Last year’s Gamescom marked the turning point for the Vita and leading that charge was Media Molecule’s Tearaway. The papery platformer promised not only charming visuals but a use for the many features of the handheld that had only up until then be used as gimmicks or in mini-games.
The demo level exemplified this as for large parts our hero could not jump. A small issue for a lead in a platformer but by standing on certain types of ground and tapping the back of the Vita you could send him leaping upwards. After years of conditioning to press the X button to jump it felt a little weird but it proved a fun interaction if only because it threw aside convention. In your role throughout you affect the world as much as the character.
Elsewhere you open doors with a parting of your fingers, paper crowns are designed and cut out for squirrels, and records are scratched and rewound to slow down the pace of life in the forest. On paper – excuse the pun – it all sounds contrived but because of the world that MM paint around you it makes complete sense. You are the “One in the Sky”, an almost godlike figure looking down and helping all about you; it’s even possible to look up and see yourself smiling down from within Tearaway’s sun.
What is truly beautiful is how the game embraces its paper style across the board. Even the animations forgo normal smooth motion and elegant blending and instead opt for a slightly stuttering approach mimicking stop-frame animation. This takes incidental animations such as the butterflies fluttering by or the rain drops bursting on the ground and makes them as much a part of the game as any of the platforming.
Project Spark (Xbox One)
I’ve always been a fan of Build Your Own Game games. They open up creative paths to those who are not yet trained programmers or artists and allow a white box for people to experiment with in a hobby that they usually only consume rather than create. Project Spark is the latest of these and from the demo we saw on Xbox One it seems to cater for both the casual and those wishing to drill a little deeper.
With a suite of terrain creation features players first paint their world. Raising and lowering terrain, cutting gorges, and scattering “filler” onto open planes with a broad brush that auto-generates scenery. From there a selection of several hundred objects – from trolls to trees, cannons to cats – can all be edited down and handed a default behaviour. There proved to be a huge selection of prewritten behaviours that could fill enemies, power-ups, objectives and pet rocks. The potential seems huge, especially when you brush beneath the surface and find this can be layered with complex variable assignment and conditional programming.
As a finale we saw a Limbo clone that demonstrated the ability to lock movement in a plane, tweak the lighting and fix a camera. With that and the racing game on the screen next door it appears that Microsoft have created a very powerful tool that could inspire a new generation.
Super Mario 3D Land (Wii U)
Super Mario 3D Land embraces what proved such a success on the 3DS and brings it into high definition. Mario looks unnervingly large and crisp as he bounces around the levels which are made of the same abstract shapes and blocks that have defined his recent outings.
The new twist this time is his figure hugging cat suit. When donned our plumber can scale walls to reach otherwise unreachable areas; just jump into a wall and he’ll latch his claws into the vertical face and scrambles up. Though this ease of use is balanced by a short window of use after which the plumber will plummet back to earth.
Worries about it unbalancing the game should be laid to rest though as the levels on offer showed that it, like the racoon suit before, is used for accessing bonus areas, rewarding players with further platforming and offering new ways to play rather than exploiting weaknesses in the old formula. It also provides new offensive manoeuvres too, with a new diving attack and cartwheel slash that give an uncommon range to Mario’s combat.
It’s another demonstration that rather than building on feature after feature, Nintendo are happy to strip away Mario to his core and build upon just the odd new skill here and there. In doing so it allows them to focus on making the most of them rather than losing them in the noise of feature creep.
Sonic Lost World (Wii U)
Our favourite hedgehog must be getting old; Sonic has a run button. The old boy needs to conserve his energy and so from now on you have to tell him when you want him to pick up the pace. Rather than hamper the essence of the series however it in fact enhances it and leads to an interesting dynamic, one that I’ve hoped to see for a while. You still get to hurtle along on the straight but now when the designers decide it’s time for a quirky platforming section you ease off on the gas and tackle it with far more control than previously offered. It takes a while to get used to but within the twisting Green Hill Zone it worked wonders.
Although don’t expect a more conservative approach, a later demo saw Sonic rekindle memories of his Dreamcast Adventures. Pelting headlong into the screen he navigates a casino, jinking left and right to avoid barriers and spinning through enemies blocking his route. Compared to Green Hills, which at one point inverted itself and made you navigate across what was once your ceiling, this was disappointing bland. I have mixed feelings about gameplay that I used to have on an LCD racing game but half way through they softened my stance by dropping in a tribute to Sonic Spinball.
Though I welcome the approach in optionally slowing down their mascot, Sega made it hard to judge what Lost World actually is. Such a mishmash of styles and levels could be considered a greatest hits but for as much as I enjoy variety it made it very hard to get a consistent feel.
