Having previously been to the CES convention in Las Vegas, where gaming is just a small part of the total experience, I was immediately struck by the sheer size of the show floor at GamesCom. Booths were spread out over four giant expo halls, with business areas set up in two further locations at the Koelnmesse Convention Center. To keep things somewhat easy to digest, I will be covering GamesCom on a ‘per hall’ basis, kicking off with hall number 8.
Upon entering hall 8, visitors first encountered Nintendo’s exhibition area. Despite the lack of any major announcement (they did that at E3) Nintendo had a very busy area that seemed to attract people throughout the day. Perhaps it was Mario and Luigi’s all-day presence that did it (man, the people in those costumes must have been hot), or perhaps some of the strong titles for Nintendo’s systems garnered interest from show visitors. The most notable title for the Wii was Kirby’s Epic Yarn, which brings back one of Nintendo’s most successful characters. For the DS, Super Scribblenauts really had me hooked as I playtested the sequel to what is easily one of the most original and memorable DS titles to date. Another guaranteed hit for the DS will be Professor Layton and the Unwound Future, which follows the same pattern of the previous titles in the series with the same high production values.
Next to Nintendo’s family friendly area was a bit of an odd neighbor, with Warner Bros’ F.3.A.R. (or F.E.A.R. 3) booth drawing in the 18+ crowd and impressing with its moody, dark lighting. What was to be found inside the booth was a chance to playtest this upcoming horror/FPS game (due in 2011). Having played the previous installments on a PC, this was my first experience with the series on an Xbox 360, and I was happy to see that the same creepy, suspenseful atmosphere was still intact. Partnering up with Paxton Fettel, the main bad guy in the previous game(s), creates a mechanism that balances cooperative play with distrust, and it will be interesting to see how this plays out in the final game.
Also in hall 8 was Namco Bandai, which was showcasing Enslaved: Odyssey to the West which is due out relatively soon. I had personally not seen this game in action before, but was able to playtest the title which turned out to be a very pleasant mix of Prince of Persia and God of War, in a sci-fi setting. Since I’m a sci-fi fan and enjoyed both those games, this is definitely a title I’m keeping an eye out for.
THQ had the largest number of costumed booth attendants here; promoting Red Faction: Armageddon and Homefront using a strong military/high tech theme. I was especially pleased to see that Red Faction is returning to the more story driven approach of the first two titles in the series, a first impression that was confirmed to me upon speaking with some of the developers who were representating THQ at the show. Not out for a while, but I can’t wait to play it.
Fans of the Lord of the Rings series were also being catered to in this area of the expo, with a life-sized Uruk-Hai statue (yes, I’m a LotR movie nerd) promoting the launch of the now-free to play Lord of the Rings Online. If you’re into the movies and curious about MMO gaming, this is one to try out.
The biggest area within hall 8 however was reserved for Microsoft. They had countless demo systems set up where you could play some of the major releases that are coming up in the near and distant future. Of course major releases like Fable 3 and Halo: Reach were represented, but I also got my first taste of Marvel vs Capcom 3! Fighting fans are in for a treat when that comes out, though I was painfully confronted with the fact that I only really knew how to properly play with Ryu. Still, with a few months until release time, there is plenty of time to learn.
Perhaps the biggest draw for Microsoft, however, was the chance to play around a little with its Kinect motion-sensing system. First impressions were that the system can be picky about what it registers for first time users, but the way I understand it the software is ‘smart’ and picks this up very quickly. I saw people having to get into the proper place to be recognized, but as soon as the system was past that phase everything worked smoothly. I wonder if the next few months or so will see the sparks of a motion-gaming war, with Sony and Nintendo going head to head with Kinect and the games making all the difference. While not being shown at GamesCom, I think Lionhead’s Milo could really make a difference here.
Microsoft was also responsible for one of the highlights of the show (and I’m not just talking hall 8 here) when none other than legendary designer Peter Molyneux got on stage to talk about Fable 3’s upcoming release. The dynamic experience the game promises should ensure an adventure that can cater to all tastes while offering excellent replay value. Certainly a contender for game of the show for me and definitely one we will be following up on.
Watch this space for the next installment of our GamesCom 2010 coverage. Coming up is hall number 7, featuring Sony’s answer to Kinect and the Wiimote as well as our impressions of what Valve Software was showing behind closed doors….