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Gamescom ::: Roundup (Part 5)

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.

Rating: Awesome

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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.

Rating: Good

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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.

Rating: Good

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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.

Rating: Good

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Dust 514

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.

Rating: Good

Gamescom ::: Roundup (Part 4)

Planetside 2 (PC and PlayStation 4)

The biggest challenge for any MMO is sustaining its playerbase. Planetside 2, the expansive online shooter, is keeping its fighters keen with a huge new battlefield, Hossin. Made up of 64km2 it’s a very different prospect from anything in-game currently as combat moves away from the deserts and verdant planes and instead rages across a lush swampland. Even just from a glimpse of the new area, with tall trees creating a canopy that mutes colour and blocks aerial attacks, you can see it’s going to change how battles are fought.

Speaking to Matthew Higby, Planetside 2’s Creative Director, he admitted that creating levels for Planetside is a daunting task. Balancing how small fire fights play out in a theatre where simultaneously hundreds of opposing players battle for control is a tricky task. Throw in the need to support tanks and aircraft and you have to tip your hat to their design team for the results. Being the first new map since launch they have taken the experience of the last few years, learned from any flaws in their launch maps, and produced fresh challenges for the warring factions.

All of it wouldn’t be possible without Sony Online’s dedication to its community. They’ve actively listened to their fans’ views right from the reveal trailer and have even opened up their development roadmap to them. Each item on there is linked to the forums allowing the players to feedback directly into what is important for them, saving the devs the need to stare into a crystal ball and predict what they think they want. The community is the heart of any MMO and they know that.

Top of the priority list at the moment is performance. Stepping out of your spawn point and into a battlefield where hundreds of players and vehicles are can see the framerate plummet even on moderately specced rigs. From personal experience, the stuttering can be a large barrier to entry as it throws off any sense of fluidity or even confidence in your aim. It’s a high priority fix and one that will pay great dividends.

It’s also key for the forthcoming PS4 release, which is being pitched as the PC version but on maximum settings. There will be no cross-play between the platforms however due to a handful of issues, not least the platform’s stance on patching. Though disappointing that the console community cannot take advantage of the already burgeoning PC playerbase, this at least won’t bring up the perennial debate of controller versus keyboard.

Rating: Awesome

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Aion (PC)

One of a stable of free-to-play games from Gameforge, AION is the most traditional of its kind: a classical fantasy MMO. Having been around since 2008 it has received numerous updates and at Gamescom we saw the latest which raises the level cap to 65, adds a series of new instances, expands the PvP with extra fortresses, and offers a further two classes.

The engineer class, which evolves into a gunner class, looks styled upon the offspring of Van Helsing and Kate Beckinsale’s character in Underworld. Dressed in dark leather and sporting a wide brimmed hat they cut an ominous sight. A fun class, aimed possibly at those also wanting a more action approach to the game, they pepper their prey from afar with a selection of firepower. Baring dual pistols or touting a huge cannon, they nimbly spring about the screen keeping away from danger.

The other new addition is the artist who levels to become a bard. An elegant, Oriental figure wearing a split dress, this musician plays a support role on the battlefield. With a whistle on their pipe or strum on their harp they’ll heal, buff and debuff with a delightful elegance. Though delicate in appearance they are the trouble makers at the back, capable of tying larger enemies down in a tangle of vines or even transforming them into a troupe of dancing penguins. If there was an award for Best Attack of the Show, that would have taken it by a country mile.

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S.K.I.L.L. – Special Force 2 (PC)

Aimed specifically at the eSports arena, Special Force 2 comes equipped with everything required to manage a clan. There are calendars, rosters, chat rooms, and a myriad of stats aimed at dissecting performance. It’s an interesting way to spend your development time given the number of free services out there doing similar things, but having them all in one place is definitely beneficial.

Bonus features would be worthless though without a solid game and with this first-person shooter Gameforge have focused on the core experience. The handling feels slick and responsive and mainstream concepts such as a stamina are done away with; here you sprint by default to keep the action always at a high pace. There are also no vehicles or perks, instead there is a direct aim of pitting two sets of skilled and fairly matched players against each other. You have your two guns and a grenade and everything else is down to your reactions; no dogs will save you here. Even the premium additions to this FTP shooter don’t affect you in-game abilities but merely XP boosts or extra tagging options.

Game modes take advantage of the Special Forces theme and the majority of them are based on covert operations. Not all are taken too seriously however as it seems your squad is also in cahoots with Area 51 as there are several wave-based games against alien invaders, and even a bizarre version that sees you don the skin of the invaders and wield otherworldly weapons.

Rating: Good

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Everquest Next (PC)

Everquest is returning, yet rather than fall back on being a prettier version of what it used to be it is choosing to breaking new ground. Literally. With a world built entirely out of voxels the team has invested a great deal of time in real-time battlefield deformation. Not only is this an impressive sight as your area attacks gouge out the ground around you, leaving it potted and scarred, but it plays into combat. Bridges can be destroyed and floors blown out from underneath feet, leading to tactical choices of not only how you should fight but where. You don’t want to be stuck in an impromptu pit with a horde of angry orcs.

As it is a shared world, the land will heal over time but even then it opens up possibilities. The new land is many tiers deep, each with its own style and lore thanks to the rich history of the Everquest universe. How you reach these lower levels is not always clear and so it can be quite a surprise when the ogre you’re fighting pounds a hole in the ground, dropping you into a further battle against an angry lava deity below. Though probably not a common occurrence, the fact that it is possible is highly exciting. Exploration in MMOs are usually very linear, walking down paths and seeing what monsters lie in wait but here there’s a verticality that’s unique.

