This week saw a plethora of upcoming games from conference briefings hosted by both Sony and Microsoft at the annual event in Cologne, Germany. Although I believe Sony came out on top once again, Microsoft had much more to show for than they did at E3 earlier this year. Although I was dismayed by Nintendo’s absence and that I believe Microsoft look set to have a better 2015 than I first expected, Sony look set to dominate the Christmas rush in my opinion, with apparently much more to announce at the Tokyo Games Show next month. The first game to be presented by Sony at this year’s Gamescom was Bloodborne.
Revealed at E3 in June, Bloodborne is the upcoming PlayStation exclusive developed by Dark Souls creators From Software. It involves the payer character traversing the streets of an ancient city called Yharnam defeating insane inhabitants and monsters in a bid to stay alive. Judging by the plot, it would seem that the game will have more of a survival horror feel to it than the Dark Souls games do, but in terms of gameplay, it seems particularly similar, if not identical; involving following a linear path and killing everything in sight. Although the game looks more conceptually interesting than I first imagined upon further inspection, indeed the games graphics and settings look particularly stunning, my concern is that Bloodborne will be just inaccessible as the Dark Souls games were; a game made hard for the sake of it that not everyone will enjoy playing. I think if From Software want to start bringing their games to a wider audience, they need to add difficulty settings to them. Let the players who want a challenge have one, but at the same time, allow players who are less lukewarm to their usual level of difficulty enjoy the game in more ways than one.
The Tomorrow Children
Not much is known about the next game that was shown at Sony’s Conference; only that it is a sand box game called The Tomorrow Children. Looking at what gameplay footage was shown, to me it looks like a dystopian version of Minecraft; seemingly including building mechanics, but in an in-game environment but controlled by some kind of totalitarian government. To me, the entire game looks as if it will have some very morose overtones, and will most probably aim to make some form of political commentary. Either way, looking at how the game could possibly play out, it looks like it may have a level of variety comparable to Minecraft, which for many people may sound pretty exciting. To me, the game looks particularly interesting and different and I can’t wait to try it out.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter
Set for release next month was Sony next unveiling; The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. So far, my feelings towards this game are mixed. Although to a certain extent I thought it looked conceptually sound, I remain sceptical as to how the game will play out, since so far, it simply looks to me like a first person version of Murdered: Soul Suspect; a game I reviewed some weeks ago, and thought very little of. Even the title would suggest to me that the game would simply be a semi-open world murder mystery puzzle game with minimal replay value.
Indie developer Mike Bithell, creator of the critically acclaimed game Thomas Was Alone, had his upcoming title Volume unveiled at Sony’s conference, further emphasizing the company’s commitment to the indie gaming movement. Heavily based on the Metal Gear Solid 2’s VR training sequences, the game will revolve around stealth, with the inability to take down enemies swapped out for means of distracting them to be able to sneak around, and the added facility of players being able to create their own simulations; the game also featuring the voice talents of YouTube celebrity Charlie McDonnell and comedian Danny Wallace. At first glance, volume would seem to be much better and somewhat more creative than conventional stealth games, and of course, the facility to create simulations within the game would attach to it much more variety than many others. Though there may be a strong element of story, there’s nothing so far to suggest to me that this would get in the way too much; as it has done with many other titles in recent years, in my opinion.
Hollowpoint is an upcoming co-op shooter from developers Ruffian Games. From what little I saw of the game at this year’s conference, I believe that it looks pretty typical in terms of concept; a mixture of elements from sci-fi and warfare media such as Halo, Metal Gear Solid and Tron rather than it being a more cohesive concept. Having said that however, I think it looks incredibly addictive in terms of gameplay, and I think the fact that players can train up their soldiers suggests the game may have an RPG feel to it, which would make it stand out to an extraordinary extent, as not many army games have options like that.
