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Gamescom 2017 Highlights

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The word ‘understated’ probably best describes Gamescom 2017. In terms of new games and big, revelatory reveals, there was little to write home about.

But while this year’s show may not have set the gaming world alight, there were more than enough trailers, gameplay demos, and announcements to keep us interested: regardless of our preferred platform(s).

Nintendo fans were treated to yet another impressive Super Mario Odyssey demonstration; Xbox aficionados saw a couple of exciting exclusives on display, including hotly anticipated, pseudo-MMO Sea of Thieves and whimsical shoot ‘em up Cuphead (and were the Xbox One X is finally available for pre-order), while, despite an otherwise quiet conference, even PlayStation had something to offer in the form of a tantalising new Shenmue 3 trailer.

Oh, and Angela Merkel turned up to play a bit of Farming Simulator 2017. Yeah, why not?

Anyway, now that Gamescom 2017 is drawing to a close, it’s time to look back at some of the biggest highlights.

Super Mario Odyssey Continues to Shine

Arguably the biggest draw of the entire event for both Switch owners and the wider gaming community alike was the latest Super Mario Odyssey demo which, once again, gave players the opportunity to explore two of the game’s free-roaming levels: New Donk City or Tostarena.

After some of the team explored both stages at E3, Goomba Stomp’s Nintendo editor James Baker chose to spend his time surveying the latter. And, by the sounds of it, had an absolute blast.

James was unequivocal in his praise, commending everything from the intuitive controls and intelligent level design, to the visual beauty of Tostarena itself and the wonderfully retro 2D section, writing that, far from being a mere side-attraction, this particular mechanic was an “integral part of the level itself”, something that’s “cleverly done and doesn’t feel like a cheap gimmick at all”. He was also quick to allay fears regarding Mario’s newly sentient hat: “The hat dynamic is a unique idea and it seems to work remarkably well. I was admittedly hesitant about the concept, but playing Super Mario Odyssey threw all my doubts out the window.”

It’s pleasing to hear the game is shaping up well, not just for the reputation of the series, but for the success of the Switch too. With 2 critically-acclaimed, hugely popular releases (The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Splatoon 2) under its belt already, it’s vital Nintendo continues to release top-notch exclusives capable of justifying the console’s rather steep price-tag and somewhat niche USP.

Shenmue 3 Divides Fans

Before we get into it, there’re a few key points we should mention. Firstly, Shenmue 3 isn’t due out for another year; secondly, the cinematic teaser trailer showcased at Gamescom is only 90-odd seconds long; and thirdly, creator Yu Suzuki has previously stated that nostalgia is a fundamental part of the game. So, we should be careful not to get carried away.

That being said, it’s easy to understand why some people, including long-term fans, were left slightly disappointed by the jarringly poor character models and animation featured in the aforementioned video.

In an era replete with graphically stunning titles like Uncharted 4 and Horizon Zero Dawn, the emotionless faces of Ryu, Shenhua, and co. are really quite startling. Yes, it certainly recaptures the PS2 aesthetic that helped define the original games, but there’s a fine line between retro and antiquated and so far, Shenmue 3 looks closer to the latter.

The background scenery isn’t quite as underwhelming, to be fair, and, in fact, looks rather pretty in certain areas. However, it’s difficult to appreciate the surroundings when you have Ryu’s death mask of a face drawing your gaze in much the same way as morbid curiosity compels you to scrutinize the scene of a horrific car crash as you drive along the motorway.

Worse still, the stilted animation gives the characters an awkward, sluggish quality that clashes with the fast-paced nature of the previous 2 titles. Far from the active, young martial artists, we would expect, they almost resemble aging pensioners whose joints have seized up after years of tireless exertion.

Let’s just hope the cinematics aren’t representative of the actual gameplay and that the development team dedicates at least a few months to refining the visuals before launch day.

Skyrim, Doom, and Fallout 4 VR Get Release Dates

Bethesda’s confirmation of a release date for its 3 forthcoming VR ports of Skyrim, Fallout 4, and Doom was one to remember, assuming you own or can afford to buy a VR device, and are actually interested in the games in question, that is.

Skyrim VR will launch first, exclusively on PlayStation’s virtual reality platform, this November 17. What makes it a particularly exciting proposition, one that might just reignite interest in the concept itself, is that the entire game is playable in VR. Really, the only problem I can foresee is people refusing to put down the headset and return to the real world having spent a few incredible hours walking around Solitude, exploring Falmer-infested ruins, and taking down colossal dragons within a peerless high-fantasy landscape.

Doom VFR (available on both the HTC Vive and PSVR) is second to drop, becoming available to the general public on December 1. As the additional and characteristically juvenile ‘F’ of the title suggests, it aims to provide a full-on, visceral experience that captures the frenetic pace and adrenaline-pumping style of the 2016 reboot. If it succeeds in this aim, Bethesda might need to include a sick bag with each copy of the game.

Lastly, Fallout 4 VR arrives solely on the HTC Vive less than 2-weeks later on December 12. According to the trailer that appeared at E3 in June, there’ll be plenty to keep players occupied, including going toe-to-toe with Deathclaws, launching mini-nukes with all the reckless abandon of an unhinged dictator, and simply pottering about the wasteland in a suit of power armour.