Furthermore even the enemies themselves don’t know where they’ll be. Using a special tagging system the developers release them into the wild and let them find their own way. Taking orcs as an example, if they’re tagged as hating built up areas and guards but liking open stretches and ambush, they may wander away from the city and choose to camp on the approaching road, lying in wait for players who amble by. Off course if the guards start patrolling that route the orcs may start to wander off, likewise if players choose to avoid the area completely. The result is that although you may know what to expect you can never be sure as to what, if anything, lies in wait around the next corner.

The aim is to end the strength of the wiki. The developers don’t want players heading to a text dump of where questlines are or what to find where, they are developing a world that is as much a dynamic part of the experience as the host of players roaming it. With even quests themselves adapting to your behaviour and what’s in the local environment it’s a fascinating experiment.

Rating: Awesome

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Everquest Next Landmark (PC)

If what they’re attempting with a dynamic world isn’t a big enough change, Everquest are also launching a second MMO called Landmark. If all the talk of voxels and subterranean questing hadn’t put you in mind of Minecraft already then the thought of a sister experience created solely for the joy of building should. Landmark is a tool handed to the community to shape Everquest Next.

Using many of the same systems as Next, its primary characters are the Adventurers. A class that ventures out into the world, places their stake on a piece of land, and then starts turning it into whatever they want. In the demonstration we saw a pair reshape a hillside completely in about thirty minutes, moving a harsh slope from the left to the right and creating a cutting straight through. In a longer clip we saw a time lapse capturing three hours’ work that saw a multi-storey and decorated temple rise up from a desolate mountain top.

Interestingly all the resources must still be mined and so there is still a lot of work entailed. Players can trade, form building unions, and level, just as in a typical MMO. The end result however is that anything the players make could achieve the ultimate quest reward: being imported into the final Everquest Next

It’s a staggering undertaking but also a canny one. For one it acts a beta for Next, allowing them to test the load on a playerbase that will no doubt be smaller than the final game’s. Also, the dedication of the community should never be underestimated and I’ve no doubt that given the talent of people out there much of the Everquest content will come from outside the studio. Expect to see a lot of warriors standing outside ruined castles repeatedly shouting “I MADE THIS!”

Rating: Awesome

Gamescom ::: Roundup (Part 3)

Beatbuddy

There is relatively little solace from the onslaught of sound on the show floor. The large publishers’ stands pummel your ears into submission and the general white noise of thousands of people chattering can send weaker men insane. Thank goodness for Beatbuddy, a game where music is featured so strongly that they came armed with a glorious set of headphones that drowned out everything else.

Beatbuddy himself is a blue aquatic creature who merrily swims through underground caverns, exploring the secrets they have tucked away. From a side on perspective you send gliding through the water and before long you come across the mysterious inhabitants of the deep. It’s a very musical part of the ocean as bass drum mushrooms dwell next to hi-hat crabs, whilst snare streams pulse away endlessly. Together they layer together and build to become tracks, with non-percussion joining in too. Not since Sound Shapes (which I found at last year’s Gamescom) have I enjoyed an abstract musical games, the songs developing and evolving as you discover more and more components.

Rather than just being an experience, Beatbuddy is also a puzzler as each musical creature also has a direct effect on his journey through each level. Hi-hat grabs activate spiked anemones which are instant death and bass drum mushrooms will catapult you away without hesitation. A quick smack to the hi-hat crab and he’ll fall silent, causing his deadly friends to disappear for a few seconds, allowing you to slip past, whereas the bass drum is far more beneficial. Caught at the right angle it can send you spinning through barricades, your momentum opening up new passageways to explore.

There is a grander story but from the demo on display it is clear that the musical majesty is the core focus. The rest of the show floor drained away from my senses as I happily lost myself in this melodic and captivating world.

Rating: Awesome

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Shadow Warrior

This is not a HD remake of the original Oriental shooter but a complete reboot. What remains however is the over the top violence and its sense of humour, which comes across as Big Trouble in Little China (despite being set in Japan) crossed with an action-comedy as your protagonist quips his way from daemonic bust-up to daemonic bust-up.

Vulture-like enemies come at you in waves as you travel through dark Japanese forests and villages lit by firelight. Each encounter takes the form of an arena battle, you being penned in until you dispatch everything standing against you. The environments help keep the battle fresh and their scale varies but in addition you’re talents are graded. Variety counts for a lot and so the swords, guns and supernatural powers you possess are all required if you are to please the gods and their scorecards. Awards cover the side of the screen as you decapitate, incinerate, and perforate.

All the guns offer something unique, from huge rapid firing gattling guns to crossbows that pins enemies to walls. For the true savant however the katana will call; no less powerful than your projectile weaponry it can slice and dice your daemon foes into tiny pieces, each slice slowing down time momentarily for you to gauge the full effect of your stroke. On top of that there are magical powers that allow you to stop a heart at twenty paces or even use severed daemon heads as in impromptu laser. You will not be short of ways to maim earth’s attackers.

With its hyperviolence set against a grim palette it would be all too easy to glance casually in its direction and paint Shadow Warrior as a dark and brooding shooter that takes itself too seriously, but first impressions can be misleading. This rails against the Titanfalls and CoDs, removing cover and their overinflated sense of drama and simply calls you out to shoot as much stuff as you can in as many ways as you can handle.

Rating: Good

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Stronghold Crusader 2

Updating a game which your fans have loved for over 10 years can be a daunting process, but that’s what Firefly Studios are braving with Stronghold Crusader 2. After the success of the original castle-focused skirmish game their aim is not so much reinvent the series but build upon it, adding a host of extras that they hope will enjoy the same longevity.