The next game trailer to be shown was one of Sony’s major highlights at this year’s Gamescom in my opinion. Hellblade will be the next gaming effort from Ninja Theory; developers of games such as Heavenly Sword and Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. Though Ninja Theory have seemingly put the majority of their focus during game’s development on elements such as motion capture and story, they have promised on their blog page to deliver a gaming experience that “isn’t trying to be all things to all people, but to satisfy a particular gaming itch”. So on other words and by their own admission, this game won’t be for everyone, and to me, that doesn’t bode at all well; especially after the Devil May Cry revamp they not long developed, which to me of pretty mediocre quality. With their latest effort, I am hoping that Ninja Theory are looking to satisfy fans of a decent gaming genre, such as RPG or open-word adventure as opposed to developing the kind of game the normally do; heavily story-driven linear adventure games. I think they need to use this game to establish something much more different and original.
Another game that looked particularly interesting was the next game to be revealed; Rime. Delightfully similar to the likes of Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, Rime will be an action-adventure open-world puzzle game, which looks as if it has a great deal of potential in my personal opinion. Apparently this game had been greenlit to be developed for the Xbox One, but Microsoft ultimately rejected the idea, as it didn’t conform to their publishing policies on emphasizing gameplay elements such as multiplayer and social features. It was then that Sony approved a development budget. To me, that only further emphasized why Microsoft have fallen behind Sony in the first stages of the eighth generation, but I digress. I think that although Rime looks very similar to Journey in terms of visual concept, I think the elements that are set to appear in it will give it much more gameplay value than the former, making it play out much more like Wind Waker. Here’s hoping it does.
Sony then went on to announce the coming of even more indie games to PlayStation consoles, which got me even more excited about owning a PlayStation 4. To me, they only further emphasized their commitment to understanding the consumer and what they want from a console. They want a massive variety of games in one place, and although that’s what Sony have always been about, they look set to achieve success on a much higher scale than possibly ever before. They still have a long way to go to surpassing sales of their previous home consoles, but I think if they can keep up this momentum and continue to focus the majority of their efforts on the gaming market, the PlayStation 4 will become a phenomenally successful console.
Sony also broadcast news relating to the upcoming first person shooter Destiny. They announced that the game is now the highest pre-ordered IP in gaming history with the majority of pre-orders being for the PlayStation 4 port of the game, and that a DLC package entitled The Dark Below would be coming in December.
More details were also given on another upcoming first person shooter; Far Cry 4. Sony gave further details on how players will be given the facility to invite their PlayStation Network friends to online multiplayer sessions even if their friends may don’t own the game. Aside from Sony again putting further emphasis on consumer commitment, I also believe that Far Cry 4 looks much more conceptually interesting that I’d first thought, There seems to have been much more detail put into the designs of scenery and different locations across their open world as well as customisation options within the game. But I’m also hoping that there isn’t as much emphasis put on stealth, which for me, ruined the previous game.
I wasn’t entirely sure of what to make of the next unveiling. Taking place in between the events of The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Middle-Earth: The Shadow of Mordor follows the story of a ranger called Talion, who is out for revenge against the dark lord Sauron for the murder of his family. Despite the fact that I am a huge fan of the Lord of the Rings book and film trilogy, and that the graphics of this game look pretty well done, I remain sceptical of both how the game will play out, since it’s based on an existing license, which in itself is a gamble, and story-wise, how it could possibly conflict with the Middle-Earth mythos according to Tolkein. For it to garnish the kind of success the Batman Arkham series has, it needs to at least have substance in gameplay, and here’s hoping that it does.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
In between Shadow of Mordor and Sony’s next unveiling, Metal Gear Solid’s creator Hideo Kojima also took to the stage to briefly discuss gameplay mechanics in his upcoming game, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain; mainly concerning options open to the player of what they can do with the cardboard box. In addition to giving players the facility to hide in the box to remain undetected, players will also be able to fool enemy soldiers with drawings on the box of a saluting soldier to make them think that the drawing is one of their own, or with a drawing of a half-naked woman to lure enemy soldiers into a quiet area to take them down. While I think it’s a pretty unique gimmick, it also takes a lot of the seriousness out of the game too; after all, it’s pretty hard to believe that a trained soldier wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a real person and a drawing on a cardboard box. In a franchise whereby its developers have always put a lot of emphasis on enemy AI in their games, it’s seems quite contradictory, but nevertheless, it looks like a fairly fun gameplay mechanic.