Whether the trio are entertaining experiences in their own right remains to be seen, but the fact Bethesda is willing to spend the requisite time and money on these games in the first place is a huge step in the right direction for VR technology, especially given the current dearth of AAA titles. Perhaps they’ll even go some way to justifying the current hardware’s hefty price tag.

Star Wars Battlefront 2 Blasts Off

Every time new gameplay footage of Battlefront 2 is revealed, it becomes more and more apparent EA DICE has learned its lessons from 2015’s underwhelming Star Wars Battlefront reboot: a game that was fun to play in small doses, but criminally light on content and variety.

Gamescom 2017 was no exception; the only difference being that, rather than focusing on infantry combat, the emphasis was very much on space battles. And by Obi Wan’s hipster goatee does it look glorious.

Showcasing the Fondor map, Starfighter Assault mode, as it’s called, appears to follow largely the same model as its ground-based counterpart; namely, matches take place over multiple stages, with objectives changing depending on the flow of battle. So, in the Fondor map, this meant the attacking team were tasked with destroying a series of strategically important objects located throughout the arena, whilst the defenders had to protect these points and eliminate a sufficient quantity of the enemy in order to successfully repel the assault.

This combination of dynamic gameplay – supported, I should say, by highly responsive controls – and a slew of different classes, vessels, and ‘hero’ ships promises to offer something slightly more nuanced than the typical round of team deathmatch or capture the flag we’re used to seeing in modern first-person shooters. Something between Overwatch and Call of Duty, maybe.

Sea of Thieves Cross-Play Announced

In terms of gameplay, developer Rare didn’t really show us anything we haven’t seen before in previous Sea of Thieves demonstrations. Not that I’m saying that’s a bad thing. On the contrary, it’s one of the few Xbox exclusives I, as a PS4 owner, am quite envious of.

The seemingly wide variety of quests and the resulting opportunities for emergent gameplay continue to impress, as does the sheer scope of the open world and the stylised visuals, the latter of which lends it a certain amount of levity and charm that probably wouldn’t be possible in a photorealistic game. Firing yourself from your ship’s starboard canon in order to launch an assault on an enemy vessel, for instance, (check the 0:34 mark of Gamespot’s video) would probably feel a little absurd if the scene was rendered in Uncharted-quality graphics.

Anyway, back to the matter at hand, the most significant aspect of the trailer was the news that the game will support cross-play functionality between the Xbox One and PC.

Letting players mingle freely with the rest of the community and explore the shared world together, regardless of their preferred platform, is an extremely welcome addition to an already intriguing game and, more importantly in a general sense, one that Microsoft is supporting with increasing vigor across multiple projects.

Indeed, it would be nice to see a greater number of publishers *cough* Sony *cough* follow suit in the near future, though I’m not holding my breath.

Life is Strange: Before the Storm Gives Us Plenty of Food for Thought

No mention was made of either the Final Fantasy VII Remake or Kingdom Hearts 3 during Gamescom, sadly, but Square Enix did at least furnish us with a concrete release date of August 31 for episode one of Life is Strange: Before the Storm (the 3-part mini-series that serves as a prequel to superlative graphic adventure Life is Strange) and a brand-new trailer.

Set 3 years prior to the events of the original, the game’s narrative reportedly delves deeper into the relationship between protagonist Chloe Price and enigmatic student Rachel Amber. Perhaps we’ll see how Rachel helped Chloe begin to come to terms with the death of her beloved father, learn exactly what the pair of free-spirited young adults meant to each other, and discover how Rachel’s influence brought out the confident, rebellious side of Chloe we’ve come to know and love.

Combined with recent reports that a mechanic called ‘Backtalk’ will replace Max’s ‘Rewind’ ability, the news goes a long way to alleviating the concerns expressed by Goomba Stomp’s Indie editor Katrina Lind and others that, stripped of the sci-fi framework of the original, we could be left with an angsty teen drama lacking the emotional depth and narrative intrigue that made Life is Strange ‘Season 1’ such a compelling game.

Like Katrina, I’m not feeling quite as apprehensive as I once was following Square Enix’s latest trailer, however, although I have nothing against either developer Deck Nine or Rihanna DeVries, I’m still slightly worried by the absence of Dontnod and actress Ashley Burch.

More could be said about the raft of equally impressive titles that appeared at this year’s show. Samus Returns, Middle Earth: Shadow of War, and Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom would all make worthy additions to this list. Not to mention a handful of others.

Fortunately, Goomba Stomp’s James Baker has written a series of 3 posts chronicling his experiences at Gamescom 2017. Covering some of the games mentioned here and many others besides, they’re well worth a read, and can be found by clicking on the appropriate links for day’s one, two, and three.

Counting Final Fantasy VII, The Last of Us, the original Mass Effect trilogy, and The Witcher 3 amongst his favourite games, John enjoys anything that promises to take up an absurdly large amount of his free time. When he’s not gaming, chances are you’ll find him engrossed in a science fiction or fantasy novel; basically, John’s happiest when his attention is as far from the real world as possible.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. James Baker

    August 25, 2017 at 2:47 pm

    Hahaha, I was in the crowd watching Merkel play Farming Simulator

  2. John Websell

    August 25, 2017 at 3:12 pm

    I imagine it was ever so slightly surreal

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