A great deal of attention is being spent on the subtler details of the battlefield. Small inclusions such as visualising cool downs and area of effects. On a basic level walls now destruct with feel physics, giving a real time indication of their condition, whilst in the rank and file a slave master’s whip circles his men with those in his range showing signs of his “encouragement” through new animations. They’re tiny things but anything in an RTS that keeps your eyes on the action and away from the menu bar is a good thing.

Elsewhere the number of unit type are being expanded, influenced by the tactics seen and favoured by the community. Whirling dervishes that sprint under the volley of fire from an archery unit before tearing them apart, fire slaves who run into houses setting them ablaze, and assassins which slink into keeps and murder your rivals. It has advanced past rock, paper, scissors; Spock and lizard have come to play, too.

Interestingly one of the core focuses is also the setup of the game. The AI is being tailored to be more human by assigning it a personality that supposedly plays in the more sporadic ways that we flawed individuals do. There are also a number of co-op modes, including one where a team share a castle and all the maintenance and resources that that entails. As a man who has played many a skirmish game where you lend alleged allies troops and alike, though ultimately work out of two different bases, this is very appealing and offers a new way to play an age old format.

Rating: Good

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Foul Play

Though I dislike using comparisons to pigeon hole games – I consider it lazy – I found it hard to resist asking “Sort of like Castle Crashers crossed with Guitar Hero?” as Mediatronic described Foul Play to me. You see, unlike conventional side-scrolling brawlers there are no health bars to worry about, instead you must worry about the crowd and their incessant need to be entertained.

Inspired by a drink filled evening and Smashing Pumpkins’ Tonight Tonight, Foul Play sees Victorian deamon-hunter Baron Dashforth put on a play to take the public through his life’s adventures. Setting out through Egypt with his trusty sidekick Scampwick they explore the 19th Century world through their fists, their size nines, and the traditional English attitude of believing that the Queen should probably own everything. The beauty comes from the fact that this is not actually a real life adventure, merely a recreation, and so all those you meet trying to stop you are stagehands and extras. Dressed as mummies, towering ogres, or scythe wielding foreigners, these lackeys have to suffer time and time again, but get to wear a collection of fantastic hats in the process.

The combat is simple enough with a single button used to punch those around you, though they won’t take it lying down; ou may have hired them but they will fight back. There’s the option of dodging but a well-timed counter can turn into a devastating series of moves. Suplexes stuns all in the vicinity, hiptosses hurl your victim into their friends and send them scattering, whilst a series of rapid fire blows pushes your combo meter up and sends the crowd wild. It’s all instinctive and simple, perfect for a game where the focus is on keeping the action flowing.

Artistically some may find it lacking, but the style more than make up for it as it pays homage to the finest themes in Victorian culture. It never takes itself too seriously and in doing so opens itself up for enjoyment by all. Hardcore players will savour the huge combos and hording points to unlock even more powerful attacks, whilst less committed brawlers will still be able to pick up a pad and relish the ludicrousness unfolding on screen.

Rating: Awesome

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Hotline Miami 2

From the mouths of the developers themselves, Hotline Miami 2 is more of Hotline Miami. And it’s clear they have a true passion for their game. One that saw them shelve an alternate project so they could pick up where they had left off and correct a few elements of the original that they weren’t quite happy with.

Initially I was unclear where they could be as on first impressions it was just as exceedingly brutal – both in terms of mechanics and visuals – as before. A top down action game, it’s one hit kills and the odds are always seemingly stacked against you. I started with just my bare fists, strolling into a gangland den trying to take out a host of baseball bat and gun toting thugs. Death followed death followed death but with a little patience and a lot of guile I felt I was in Hollywood. Though in reality I was pixelated and could only see the top of my head, in my mind I was Jason Borne; taking guys out with a single punch before rounding corners and dispatching their friends by hurling a baseball bat at them from 20 yards, finishing them off with the pistol I picked up from their crumpled bodies. I almost felt psychotic with how pleasing that felt.

So what had improved? For one the tutorial. In the first instalment it was too unclear, hidden in the background, but here it is called out preparing the player for what lies ahead. For another, more time has been taken to dress the levels and flesh out the world. Buildings now have more set dressing, tying them into their fiction and making each a unique world to wreak havoc in.

Rating: Awesome

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The Last Tinker

Usually if a game is described as “moody” it’ll put me in mind of the angst-ridden Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones, full of cussing, metal underwear, and parent defying guitar riffs. With The Last Tinker however, “moody” simply means “full of moods”.

A great sadness has taken over the land, sweeping in like fog and sapping the colour from the world and the will from everyone. Those caught up in it stand devoid of the urge to do anything. Thankfully Kuru is on hand with his enchanted paints, each one relating to a new mood. When he tosses red at others they turn angry, whilst blue makes them sad and green fearful, each pulling them out of their malaise. It’s an intriguing concept, exploring the world and calling upon different emotions to see you through a variety of pickles.

The most obvious of these are the goblin-type creatures that have come from the fog sent to stop your rescue effort. There’s a very fluid melee system sending you dashing from foe to foe, bashing them in the face until they explode in a puff of smoke, although rather than just working them with your fists colour will also affect them. Blues will make them stand sobbing, leaving them open to attack, whilst a dose of green may will leave them so scared of you that they run for the hills. With eight colours and a host of attacks waiting to be levelled up there appears plenty of possibilities.

