Well, I made it you guys. I’m commissioning my “I survived Gamescom” t-shirt and I never want to see the Koelnmesse again. Well, maybe next year. There’s probably been gaming news happening this week, but I’ve been knee-deep in ‘boots on the ground’ action – playing games, chatting to devs, pushing past crowds and sweating off balls so you don’t have to – and with that in mind I’m bringing to you a special edition of TWiGN. Ladies and germs, I present to you, the Alex Aldridge Super Bombastic Wunderbar Gamescom Awards Euro Megamix 2018!
I’ll put this out there for you, straight up. When you’re at a video games convention filled with sweaty people (the worst offender being me) and lines lasting up to four hours, you really don’t often take a punt on something you expect to be a big pile of mince. With that in mind, finding a biggest surprise is actually quite difficult unless you’re actively seeking out games you’ve never heard of for a hypothetical awards ceremony you have complete control over. Which would be stupid. It stands to reason, then, that the only game that really surprised me was Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise.
It probably shouldn’t have surprised me, considering it’s been out in Japan since March, but it seems that the franchise King of Campy Violence has found a very suitable home under the development arm of SEGA. Having moved on from those awful Dynasty Warriors clones made by Koei Tecmo, Kenishiro now finds himself slapped into a Yakuza clone instead. It works, though. It works pretty flawlessly, in fact. I don’t for one second think that I’ll be getting the game, but it made me laugh at least five times during the demo thanks to its ludicrous gore and over the top nonsense – the staple of any Yakuza game.
And the Award for Biggest Surprise goes to…
Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise
There are loads of nice developers and PR people at Gamescom. There are also some who just turn you away because you’re a total nobody and you look weird. The people who didn’t do that to us in the nicest way were the lovely dudes over at DotEmu. Not only was their setup in the Business Area done up to look like a 1980s bedroom, they let us have a go on the only-just-announced Windjammers 2, and even gave us a couple bottles of their own branded craft beer.
We sat down to throw back brewskis, shoot the shit and play some hardcore Windjammers 2 with the very folks who made the game. If that’s not reason alone to go to a games convention, then I’m missing the point. The Head of Marketing, Arnaud De Sousa, is a solid bloke (even if he did absolutely kick my arse at the game) and was extremely chatty and responsive to any questions we had. Kudos to him, and we’ll have some hands-on impressions of the game coming to the site soon.
And the Award for Nicest Folks goes to…
The absolute worst part of any games convention is the queuing. The heat, the standing, the boredom, the noise – it all amplifies by 1000% when you’re stuck in a stationary line for the length of two entire football matches. The stereotype about British people loving to queue is a lie, folks – we hate it just as much as the next nerd. It goes without saying, then, that if you’re made to queue for a second, hidden queue, you’re more than justified in throwing up your arms, mumbling “fuck it, it’s not worth it” and leaving the queue on principle alone.
You may well have a made a beautiful and brilliant game, Microsoft Studios, but if you expect me to step through the black curtain of mystery into a hotter, more cramped queue in a darkened room to play Ori and the Will of the Wisps, then you really don’t understand the notion of “fuck it, it’s not worth it” the way I do.
And the Award for Cheekiest Bastards goes to…
Whoever hid a second queue behind a curtain for Ori and the Will of the Wisps
You know what? I don’t think Capcom really cares that much about Gamescom. At least, their pathetic presence there seems to indicate as much. Does anyone here remember when I laid on the news that Resident Evil 2 won Best Game of E3? Capcom seems to have forgotten that, as arguably the most sought-after demo in the entire expo for one of the most anticipated remakes of all time stumbled into Gamescom on two machines. Two. Machines. Abso-cocking-lutely ridiculous.
Perhaps sensing this themselves, it seemed like Microsoft, who were hosting the demo, tried to keep the game’s playable presence a secret. Hiding it away in the far corner of the Xbox area, Resi 2 was locatable via a tiny little board that mentioned it amongst a bunch of other games you could play. It took us half a day to find it, and we then queued for well over two hours.
It wasn’t only Resi 2 that got the short shrift; Devil May Cry 5 was also sorely under-represented for its first current gen outing (and first main series title in nearly a decade). Queues for this game were also absolutely mental, spilling out into the demo areas for several other games. Capcom, why you gotta play us like this?
And the Award for Biggest Ball-Dropper goes to…
The Filip Miucin Shitheel Award
I didn’t have to pay for my Gamescom press ticket, which was nice. It was also lucky because if I’d paid money for a public ticket and had to endure the abhorrent crowded floors of the entertainment area from Wednesday onwards, I’d have probably keeled over with a stroke. It was a fucking shambles. Literally, in fact, as shamble is what we had to do once the public was let in on day 2, and that’s not even when we were queuing to play a game. We genuinely had to queue to walk through an area en route to where we wanted to go. The monetary value of an experience like that is less than zero, yet thousands of poor bastards paid hundreds of Euros to put up with that shit and likely play three games in an entire day.
