If we were worried about Gamescom being a little quiet this year, then today taught us otherwise. A strong start from Capcom and a fresh reveal in the form of Remember Me (aka. The Game Formerly Known As Adrift) led to a very interesting showing from IO Interactive later that day as they demoed a new game mode for Hitman:Absolution that will allow players the freedom of creation through gameplay, as they showcased Contracts – a feature that will allow for near-unlimited replayability as any character becomes a potential target. A businesslike presser from EA reeled off several blockbuster reminders, before Sony took to the stage for an impressive curtain-call that (thank god!) was heavily centred on the Vita, and a string of new IPs.
Having frantically rushed around Cologne for most of the day, we thought we'd pick out some highlights in our first in a short series of Postcards From Gamescom 2012.
Remember Me was hugely intriguing. The cyberpunk feel, the insomniac female protagonist, and the Neo-Parisian setting all combined to set imaginations racing. The combat system looks interesting, and typically slick, but the real question will surely revolve around the game's concept, and DONTNOD's handling of it. Will they be brave and really push the envelope? Will it be an afterthought? The insomniac protagonist is no new thing by any stretch of the imagination, but the nature of the world, not to mention Nilin's profession makes it a cliché with a very curious twist. At the end of the day, I rather hope it's more a third-person Deus Ex than Starbreeze's Syndicate...high expectations, perhaps, but the former is over a decade old. Expectations should be high.
Hitman: Absolution's Contacts mode is something that I'll no doubt talk about in more detail after get to grips with it properly later this week, but it cemented a game that has done a complete U-turn in my eyes. IO took a risk in presenting their franchise revival in action-heavy terms to begin with, but Jon came back from E3 with a spring in his step, and comforting reports. The Contracts mode is an excellent notion, with the create-through-gameplay feature removing a barrier that might have prevented curious parties before from engaging in other games that thrive on user-generated content: a dauntingly detailed creation suite.
You wouldn't have missed much, not being at the EA presser in person. A string of trailers and one or two gameplay demos were accompanied by one or two lines of marketing speak for each game, and no real surprises. Carl and Jon have already done a good job of decrying the lack of Overstrike, but the lack of surprises was a little disheartening, though rather unsurprising. It's good to see that The Simpson Tapped-Out is making a return, even if the image of EA's virtual Springfield littered with bundles of money sent our irony sensors into overdrive. I was disappointed to see an Army of Two trailer that contained absolutely no air guitar, no fistbumping, no high fives, and a distressing lack of any camaraderie. Love or hate Salem and Rios, at least they had an identifiable personality.
But Sony, for me, was the highlight. To take the opportunity presented by Microsoft and Nintendo's absence to focus heavily on Christmas and let the less obvious gems in their arsenal shine was incredibly refreshing. Sony's press conference reminded us, much as Nintendo's did at E3, that gaming is for everybody; and it did so with a string of captivating, original titles.
Thankfully, the Vita was placed front and centre. We've made no bones of the fact that Sony's handheld has lost momentum in our eyes, but this was immensely gratifying, not least because Brendan, Jon, Carl, and myself all own the console! Press conferences are the perfect opportunity to spell out strengths that punters may have missed. Finally, crossplay got a true moment in the sun, and the list of titles – both large and small – that will take advantage of this feature is steadily growing. I cannot stress enough how impressed I was by LittleBigPlanet Vita, and the the additional DLC for LBP2 should help facilitate Sackboy's strong grip on the portable market as well as the home console one.
Having Media Molecule lead the line was a masterstroke. Tearaway looked fantastic. Striking in terms of design, immediately charming in form and in function, it looked to be a fresh reveal that gave everyone who owns a Vita (and has been grumbling in recent weeks, ourselves included) what they wanted: a gaming experience built upon a simple yet utterly engrossing premise.
