Roundup: Gamescom 2014 / 17th of August 2014
So this year’s Gamescom Expo has come to an end for another year, and with extensive conferences from both Sony and Microsoft, it’s left us with plenty to mull over. Outside the two competing platforms, EA and Konami also hosted their own events, though the latter in particular was decidedly less extravagant. As videogames journalists left Cologne to return home and report back on what they had seen, and what they had been fortunate enough to play, that inevitable question reared its head once more, who won?
I can’t really say I prescribe to this idea, namely that one platform holder has to be considered triumphant. Both Sony and Microsoft brought a few surprise annoucements to the table, along with a whole host of games, and so it’s only right that we start with the games themselves. But first out of the traps, before either of the big two, was the latest in Activision’s colossal franchise Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, revealing multiplayer gameplay for the first time, the evening before Sony and Microsoft took to the stage. With heavy focus on futuristic gadgets, the footage shown was sure to please veteran Call of Duty fans. However having fallen out of love with the series after Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, I couldn’t help but think developer Sledgehammer Games is running short on ideas. Gameplay looked far too similar to Respawn Entertainment’s Titanfall, and though I accept they’ll undoubtedly play and feel very similar (being two franchises initially created by the same individuals), Advanced Warfare seemed to be mimicking its latest rival, rather than putting it firmly in its place. Flaunting jetpacks, cloaking devices and a wide array of futuristic gadgets as exciting new features seems a lot less impressive when you consider Titanfall already provides players with all of the aforementioned, as well as slick parkour movement and thirty foot tall armoured mech suits. It leaves you wondering, if this is the best Call of Duty can offer, will this be the year the series finally loosens its iron grip on the Christmas release window?
Whether that’s the case remains to be seen, but we must press on. After Activision, Microsoft were next to take to the stage the following afternoon. Kicking off with a CGI trailer for the upcoming Assassin’s Creed Unity, Microsoft’s conference then went on to reveal possibly the most surprising news of the entire expo, Crystal Dynamics Rise of the Tomb Raider is to be an Xbox One exclusive. I doubt many saw that one coming, and Microsoft may well view this a bit of a coup, considering the series long association - at least in the minds of most gamers - with Sony. But is it good business, could that money spent ensuring exclusivity, which will be no small sum, be put to good use elsewhere? The rumblings from the majority Xbox One owners seems to think so. Why make a third party game players would expect on their console anyway an exclusive, especially when it’s still unclear as to whether or not the deal in place is absolute, or merely a timed exclusive?
Perhaps less unexpected, though nonetheless impressive, was the overdue gameplay reveal of another Microsoft exclusive, Remedy Entertainment’s latest I.P. Quantum Break. Sceptics were quick to point out its heavy focus on third-person cover combat, but honestly I can’t see a problem with this. Remedy are well known for their strong narrative, and the decision to lead with combat centric gameplay makes sense considering the unusual nature of the game’s mechanics.
In between these major announcements, Microsoft’s conference showcased improved features to the annual instalment of Fifa 15 and its ultimate team, along with more footage of Turtlerock Studios Evolve in action, as well as the increasingly less interesting Fable: Legends from Lionhead Studios. We were also given a brief trailer comprising of the many games featured by Microsoft’s ID@Xbox, before gamers the world over were disappointed when the name Frontier popped up on screen. Was Elite Dangerous about to be announced on consoles? Sadly not, instead Scream Ride, an odd rollercoaster/slapstick murder sim was revealed, not bad but it wasn’t Elite Dangerous. And as that hope swiftly dissipated, the wave of disappointment emanating from those watching inside the conference, could be felt like a cold breeze at a Scottish wedding.
Microsoft’s conference continued on in any case. Focussing strongly on first party titles, firstly revealing DLC for Turn 10’s Forza 5, and then presenting a detailed brief on the beautiful looking Forza Horizon 2 from Playground Games, and exactly how its integrated online system will operate. Insomniac Games Sunset Overdrive was also there to show off a bright and brash CGI trailer intended to accompany the new white Xbox One bundle. But sandwiched between the two was a lovely gameplay reveal of Moon Studios Ori and the Blind Forest, an adventure platformer reminiscent in style to something you might expect from Studio Ghibli. It may not be a game expected to garner the same level of attention as the host of triple-A titles that surrounded it, but nonetheless Ori looks very much a game Xbox One owners should be glad to have as an exclusive.
