By Sage Ashford
Gamescom is a video game trade show held annually in Germany that's often billed as the "world's largest" due to the public nature that runs contrary to the U.S.-based annual fair, E3. The conference was held this year from August 5th to the 9th, and featured both Sony and Microsoft doing complete press conferences where both information about their console platforms as well as new game announcements were shared.
Unfortunately, stuck in the U.S. I was unable to attend, but I was able to get a look at both conferences, so here are a few impressions in case you'd rather not sit through three hours of P.R. where people pretend terms like "first to console" actually mean something important.
It's unfortunate that the competitive nature of console gaming combined with Nintendo's attempt to remove itself from the "console war" entirely has forced Microsoft and Sony to appear in the eyes of the fans to be two polar opposites, "sides" that you have to pick. The end result is that it's difficult not to grade one "against" the other without being purposefully obtuse about reality as it stands.
With that in mind, it's almost impossible not to compare Microsoft's performance to Sony's and realize that the popular OS developer came up short for this convention. Microsoft's presentation was more of a "reminder"; a way to present new information on existing games. It fed the hype machine for both first- and third-party titles, and kept upcoming games in the forefront of potential consumers' memories for the impending holiday season. They talked about titles like Forza Horizon 2, their exclusives in FIFA 15, and their upcoming Sunset Overdrive, but revealed very little in the way that was "new".
Y'know, except for the first game play reveal of Quantum Break. This is actually a pretty big deal and it's good that they saved at least one card for Gamescom. The upcoming TPS action title from Remedy Entertainment is set in "Riverpoint University", where a time travel experiment goes horribly wrong (as they tend to do), and grants the three main characters the ability to manipulate time. It's a skill they'll need in order to escape the antagonist of the game, an evil corporation known as Monarch Solutions. But that's all story fluff and this is game play, in which the graphics themselves look amazing, but the game play leaves…a little bit to be desired, at the moment. It's not BAD in the least, but hopefully they add a lot more creativity to the core game gimmick, as there's just so many things one can do with the ability to control time.
Microsoft's other real announcement wasn't even an announcement–rather, it was a declaration of their intent to take this generation's "exclusive" war to the next level with their pronouncement that Rise of the Tomb Raider is now an Xbox exclusive. Of course, given the largely negative reaction to this news, I suspect this will be similar to the initial news of Xbox One being always online. While they certainly won't drop Rise now that it's been paid for, they'll most likely avoid doing something else in this vein (turning a sequel to a popular, formerly multiplatform title exclusive), stick to the tactics that work, then later claim that their change in opinion on the matter was "for the sake of the fans".
Overall, it was a passable showing, but nothing memorable, and certainly nothing to stop Sony's utter domination in Europe.
Holy. Crap. Did no one tell Sony that E3 was over? The publisher took Gamescom as an opportunity to basically drown fans in a torrent of new, previously unrevealed titles. I'll admit my bias towards Sony, but I'll also say that I didn't find their E3 to be all that impressive. As someone who has no love for Bloodborne or Little Big Planet, basically the only thing Sony did at E3 for me was reveal Uncharted 4: A Thief's End.
Of course, even if you are a fan of Bloodborne, it's appearance at Gamescom trumps what we saw at E3. Game play over cinematics.
Then you have Ninja Theory's Hellblade, the first attempt at an independently-developed game with AAA production values. The game itself (such as it is, since we only have the trailer above) doesn't interest me much, but what it stands for does. With mainstream game development becoming more and more high-risk, high-reward, the game world has become one where publishers invest tens of millions of dollars into a single game and require several million copies to be sold just to turn a profit. As a result, publishers have become obsessed with making games that can appeal to as wide an audience as possible, often stripping games of what makes them special in order to hit that lowest common denominator point. With many developers looking to avoid being stuck in that system, indie games are going to become much more important this generation, so it'd be nice if they didn't all look like they belonged on the Super Nintendo.
The Tomorrow Children is one of the strangest games I saw emerge from Gamescom. Initially described as a "secret game from Sony Japan" that journalists could get a look at after the show, many gamers speculated this would be some Japanese RPG that had been kept super-secret until now. While I can't say I wouldn't have preferred that, this game does look fairly unique. Described as a "surreal Marxism simulator" by Q-Games founder Dylan Cuthbert, Tomorrow Children appears to be another one of those "do whatever you want"-type games, allowing players to battle monsters that threaten humanity, or simply go exploring for hidden treasure or build tunnels to aid other players in their own task. If the game is half as ambitious as it sounds, it should be a standout release for 2015.
Announced at the show as "P.T.", we would later learn that it stood for "Playable Teaser", and this is actually a return to Konami's popular horror series, Silent Hill. The follow-up, "Silent Hills" is a game by Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro. While I've never been much a fan of any horror games, I'm just happy to see Konami working on something that isn't Metal Gear Solid or Pro Evo Soccer, for once.
From Dead Nation and Resogun developer Housemarque comes Alienation, a new twin-stick shooter. Explosions, cool armor, and aliens abound.
Created by Rayman creator Michael Ancel, Wild was the capstone to Sony's Gamescom conference. A beautiful game set "ten thousand years into the past when man was one with nature", Wild is a persistent, online open world game in which players can play as anything–animal or human–they see. Just this trailer presented a fairly wide range of characters, and I wouldn't be surprised if there were many, many more in the final version of the game.
With the primary goal being just to "survive", I imagine this game will focus less on action and more on creating a world for yourself in which you can safely exist, no matter what you choose to play as. Usually it takes explosions of some sort to drag me into a game, but this game caught my eye without all the typical trappings of a AAA release, and it has tons of potential to be something truly "special".
Of course, also at Gamescom was EA, but the vast majority was spent hyping their annual sports titles, a tease of their upcoming Dragon Age: Inquisition, and a new trailer for Battlefield: Hardline. No word yet on Star Wars: Battlefront or a new Mass Effect, unfortunately, but we did learn about the mysterious new Bioware title Shadow Realms, a 4-on-1 online co-op RPG that will supposedly focus heavily on story and be released for PC late 2015. I suppose it is better than 20 minutes of concept art like E3…
Compared to last year, where I excitedly clung to my laptop eager to watch the press conferences, hoping for more news on the then unreleased next-gen hardware only to be left at the end majorly disappointed, I walked away from this Gamescom quite enthused for gaming. I have a feeling that within a few years people will anticipate this almost as much as E3, as Sony's continued effort to treat this as a serious conference worthy of reveals will no doubt catch on. I can only perceive that as a good thing–much like SDCC, E3 has grown far too large for its own good, and many titles get swallowed up as publishers reveal the next Assassin's Creed or Call of Duty.
Sage Ashford is a college kid with far more hobbies than he has free time. You can find him on Twitter @SageShinigami, but also at his own blog Jumping in Headfirst.