Day 3 was when it all went down. I had appointments to see Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Red Orchestra 2, Guild Wars 2, Bioshock: Infinity, The Secret World and Dungeon Siege 3, among others.
At least, I presume I had appointments. I'll admit to some amount of shouting and pulling of my arm as I went waltzing into the more exclusive booths, but it's remarkable how people will reconsider their attitude towards you after a slap.
Guild Wars 2
This was the game on everybody's lips this year. The exact sentence on everybody's lips this year was, I think, "Holy Shit have you seen Guild Wars 2?"
Everything about this game looks stunning. Its storytelling, what it's doing with combat, the artwork, how it's dealing with events- brilliant ideas are applied to every single aspect of MMORPGs, and each of these ideas has a terrifying amount of passion and money behind it.
Take character creation. As well as choosing your race, class, appearance and so on, you also answer questions that compose what ArenaNet are calling your "Biography". You have to decide whether your Human character was raised by nobles, peasants or on the streets, which impacts your personal story. Little cosmetic touches are applied when you decide what monster your Necromancer paints on his face, or what your Elementalist's favourite element is. Most excitingly, you can also choose whether your character deals with situations using ferocity, charm or honour, which changes how your character talks to NPCs and how the environment reacts to you. The example I was given was kids either following you, or fleeing in terror.
I'm realising now just how much there is to talk about- how the game's challenging conventional ideas on PvE, healing, dying, capital cities. I'll save the rest for a big preview next week, backed up by a big ol' interview.
Men of War: Vietnam
It's Men of War! In Vietnam! It's going to be less vehicle-oriented than its WW2 brethren before it and more focused on commando-style tactics, with traps, tunnels and helicopter back-up making an appearance.
I thought the Vietnam setting would excite me, but the engine doesn't seem quite so suitable for jungle as it does for tanks and town sieges and mortars and whatnot. But then, they haven't shown the Vietcong campaign yet. That might change everything.
The Secret World
Everything I learned about Funcom & Ragnar Tørnquist's contemporary conspiracy MMORPG is under embargo at the minute, so I can't say a word.
Can I say that it looks pretty great? Probably not, I guess.
No relation to the ancient and deeply messed up French sci-fi PC game, sadly. This Captain Blood is a Russian-developed 3rd person action game based on the swashbuckly pirate novels of Rafael Sabatini.
When I say "based on", I mean loosely. I'm not sure if Mr. Sabatini's Captain Blood carried a pistol so big it had to be bolted to his belt on a giant hinge. I'm also not sure if he destroyed Spanish galleons with a single cannonball. What I am saying is that the game looks agreeably insane, and also a touch fiddly and awkward, but, y'know. Insane!
Death to Spies 3
The next game in the Hitman-like Death to Spies series swaps WW2 for the Cold War. Pleasingly-named protagonist Semyon Strogov returns, but now instead of confounding Nazis he's carrying out missions all over the globe. The one demoed to me had him assassinating someone in the custody of an American police station.
It was always Death to Spies' WW2 setting that put me off it, so I'm quite curious about this. If they can infuse some colour and diversity into what was already quite an interesting-sounding series (with missions based on real-life declassified SMERSH documents), I'm sold.
Red Orchestra: Heroes of Stalingrad
As a dirty great Red Orchestra fanboy, I was pumped about this and it didn't disappoint. The team seemed to understand that what I (and I guess most other people) found most enjoyable about RA was is distressing plausibility, because all of the new features in RA2 have one foot in improving the game and the other in making it more realistic.
The new cover system seems perfect. The tap of a button presses you against low walls or corners, and from there you can lean out or blindfire as you like. The damage system's become a little more elaborate, with you bleeding out of light wounds unless you take a moment to bandage yourself, and there are now specific hitzones for smaller body parts, like your heart.
My own favourite addition is the "Slow Death" that now sometimes occurs from fatal shots to places like the stomach. In an absolutely nightmarish animation, these dying characters start swaying and stumbling in a state of shock, still holding their gun and still able to shoot before they finally lose their balance and fall over.
There's also a new campaign mode that can link multiplayer missions together, and new options as to what Commanders can call in via radio posts, including rocket strikes and recon planes. Artillery strikes like this have, of course, been made even more visually awe-inspiring / harrowing.
And I can reveal there's already a team working on a total conversion, with Tripwire's full support. It's called Rising Storm, and abandons Russia and Germany altogether for the Pacific Front, with the Americans fighting the Japanese. The producer of Rising Storm pointed out to me that nobody's done the Japanese involvement in WW2 particularly well, and he's intent on changing that.
I opted for a liquid lunch. The bar lady was only too happy to provide me with a couple of traditional German cocktails, which I think she called a Meat Spritzer and a Saltsplosion. They were okay, I guess. A bit chewy.
