Day three of Gamescom is when the madness begins. Thursday is the first day the massive convention opens its doors to the public, and it was an epic turnout. Thankfully, I didn’t have any appointments on the show floor on this particular day (moving quickly between giant halls isn’t efficient in a crowd) and, instead, split my time between interviews, behind-closed-door (BCD) sessions, and hands-on demos.
Here’s a breakdown of what I saw and played (bear in mind that while some of these titles are familiar to anyone who’s read the first two days of Gamescom coverage, they cover different content or experiences).
Xbox platform update
Continued improvements on the Xbox One UI and feature set will also feed into the same components on the Windows 10 inbuilt Xbox app. Senior global manager of Xbox Mike Lavin was in charge of a BCD dedicated to showcasing the present and future of Xbox. In terms of features of interest, Play Anywhere is most relevant to PC, as it lets players buy a single digital copy of a game, which can be played on Xbox One or Windows 10 PC (where progress is saved and shared between platforms, too). ReCore will be the first game to support this feature, and every Xbox One exclusive in the future will reportedly support it, too.
This also coincides with the Cross-Play feature, that lets Xbox One and Windows 10 players play with and, technically, against each other. In terms of titles such as Forza Horizon 3 or Killer Instinct, this isn’t so bad when it comes to the competitive space, as these types of games favour controllers over keyboard and mouse. Competitive play is more of a concern, but Lavin confirmed that developers are able to support cooperative or competitive play at their discretion, so don’t expect shooters to necessarily pit Xbox One players against PC gamers. Beyond this, Lavin showed off a brief demo for player-determined Clubs; the neat ‘Looking for Group’ feature that unites players of similar interest with a variety of filter options; and Arena, which is a neat way for organising and joining tournaments, with a view towards eSports competitions. These new updates are set to roll out later this year.
Gears of War 4
Speaking of Cross-Play, Xbox One and Windows 10 players will be able to play cooperatively when Gears of War 4 releases, which is nice in terms of a boosted player pool; they won’t be able to play competitively, though, because of the aforementioned mouse-versus-controller-aim issue. This was confirmed in the Gears of War 4 BCD session, as well as a new DeeBee robotic enemy type. The DeeBees have a range of weapons that are twists on the familiar Gears of War arsenal, and they behave quite differently to the Swarm enemies (that are very reminiscent of the Locust from the original Gears games). It was refreshing to see the addition of this new faction, as I was concerned with how familiar the Swarm faction was when I first played Gears of War 4 on Tuesday night. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Gears of War 4 looks stunning in 4K on Windows 10, so if you’ve got the high-end hardware and an interest in the series, this is a game best served on PC. Gears of War 4 is out on the 11th of October.
Sea of Thieves
Given the stylised look of Sea of Thieves, it’s the kind of game that will still look pretty well into the future, especially if you’re playing on PC. During the BCD session, the lead PC developer showed off the game in 4K (it looks stunning), and spoke a bit more about splicing emergent experiences (of which there are many) with familiar spaces, so that, say, islands will remain the same so that players can use them as familiar landmarks when sailing through the world. Even though Sea of Thieves looks best in 4K, the devs bragged about putting the game through extensive testing to get it to scale down as much as possible for lower-spec rigs, with the only no-compromise option being draw distance (which, according to the devs, has to stay the same across systems, including for Cross-Play purposes between PC and Xbox One). It’s Rare’s first PC game, and given the pedigree of the company, I can’t wait to hear, see and play more of this addictive title. Sea of Thieves is out next year.
Forza Horizon 3
I spent time with the same Forza Horizon 3 demo as on the opening night, except this time it wasn’t on a 4K machine. It was great to take the Xbox One S version for a spin because a) it ran really well and b) it looked incredible, with only the odd bit of pop-in (for small things beside the road, mind you) stopping it from being a wholly immersive ocular affair. The rewind feature is a neat touch for casual drivers like me, and even though some of the supposedly Australian voice acting is questionable, the sound of the cars is awesome enough to get even the most casual driving fan’s engine revving.
Later on in the day, I returned to Forza Horizon 3 for a BCD session. The creative director copped a bit of stick from the room of Aussies because of “unAustralian” demo features like speed measured in miles per hour and left-hand driving, but these Down Under faux pas didn’t stop the game from looking mighty impressive. It was being played on the Xbox One S version, and even on that less-than-4K-capable platform, it looks phenomenal. Players will be able to organise their own Horizon races, hire and fire friends, and play in four-player cooperative races. Buggies are a new vehicle class, and they’re a logical introduction for the many off-road sections that were showcased. You can jump out of the car and pilot a drone for what amounts to free control over a camera, in a neat feature that’ll undoubtedly lead to some stunning racing-video compilations. Forza Horizon 3 hits shelves on the 27th of September.
Star Wars Battlefront Rogue One: X-wing VR Mission
Phew, that’s a helluva title. The “Rogue One” part of the title is new, and indicates linkages to the upcoming Star Wars movie due for release at the end of this year (not that the devs were able to talk about those linkages). For a Star Wars fan, it doesn’t get any better than this. Criterion has faithfully recreated the exterior (you can teleport around it at the beginning of the mission) and interior (where you spend most of your time) of a familiar X-wing starfighter. There was only around five minutes of gameplay in the demo (the final mission will reportedly be closer to half an hour), but it’s the kind of experience that’s designed to sell nonbelievers on the potential of VR. It will achieve that mission. The worst thing is it’s exclusive to PlayStation VR (would love to see it on PC in some form) but, if you own a PlayStation 4 (and PS VR, when it releases, and Battlefront), you can download it for free later this year.
Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III
I sure am rusty at Dawn of War games, which was made all the more evident when Relic Entertainment threw me into the thick of things in a gorgeous Dawn of War III demo. I was playing as the Space Marines and fighting the teleportation-loving Eldar (seriously, they kept teleporting in at the most inopportune times). It’s clear Relic has learnt some things from Company of Heroes 2, with the borrowing of TrueSight line-of-sight and capture radiuses from Relic’s most recent RTS title (both of which are welcome additions). The zoom is a bit more restrictive (you can’t zoom right in), and there was no option to pan the camera, but despite the increased unit count, and a whole lot of on-screen carnage, it was still incredibly easy to keep track of what was going on. The more I played, the more mechanics I learnt (and recalled), which led to a glorious bloodbath in a title that’s easily one of my most-anticipated games of 2017.
Dead Rising 4
There’s a trend in the industry to offer hands-on time with action-heavy slices of gameplay to stop the player from becoming bored. For my 10-minute hands-on demo of Dead Rising 4 on the Tuesday night, this was actually a bad thing, because it made Dead Rising 4 seem incredibly similar to Dead Rising 3, with the addition of power-armour. During the BCD session on the Thursday, my faith in Dead Rising 4 was restored as the devs delved into the combo system, and the various tweaks to a familiar gameplay formula that offer enough differentiation to make Dead Rising 4 feel like an evolution of what came before, yet similar enough that it doesn’t completely alienate fans looking for another hit of undead hordes. There are new combo weapons (and vehicles), new clever enemy types, a refinement of how your arsenal is used, improvements to pacing (not just zombie madness all the time), and it looks absolutely stunning on PC. Dead Rising 4 is out on the 6th of December.
And that was it for Thursday in terms of hands-on previews and BCD sessions. I also chatted with developers for Dawn of War III, X-wing VR Mission and Titanfall 2, so keep an eye out for additional information from those games in future articles.