The developers have said that they were inspired by the platformers of the N64 but I can also see hints of Zelda in there too, not least because of the automated jumping. In keeping the game flits back and forth between combat and adventuring, travelling through some very vivid environments as it goes. Basic puzzles will block your path and you’ll meet a host of other characters – including a very strange exploding mushroom that follows you like a dog – but still for me the primary draw is the unique exploration of emotions as weapons and as solutions to puzzles.

Rating: Good

Gamescom ::: Roundup (Part 2)

Dualshock 4 (PlayStation 4)

For nearly 20 years I have disliked the Dual Shock controller, as the low-set, central thumbsticks made me wince every time I had to use it. As a man brought up with the gentle ergonomic placement of the N64 analogue I disliked having to cock my thumbs at an unnatural angle to move my characters around. Controllers should shape to you, not the other way around.

And so thank you, Sony, for finally doing something about it. The mass acceptance of the Xbox pad as an industry standard (just look at the Wii U Pro Controller as proof) has made them reassess and with the grips slightly elongated and the sticks raised subtly more into the main body they have produced a glorious refinement.

It’s comfortable to hold, sitting snuggly in your hands. There’s a slight texturing to the back for grip which feels far nicer that the flat plastic of the previous generation. Triggers are soft and responsive, though still slightly too shallow for my liking. The surprise was quite how large the touch screen is and what a satisfying click it has when depressed. I still haven’t seen a use for it yet but the little I played with its mechanism and just how tactile it was due to a slight raised pattern I’m looking forward to finding one.

The triumph however were the sticks. Not just in placement, which felt natural, but in all aspects. Compared to the floating mushrooms of old they offer far more resistance; there’s a new rubber top for improved grip; and even a raised edge to reduce finger slippage when jamming hard in any direction. At a brief glance it looks very similar to the Dual Shock 3 but with a myriad of changes this is a Dual Shock for a new generation.

Rating: Awesome

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Knack (PlayStation 4)

Although I raised an eyebrow high when it was the first PS4 game to be trooped out in public, Knack is slowly winning me over. It may not be the graphically stunning poster child you expect to lead the next-generation charge but Knack himself is pretty impressive. As an elemental troll he is made up of hundreds of pieces of rock or wood. And every time you find a source of the right element, each piece flies individually into him bloating his size. It’s an impressive sight, but one not lingered on so it doesn’t interrupt the flow of play.

The bigger he is, the harder he hits. Starting out the size of a toddler the basic brawling will need a few smacks to take down the goblins that play the game’s bad guys. Later, you resemble the hulk and are smacking them around like toys and even lifting tanks over your head such is your power.

There doesn’t seem to be too much to do aside from the combat. Though there were snapshots of four or five levels on the show floor there were no puzzles or tricky platforming sections. There were hints at combo and special attacks however so hopefully that shows more depth in the final release.

Targeted at the younger Day One adopters it’s surprisingly tough in stages. The platforming is simple enough but our lead seems surprisingly fragile given what he can do. As such there is an appeal for older gamers too but it’s unlike to sway too many away from Black Flag and Killzone.

Rating: Good

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Hohokum (PlayStation 4)

Sony like the obscure. As witnessed by Flower and Noby Noby Boy, the abstract has found a home on the PlayStation and that trend continues with Hohoku, a 2D game that wouldn’t look out of place as a short animated features on Sesame Street explaining concepts of colours and sound to children. It’s full of simple shapes and unfussy design.

You guide a brightly coloured snake weaving through the sky. Continually moving forward you can only vary its speed or jink it from side to side, persuading it through the open expanse to explore. Hohokum seems primarily about creating a sense of style and wonder and with each change in motion forms you add a coloured stripe to the snake, creating a veritable moving rainbow.

As you fly through the various adornments on the background the world bloom into life. Brushing past plants could light them up or set a track playing, whilst moving close to a small woman may see her jump on your back and surf along. It was hard to tell what the game itself was other than triggering and layering all these incidentals but with each being so unique it was always compelling to find more. Another level saw us slink through a darkly lit world, igniting lamp plants before revealing a giant and his son playing a saxophone.

I can’t quite tell you the point to Hohokum but I can tell you I’m glad that it exists.

Rating: Awesome

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Resogun (PlayStation 4)

Although 2D shooters like Super Stardust HD and Geometry Wars feature very classical mechanics, their restrictive nature actually allows developers to show off a huge amount. When limited to just a pair of dimensions and a tight environment the effects that can be triggered can be huge and elaborate. Resogun takes that idea into the next generation.

Although there you can only move horizontally and vertically the play space is wrapped around into a tube, encompassing a human city set some time in the future. You fly above, protecting the humans below from being kidnapped by incoming alien ships. As you can’t see everywhere at once arrows flash red alerting you to their presence. Buzz over and shoot them down and life can continue. Except that the invaders have brought their own fighter ships and the screen is soon filled with invading aliens of all shapes and sizes. It’s frantic and, in the spirit of the 80s arcade that heavily influenced it, heavily addictive as you start to learn patterns and look to eke your points total ever higher.

Visually it looks a treat. Huge explosions fill vast areas of the screen and beneath you the city itself slowly deforms and crumbles as the blasts wash over it. Seemingly made up of tiny voxels it produces a lovely sight that helps to reinforce the thought that you are defending earth from a true onslaught rather than a boring static background.

With simple controls but an obvious level of depth as you begin to get your eye in, Resogun seems perfect for a console launch; something show off just how shiny your new box is to your friends but also to set a bit of friendly competition going between you all.

Rating: Good

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Octodad (PlayStation 4)

It’s ridiculous. For the first few minutes I was wondering what on earth I was doing. Or to be more exact, what on earth Sony were doing in allowing this freak of a game in their booth. A game where you had to control the tentacles of an octopus, how could this farce be a title to trumpet the arrival of their new hardware?

