Greetings from Germany, frauleins. I’m out here at Gamescom, in theory in the historic city of Cologne but in practice spending my days intermittently staggering and sprinting across a labyrinthine convention centre the size of a small moon.
I’m here to see games: a lot of games. My laptop’s hard drive is littered with half-incomprehensible Word documents hamfistedly touch-typed as I gazed upon demos of exhaustingly noisy big-budget shooters, intriguingly odd Euro-strategy games, and an aerial combat/RPG/turn-based strategy/boardgame hybrid in which you can marry a lipstick-wearing skeleton.
It’s just coming to the end of my third day here, and I’m exhausted as a boy can be thanks to the unholy trinity of back-to-back appointments, stifling heat and the empty-bellied perils of apparently being the only vegetarian in Germany. (Actually, that’s not true – I met a nice fellow from Gearbox who’s having the same problem earlier. Pan-continental, slightly frail solidarity, brother!)
But while Gamescom might have left me in dire straits, the same cannot be said for PC gaming. What a grand show it’s been for the IBM-compatible. While the most pervasive sound and fury might, as always, be coming from the big console shooters, both the main show floor and the trade area I’ve been spending most of my time seems to hold far more PC games than it does all the other platforms’ games put together. Of course, many of these are free to play MMOs and Evony-esque browser-strategy thingums whose path I may never cross again, but pretty much all the biggest titles here are headed our way too. I’m not going to be short a thing or two to post over the coming weeks, I can assure you.
I can’t help but notice – but probably shouldn’t name names – that most of the publisher's biggest games are demonstrated on high-end PCs hidden behind a podium but played with an Xbox pad. Do the console guys spot this as instantly as I do, or are they there thinking that Enormous Game X has achieved hitherto unknown levels of 360 anti-aliasing and texture filtering, and will surely be this console generation’s best-looker? Suckers.
This is on one hand pleasing – big games demonstrably looking their best on PC and thus promising definite ocular treats for us lot when they release – and on the other irritating. They’ve made their games look wonderful thanks to PC, but it’s almost like they’re too embarrassed to admit it. It’d be nice to see a little more public dev love for these machines they’re relying on so much for hype and bombast. But I guess the PC doesn't have the direct equivalent of a Microsoft or Sony that needs constantly courting. The most high-profile exception to this subterfuge is Valve's Dota 2 tournament, a mouse and keyboard-only game that's drawing some of the convention's biggest crowds. The combination of the pro-gamers' impossible speed and the German-language commentary meant I barely understood what was going on in that game, alas. I look forward to it being shown in a context involving normal, mortal human beings, not these lighting-quick superhumans.
Ach, I’m rambling. It’s almost as if I’ve spent three days running everywhere but eating almost nothing. Gamescom is a state of mind, and one I’m glad only happens once a year. What else to tell you? Well, game of the show for me so far is Arkane’s immersive sim Dishonored. I’ll be explaining why at far greater length at some point very soon, but the crux is that it appears to offer some of the finest elements of Thief, Hitman, Bioshock, Deus Ex and Half-Life 2 all rolled into a tantalising package that’s very much its own distinct entity. Equally memorable but for very different reasons was an hour spent playing Saints Row: The Third and marvelling at its open madness (‘where do you guys draw the line?’ I asked. ‘We don’t’, they replied.)
Now to sleep, perchance to dream that sausagemeat miraculously becomes vegetarian. Tomorrow, I see Rage, Firefall and Airline Tycoon 2, amongst others, before relievedly dragging myself onto a crowded Easyjet. Bye!
Delightful currywurst photo via Wikimedia/Rainer Z.