It’s that time of the year again, when there’s a collective intake of breath as we await exciting announcements from the biggest gaming show on the planet. Though it is remote once again this year, Gamescom is still playing host to a plethora of new trailers and announcements.
Geoff Keighley hosted the Opening Night Live event this week, which featured a reboot of Saints Row, an extended look at the Call of Duty: Vanguard campaign starring Laura Bailey as Polina Petrova, and the debut of Halo Infinite’s multiplayer. What was your highlight? Let us know in the comments.
Liam | Forza Horizon 5
I have fond memories of Forza Horizon 4, its party-like atmosphere and laid-back take on racing and stunts (the game’s Halo inspired showcase was a particular highlight).
Not only was the gameplay great but being set in the UK was an extra bonus for me, as I happened to be living in Europe at the time and it was nice to be able to cruise around familiar looking roads and countryside every now and then.
Forza Horizon 5 and its more exotic setting, however, could well be the perfect remedy to being stuck in old Blighty for the past 18 months or so. The gameplay shown off last week looked as exciting and over-the-top as I’ve come to expect from a Horizon game, and I’m looking forward to taking a virtual holiday and tearing around the gorgeous environments on offer.
It looks like there will be plenty of variety across the game’s map if the video was anything to go by, with tropical jungles, deserts, and even volcanoes all making an appearance. The big sandstorm set piece also looked pretty impressive, though hopefully they’re not an overly regular occurrence as I could see them getting a bit annoying if you’re just trying to get from A to B.
Sam | Marvel’s Midnight Suns
I don’t think the line-up at this year’s Gamescom was up to much, likely as a continuing result of the pandemic. The Saints Row reboot looks to strike a balance between the series’ roots and eventual wacky direction, which works for me. Marvel’s Midnight Suns, however, works even better!
While XCOM and Gears Tactics are great, turn-based tactical games arguably shine brightest when combined with exploration and traditional RPG elements; two excellent examples being Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle and Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden. Throw a cast of iconic Marvel superheroes into the mix and Midnight Suns sounds like a recipe for success.
The game showcases a darker side of the Marvel universe, set in the underworld where the likes of Wolverine, Doctor Strange and Blade fight hordes of demonic forces. There’s also a bespoke central character called The Hunter, which players build into their very own hero. That in itself is an enticing prospect, despite the uninspired name.
What’s most exciting is Firaxis Games being at the helm. This studio is arguably king of the turn-based strategy genre, ruling over both the Civilisation and XCOM franchises. It’s hard to see how the project can go wrong, but then the same could have been said for Crystal Dynamics’ The Avengers…
What was your favourite Gamescom 2021 reveal? Let us know below.
This week brought us another update from the Pokémon universe, the sort of news we tend to tiptoe into with crossed fingers, hoping that The Pokémon Company and Gamefreak have the courage to bring the franchise into the 21st century.
There were updates on the re-releases of Pokémon Diamond and Pokémon Pearl (now Brilliant and Shining respectively) as well as the brand new installment – Pokémon Legends: Arceus. A few things stood out for us, but what was your highlight? Let us know in the comments.
Very Breath of Wild.
Liam | Dangerous Pokémon
Arceus already looked good, thanks to it’s old-timey setting, but the latest trailer has me even more intrigued due to the reveal of dangerous Pokémon.
We’re so used to seeing ‘mon and humans coexisting and working together peacefully, that it’s easy to forget they’re big, powerful creatures that can easily do a lot of damage to a puny human trainer if they wanted to (although I do remember Pikachu electrocuting Jessie and James quite often in the original TV series).
Arceus looks like it’ll hammer this point home via the encounters with the, glowing, red-eyed Pokémon shown off in the trailer – the Ursaring chasing the trainer is particularly intimidating; that’s one bear hug you want to avoid!
The idea that Arceus’ wild Pokémon can be a threat to your safety introduces a completely new sense of jeopardy that’s often been missing in the series and helps add to the whole frontier-lifestyle theme the game looks to be going for.
The villager mentioning how “Pokémon are terrifying creatures!” in the trailer could also suggest that not everyone is a fan of them, which could make for interesting narrative conflicts with humans and Pokémon potentially clashing occasionally, or between those who seek out Pokémon and those who avoid them.
Not so cute when you know they can attack back.
Sam | Arceus’ ambitious alterations
Pokémon Legends: Arceus was the clear highlight of the August Pokémon Direct. The mainline Pokémon series has been in need of a spruce up for a while, and, for the most part, Legends: Arceus looks to fit the bill.
This Gamefreak spinoff is akin to a modern action RPG, rather than relying on the rigid old format that the franchise has been leaning on. For all its success and acclaim, Pokémon hasn’t changed all that much in nearly two decades now. There being multiple versions of every game, each with minimal differences, further contributes to the problem.
Replacing the cursory Wild Area of Sword and Shield with a true open world; implementing seamless battles and (seemingly) eliminating random encounters; making wild Pokémon hazardous to players’ health - all are long overdue changes. In one fell swoop, these tweaks will simultaneously make the world of Arceus more immersive and the gameplay more engaging.