Finally to round things off, Halo: The Master Chief Collection, the Halo Channel and the Halo 5 Beta were displayed one after the other to act as Microsoft’s big finish. I’ve previously questioned the validity of releasing The Master Chief Collection two years on from the release of Halo 4, and it appeared as if Microsoft and 343 Industries were all too aware the potential reluctance of fans to dip into their wallets so soon. With that in mind there was a heavy focus on the extent of the Halo 2 Anniversary Edition’s make over. Revealing that six multiplayer maps have been completely rebuilt, and comparing the somewhat shocking difference between the original and remastered versions. To sweeten the deal even further, the Halo 5 Beta was also announced to be playable from the twenty ninth of December, provided players pick up a copy of The Master Chief Collection. Lastly the rather out of place Halo Channel needs mentioning. Intended to replace Halo Waypoint and set to feature early access to the forthcoming Halo: Nightfall live action series, its inclusion felt a little like a left over from the recently axed Xbox Entertainment Studios. This is pure speculation at this point but perhaps it - not unlike Robocop’s left arm - was one of few salvageable parts from Microsoft’s failed venture into blurring the lines between videogames and TV.
Later the same day it was Sony’s turn to hit back and show exactly what they had to offer. And it did so in style, showing gameplay footage of the hugely promising Bloodborne developed by From Software. Led once again by Hidetaka Miyazaki, director of both Demon Souls and the original Dark Souls, Bloodborne’s trailer was both graphically impressive and filled with nuggets of information. Later, as players were given the chance to try the demo out on the show floor, the similarities and differences to the Souls series began to emerge. The challenge synonymous with Miyazaki’s previous games is still present, but it seems defensive sword and shield gameplay has been replaced by a more offensive sword and gun combination. Once again death and soul recovery (or a souls-like equivalent) will also feature, as will a persistent online world. After the success of both Dark Souls and Dark Souls II, the fact that Sony have ensured exclusivity is something PlayStation 4 owners will no doubt be pleased about.
Following Bloodborne, Sony’s conference continued onwards with a montage of third-party games making their way to PS4 in the near future, after which it was announced that Sony’s latest console had reached the landmark figure of ten million sales to date. At first the comment appeared to be rather innocuous, of course Sony would comment on how well their latest console is performing. However a quote from Don Mattrick quickly began circulating through the ranks of videogame journalists. Made in 2008 whilst Mattrick was a Senior Vice President at Microsoft it read; “History has shown us that the first company to reach ten million in console sales wins the generation battle”. A bitter pill for Microsoft no doubt, and perhaps there is something to be said for the curse of the third console, Sega, Nintendo and Sony have all endured such failures, so could Microsoft and the Xbox One be next?
In any case, Sony’s conference was now in full swing and it continued with several trailers for promising indie titles such as The Tomorrow People from Q-Games, and Mike Bithell‘s Volume. After which came the next big announcement, DayZ from Bohemia Interactive would be making its way to PS4. Unfortunately no trailer of any kind was present for the announcement and considering that the PC version is still currently in Early Access, it’s not something PlayStation owners can look forward to anytime soon. Also it should be noted that though it was featured within Sony’s conference, DayZ is not an exclusive title.
Meanwhile Ninja Theory, the team behind Heavenly Sword and the excellent, yet unpopular DMC: Devil May Cry reboot, also revealed their latest game via a CGI trailer. Entitled Hellblade, immediate speculation suggests it’s the spiritual successor to PS3 exclusive Heavenly Sword. Although whether or not it will follow suit as an exclusive seems unlikely considering Ninja Theory announced their intention to publish the game independently. However one exclusive PlayStation owners can be assured of is Rime, a gorgeous looking adventure game from Tequila Works. With this latest trailer showcasing a vast and intriguing world, its promise may help make up for the continued absence of Team Ico’s The Last Guardian. As snippets of future indie games continued to be shown, Bungie were preparing themselves to take centre stage. Destiny arrived with a new competitive multiplayer trailer and an announcement of timed exclusive content for PS4 owners. However after playing the immensely enjoyable Beta, and with the release date less than a month away there wasn’t much other than the title of the future DLC, The Dark Below, to reveal.
