Pushing Buttons: A new Switch? GTA VI? What to expect from Gamescom

For many years, Gamescom was quietly known within the industry as “that other event” – a reference to the utter dominance E3 once enjoyed in the collective consciousness. Taking place in Cologne, it’s a very different beast to its American counterpart, aimed much more at the public (as Keza reports here), and focusing on hands-on demos, rather than endless press conferences. The proof of that could be found in its opening night livestream on Tuesday, a sprawling jamboree of trailers and gameplay clips produced and presented by Geoff Keighley, a one-time journalist, Game Awards organiser and now apparently the only person allowed to make global game events.

What the night showed is that Gamescom is not quite as slickly stage managed as E3. Keighley was interrupted by stage invaders who demanded the release of GTA 6, and there were awkward segments including an interview with cosplayers. Then Zack Snyder was given several minutes to promote his forthcoming movie Rebel Moon, which, to be fair, did look more like a video game than a lot of actual video games. And even though plenty of women were on stage, the night had an arch-dudebros-of-the-industry feel, with Todd Howard, Ed Boon, Troy Baker and Phil Spencer popping up, each one seemingly determined to use the exclamation “insane!” more than any previous guest.

Mortal Kombat 1.
Mortal Kombat 1. Photograph: NetherRealm Studios/Warner Bros

But the night also showed what Gamescom is great for: actual in-game footage. We saw new stuff from the long-awaited action RPG Black Myth: Wukong and the even longer awaited open-world adventure Crimson Desert; in fact, we were presented with so many fantasy role-playing romps, it was hard to tell one fire-breathing dragon from another – but then that’s games for you. Elsewhere, there was some top-level gore courtesy of Mortal Kombat 1, a reimagining of the classic fighting game, complete with axe disembowelments and slow-mo X-ray footage of skulls being crushed. We discovered that Alan Wake 2, the dark horror sequel from Remedy Entertainment, is set to merge live-action footage with video game visuals to create a twisted vision of New York – it looks weird and astonishing.

And there will be new discoveries out there on the thronging show floor. Two games shown during the event caught my eye: the cel-shaded sci-fi road trip Dustborn, which reminded me of Activision classic Interstate ’76, and the bizarre Beano-inspired Thank Goodness You’re Here, a comedy set in a strange northern English town, developed by Coal Supper and published by Panic, the company behind the cult hit Untitled Goose Game.

What can we expect to see at the rest of Gamescom? Well, Starfield won’t be playable, even though it is out in a week. But the much-anticipated likes of Armored Core VI, the Cyberpunk 2077 expansion Phantom Liberty and Stalker 2 will be hands-on. Nintendo is back after a four-year hiatus, and there has been fanciful speculation that it may use its return to announce a successor to the Switch console. The long-expected update is rumoured to feature a larger eight-inch LCD screen and more memory, but little else about it is known. It’s incredibly unlikely that will happen. Instead we’re likely going to get more footage and detail on forthcoming games Super Mario Bros Wonder and the Super Mario Bros RPG remake.

Thank Goodness You’re Here … strife in a northern town.
Thank Goodness You’re Here … strife in a northern town. Photograph: Coal Supper/Panic Inc

In the absence of Sony, Microsoft is making a big deal of the show, too, with several events lined up. We’ll see more on Forza Motorsport and perhaps Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II – there’s also Ara: History Untold from Oxide Games, which looks like a sort of slightly zoomed-in counter to the Civilization series. There’ll be nothing else on the new Fable game, so we can forget about that.

As for GTA VI? Ha, ha, ha … no.

The appeal of Gamescom can’t be garnered remotely, which might be why it will survive while E3 withered. This is an event that is primarily about letting 250,000 fans into a vast hall to play the games they’re already looking forward to. Here, they will queue patiently for hours to get a few moments with Tekken 8 or Call of Duty or Zenless Zone Zero. They’ll pack out every cheap hotel in the city, or stay at the official camp site, just up the road. Many will turn up in costume. They’ll live off large baked pretzels and currywurst (or is that just me?), and they’ll maybe even stumble into the astonishing 13th-century cathedral, which does look like something out of Dark Souls.

What they won’t do is go into the cavernous Koelnmesse arena expecting big announcements and ultra rehearsed showcases. Video games are a noisy medium, after all – sometimes it’s better to let them speak for themselves.

What to play

Blasphemous 2 video game
Fantasy adventure platformer Blasphemous 2. Photograph: The Game Kitchen/Team17

If you appreciate gorgeous pixel art and punishing difficulty levels, I can definitely recommend Blasphemous 2 from Seville-based studio The Game Kitchen. It’s a fantasy 2D adventure platformer in the style of Metroid and Castlevania, set amid classical ruins and labyrinthine mansions. There are hundreds of weapons and power-ups, gallons of gore, and some of the most challenging boss battles outside of the Dark Souls titles. It’s equally luscious and vicious.

Available on: PC, PS5, Switch, Xbox Series S/X
Estimated playtime:
20 hours

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What to read

Archie Madekwe in Gran Turismo.
Archie Madekwe in Gran Turismo. Photograph: FlixPix/Alamy
  • The Last of Us series and the Super Mario movie proved that video game tie-ins can actually work, but they weren’t just anomalies. Sony’s Gran Turismo movie, based on the hit racing sim, has quietly made $22m in cinemas and it hasn’t even launched in several key territories yet. People joked about a Super Mario Kart film, but that doesn’t seem so weird now.

  • Localisation workers are the unsung heroes of game development, ensuring that a global audience can enjoy the latest releases from tiny independent titles to blockbusters. Eurogamer has an interesting article on why localisation staff are often left out of the end credits of the games they work on and how this is being tackled.

  • The whole controversy over “save-scumming” – where players save and reload games at crucial moments to ensure they get the outcome they want – is rumbling on, inspired by the success of Baldur’s Gate 3, where important moments often rest on the roll of a virtual dice. I think players should play how they want, even if it’s not quite in keeping with the spirit of role-playing. I’ll admit to odd periods of save-scumming while playing Football Manager, but what real-life head coach wouldn’t, if given the chance, replay that bizarre Champions League defeat against Antwerp where you had two players sent off, missed a penalty and lost in the dying seconds to an overhead volley?

What to click

Question Block

Sherlock Holmes by Frogwares.
Sherlock Holmes by Frogwares. Photograph: Frogwares

First, we had some feedback on last week’s newsletter about Red Dead Redemption and that glorious scene where John Marston crosses into Mexico. Paul emailed to tell us: “I have a very strong memory of that section because, as a big José González fan … I immediately recognised the tone of the guitar, stopping my horse to listen properly. So you can imagine my disappointment when I was suddenly set upon and killed by a mountain lion before the vocals even started.” The wild west is no place for music fans. Anyway, this week’s question comes from Anne who asks:

“Do you know of a resource that lists all the games made by a specific country? In particular, I’d like to support Ukrainian game developers right now.”

It’s not been updated for a year but GameDevMap does exactly that, listing developers all over the world and allowing you to search by country. GameCompanies offers a similar service. Ukraine has a number of studios mostly based in Kiev but some in Dnipro and Odessa. These include 4A Games, best known for the Metro series; Frogwares who make the great Sherlock Holmes adventures, and GSC Game World, creator of the Stalker series, which links to the Ukrainian relief charity United24 on its website.

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