Call it me being entitled, call it me being unwilling to accept a staple of video game conventions but, in reality, I’m fine – I got to go to the press day and play dozens of games off a free ticket. Gamescom organizers clearly oversold the balls off this event, and it’s just not fair on people who pay money to have a crack at the newest releases from their favourite hobby. I genuinely feel sorry for every single one of them. Greed evidently won out, and feasibility was swept under the rug.
And The Filip Miucin Shitheel Award goes to…
The Gamescom organizers
This is definitely the hardest award to decide upon. Gamescom had a ton of wicked cool sets. Darksiders 3, Metro: Exodus and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice went for huge models of in-game characters. The battle royale brothers made their presence felt, as Fortnite had a huge playground straight out of the game, while PUBG had a cut-out version of the game’s plane that people could sit in. It even took green-screen videos of players, blew a fan in their face and superimposed them to look like they were parachuting down to the eponymous battlegrounds themselves.
Elsewhere, Bethesda had an open vault door as the exit to their presentation area. Even some shitty games had good sets; the Game of Thrones browser game had a bunch of olde fashioned maidens stood around the Iron Throne itself, and Farming Simulator had… well, a farm, complete with a tractor. It was a tough choice with so much notable visual splendour to stare at from a queue, but the towering model of a New York City building and accompanying street set for Marvel’s Spider-Man just about nudged ahead of the rest.
And the Award for Coolest Set goes to…
This decision was decidedly less tough than awarding the best set. There were a fair few games that had little more than a large poster hung over the demo machines, but these were usually within a larger area, like for Xbox and SEGA. An honorable mention goes to Forza Horizon 4 which, in fairness, could do little else than just park up a car next to the game booth, but that doesn’t mean it’s impressive.
The winner of this category has to go to a large publisher that inexplicably displayed a total lack of effort in its display work, and that publisher is Nintendo. I’ve been to smaller events than Gamescom and seen better Nintendo sets, and they’ve had some seriously awesome ones at E3 before. Their Gamescom effort, however, was basically nothing. No models, no flashy lights or gimmicks – just a big square of demo machines and some red walls with Nintendo written on it. Granted, they had a huge screen for some competitive gaming, but there was a disappointing lack of pizazz to spice up an equally disappointing lack of games worth seeing.
And the Award for Wankiest Set goes to…
Oh, video game conventions, how you love to dole out useless free tat that people still willingly fill their luggage up with regardless. I shit you not, I saw people running to the Xbox stage on more than one occasion to try and catch free t-shirts being thrown out by the presenters. Some of them just had the Mixer logo on them. Who in the blue fuck is going to wear that? Seriously, they were running.
It’s not all shite though, just mostly. It’s not often you get something for free you’ll actually ever use again, but the adorable Super Mario Odyssey keyring we got from Nintendo is going straight on the ol’ janglies. Add to that the smart little Smash Bros. pin badge obtained after a bash on Ultimate and that’s a decent haul – certainly better than the wrist-mountable compass given out by Remnant: From the Ashes. It’s 2018; who doesn’t have a compass on their phone? Who gets lost anymore?!
And the Award for Swaggiest Swag goes to…
Milkiest Milquetoast Toast
You’ve done the hard work by now. The game has been announced, development and marketing are probably well underway and you’ve got your conference demo ready to go out and do its thing to create some buzz for release day. The last thing you want is a demo or a game that is so milquetoast that everyone’s forgotten about your game by the time they get home. Take a bow Team Sonic Racing. Actually, don’t.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed may be a contender for the most convoluted game title since Peter Jackson’s King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie, but my word that game was brilliant. A genuine rival for Mario Kart’s decades-old crown, the game was a joyous combination of originality and fan-service. To capitalise on the critical acclaim of that game, SEGA decided, to boot all its franchise characters out of the sequel and focus entirely on the bunch of crappy critters that Sonic calls his mates. Not only that, but gone are the transforming cars, planes, boats, and the dynamic levels. In their place is a handful of team-based moves and some of the most sedentary racing I’ve played in a long time. Not terrible, just really, really bland.
And the Award for Milkiest Milquetoast Toast goes to…
Team Sonic Racing
Most Adequate Upholder of Expectations
Sometimes you don’t need a game to do all that much to please you, so long as it retains its level of quality and maintains its focus on what it does best. Hell, just look at any sports game released this generation – that’s all they do. The same can very much be said of the Forza series, and Forza Horizon 4 isn’t breaking any moulds this year, but stick a banana in my exhaust pipe if it isn’t still brilliant.
The quality is still there, then, and I’m not ashamed to admit the pangs of glee I felt when I saw some of those beautifully familiar British road signs. Oh, white circle with a diagonal black line, you sexy national speed limit bastard. The rest of the world can get bored of Horizon if it wants, but the new dynamic seasons mechanic and the fact that I can drive on the left in good ol’ Blighty is so pleasing I feel like cracking on a seatbelt and popping down to Waitrose right now. I hope this game has roundabouts, even if it’s just those little white ones. Oh man, I need to calm down.