The next major reveal at Sony conference was the long-anticipated game, Until Dawn; a survival horror game based very heavily on the slasher film genre, involving 8 teenagers are being stalked by a crazed murderer in a log cabin. In terms of story, it has classic horror written all over it, influenced by the likes of Friday the 13th and Halloween. The apparent choice mechanics in the game may also imply that there may be more variety in gameplay than in other survival horror games as well as multiple endings. But the fact that this game was initially to be compatible with PlayStation Move also makes me think that it will play out with some linearity like Heavy Rain did, and so for now at least, I remain sat on the fence.
Amidst the many generic racing game franchises out there, such as Forza, Gran Turismo, Need for Speed and Project Gotham, Sony’s upcoming Driveclub looks as if it may have a little bit more to offer in terms of gameplay than any of the others, with social interaction becoming a massive part of how the game plays out overall. But like every other racing game of this calibre, the most standout feature of Driveclub is the visuals. Though excellent graphics are a given in any of this type of game, they look particularly phenomenal in Driveclub. The attention to detail is staggering. It’s because of that I’m glad Sony decided to hold off releasing it as a PlayStation 4 launch title. That way, the developers have had more time to put more graphical touches on it, as well as them thinking more about how well the game could play out.
As well as once again announcing their plans to bring PlayStation Vita games to a wider audience with the upcoming PlayStation TV console, Sony also announced plans to bring one of the Vita’s most critically acclaimed games to PlayStation 4; Tearaway. Given the extended title of Tearaway Unfolded, it will be re-telling of the events of the original game, but with extensions to the storyline as well as a new control scheme to accommodate for it’s home console release, along with some new gameplay features. Although I think this emphasizes the poor commercial performance of the PlayStation Vita, I still think that releasing a game like Tearaway on a home console is a very good move, since it nevertheless looks like a very fun and enjoyable game. The additional content may also make fans of the original game want to go out and buy it in light of its additional content and story.
An indie developer that Sony and I have been impressed with since the release of the PlayStation 4, are the Finnish outfit, Housemarque. Among the last of Sony unveilings was their upcoming game, Alienation. Following a gameplay formula extremely similar to their last game, Dead Nation, Alienation is an arcade shooter with science fiction settings and the added gameplay element of being able to choose between helping online allies or going rogue. To me, Alienation looks like Galaxian on foot; all the addictive gameplay but with some very nice-looking visuals to accompany it. Ever since I first played Resogun and Dead Nation, I’ve been fairly impressed with the directions that Housemarque have taken when designing their games, and although Alienation seems very similar to Dead Nation, I think it looks and sounds much better.
The last game to be presented at Sony’s conference this year was a game called Wild; an open-world adventure game extremely similar to Skyrim in both gameplay and conceptual design, but its developers boasted an open world as big as Europe. It sounds exciting, but not much detail was revealed on what exactly the gameplay would involve. I think if Wild has as the right amount of gameplay variety and activities to do around this allegedly huge open world, then it could make for something particularly special. But if not, it could end up playing out a lot like Shadow of the Colossus, but with much less artistic merit attached to it.
Capitalizing on what a good E3 conference they had back in June, Sony once again established their current dominance for the foreseeable future, and thanked all PlayStation customers for their commitment to their brand, which at the moment is as seemingly undying as Sony’s own newfound commitment to the video gaming market. But it wasn’t as unanimous as E3 was, as Microsoft had a few surprises in stall for gamers around the world during their own conference. They certainly seemed to show signs of wanting to increase the appeal of the Xbox One considerably, following a less than lukewarm reception to the Xbox One. They put a lot of emphasis on the word “exclusive” in this conference, and in my opinion, it’s past time that they did.
Like what Sony did when establishing their source of indie games on the PlayStation 4, Microsoft have chosen to port more PC games to the Xbox One. One such game is Space Engineers; a sandbox simulation game which involves building things like space stations and ships. At first glace, it seems to me like a game somewhat similar to Rollercoaster Tycoon, but in space. Either way, it looks like a particularly good title. It comes off to me as being the kind of idea that would sound laughable on paper, but ends up working unbelievably well as a game. Indeed is it is anything like Rollercoaster Tycoon, it’ll also be very addictive.