With the analogues jointly controlling a swinging tentacle I had to clear a table, sweeping across its top to send a stack of bottles and pots dashing to the floor, before inexpertly reaching down and finding a key amongst the mess and unlocking a cabinet. It’s a very strange controls scheme as the right stick controls the vertical plane whilst the left handles in and out, and one that never felt naturally. It always felt like a bike with the axle just off centre so that whilst the motions were similar the outcome was off and I never felt quite in control due to a lack of perceivable depth. Doing anything was achieved through stumbling stabs at the stick.

Where my stance began to soften was when Octodad had to walk across the room. Suddenly you’re not just controlling his arm but his legs, though “control” is wholly inaccurate. With a strange combination of triggers and stick he’ll lurch around the room as if auditioning for the Ministry of Silly Walks. His large, lunging steps will send him bashing into the furniture in the room, knocking vases from their stands and scattering chairs and tables as you haplessly blunder about in hilarious fashion. The simple fetch quests you’re ask to perform turn into a comedic episode as disaster follows you everywhere.

Quite how this Mr Bean of the cephalopod world will pan out as a complete game I am unsure. Whether its slapstick nature will endure through multiple hours or whether the skill comes from completing tasks as precisely as possible, this is so different from anything else on display it’s a fine complement to the launch catalogue.

Rating: Good

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Driveclub (PlayStation 4)

After partaking in a quick demo on the rather underwhelming Forza 5 for the Xbox One, Sony’s stand was the perfect to reaffirm faith in the next generation of console racing with #Driveclub – Evolution Studios’ new IP for the Playstation 4. This is one of several games you’ll be getting a version of with Playstation Plus on launch day, and – on the basis of this build at least – it’ll be an entertaining if slightly underwhelming ride.

Taking a heavy Mercedes out onto the lush mountainous road in the Gamescom build, the overwhelming sensation from #Driveclub is that of a studio pushing for visual fidelity but not quite reaching a standard that’s immediately impressive. Foliage is abundant but heavily aliased, particle effects are sparse but well-implemented, vehicles are detailed without being spectacular, the lighting is a little flat and the framerate seemed to hover around 30 without much in the way of post-processing to smooth out the sensation of speed.

It’s likely this is an old build however, and with any luck #Driveclub will have that final layer of polish and optimisation closer to launch. It’s set to be a fun experience regardless of aesthetics, with vehicle handling coming across as a hybrid of Forza’s simulation-driven physics and the drift-heavy action of something like Need For Speed. The two cars chosen for the demo were both curiously heavy and ponderous into corners but there was plenty of wiggle room to slide out the rear end with a little practice, and so with a few tweaks, #Driveclub could prove an entertaining diversion.

Rating: Good

Gamescom ::: Roundup (Part 1)

War Thunder (PlayStation 4 and PC)

War Thunder brings World War II’s theatres of war to PlayStation 4 and PC. Boasting over 300 warplanes it is dogfight on a massive scale as two large teams compete in objective-based missions to rule the sky. Bombers slowly buzz by as quicker fighters protect and harry, jets scream past presenting an elusive threat, whilst all the time from the ground below the AA guns boom continual defiance.

The big things that War Thunder has going for it, especially when compared to its rivals, is that it has cross-platform play. The PC and PS4 don’t sit on separate servers but share a single user base meaning that even on day one PlayStation owners should have access to thousands of established players to enrich their aerial battles. In fact developers Gaijin are so adamant that the number of players is key that they cite that as the number one reason why War Thunder is also free to play. Players can buy boosts that will give them a percentage increase in XP and in-game currency, but there’s no pay to win we’re assured as planes are unlocked with ranks rather than directly through coin.

Those worried that a Dualshock, no matter the advancements, will be little match to a PC player should be swayed by the control scheme. Rather than the traditional control over pitch, yaw and roll, you simply push the on-screen reticule where in the sky you want it to go and the game will figure out how to get it there. It works the same whether you have a single analogue stick or a mouse, though full flight sticks will be supported for the purists. It takes a little getting used to, fighting the urge to control the machine and not the direction, but it does definitely take some of the frustration of manoeuvrability away.

Furthermore tanks are a forthcoming expansion, with battleships marked on game’s lengthy road map too. The aim is that all three will be able to partake in a single mission, though each having different objectives. How they’ll interact is curious as it seems for the most part they’ll be fighting their own kind but the spectacle alone should be worth experiencing.

Rating: Good

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Skylanders Swap Force (Multi)

I’m ashamed to say that the first PS4 game I played was Swap Force. At first I tried to pass it off as it being the first pad available, but secretly I continue to have a soft spot for its child-friendly approach to dungeon crawling. Away from all the toys and gimmicks, that’s what it is: you go through the level beating things up for loot, levelling your skills and character up on the way.

All previous Skylanders are present and compatible and will find an increased skill cap, new abilities and a host of fresh animations awaiting them when they sit on the Portal of Power. Their new Swap Force brethren however add a different twist to proceedings by being able to be split in two. They’re split by a lower half that determines how they move around and a top half that specialises in combat. So if you like Hoot Loops’ teleportation but the gun-slinging skills of Rattle Shake you can form Rattle Loops, who’ll appear behind foes and shoot them in the back. There’s a relatively wide mix and it seems the designers have added a selection of new ways to tackle combat with their choices.

