There are some presentations we've seen this week that have been barely more than by-the-numbers sixth form PowerPoint affairs. There are some that have been breathless adrenaline rushes of developers tripping over themselves in excitement. We've seen gameplay demos, teaser trailers, behind the scenes footage, and development gag reels. We've gotten hands-on with some of the hottest properties to come over the next twelve months. We've laughed, we've cried (usually at bollocks internet), we've questioned, and experienced, we've been let down at times and dropped our jaws to the floor at other. It's been a rollercoaster of bumper scheduling, chaining cans of Monster, late-night writing, and with the business area emptying as I write this, for us lot it's all over.
But there's so much left to come, and reams of write-ups to be done. Here are our highlights from day three.
Without a doubt, one of the highlights of my day was meeting Warren Spector for the first time. Frankly it was probably for the best that he wasn't really doing one-on-one interviews as had I been left alone with him I would probably have given him a huge hug and never let go. I did thank him for Deus Ex, though. Hearing someone with decades of experience in this industry speaking passionately about why gaming can be the most thought-provoking, emotional, engaging, and downright fun of the entertainment mediums is an incredibly inspiring thing.
Epic Mickey 2 is looking absolutely fantastic, though I'd hasten to qualify that by saying that from what I played of it, the game will be best played on the Wii, or via the Move on PS3. The level of player choice and consequence is impressive indeed, the story of Oswald a classic one: as Spector pointed out, what could be more simply powerful than the tale of two rather estranged brothers from the Disney family - the elder (Oswald) constantly overlooked in favour of the younger (Mickey) - coming together in a time of need. The game's looking great, and the seamless co-op complements the narrative fantastically.
One of the other highlights of the show as whole wasn't even supposed to be here. An email arrived in my inbox on Tuesday saying that Oculus would be bringing the Rift to Gamescom, but that it was very last minute, and did we want to meet later in the week at a location to be determined later.
Hell yes we did. A note to the wise, though. Plunging oneself into a virtual reality world at nine in the morning is likely to scramble your brain for the rest of the day.
Everything that's been said about the Rift is true. The immersion is like nothing I've ever experienced. Ranging around Mars City and blasting demons back to hell, I was having the time of my life. You feel like you're there. You don't just get a sense of atmosphere and surroundings, the game becomes your world. Only the occasional suggestion from the demonstrator broke the spell and pulled me back to reality.
The one-to-one movement tracking is phenomenal. Everywhere I turned, the camera turned, not just followed. Realising that I could aim by turning my head was incredibly novel. Being able to do that in tandem with tiny thumb movements on the right stick as I became more comfortable was mindblowing. Taking the headset off, even after just a short ten-minute test run, felt strangely disorienting - a tribute to just how effective the Rift was at convincing my eyes and ears that I was completely elsewhere.
John Carmack isn't the only big name interested either, with developers reportedly queuing up to take a look at the Rift. After witnessing it firsthand, I can understand why. Rest assured, the Rift has the potential to be utterly revolutionary.
My first experience with the Wii U was a mix of comforting familiarity and uneasy fumbling. Having played the hell out of Rayman Origins on PS3, I knew what to expect from one side of Legends. This two player co-op demo featured pad and tablet support. With the tablet, I was controlling Murfy the green fly by tapping the screen to get him to dash to that point, lifting platforms for my partner or running my finger (or the stylus) across to cut ropes or turn yellow Lums into red ones to double the score. I would have gotten more time with the tablet except that the Ubisoft demo staffer couldn’t do the platforming section so we had to swap. So then I got to try out the Wii U controller which resembles a 360 pad, but with Nintendo’s warped Japanese placement for important buttons. The A button, the right face button, is used for jumping instead of the bottom one. It never feels right and is immediately off-putting. The brand new levels and intuitive tablet touchscreen controls make this and the Wii U worth keeping an eye on though. That’s ‘keeping an eye on’ and not rushing off to pre-order the console just yet.
Batman proved to be another familiar title for the Wii U, but perhaps one that you might be more inclined to think you didn’t need if you’ve played it elsewhere. Key differences include using the tablet and motion sensors to scan detective mode or steer remote batarangs and individually detonate explosive gel. The tablet can also be used to avoid dipping into menus to check and assign your inventory, read character bios and check the map. The fighting has remained intact with the only change being Batman’s electrified gauntlets that you can activate once reaching a certain combo count. Yep, they’re just a visual enhancement on the powerful combo attacks of before. The Wii U differences may come off a bit gimmicky, but players could be tempted by the fact that the game will come with all the DLC, including Harley Quinn’s Revenge.
Elsewhere, and it certainly won’t win any prizes for prettiest game of show, but fans of old-school FPS titles should keep Painkiller: Hell & Damnation on their radars. Raising a middle finger to regenerating health, military weapons and fancy pants features like aiming down the sights, the game is a violent shoutback to a 90s FPS. The gameplay is almost ridiculously simple as you just seem to be clearing rooms full of enemies before moving onto another in your quest to collect 7000 souls for Death. If the game can keep supplying the cool weaponry it could keep things interesting. Secondary fire is a big feature with the soul catcher hoovering up souls, the shotgun firing freezing rounds, the stake launcher popping grenades and the shuriken gun firing out pulsing arcs of electricity. Needless to say, but you get to make a glorious mess of anything stupid enough to get in your way. One pleasantly surprising bit of information is that the game will be making its way to the Xbox 360 at the same time as the PC release later this year, with a PS3 version to follow in 2013.
Stay tuned to the site for full write-ups of everything we've seen in the coming days.