However, I was somewhat less excited about the next game to be revealed, which was Superhot; a first person shooter game with a visual style reminiscent of Portal, but with considerably less innovation involved. After reading further about it, I’ve found out that it does play out like most other first person shooters, but with considerably higher difficulty, so straight away, I can tell that it won’t be accessible to even most fans of the genre; let alone most gamers. Even though the developers state that the finished product is expected to play out for as long a time as Portal, I don’t see how it could be a superior game, since it has less variety.
The next game on display was an upcoming title developed by Team 17 called the Escapists, which looked considerably more interesting. From what I’ve seen of gameplay footage so far, it would seem like an RPG with building elements; similar to Minecraft, but with some possibly dark overtones similar to The Tomorrow Children. It looks to me like the kind of game that could draw valid gameplay value out of some particularly mundane activities, similar to games like Papers, Please and Theme Hospital.
Smite had been an interesting game to me some time before Gamescom started, as I have watched a series of it for some time on the YouTube channel Found Gaming. It involves choosing from a roster of different gods from different cultures, and battling them one-on-one in order to destroy the opponent’s base. Last week, I played Smite with Lost, co-founder of channel Found Gaming, and I learnt quite a lot about how the game works and what the majority of the appeal is behind it, as well as learning hoe much of a fan base this game has garnished in such a short space of time. After having played it, I see no reason why this game wouldn’t increase the appeal of the Xbox One. Although there’s no story mode to it, it will certainly satisfy a lot of gamers who are interested in exclusively multiplayer games; the gameplay can be very intense.
By some distance, the game that looked the most interesting and enjoyable out of any other shown at Microsoft’s conference was an indie game called Below. Seemingly an RPG, Below has a visual style very similar to games such as Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance and the original Blood Omen, whereby the camera is panned out in such a way that everything appears from a distance, making the game’s pixels such less visible than in conventional games. I believe that if this game is not linear, as in-game footage would imply, I think it could make for something particularly special if the amount of variety in gameplay is adequate.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare was among the next games on show at Microsoft’s conference, which I was considerably less excited about. Unfortunately, my opinions since E3 haven’t changed. When it was first unveiled back then, I commented that the visual style was very reminiscent of the likes of Halo or Killzone, but that there was still about as much variety in gameplay as any other instalment in the franchise. I was considerably underwhelmed by what I saw at Gamescom, as it seemed to be just the same as what was shown at E3, but in a different location within the game. The only new element that the developers seems to have added to the game was a grenade that has multiple functions, such as homing on targets and revealing targets hidden behind cover. Here’s hoping that the final product does have more variety in gameplay than that, but if not, I think I’ll be just as indifferent about it as I am about every other game in the franchise.
More details were also revealed about the upcoming first person shooter, Evolve, including that the open beta for the game will be coming to Xbox One in January. Not a lot about my opinion on this game has changed since E3; it seems like a fairly decent game influenced to a certain extent by a universally reviled one, Brink, in that it has different players playing different roles, involving trapping, healing etc. But although I believe Brink has had an influence on this game, to me it still looks like a far better game than the latter, since it clearly involves more shooting than running; unlike Brink, which involved the mirror opposite.
The next game to be talked about at the conference was a game that has been in the works for a fair amount of time, which didn’t make an appearance at E3; Quantum Break. A cover-based third person shooter with time manipulation mechanics, I got quite a big Mass Effect vibe from it, as there seems to be a fair bit of strategy involved during combat. But it looks to me that the developers have made it a lot less of an open world game than the former, instead opting for a more linear approach. Even the visual style seems pretty generic, which is another reason why at this moment in time, I don’t believe the game will be particularly immersing compared to many others.
I was even less impressed with Fable Legends when it was up next. Again, like Advanced Warfare, my opinion of this title hasn’t changed. I’m still pretty annoyed by the fact that it is exclusively multiplayer as opposed to it also having a single player option, and I actually believe that the entire franchise may end up being discontinued if Lionhead Studios continue to make games in the franchise as exclusive as they have been doing over the last two years; especially if Microsoft continue to focus their attention on other exclusive franchises. Indeed, Fable: The Journey was a title exclusively compatible with the Kinect sensor.