This was for sure a big highlight of the day, and possibly the show. Before sitting down to play the game, we were shown a short video which explained the mission objectives and broke down each of the classes on offer. The on-foot pilots could choose between assault, support and close quarters builds. These act as expected but interestingly enough there are also separate classes amongst the Titans as well. The three on offer here (it was hinted that there may be others available) offered a variety of weapon types and skills, each one suited to a particular style of play and role within a team. The first class came with a machine gun and the ability to use a magnetic field to catch oncoming fire and then return to sender, or anyone else that may be in your way. The next came fitted with a heavy cannon, a slow firing but highly accurate precision weapons which favours those with a good aim. An electrical field could also be deployed which disrupted the electronics of other Titans. Finally, the third class came with a rocket launcher which fired off a cluster of three missiles at a time, highly effective against Titans.
Initially you can’t but help comparing it to Call of Duty, but it didn’t take long until the differences came to the forefront; make no mistake Titanfall is very much its own game. A big part of it is due to the controls of the pilot. All of the classes are able to double-jump using their jet packs, meaning verticality is more important than ever and almost no area on the map is unreachable. Pilots are also able run along walls and chaining these two talents together mean you can effectively traverse whole maps without ever touching the ground. This parkour feel really does set this apart from other titles in the FPS space. The speed and variety of movement creates a fast paced match but at the same time isn’t so fast that it becomes nothing but a twitch contest.
At the start of the battle some of the other players were already roaming around in the Titans, but before long my timer had ran down and I was advised that my own personal Titan was available for deployment. With a press of a key I was able to choose where the giant mech dropped and a few seconds later I looked to the sky, watching with giddy excitement as it suddenly plummeted to earth. I hastily entered the machine and after a short animation the cockpit informed me that systems were online and my first stint in a Titan began.
It was riding in the assault class, mowing down troops with my machine gun and dashing about the place. It wasn’t long however until I encountered an enemy Titan. This one was firing rockets at me and I knew that I didn’t have the fire power to go toe to toe. I waiting around a corner for my foe and then rushed him, shooting at the cockpit. Luckily for me a team mate jumped in and we took it down, confirmation of my first Titan kill displayed at the bottom. The video from earlier had said that my main weapon was more effective against pilots than Titans and yet I was still able to bring it down, albeit with a little help. It seems therefore that the balance, even in this stage of development, is being carefully considered and will no doubt continue to be evolved.
After the end of the battle (which our team lost) the epilogue kicked in. This short section sees the losers try to flee the battlefield on a drop ship whilst the winning team attempts to kill them and prevent this. A way point is displayed on the screen which after a few seconds sees an escape ship arrive, waiting for you to board. It only seems to hang around for a few seconds however so you have to be quick. I was unable to get to the escape ship in time as I ran into a couple of titans who swiftly destroyed me. It seems that in this part of the match you are only granted one life as all I could do at that point was watch my fellow pilots dash towards safety.
Overall then I couldn’t have enjoyed my time with Titanfall any more than I did. Microsoft have a very strong exclusive title here that is good enough to sell the Xbox One by itself. The idea of further classes available, especially for the Titans, is mouth-watering and I cannot wait to play this more down the road.
“Press X To Ninja” prompts the title screen of Digital Extremes’ Warframe, shortly before launching players into its universe of alien races, co-op shooting, card-collecting, loot-grabbing and extreme melee action. Combat is a fast-paced hybrid of systems found in the likes of Sega’s Vanquish or the online portion of Mass Effect 3, with missions accessed through a hub world of players that brings to mind the original Guild Wars or Phantasy Star Online.
As Warframe is already a success on PC, Digital Extremes’ Gamescom presence is entirely focused on their impending PlayStation 4 release, and it’s coming along nicely too. Feature parity with PC is already locked and by the time the PS4 launches Warframe will be running at a steady 60fps with all the visual bells and whistles exhibited in the demonstration today. It looks sharp already, with some excellent motion blur and copious amounts of particle effects showcasing its next-next-gen pedigree.
Wrestling the PS4 controller from the developer’s hands for a quick wave-based co-op round, I can confirm that fps games appear a natural fit for Sony’s updated analogue sticks, with aiming, melee and shooting all feeling precise and speedy with the Dual Shock 4. Warframe’s close-quarter combat and assault weapons both feel satisfying and do a great job of making you feel like a total badass, with ample room for tactics as four-player parties mix and match their ordinance and special skills against enemies that require a degree of thought to dispatch.
Warframe should be available at launch for PS4, whether you’re a PS Plus subscriber or not.