Gamescom ::: Day 1 Highlights

The highlights of our first day in Cologne. Killer is Dead, Assassin's Creed IV, Forza 5, Super Mario Kart 8, and The Division.

Killer is Dead (Multi)

There’s a style that you associate with Suda. After No More Heroes and Killer 7 you expect bold visuals and a level of striking violence that is usually only reserved for graphic novels. The aspect you forget, however, are the overly sexualised women. Within the first five minutes of Killer is Dead I had already bore witness to at least three women who were barely contained within their tops and with each part of me died a little. I don’t consider myself a feminist but when it’s emphasised by gratuitous camera shots it reinforces why I won’t be playing this game in front of my wife.

Apart from sexual inequality Killer is Dead is shaping up to be an intriguing brawler. The lead character, Mondo, is an executioner who’s sent into the world to rid us off criminals and assassins. During one mission things turn odd as the lady you meet in the search of a killer appears to believe she’s Alice and her house turns into Wonderland around you. There are no white rabbits here but as space takes on strange properties and malicious robots appear from thin air and force you to take up arms.

Combat’s fluid and simple, with little sign of combos (unless they’re saved for later beyond the initial demo) but the staple swordplay basics are all here with guards, counters and general hackery all available with a quick mash of the buttons. The twist Suda brings is that you also have a bionic arm that adds to your powers. Utilising this super limb you can decapitate your foes or slice them in half foes at will through some spectacular montages that allow the studio to go to town on close up camera angles exploiting the carnage.

The gameplay itself would not be enough to make it stand out from a Devil May Cry but the creativity displayed in the visuals and themes do. With the game out at the end of the month this build should probably be considered final and whilst certain depictions within it make me cringe the overarching absurdity may still mean I have to play it. Even if, like the best saucy media, it will be in private and away from my other half.

Rating: Good

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Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag (Multi)

Quite aside from naval warfare, Welsh pirates and the PS4 pad, the one overriding memory I’ll take away from Assassin’s Creed IV at Gamescom is that all demonstrations should be done by members of their native development team. The enthusiasm and eye for minutia brings out the best in Ubi’s offering. “That’s a new combat animation for the double assassination!” I casually exclaim. Never mind that, “check out the rainbow behind this beam of wood! My team did that” he grins. And so it goes.

It’s not all window-dressing and incidental detail though. From the brief hour I spent with AC IV, Kenway’s pirate adventures promise to be the most expansive set of contract killings yet seen. The landmass is huge. A quick prod of the PS4 touchpad pulls up a map screen that’s intimidatingly large and yet absolutely crammed with digital bread trails leading to missions, collectibles and resource-gathering, while fast-travel and an increased top speed on Kenway’s ship – the Jackdaw – makes navigating between them fast enough to keep things ticking over.

With nary a loading screen in sight, AC IV’s engine has also been tweaked and expanded to cover all manner of new transitions between boat, sea, building, and land. Clambering between moving and static objects is as easy as the free-running in previous instalments, and although a couple of AI bugs crop up to remind me that this is indeed still an authentic Assassin’s Creed experience, it’s a demo that soothes more concerns that it raises. Kenway is a charismatic lead, the setting is beautifully rendered, there’s an ocean of content and a suitable vessel with which to navigate its seas, and heck, there are rainbows and cats on the rooftops. What more will we need from next-gen?

Rating: Awesome

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Forza 5 (Xbox One)

Whilst not the first Xbox One title I played today, it certainly left me excited by the possibilities. Not due to the game itself however, but due to the pad and, more specifically, the rumble enabled triggers. Whether it was to simulate wheel spin or the feel of going over a speed bump, the triggers gave rumble feedback accordingly, with the subtle differences in strength lending to an increased sense of realism that has not been seen, or indeed felt, before. It may sound like a gimmick along with the other 39 improvements made to that pad, but in reality this short demo really sold the idea of force feedback triggers to me that has left me feeling positive for the future.