On the whole it’s an evolution rather than a revolution as you wade through the level mostly punching enemies in the face, occasionally being pulled away for a quick mini-game to break up the flow. There’s more variety this time too with time trials, rail slides and lots of level-specific distractions. It’s all wrapped up in a completely new engine which adds a touch of next-gen sheen to everything; characters in particular have far better material mapping, no longer looking so flat.

It may not have the gameplay to persuade many people over the age of 12 to try it, but it’s understandable why they’re playing it safe. They are a big hit and changing that too drastically might upset the fanbase it has created. The new Skylander designs I believe are better than last year’s but I don’t think I can quite justify another hefty outlay for the same core game.

Rating: Good

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Diggs Nightcrawler (PlayStation 3)

As another Wonderbook game this stood out to me not because it was an IP I was invested in but because of how it used the physical book. With Walking with Dinosaurs and Book of Spells they used the Wonderbook as a platform from which the story would emanate but the actual control was done using the Move. The only interaction you had with the book itself was to move to the next scene by turning the page. Diggs treats the book very differently.

The scene I found as I sat down was one where Diggs the bookworm was taking cover from a spider taking pot shots at him down a darkened alleyway full of crates and trash cans. Not immediately sure what to do I nudged the book and found Diggs moved. Rotating the book left and right meant our literary hero ducked from left to right, with an extreme twist sending him out of cover and returning fire. The book in Diggs is the controller.

After I’d disarmed the “dame” – it is after all a take on film noire afterall – we then entered a twisting tower, a spiral staircase heading deep into the book and stretching far above us. Rotating the book would make Diggs move to the centre of the screen, causing him to walk through the level, whilst a sudden jerk upwards would see him leap over gaps and a slow turn cause him to edge more cautiously. This was platforming controls using a piece of cardboard. The Move may be fine for the more abstract approaches of the other games but Diggs’ character driven adventure is perfectly suited to this tactile take on control.

The game itself is a child’s detective tale set in a land of fairy tales but yet again the novel use of the technology impresses me. Questions could be raised about the replayability but as a fancy story time between a parent and their child it should do well. I know I would have been captivated by it when I was younger.

Rating: Good

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Max: The Curse of Brotherhood (Xbox One and Xbox 360)

Max, he of the Magic Marker fame, returns to the land of platforming except this time with his younger sibling in tow. Or at least for a while he does before accidentally banishing him to another plane of existence. We older brothers are careless like that.

He sets off to find him still with his enchanted pen but this time it affects the elements. It can raise pillars of earth from the ground, grow vines on command, and manipulate water to flow in whatever direction you require. All this builds together to create a box of puzzle pieces that Press Play set to good use. Early puzzles maybe focus on using earth columns to turn a bridge into a ramp to reach higher ground, or using vines that also happen to float to navigate a river. Later however they can be used in seriously mischievous ways.

With each elemental power only being able to be triggered in certain areas the results may sound predetermined. On the contrary, there’s a full physics simulation behind them and so there’s the fun of sometimes being able to edge your way past puzzles in ways the designers may not have thought possible. Bridges and movable blocks are incorporated too, and combined with enemies – which you cannot destroy and so must evade – they all add further dynamics to the brainteasers. Some are pure logic, other require timing and dexterity to dodge past pursuers as you dart to next screen.

It’s a great advancement for the series, not resting on its laurels and simply pumping out a quick sequel. There’s a lot of effort has gone into making this notably distinct not just in terms of gameplay but in visuals. Max has gone from hand drawn to full 3D and from the level of detail and character put into the world it’s got a Pixar vibe to it.

Rating: Good

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Eve Valkyrie

Spawned from a tech demo that went down exceedingly well at the last Eve Fanfest, Eve Valkyrie is multiplayer space dogfight that is now a full game in its own right. Pitting faction against faction it embraces the deep fiction using space technology found in the Eve universe as two sets of nimble fighters pirouette through the void in a deadly dance. What is truly remarkable about it however is that it is designed principally for Oculus Rift.

And it’s the perfect vehicle for the new virtual reality headset to; in shooters or adventure games you still feel disconnected because although you feel physically in the world thanks to the headset you’re still using a stick to approximate your legs’ movement. It’s more as though you’re controlling a Segway. With Valkyrie you are sat in a ship and controlling the ship’s movements. Ignore the quibbles about the far flung future and suspend your disbelief as the situation feels far more believable.

There is a level of immersion that is far more than just the setting however. Subtle details such as scratches on the glass give an extra layer of depth and when you look down you see yourself in your flight suit strapped into the cockpit. The game mechanics play their parts too; missile don’t automatically lock on, they are initialised with a button press but then they are only locked on when you have tracked your target with your head for a number of seconds. It’s a delicate twist but one measured to remove people’s reliance with tweaking camera motions on an analogue stick and forcing them to use their neck instead.

All in all the effect is remarkable. Initially enemy fighters are but just dots in the distance but as you close and engage all hell breaks loose. As you bank attempting to avoid being shot down your head is peering this way and that, desperate to keep your eyes on your own target. In the heat of battle it’s so unique as you feel that there is no way other than with CCP and Oculus Rift that you feel this exhilarating feeling could exist. All it will take anyone to be sold will be when an enemy fighter streaks closely by overhead as I defy anyone not to find their neck snapping back in a natural reaction to track the threat.

Rating: Awesome

Gamescom ::: Day 3 in 8bit

As we frantically type the rest of our notes up at the airport and wing our way back to London, enjoy our final batch of pixelated impressions of the show.

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Outside the convention centre the steps were lined with flags.

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As ever, Farming Simulator 20XX was there with some very heavy machinery.

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The Koopa Kids were posing outside the press lounge.

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Lunch.