Hideo Kojima then brought the latest, if rather ridiculous, Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain trailer to Sony’s conference. And although it was expanded upon during the Konami conference, it was at Sony’s convention that I was made to laugh out loud. Starting innocuously at first, the trailer demonstrated the added feature to the iconic cardboard boxes of the Metal Gear series. Snake can now slide out the side of boxes to make a quick escape, or pop out the top in order to ambush foes, fine. What isn’t fine however is the ludicrous ability to fool guards with drawings of fellow soldiers, or bikini clad women on the front of a box. Regardless I’ve no doubt the rest of The Phantom Pain will be a great game, but this latest trailer highlighted little more than the need for Kojima’s ideas to be reined in once in a while. But his work wasn’t done for the day, as the Silent Hills playable teaser was revealed and made available on the PlayStation store that day. And although Kojima himself didn’t introduce the teaser it was later revealed both he, and Guillermo Del Toro were involved in the project.
Following on from a trailer capturing the terrified reactions of players first experiencing the playable teaser, Sony went on to discuss its upcoming PlayStation Share and PlayStation Now services. The latter is already in Beta across the United States, and PlayStation Share promises to allow friends who don’t own copies of a particular game to be granted access to your games library for sixty minute periods. Whilst this does sound promising, it’s difficult to draw any real conclusions until we know more regarding the service. It does appear however, that as Microsoft attempts to distance itself from the ‘media hub’ it was heavily criticised for when the Xbox One was initially launched, Sony are gradually edging towards similar functions Microsoft first proposed.
As the conference turned back to games the next major title on display was Sony’s ambitious racer Driveclub. Developed by Evolution Studios its most direct comparison appears to be Forza Horizon 2, and as details emerged that in game weather effects and photo mode will not be available at launch, I can’t help but think Driveclub will be eclipsed by Playground Games’ offering. Forza Horizon 2 setting and open world environment are hard to compete with and although Driveclub looks pretty, I’m not so sure it will be as visually impressive. As Sony’s conference was beginning to wrap up, Tearaway was announced to be making the transition from PS Vita to PS4, and would make use of the Dualshock 4’s light bar. However Sony had one last card to play in the form of Wild Sheep Studios, WiLD. Created by Michel Ancel, famed creator of Rayman and Beyond Good & Evil, WiLD gave little away. Its announcement was delivered via a CGI trailer that suggested the game will be set in a fairy-tale, stone-age world, and will allow players to control a wide variety of creatures. Despite having almost no other information to go on, Ancel’s track record suggests this could be one to keep an eye on.
Though many viewers may have lamented the absence of developers such as Naughty Dog and Quantic Dream, Sony’s conference was solid if not earth shattering, not too dissimilar to Microsoft’s in many respects. Both brought a handful of exclusives, some interesting announcements and a good portion of indie games. EA and Konami hosted their own events the following day, with Konami’s consisting mainly of more footage from the Phantom Pain, as well as a Q & A session with Hideo Kojima. Whilst EA showed more of both Dragon Age: Inquisition and Battlefield Hardline, it was Hardline that attracted more attention, though not all of it positive. Dragon Age continued to look as impressive as it has done, showing more sections of the vast world Bioware has created, but Hardline was revealing campaign gameplay for the first time. If you’ve read my recent feature article on the Battlefield series then you’ll know where I think the franchise should be headed, and Hardline did nothing to convince me otherwise. With a storyline straight out of a Michael Bay movie, absurd gameplay mechanics, and ideas virtually stolen from the likes of Far Cry 3 and Crysis 3, Battlefield Hardline is definitely not something I’m looking forward to. Even the multiplayer modes on display left a lot to be desired when compared to previous instalments in the series. The only saving grace may be that Hardline isn’t being developed by Dice, and the extra time afforded to them - as Visceral Games develop Hardline - will allow the next proper Battlefield game to reach the heights the series aspires to.
So that was Gamescom 2014, and although it wasn’t stocked to the brim with shock announcements, it felt decidedly more focussed than the likes of E3. It had its fair share of surprises, but on the whole the majority of the games that featured throughout the week weren’t being seen for the first time. Whereas E3 feels more akin to an enormous PR event, Gamescom still manages to find that balance between videogames expo, that’s accessible to the public, yet still able to provide those exciting moments. If I had to pick a personal highlight from Microsoft it would be the beautiful looking Ori and the Blind Forest, whilst Sony’s opening showpiece Bloodborne, left me aching to get my hands on a copy.