After Fable Legends, ScreamRide was then revealed; a game which will seemingly involve building rollercoasters and other fairground attractions in order to garnish the greatest feelings of intensity from the people who ride them. Granted, details of how the game will play out weren’t really elaborated on. Though I am huge fan of Rollercoaster Tycoon, the obvious basis of this game, ScreamRide looks as if it will have considerably less to play for than the former, and therefore will be much less enjoyable to play. Even if I think the game’s visual style is fairly impressive, I remain sceptical of how exciting the game will be overall.
Forza Horizon 2
It didn’t have much of a bearing on me that Forza Horizon 2 was among the games shown at this year’s Gamescom, as I believe that Driveclub had unanimously won the battle of the upcoming generic racing games of the year. I even skipped the majority of the unveiling as the developers prattled on in interviews about how Forza Horizon 2 will be the most social racing game experience of all time. But I failed to see how that would have any bearing on how well the game plays out as much as it does in Driveclub.
Ori & the Blind Forest
I was considerably more excited with the rest of what Microsoft had to talk about throughout the remainder of the conference. One other game in display was Ori & the Blind Forest; an upcoming 2D platformer heavily inspired by Japanese folklore, similar to Okami or Child of Light. As such, I still believe that this would make for the ideal launch title in Japan, as it is not only heavily influenced by their culture, but because it also looks like a particularly immersing game. Especially as it is also the birthplace of the be-all and end-all of platforming games; the Super Mario Bros series.
The last game shown at the conference was the highly anticipated Sunset Overdrive, developed by Insomniac games. The highlight of Microsoft’s E3 conference in my opinion, as well as being one of the highlights of this conference too, I still believe this is the kind of game that Microsoft should have considered releasing upon the launch of the Xbox One, as I believe that its titles as different and as outlandish as this that determine how much value a console has in terms of gameplay. Though I still doubt the marketability of this game, as it doesn’t look as stern and as mature as titles such as Call of Duty and Battlefield, I still think that will make for a very memorable gaming experience, and will certainly be instrumental in determining how good a Christmas rush Microsoft will have upon its release.
Rise of the Tomb Raider
But despite all that I’ve talked about so far, the biggest talking point of Microsoft’s briefing, indeed the biggest talking point of the entire conference overall, was Rise of the Tomb Raider. Microsoft surprised gamers from around the world when they announced that the sequel to the newly revamped Tomb Raider series would be coming exclusively to Microsoft consoles on both Xbox One and Xbox 360 in 2015. While many people may believe that Tomb Raider’s exclusivity won’t be such a big deal in the long-term, I see things in a very different light. I believe that this could possibly mark a huge challenge for Microsoft. Tomb Raider is one of the most recognizable and iconic franchises in the history of video gaming, which is now in the hands of a company still trying to make waves in certain parts of the world, as both Sony and Nintendo have done before them. Future games on the Xbox One like Rise of the Tomb Raider may very well be integral to determining Microsoft’s ability to compete in the entire market in the distant future. It could be among the games that will elevate the Xbox One to the higher plain Microsoft wish the console to be on along with more revered consoles that have come and gone over the years. But the way I see it, it all depends on the quality of the game. If the developers at Eidos Interactive and Crystal Dynamics can do something particularly special with an already special video game series, special things may very well happen for Microsoft. At the moment, I personally believe what will happen is that the game will be met with a very decent amount of commercial and critical acclaim, as the likelihood is that Rise of the Tomb Raider will be tailored to be an evolutionary title as opposed to being a revolutionary one. But if the developers decide to do more with it than just that, and develop a title that is much more memorable, then it could be a very different story.
In any case, it does seem like Microsoft will be trying harder to get their acts together and massively improve on the Xbox One’s games library. Though I have been disappointed by the lack of commitment that the company have shown following the release of the Xbox One, and have not held back regarding my opinions of such ever since I started this blog, It was refreshing to see a good number of decent-looking titles, and I feel as if I may possibly be able to turn the other cheek in the future.
So, that’s my account of Gamescom 2014. What did you think of this year’s conference? What titles revealed are you most excited about? Where can you see both Sony and Microsoft heading in the future? As always, I look forward to reading your opinions, and that I hope you enjoyed reading this article as much as I enjoyed writing it.