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Our intrepid reporters riding the escalator.

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Manny spins the Skylander’s Wheel of Fortune.

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Andrew gets a hug from the Lego lion.

Gamescom ::: Day 3 Highlights

Mighty Quest for Epic Loot (PC)

The promotional image for Mighty Quest that stuck in my head was that of a burly man in a dress sitting daintily on a throne, surrounded by gold. It’s a striking image and one that I thought would guarantee a certain sense of humour. Disappointingly it’s not quite the dungeon crawler crossed with Monty Python I had hoped for but it still keeps tongue firmly in cheek as you fight ferocious chickens, barrels full of tentacles, and shambling zombies hindered further by being stuck in stocks. It’s brought to life by a very clean art style. Heroes have strong jaws, wizards have excessively long beards, and all are painted in an unfussy colour scheme that appears very bold and bright on screen.

Knowing little about the game going in, I was surprised when my initial quest for said loot lasted only a few minutes. There’s still levelling, loot and skill but this isn’t the sprawling questline of Diablo, more a short romp meant for repeat visits. However, the change with each trip doesn’t come from Ubisoft’s designers but the other players in the community.

Every player has a castle, their base of operations, which is stored online and each is customised with a host of traps and creatures, some of which are far more fearsome and deadly than those mentioned above. They may not be your first thought when it comes to decorating a new home but in Might Quest other players will choose to steal into your castle and make off with your loot. If they make it through within a predetermined time limit then they’ll take a large slice of your hard earned treasure so it’s down to your “décor” to delay them for as long as possible.

It’s a great dynamic. Mixing tower defence with a dungeon crawler, but with the added twist that because on your own sorties you battle exactly that which you’re fortifying your own castle with you know their strength and weakness. Combine that with the bite-size level of commitment you can put in and you have a very novel concoction that won’t consume your life but will make it more interesting.

Rating: Good

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Walking with Dinosaurs (PlayStation 3)

Dust off your Wonderbooks as Cologne has seen an influx of games to support the AR flickbook. Well, two. The first of which is tied in with Walking with Dinosaurs.

Tucked on the floor, sat cross legged and possibly a little too excited due to my love of terrible lizards, the demo opened with a cinematic showing two carnivores having a scrap. The visuals, lacking when compared to the recent BBC documentaries, were interspersed with quick time events. A swish of the Move this way and that would cause your dinosaur to dodge this way and that, although it wasn’t clear which one was “my” dinosaur.

After that I explored the unearthing of a stegosaurus. Each step saw the Move used as a variety of tools; a saw to remove excess rock, a brush to dust down the bones, and finally a gravity gun that swung the bones into place. Soon a fully recreated skeleton sat on the page in front of me before slowly morphing into a living creature that grunted at me and wandered off.

As with the Book of Spells, Walking with Dinosaurs seems more a toy than a game. Each page contains a bite-sized feature, ranging from quizzes to full AR scenes where you feed your newly reconstructed/revived dinosaur. There’s plenty of variety but in terms of depth they won’t keep older players engaged for long. However, for those of younger years and with a penchant for prehistoric monsters I can see them lapping this up.

Rating: Good

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Puppeteer (PlayStation 3)

If ever you want an example of how not to do a show floor demonstration, Puppeteer should be your test case. Obviously using the tutorial level from the full release, page after page of text threatened to beat me and my co-op partner into submission before even a button was pressed. It may look gorgeous but it doesn’t half go on.

Sadly because of this drip, drip, drip of information it was hard to get a true handle on this charming 2D platformer. One of us took the role of a ghostly, floating cat and the other a boy without a head, the former being able to scour the background and find a variety of new bonces for the latter. Spooky skulls, web-spinning spiders and chunky bats can all be wedged on top of your neck and each hand you a new talent. Most of them were strangely unintelligible as executing them usually only meant the boy did a little dance or spun himself up in a cobweb, but apparently they’re key to getting through certain environmental puzzles. Things became clearer towards the end of the level as the boy also received a pair of scissors. These he wielded as a sword and everything fell back into more traditional tropes as you hacked away at baddies.

All the time the strange interplay between the cat and the boy felt very stilted. Rarely would the two have to interact and so the whole notion of co-op was curious. One would act, then the other, the only real interplay being when the cat held down foes for the boy to chop at, though again I feel the demo was not being very forthcoming with information.

It was a very poor demonstration of what could be a stunning game. The layered levels feel as though created in Little Big Planet but brought to a new sharper finish as ever knot and ring could be seen in the wooden puppets. I’m not writing it off but let’s hope the PSN demo will be far more targeted.

Rating: Meh

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Ryse (Xbox One)

At first glance Ryse appears to be a title moulded in the same vein as God of War, Microsoft’s attempt to try and capture the market for old world violence from Sony. By the time my fifteen minute demo had drawn to a close it seemed that those initial comparisons were not too far off the mark. I was playing co-operatively as part of a two-man team and had to fight my way through waves of enemies inside a Coliseum, although it wasn’t apparent whether this was part of the main campaign or merely a side game.

Our first task was to take down waves of barbarians, all of which fell quickly. A combination of attacks can be used from quick stabs to heavy blows, and your centurion also utilises his shield as both an offensive and defensive tool. Fans of 300 will also be pleased to learn that a heavy Spartan kick is also available which stuns the enemies allowing for follow up attacks. Littered around the arena were spears (usually stuck into a deceased corpse) that can be picked up and subsequently thrown. An element of timing was required here to ensure contact but they seemed to usually result in an instant kill.