The notion of a 3D paper world that can be manipulated directly using the Vita's impressive array of inputs is an attractive one. I'm already fascinated by Iota and his world; I'm already hungry and eager to know more, to understand the rules of this new game and how Media Molecule will have us bend and break them. The trailer hinted at the full spectrum of the Vita's mechanisms being incorporated into the game – blowing on a paper aeroplane to send it aloft, using the rear trackpad to poke holes in the game's very fabric, roaring at Iota's adversaries to send them scurrying away. That those adversaries were cutesy cubed and bearded cyclopes only served to hurt my grinning cheeks even further. Moreover, with Media Molecule's history as a studio that likes to deliver games wholly over to their community to explore and help evolve, I can't wait to see what they have in store for Tearaway.
Highlight of the Day: A 5-10 minute presentation from Media Molecule got me more excited and enraptured than anything else today. That it was for a dedicated Vita title just made my day.
Disappointment of the Day: No Overstrike or Dragon Age III at EA, and the smattering of Aftermath video was pitiful.
Weirdest Moment of the Day: Nick from The Average Gamer promptly ruining my delight at Tearaway by suggesting that you might be able to use “pointy body parts” other than ones fingers to poke holes in the paper world.
I kicked off the day with a top secret Hitman: Absolution event and it was well worth braving the cruel German sun for. The new Contracts mode is going to be what keeps Agent 47 on your TV long after finishing the story mode. Being able to assign any NPC from the main story mode as an assassination target, stipulate how they should be killed along with setting bonus parameters for cleaner hits is going to keep you hooked for months. The simplicity of the mode will make it more accessible, as rather than having to learn about time-delay switches, animations and so on (think LBP) you simply play the level. Also, anyone playing your Contract won’t have to follow your exact path to complete the assignment; they’re free to take their own route. Chances are your method will be improved upon or pre-existing items in the game world will be used to improve on your score.
EA’s presentation didn’t really give me any surprises and my interest started to wane during the likes of The Simpsons: Tapped Out iOS game, Sim City and NHL 2013. But thankfully Need for Speed: Most Wanted really sideswiped me to attention as it finally just admitted it was Burnout: Paradise in licensed disguise. Showing off a tonne of online games nearly identical to the Freeburn challenges of Criterion’s favourite son, NFS:MW looks like a vast improvement over the boring highway tracks of Hot Pursuit. To be honest though, I’m not going to get truly excited until I’ve got behind the wheel for myself as I’ve always found the handling in NFS games to be horribly heavy and unresponsive compared to Burnout’s wild rides.
Sony’s conference wins hands down for overall content. A better showing of the Vita’s future than the non-event of E3 and even a few surprise brand-new IP reveals shows a real respect from Sony for Gamescom and the European market. The new games are a great thing, but I think the most pleasing moment I got from the show was the announcement that Sony’s upcoming PS3/Vita cross-play titles will give you the Vita version for free when you buy the PS3 game. This, quite frankly, kicks all sorts of ass. Just a few short hours earlier I was bemoaning the fact that nobody will pay £70 to play the same game on two formats; and now they don’t have two. It’s just like MotorStorm RC, but on a much bigger scale. If Sony sensibly pushes this new agenda it could really help the flagging sales of the Vita. So that’s PlayStation All-Stars, Sly 4 and Ratchet & Clank: Q-Force all set to get the freebie treatment. Add that to LittleBigPlanet PS Vita getting all the PS3 levels and editing your console levels on the go and the Vita is showing some much needed promise. One potential fly in the ointment are third parties, who will unlikely to be as keen to give away free games. Well, EA, FIFA 13 would be a nice place to start. Encouraging displays from Killzone: Mercenaries, COD Black Ops: Declassified and Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation show the Vita finally getting some strong backing from third parties for unique titles at least.
Highlight of the day: Finding out that Hitman: Absolution hadn’t been reduced to a linear bore.
Disappointment of the day: The graphics on Black Ops: Declassified on Vita looking a bit PS2.
Weirdest moment of the day: Watching two devs playing FIFA with Move controllers and having no idea what was going on. "Painting" attacking runs looked like two men pretending to pee with the Move wand.