Off Road Drive
Found myself weirdly entranced by this. It simulates the sport of off road racing, which I didn't realise involves crap like getting your car over tiny cliffs using a winch, deflating your tyres so you can traverse swamps, and travelling slowly over really rocky ground so you don't destroy your vehicle.
I was pretty exhausted by the time I saw Off Road Drive, but being presented with a racing game where you had to drive slowly made me feel something half-way towards a religious epiphany.
Dungeon Siege 3
So it turns out my Dungeon Siege 3 interview was with Chris Taylor, who's only a consultant on Obsidian Entertainment's game and so was unable to tell me much.
What I did learn is that DS3 is going to be much, much more story-driven than DS1 or 2, and will be all about direct control of your character with rigorous co-op support. Also, you won't have a mule in your party, but he will have a "cameo".
I'm not sure what to expect, really, but I am still very keen to see some game footage.
Final Fantasy XIV
The most interesting thing to come out of my FFXIV interview was the discovery that the developers of this MMORPG are designing the game's three nations to appeal to different types of human beings.
Let me explain- the forested land of Gridania is beautiful and relaxing, and it's meant to appeal to women. The shining commercial centre of Ul'dah is designed for businessmen. The floating city of Limsa Lominsa is bold and dramatic, and should be the natural choice for a younger audience or thrill-seekers. And then the content in these three territories is being designed with its particular person in mind.
I keep turning this idea over in my head, and I'm pretty sure I like it.
Stronghold's back! Back again! Stronghold's back! Tell a frien-- oh, I guess friends might be a sore point for fans of medieval architectural strategy.
Stronghold 3's looking pretty great. The developer said that they were keen to address the complaint that Stronghold 2 was needlessly complex, so they're returning to the template of the first game and then using new technology to improve it.
Physics and lighting are the two big improvements, and mean more interesting siege warfare and sinister night sieges, respectively. There's also lots of smaller improvements- walls can now be painted in whatever curves you like, hovels grow in size the closer they are to the keep, and there's a new option to fling animal carcasses into besieged castles.
And now! My Game of Show...
...was not my game of show. It won the official GamesCom Game of Show award, and Levine went up on a stage and said some thankful words and everything. But it strikes me as an unfair choice.
As lots of people have already said (including Kieron in his preview for us), the game footage of Bioshock Infinite doing the rounds is scripted and choreographed to the point of absurdity. It has the hypnotic pace of a music video, and it features all kinds of set-pieces that only work because the player does exactly what's expected of them and knows what happens next at all times.
There's not a shadow of a doubt in my mind that Bioshock Infinite will be completely awesome, but surely Game of Show should go to somebody showing their actual game? Any developer could have made their work seem more dramatic by scripting the shit out of a level, but Irrational were the only people I saw do it.
My game of show was, in fact,
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
GamesCom featured an all-new demonstration of Human Revolution. In brief, it is now my most wanted game currently in development.
When I previewed Human Revolution for RPS a few weeks back I was given the same two-level walkthrough they showed at E3, and the Eidos developer present completed it in an identical way. I said then that if they really wanted to show of their game's Deus Ex-itude, they should complete the same level multiple ways.
That's what Eidos were doing at GamesCom. They showed a new level from early on in the game- a Detroit police station, with you tasked to retrieve some hardware from the skull of a corpse in the morgue- and completed it once in a Terminator all-guns-blazing style, once smooth-talking their way past obstacles peacefully with the new conversation system, and a third time with hacking and ninja stealth.
This and Guild Wars 2 were the only games at the show that had me forgoing academic and factual note-taking for just writing "YES" and "YESSSS" in my notebook over and over.
It's not just that Human Revolution offers multiple paths. It offers more of exactly what Deus Ex offered. The detail in the environments, the chance to talk to an idle population of civilians, the option of nosing through emails- that sense that you're not just playing through a level but roleplaying a very cool guy in a very long black coat in a very absorbing world.
The menu was brought up at several points, too. There really is still a grid inventory. But there are so many additions, too- you now have 21 individual augmentation slots, and most seem to have their own tiny tech tree that you cherrypick your way down.
Something else that shocked me is the new hacking minigame. It's dramatically complex- a kind of Uplink strategy battle where you first hide from and then race a server, with extra programs and viruses that can be found or bought and give you a helping hand. Similarly, the dialogue is fast paced to the point of being difficult to follow. I was expecting just about anything from Human Revolution except for it to be more demanding than the original Deus Ex. I couldn't be happier. When was the last time you saw a great PC game being adapted to consoles and becoming more complex in the process?
Alright, that's enough from me. I need to start transcribing interviews and turning all this brain-mess into genuine previews.