewhat disturbing out of context with its visceral apocalyptic gameplay, but another reason Sony will be reconsidering what to show off at conferences in future was David Cage’s Detroit: Become Human. This footage also required an age gate and showed exactly what happens when you don’t make the right choices in a horrific abuse situation. The subtext rapidly became the text as it turns out AI aren’t the real monsters after all when we saw things from an AI perspective. What a surprise… Thanks David.
The Game Awards in December handed out a veritable sack of Christmas PlayStation gifts too in the shape of eight slightly more cohesive minutes of Death Stranding, a release window for Media Molecule’s glorious LBP follow up, Dreams (it’ll be out in 2018), a sequel to Job Simulator in VR, and we even got a 30 second glimpse of a new FromSoftware game in a teaser called ‘Shadows Die Twice’ that may or may not be a Bloodborne sequel. Finally, to tie the festive bow on PlayStation’s 2017, was PSX where we got the news that The Last of Us 2 is almost half finished, God of War will take 25 hours to finish AND, right on time, we’re getting a 4K remaster of Medievil. If you have no idea who Sir Daniel Fortesque is, welcome to being born after 1993. The rest of us already look a little like the bony hero.
2017 then was a good year for Sony but also a quiet one. A year of success stories in smaller console exclusives like Nier and Nioh, given the chance to breathe in a normally crowded area, but also of AAA like Horizon Zero Dawn. PS4 Pro has become relevant after a quiet start, the single player experience has never been more important, and it turns out we all really like remastered Bandicoots. If this is a year of treading water then, it’s almost terrifying what kind of year we’ll see in 2018. In PS4 exclusives alone, Death Stranding, God of War, Days Gone, The Last of Us 2, Dreams and Marvel’s Spider-Man are all on the horizon and they’ll all look far better on PS4 Pro. It might be the year that the competition released the most powerful console on earth but PlayStation knows exactly what it’s doing. Bring on 2018.