FIFA 14 (Multi)
If you wanted to see the true power of next-gen then I’d have to point you to the differences between the Xbox 360 and Xbox One’s versions of EA’s all-conquering football series. On the aging Microsoft console the game still plays slick and attractive football but on its younger brother it goes a step further.
Although improved in recent years, players are still prone to a slight jerk as they transition into certain movements, snapping into a predetermined routine. It’s not overly jarring but play the game enough and you’ll notice the signs. With the next generation of console literally hundreds of extra animations have been added to each player’s repertoire allowing them to cope with a wider range of situations and create a more fluid experience. They’ll smoothly receive, tussle, and sprint away as never before. Rather than just upping the core visuals EA have paid attention to the smaller details and it’s paid off.
It’s also enabled is a more balanced defensive battle, where the jockeying between opponents is a fairer contest. In FIFA 13 speed, as is often the way with football games, was king, though usually because of the occasionally awkward movement of the defender. The extra animations in the can seemed to have put pay to that, meaning that being turned is not the end of the world. Your player can give chase and harry them with far greater chance of reacting quicker and nudging them off the ball.
Elsewhere the biggest smile came to my face during the incidental action that takes place when the ball goes dead. Action continues as players rush to retrieve the ball as others jog back into position. More than that however I managed to catch sight of two balls on the pitch; my winger had grabbed a ball to take a quick throw but the original one had started to roll back on the pitch before another player strolled over and booted it back out. It’s a little thing but one that makes you believe you’re taking part in a full game and not just the edited highlights.
Call of Duty: Ghosts (Multi)
The calmest place in the entirety of Gamescom was strangely the presentation room for Ghosts. As the Community Manager from Infinity Ward spoke to us about the new additions to multiplayer, the air conditioned and gently lit press room was a welcome respite from the heaving mass of humanity in the next hall.
She told us about the new customisation options, a surprising first for the series; the new weapons and kill streaks, each building on their understanding of current player tactics; and the new perks, which are no longer a tech-tree but unlocked through a far more open format. If you can afford it then you can have it, but with only a certain number of points to spend on your three do you then go balanced or spend big on one with two makeweights? An interesting balance that hands further options to the community.
Most of those were just interesting bullet points however compared to the two big additions. The first is the inclusion of a squad game mode. This isn’t co-op though, this is choosing five AI team-mates and heading online to take on (or down) a similarly specced squad. Over the course of time your team will level up, have skills assigned to them, and even prestige. You’ll be able to level up your multiplayer rank too throughout and so a perfect place to play for those not keen on directly entering the full multiplayer arena. With the options and upgrades available however this struck me as Ultimate Team for the FPS.
The other biggie was of course Riley. Jumping into an online game our new favourite hound could be found bound to a killstreak. As soon I had proved myself there he was tagging along by my side, growling every time an enemy came near. It’s a little detail but a hugely influential one because as soon as he’d alert me to the danger my pace would drop and I’d be on heightened alert. This kept me alive on more then one occasion, and his aggressive attitude equally saved my skin as attackers became torn between shooting me and removing the German Sheppard from their nethers. We all may have mocked it but man’s best friend has piqued my interest in a series that I’ve ignored since the original Modern Warfare.
The Red Solstice
Tucked away on the Indie stand, The Red Solstice brought a touch of the grim dark future to a section that otherwise was using the brighter end of the spectrum. It’s strange that it stood out by hiding in the shadows but its depiction of a futuristic city, with small areas of strong lighting accentuating the darkness, was enticing. With oddly shaped lampposts and street corners prevalent it was a setting that wouldn’t have been out of place in a space-age film noire… if it weren’t for the heavily armoured marines.
Playing quite like a dungeon-crawler, this shooter is incredibly easy to get into. The mouse buttons control movement and basic firing, with your collection of medkits and grenades assigned to hotkeys. The high camera angle allows you to drink in the atmosphere of the moodily lit levels but at the same time gives the designer scope to throw wave after wave of beasts at you from all angles.
The demo level placed you with three AI controlled squad mates who pulled you through the overrun city at quite a pace. At times there was blind panic; trying to strike a balance between thinning out alien numbers and running to keep up with my chums who seemed quite happy to leave me behind. Most of my firing was done on the hoof and the constant progression provided a dynamic to the level that I haven’t often experienced in these types of games.
I found a soft spot for The Red Solstice as it put me in mind of the Syndicate games of old – or at least how in my mind I thought they looked despite the Amiga graphics – with a dash of Warhammer 40,000 thrown in for grit. For a small studio it has tremendous production values and between its approachable gameplay and an co-op mode for up to eight players I may try and introduce this at my next LAN party.
The Cave (iPad)
One of my pet peeves when it comes to touch screen gaming is the poorly designed control systems that would otherwise work oh-so easily with a gamepad. Virtual sticks, transparent buttons floating across the screen, all scream of a game shoehorned onto a device when it should have had some special attention paid to it.
With my first interaction with The Cave, a puzzle platformer from Double Fine and Sega, my preconceptions were dismissed. There were no invisible joysticks by which I’d guide the characters about, instead it felt far more natural as I’d point where I wanted them to go and they’d wander off in that direction. It was a mix between the classical point-and-click mouse controls that forced them to an exact pixel and a d-pad’s request for continued movement. A strange hybrid but one that combined with a quick flick for a jump allowed you the best of both worlds.
The game is wonderfully charming with a host of characters, from Scientists and Adventurers to Knights and Hillbillies. Each comes with their own talent, be it phasing through locked doors or using a rope to swing across a spiked pit. Every time you venture into The Cave you’ll select three of them to work them together to extract its secrets as each can only hold one item. It’s an interesting alteration on the traditional inventory formula as not all locations are immediately accessible by all characters.
Importantly it retains the level of humour that you’d expect from a Ron Gilbert game. Whether through animations or the written word, it captures much of what made the genre so captivating in its heyday.
Though already out for some time, CCP have been responding to the harsh feedback it received when its shooter launched. The inspired move to tie it into its deep space MMO may have gone down well but the poor aiming and lack lustre shooting mechanics not so much.
Having returned to the drawing board and brought in a completely new set of tighten controls the future for 514 now looks positive. Forgetting all the paraphernalia of the EVE tie-in, it now feels like a strong squad shooter with a good selection of classes and interesting batch of futuristic weapons. Though my time with it was limited I found a pleasing weight to the movement and the mix of weapons satisfying. Switching between loadouts the mix of devastating grenade launchers and pinpoints snipers showed me a side of their universe that I could see myself investing in.
The potential is always the best aspect of EVE however and for all the good work the developers had done on the game, hearing about how their community had used 514 to profit in the main MMO was superb. When corporations hire whole forums worth of mercenaries to help them take over a sector you have to tip your hat to the universe they have built.