BY ALEX WAKEFORD
Gamescom has come-and-gone for another year, showing off a suite of incredible games both imminent and tantalisingly out-of-reach.
While attending the show, we at Universally Speaking had the chance to get hands-on experience with a number of titles.This year’s Gamescom was particularly special for me because it was my first time flying out to Cologne to attend the show, rather than watching the highlights at home.
While I could tell you about the back-to-back meetings that took up the bulk of the week, I thought it would be more exciting to give my impressions on some of the games that I found the time to play (as such, naturally, these are all simply my opinions).
Let’s start with…
“Aspirational, cool, badass”
One might have had a variety of expectations for what Ninja Theory might go on to make after its smash hit Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice in 2017.
This was probably not on that list!
Bleeding Edge is a multiplayer brawler that shares a number of similarities with the ‘Hero Shooter’ sub-genre, with tempting comparisons to be made to the likes of Overwatch. These comparisons, however, only run skin-deep.
A diverse cast of twelve fighters are split into three classes: tank, assassin, and support. Each character has three abilities that run on a cooldown system, as well as two ultimate abilities (you choose which one you want to roll with when you select your character).
“The main thing was we just wanted all the characters to feel aspirational, cool, badass, you know have a lot of character so that when you see them in the game, they represent who they are and they’re really identifiable – so making sure they’ve got a good silhouette, and they read well with their animation, they’re full of personality.” [Rahni Tucker, Eurogamer – ‘Bleeding Edge is maybe a misnomer, but Ninja Theory is rightfully bullish’ (12/6/19)]
One of the things that I enjoyed most about Bleeding Edge was how the experienced really scaled its focus down to 4v4, placing greater emphasis on teamwork.Traditionally, I’ve found it difficult to stick with Hero Shooters because of how chaotic they can get with larger player counts in matches, but after a brief tutorial that introduced me to the basics of the movement, combos, and abilities, I was told by the devs “If you try to lone wolf this, you will die.”
I played a support class that was able to nimbly navigate across the map, freezing enemies for a few key seconds to enable my teammates to build up and unleash devastating combos, then heal up with an area-of-effect ability as we moved to capture the three control points.
The game was a tremendous amount of fun, it’s not something that’s trying to reinvent the wheel but it certainly brings its own unique quirks to an established and well-saturated sub-genre.
After my first match, I immediately wanted to jump into another one. Sadly, it was at this point that I remembered there was a long queue of people waiting outside the booth who would inevitably end up feeling the same way…
One gets the sense that this vibrant, colourful brawler must’ve been quite a palate cleanser for the team at Ninja Theory after the emotionally-laden Hellblade.
No current release window is confirmed, but I wish them every success with this new title and cannot wait to play more!
GEARS 5 (Horde)
“When the blood on your hands runs through your veins…”
The next instalment in the Gears of War franchise is just ten days away, due for ‘early’ release on September 6th, and I could not be more excited for it!
Gamescom was big for Gears this year, as a story trailer was unveiled (following a year of silence after its reveal at E3 2018) and we got our first look at Gears 5‘s Horde mode, which was also playable at the show.
Another big announcement from Gamescom was that Emile-A239 and Kat-B320 from Halo: Reach will join Sarah Connor from the Terminator franchise as playable characters in Gears 5‘s Horde mode – with their original voice actors returning, too!
343 Industries’s Jeff Easterling (GrimBrotherOne) has written an official Canon Fodder companion piece on Halo Waypoint (marvellously and appropriately titled ‘Gears of Lore’) that details some of the story of Gears; the roles, weapons, and abilities of these characters; as well as a tongue-in-cheek look at how Kat and Emile ended up on Sera – the fictional setting of the Gears universe.I got up bright and early to make sure I was one of the first in line to try out the first ten rounds of Horde mode (it just so happened that the station I played at had Emile pre-selected, as if it knew I was coming!)
Horde is, of course, a classic mode that played a major role in kickstarting a trend of similar modes in its peers – whether Halo‘s Firefight, Call of Duty‘s Nazi zombies, or even Uncharted 2, which had several variations of the concept. It’s been present in each successive Gears game with some minor alterations.
This time, however, there is a distinct feeling that The Coalition is keen to build on that foundation rather than incrementally adding a few extra features.
Each character now has their own unique abilities and roles on the battlefield, along with passive buffs and an ultimate ability.
Kait Diaz, for instance, takes the role of a scout with a passive ability that enables her to get increased amounts of power from kills, while her ultimate is a temporary tactical cloak.