After damaging your opponents enough, a symbol appears above their head which indicates that the assassinate move is available. After pressing B to initiate it, time slows and a variation of button presses can be used to chain together a series of killing blows until the target is no more. In one sequence my character launched the barbarian into the air, before delivering a big vertical swipe to the helpless soul. It’s all very slick and violent but not unlike what has been seen before.

Any preconceptions that Ryse was geared more towards reality soon evaporated however, when the developer informed me to press the right trigger when I was surrounded. A great blast of lightning energy enveloped the screen, instantly killing everyone. I used it several times throughout the demo and it certainly helped with crowd control when needed.

The camera was positioned very close behind the player and whilst it does a good job getting you amongst the action, it did leave to some problems when certain foreground objects obstructed the screen and with enemies behind. It was manageable but still a bit of an issue at times. Graphically Ryse looks quite decent, but nothing about it really screamed next-gen to me. It’s not an ugly game by any means, quite the opposite, but if you were looking for a game to show off to your buddies upon the release of the Xbox One, look elsewhere.

After destroying the hordes we moved into another arena, this time we were tasked to burn some tents by knocking over flaming cauldrons, all the while fighting our way through more barbarians. After a while the chief barbarian appeared. I was expecting a tough boss fight but in actuality he fell just as quickly as his brethren. As quickly as that it was over. Whilst I enjoyed the experience I still couldn’t shake the fact that it was a little bit too similar to God of War. For those not blessed to have played these titles then that won’t matter but for others there are question marks as to whether there is enough about Ryse to make it stand out on its own. Time will tell and of course Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Rating: Good

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Peggle 2 (Xbox One)

Without doing anything particularly special Peggle, at least in our group of friends, developed a personality. Silently Bjorn and his friends would sit alongside each level, providing you with special powers but very little of their of character but we projected onto them wise but senile old fools, sexually confused hairstylists, and a host of others that probably would send us to a psychiatrist if we revealed them publically.

Peggle 2 is bringing us back from the brink as it provides its own character traits. The core of the game remains the same but each of the mascots are now given a makeover. For one they embrace a style more akin to webcomics with strong lines and exaggerated expressions. They no longer look glib on the sidelines but watch the ball as it travels, offering oohs and ahhs as the balls career about the level. Bjorn seems to have turned into an rock star as he throws up the horns in appreciation of skilful shots and struts wildly, wind machine blowing through his mane in classic 80s hair rock fashion, as you hit the final orange peg. Though worryingly he also appears to be having a bowel movement when he magics up each level.

Not all the original Pegglers return and the roster is refreshed with a host of debutants each bringing their own special powers. The only one revealed so far and playable at Gamescom was Luna, a ghostly child with large eyes and a touch of the supernatural about her. Her talent makes the ball fly straight through blue pegs, still clearing them but making it far easy to reach the crucial orange ones.

In a game that is so based around the random bouncing of a marble around a pinboard this injection of personality is welcome. It has a light tone about it and a sense of humour that at times seems very bizarre but fits right in with how I’d already painted the established Pegglers.

Rating: Good

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Age of Zombies (Vita)

Tucked away in the corner of the dedicated Vita portion of Sony’s booth sat a selection of smaller and less fashionable titles. Tokyo Jungle is apparently coming to the handheld, as are a selection of titles seen previously on iOS and beyond. What caught my eye however was a zombie tyrannosaur.

The plot is thin but anything that reaches that conclusion must be explored and apparently an evil doctor has sent zombies back through time and they are altering the course of history. Of course the only natural solution is sending back a cocky lead character with a gun to mow the undead down before the brain hungry evils destroys humanity.

That’s where the fun stops. A twin stick shooter its sole goal is to throw hundreds of zombies at you, all shambling in your direction only to be mown down. That’s it. It’s bullet hell but with corpses and all you do is shoot back. It’s a mundane experience as they walk merrily into the firing line and offer no resistance other than through sheer numbers.

After three levels of tedium the T-rex did appear to liven things up briefly. He at least wanted to attack me and for a brief while I felt threatened but for all his bluster he was again just a giant bullet sponge. If there had been an attack pattern or a dedicated weak spot then things may have got interesting but I guess if they were that clever they wouldn’t have gone extinct.

Rating: Meh

Gamescom ::: Day 2 in 8bit

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A pair of Androids hog the attention in the business lounge.

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A pair of Journey monks hog the attention in the entrance hall.

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A bright green wall hogs the attention in hall 6.

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The masses head for lunch.

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Creeper!

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Andrew appears from the void.

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Peggle 2′s Bjorn poses for us.

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Today’s Cologne sight: the padlock strewn bridge adjacent to the convention centre.

Gamescom ::: Day 2 Highlights

Tearaway (Vita)

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.

Rating: Awesome

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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.

Rating: Good

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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.

Rating: Good

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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.

Rating: Meh

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Titanfall

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.

Rating: Awesome

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Warframe

“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.

Rating: Good

Gamescom ::: Day 1 in 8bit

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Assault by a screaming Rabbid.

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In tribute to Tokyo Jungle, we went to the zoo.

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Lost in any city? It’s best to keep a map of the underground on your camera.

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Tearaway’s mascot stands guard over the Vitas.

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Next door the Walking with Dinosaurs booth is equally guarded. Possibly more effectively.

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The Quest for Epic Loot sees a new ruler sit upon its thrown.

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A game picked in a completely un-bias nature to represent the Xbox One booth.

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Booth mascots are all trumped by a life sized Titan.

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Though even he is dwarfed by a pair of 10′ tall headphones.

Looking forward to today as the public are let in and the cosplayers come out to play. At this point the Game Boy Camera will be in its element; capturing the past.