As far as the demo itself goes, it didn’t leave me with as much enthusiasm when I walked away. It’s still very much business as usual; the same realistic physics and graphical flair that you would expect from the series. The car models themselves are visually impressive and the extra power afforded by the new console really shines through with the little details on the cars themselves adding an extra layer of visual sheen. The only downside was some jaggy edges but these were minor distractions at best. Unfortunately the track selection of Laguna Seca did not help in selling the graphical prowess of Forza 5. The barren nature of the track leaves little to gawp at whilst speeding along, which may be why driving with the cockpit view is the most satisfying. Again the level of detail on show here is excellent.

It’s clear however that this is not the final build, with draw distance and level of detail pop in prevalent throughout. These are all elements that I have no doubt will be tweaked so it is little cause of concern at this stage. Given the high quality bar set by previous titles however, we have no doubt that this title will be a must have launch title come the end of the year.

Rating: Good

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Super Mario Kart 8

The familiarity I found with Mario Kart is both a blessing and a curse. So easy was it to jump into that I hardly cared about the course I was careering around, merely the next corner and the bugger peppering me with green shells. It’s like a warm and comfortable jumper that you’re happy to slip on, unconcerned whether it’s in style or how many times your friends have seen you in it.

As such the multiplayer fun is immediate. With split screen it’s easy to have anyone jump in and experience 8’s take on the series. There’s no learning curve because if you’ve been behind the wheel of any the recent editions you’ll be right at home, power sliding round corners, controlling the hang-glider as you leap off a particularly meaty jump, and peppering the bugger in front with green shells.

The big twist is supposedly that a page has been taken from Mario Galaxy and that tracks now loop upside down and the cars switch into anti-grav mode. Whilst an interesting concept on paper the actual execution is sadly lacking. There is no discernable difference whether you are the right way up on completely inverted, the kart controls exactly the same and even the track-side decoration barely acknowledges the fact that you’re defying everything that Newton worked so hard to establish.

Like so many Nintendo games in the current generation Mario Kart 8 can be summed up by simply restating the title: it’s Mario Kart. Even the gamepad support is lacklustre providing only the ability to honk your horn. The lack of movement or innovation in the series is not surprising but still disappointing.

Rating: Good.

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The Division

As the doors to the convention opened this was where we made our beeline. Wowed by the showing at E3 we wanted to get up close and personal with yet another of Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy titles and unearth more of what was behind it. As we queued this became evident as we were prodded, scanned and probed by the booth attendants checking for any signs of infection. A novel twist for their military/squad based shooters that oh so regularly revolve around political upheaval.

Inside I was initially disappointed that we were shown a repeat of the E3 playthrough but the wonder of it playing uncompressed and in glorious high-def in front of me on a large screen cannot be underestimated. It is wonderfully crisp and the detail in everything from the debris in each alley to the smooth nature of the police cars Division operatives use for cover screams “next-gen”.

After that we were treated to a live gameplay demo that centred around smartglass, whereby one player operates a drone and hovers above the more traditional players who control fighters on the ground. Through our pigeon German it seems the drone is far more active than originally perceived as it has its own skill tree to level through and talents to exploit. For a simple comparison it almost behaves like an MMO shaman class, playing a support role buffing and healing players from afar or conversely weakening the enemy in preparation for a ground assault from its colleagues.

The co-operative nature seems the most attractive quality to me and married with the technology-rich future of the Tom Clancy name it seems a more considered alternative to that offered by Titanfall or Black Ops.

Rating: Awesome

No “Meh”s today, but what can I say. We were picky in what we played/wrote about. There’s still time.

About James Thomas

I make my living as a programmer at a British games developer. In my spare time I try and spread myself between writing, gaming, drumming, goalkeeping, rolling dice and keeping my hair blue. Somewhere around that my wife fits in. Disclaimer: the views expressed are my own and do not neccessarily reflect those of my employer.