Emile and Kat have their ultimates lifted straight from Halo: Reach, with the former getting a protective drop shield while the latter can send out a hologram to distract enemies.‘Power’ is the currency that is used to buy weapons, equipment, and fortifications from the mobile fabricator, as well as purchase upgrades for your character which can be accessed by tapping the Y button, bringing up a menu that allows you to select buffs to your health, regeneration, movement, and damage.
Another playable character is Jack, the friendly flying robot who has assisted our heroes since the first game. Introduced as a support character for newer players or those who might be looking for something different, Jack can move faster across the battlefield to heal teammates, drop equipment, and stun (or even possess) enemies.
The result is a mode that allows the player to build their own kind of play style, providing a more varied experience than ever before.
That, I think, is something I’ll be committing many hours to – after finishing the campaign, of course!
It is also worth noting that Gears 5 has been leading the charge with Microsoft’s push for accessibility in its games, allowing everyone and anyone to play. Alongside the ‘standard’ suite of accessibility options, there is also a lock-on system designed to help newcomers as well as those who may not be able to use both sticks on the controller at the same time.
In the ongoing push for greater accessibility in games, it’s great to see The Coalition looking to be an industry leader in that regard, which will hopefully bear fruit upon the game’s release.
CREATURE IN THE WELL
Flight School Studio
“Pinball with swords!”
I always enjoy getting to try out some of the indie titles on the show floor, one such highlight being Flight School Studio’s Creature in the Well – to be released on Nintendo Switch and as part of the ID @ Xbox program.
The premise was a particularly unique one in that it’s a pinball-inspired hack ‘n’ slash, or “pinball with swords,” as the game’s description reads.
I daresay there aren’t many other games you can roll off which fit that description!
Perhaps the most eye-catching thing about this game is its aesthetic. The station for Creature in the Well was situated amongst a row of half-a-dozen other games and the visually arresting style of shading immediately drew me to it.
You play as a robot (with a cape!) who must reactivate an ancient facility and defeat the titular Creature that resides within its walls.
There are many intricately designed puzzles and battles that proved to be a genuine challenge – you’re kept on your toes as you try to amass enough power to proceed through the next bulkhead door. It constantly had me wondering what the next encounter would be.
Creature in the Well is releasing September 6th and is definitely worth checking out!
HALO: THE MASTER CHIEF COLLECTION – REACH (PC)
“Current Objective: Survive [Until Release]”
Next year, Microsoft’s next console (Project Scarlett) will launch with Halo Infinite – the next step in the Master Chief’s legendary saga.
At present, 343 Industries has undertaken a task with a hitherto unseen level of ambition and scope: bringing almost all the previous Halo titles to PC.
Halo: Combat Evolved, 2, 3, ODST, Reach, 4, Spartan Ops, the remasters, the multiplayers – the complete suite of features across the last eighteen years of the franchise’s history…
Years from now, developers facing similarly ambitious projects will undoubtedly be going to 343 to ask “How on earth did you do this?!”
I got the opportunity to play Tip of the Spear, the fourth campaign mission from 2010’s Halo: Reach.This mission offers a great vertical slice of some of the best a Halo mission has to offer. From on-foot close combat, to large-scale vehicular encounters, my distinct impression was that this plays like it was meant for a mouse and keyboard.
I’ve only ever played Halo 1 on PC, yet this felt both easy and intuitive to pick up and play.
Just recently, the Firefight mode was flighted by 343 for the ‘Halo Insider’ program – a sure sign that the project is coming along, but, as previously mentioned, this is something that has never been done before.
From my conversations with the devs, it’s clear that they want to make sure they get this right straight out of the gate.
That may mean that the finish line is a while away, but if this experience is at all indicative it’ll be well worth the wait!
“Kind of like a Rogue One simulator…”
Developed by Massive Damage and published by Raw Fury, Star Renegades is a tactical rogue-lite RPG set to release Spring 2020.
It boasts a squad system with a turn-based battle system as you navigate its procedurally generated world and emergent missions.
The conceit has the player as the last spark of hope in leading a ragtag group of rebels against an evil authoritarian empire, referred to by the developers as a “Rogue One simulator.”
Every time you die, that rebellion is crushed and the next generation assumes the mantle. Players will build relationships with the characters they meet who become part of their squad (which provides additional gameplay bonuses, granting them special combat abilities)… but they can also be taken away, converted by the enemy into foes.
Similar to Creature in the Pit, the visuals are an instant eye-grabber with its captivating pixellated aesthetic. I only got to play a short section of the opening of the game, but the combination of its gorgeous art style, turn-based tactical combat, intriguing world, and ambitious narrative scope has made this a game I’ll be keeping on my radar!
What were some of your favourite games announced or shown at Gamescom? Are there any new or unexpected titles that you’re looking forward to?
Let us know in the comments below!
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