And the Award for Most Adequate Upholder of Expectations goes to…
Forza Horizon 4
The Frittering Mortality Award for Timewasting
Bethesda went all out with Fallout 76 exposure at Gamescom. The game was freakin’ everywhere – on the outside of the arena, on billboards in the streets, on posters in train stations, and the publisher was giving out Vault 76 party hats and blowers outside a Fallout-branded party bus. With all this going on (as well as the impressive set I mentioned earlier) I thought the Gamescom demo of the game would be awesome. It probably would have been…if there was one.
No, there wasn’t a demo to play. Instead, there was a video presentation. No, there wasn’t a new video being presented. Instead, there was the E3 video and a brief clip of Todd Howard talking at QuakeCon. The only new thing they had to show in the video was Todd Howard not being able to read basic German off a teleprompter. And yet, people still flocked there and queued up expecting something they weren’t going to get. Every time I walked past the booth, I wanted to warn people of their impending boredom, but I’m only one man.
And The Frittering Mortality Award for Timewasting goes to…
Bethesda and Fallout 76
Look, I’ve never made a game demo, but I reckon I know what most people would want to see in one – certainly what they wouldn’t want to see. A bad demo can leave a terrible impression of what may very well be a decent game. To avoid it coming off badly at a time when everyone playing it has hundreds of other demos they could be playing instead, don’t fuck yours up.
Metro: Exodus done fucked theirs up.
The demo was definitely boring – that much is to be expected for it to be mentioned in this category – but, worse still, it was confusing. Your game doesn’t need to hold my hand and tell me what to do and where to go, but your 15-minute demo really should. If I spend the last five minutes of playtime wondering where I’m going and why nothing happened when I killed everyone, then I’m not seeing the best of what you’ve got to offer; I’m seeing nothing. Add to that the terribly buggy AI that saw enemies walking into walls and getting stuck on the scenery, as well as the stupidly sensitive aiming, and a proper shit time was had.
And the Award for Worst Demo goes to…
Perhaps serving as some kind of painful warning against the perils of too much of a good thing, the most under-represented demo in all of Gamescom was hands-down the best. Resident Evil 2’s demo was an absolute masterclass in pacing and direction – making sure you saw a little bit of every facet the game has going in its favour and subverting any preconceived expectations that experienced players could have.
The demo showcased the tense and scary atmosphere, gorgeous graphics punctuated by stellar lighting and sound, accomplished voice acting (sacrilege, I know), visceral combat, and teased several puzzles to be found in the full game. Even better was that you didn’t see a zombie for the entire first half of it, keeping the player on edge just waiting for the shit to hit the fan (or the back of a zombie’s trousers, as was often the case). Once it did, the stakes and the excitement ramped up significantly for the prefect crescendo to send players off thirsty for more. Truly exemplary.
And the Award for Best Demo goes to…
Resident Evil 2
Worst Game of Gamescom 2018
Remember when the gaming sphere (myself included) took a giant poop on the deck of Sea of Thieves over its lack of content? That criticism is almost entirely justified, but the one thing you could say about Rare’s co-op pirate title is that it had substance. If you take the lack of content of Sea of Thieves and then remove almost all of that substance, you end up with Ubisoft’s inexplicably boring Skull & Bones – a game about being a pirate where you play exclusively as a boat.
Attacking other ships is done with a simple left trigger-aim/right trigger-fire combo. If you do enough damage to the ship you can manoeuvre alongside your foe and press A to board them. Then a cutscene plays. If, however, you take damage, you’ll need to repair your ship by pressing the d-pad. Then a cutscene plays. If you find a glowing circle in the sea indicating sunken treasure, you can move to the circle and press A to collect the treasure. Then a cutscene plays.
That, in a nutshell, is Skull & Bones – a game about moving really slowly to a location and pressing A to watch the same cutscene over and over. Not only did they make being a pirate (well, if you can call it being a pirate) duller than Pegleg Pete’s peg leg, they also made one of the pirates polite. A fucking polite pirate?! Bonus marks were also lost thanks to Ubisoft, of all companies, having the audacity to crown the game with the tagline “long live piracy.” What’s the definition of irony again?
And the Award for Worst Game of Gamescom 2018 goes to…
Skull & Bones
Best Game of Gamescom 2018
I felt like the fact that Resident Evil 2 won best demo meant that I should give another game the spotlight for best game, just to make things fair and balanced. Also because Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice feels like it’s going to be AWESOME. I’ve gone into way more detail with my hands-on preview already on this site, but it’s basically a game that balances itself with the grace and speed of Bloodborne crossed with the methodical combat of Dark Souls.
I wasn’t worried about Resident Evil 2 the way I perhaps had some reservations about Sekiro. No multiplayer? No RPG elements? Will it feel like a From Software game at all? Well hush my pretty little mouth, because this feels like the next evolution in From Software games. A brutal, balletic extravaganza of difficulty and death, this will make veteran players feel right at home, offer new players a great jumping-off point, and give yet another fresh setting to a well-established set of inimitable core mechanics that continue to prove their versatility and brilliance nine years on.
And the Award for Best Game of Gamescom 2018 goes to…
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
Right, show’s over. Let’s all get out of here before I add more categories and smash out another thousand words while I sit in the airport waiting to fly home to England. Cheers, Gamescom, for your sweaty, crowded hospitality – I’ll maybe see you next year. I’ll see you lot next week.