While it’s a step in the right direction, the question of whether it’s enough remains. Ultimately, most of the changes are minor when the series is in need of a Breath of the Wild-style overhaul. Pokémon is the highest grossing entertainment property in the world, yet its games still look (and often feel) like AA productions.
It looks like battles with wild Pokémon might be more organic encounters.
What was your highlight from Pokémon Presents? Let us know.
We've been waiting a few years for Turtle Rock Studios to resurface after the middling performance of Evolve. That game promised to make the asymmetrical multiplayer shooter a force to be reckoned with, but quickly got bogged down by monetisation and balance issues that saw player numbers dwindle. In the end, even making it a free-to-play game wasn't enough to right the ship.
Arguably the best card, and one which may well be nerfed in the final release, is particularly useful for Holly. A melee expert, Holly has access to a perk for 25% boosted damage with hand-to-hand weapons, but her killer skill is a card which grants two health regen for every kill, allowing her to mindlessly swing away and survive almost indefinitely.
In addition to melee weapons, there are tons of ranged firearms as well. Guns in general are a mixed bag. There are the usual archetypes – shotguns, assault rifles, sniper rifles, pistols and light machine guns – but on top of that is a series of attachments which don't seem to make a huge change by themselves, plus there’s no way to remove them. The lack of explosive launchers in the standard weapon set is a shame, but throwables and stationary turrets are also thrown into the mix.
B4B’s levels follow a similar structure to L4D, though a single campaign run probably takes a little longer. Levels are split into two groups of four chapters with a midpoint climax, as well as a challenging culminating chapter. In the beta, the ending didn't wow us as much as the midpoint (as Liam noted in Team Talk), where the freedom to split up the team made the mission particularly memorable.
We'll need more time with these characters to see if they make a similar impact to the ones in Left 4 Dead, though in the beta, it feels like a bit of a missed opportunity.
In order to leave a lasting impression, Back 4 Blood’s campaigns need to have players asking questions. Currently it’s all very surface level, though simply providing reason to scour graffiti for clues as to what prompted the Ridden apocalypse could elevate it to the next level.
On a similar note, we need to care about the characters. The likes of Bill and Zoe in L4D weren’t capable of doing anything special, rather the conversations and camaraderie between them is what made them so likeable. We'll need more time with this group to see if they make a similar impact, though in the beta, it feels like a bit of a missed opportunity.
In all, after only a few hours spread over a few days, Back 4 Blood has established itself as a shooter which delivers on its premise. There's plenty more still to be revealed, but so far it feels as though the team has played it safe in a few areas, which could end up negatively impacting replayability. Xbox Game Pass could be the boost it needs to really take hold, though with similar titles like Redfall and The Anacrusis also coming on day one it’s staying power will be put to the test.
We were lucky enough to join in with the Back 4 Blood open beta this weekend (thanks, WB Games) and thought we’d share a few first impressions of Left 4 Dead and Evolve creators Turtle Rock Studios’ latest title.
Did you jump into the not-quite-zombie-killing action? Let us know what you thought of the game in the comments.
The boss-like enemies seen above stood out from the crowd (literally) but didn't appear very often.
My initial thoughts regarding Back 4 Blood's visuals were a bit mixed. There were times it could look quite decent, such as the way the flames of a Molotov reflected off a dummy target in the practice range, but other times it looked a bit ropey, like the dodgy jeep animation we were treated to upon completing the last available campaign mission.
The levels themselves could be really entertaining, but I thought the finale of the last mission – which saw you loading and firing an artillery gun while ridden attacked you - was a bit of a let-down, especially when compared to the much more exciting bridge showdown earlier in the campaign.
The gunplay was decent enough, though I couldn’t get on with the SMGs and assault rifles on offer, all of which felt a bit lightweight. I had a much more enjoyable time with shotguns which felt a lot more dangerous. I also thought the card system, which lets you activate more perks the further you progress into a level, was a very cool idea.
With friends, I can see B4B being a decent enough party game, but I’m not sure I would have rushed out to buy it day one after trying the beta. Thanks to Game Pass, however, I won’t have to.
The guy on the right gets it.
Back 4 Blood mostly captures what made Left 4 Dead great, though some of its all-new elements fall flat. The card system takes a lot of managing, but most of the upgrades aren’t anything to write home about. It’s impossible to get excited about a small max health or ammo capacity boost, amongst similarly dull examples.
Weapon attachments are a nice addition, yet no restrictions on which guns they work with makes it possible to spoil the fun. B4B might signpost a scope as a significant upgrade, but after picking it up, the assault shotgun now has a massively mismatched sniper scope.
If attachments were detachable there wouldn’t be a problem - but they aren’t. Additionally, it isn’t possible to transfer attachments between guns. This discourages experimentation and properly gearing up for the situation at hand. Transitioning between levels can change up the distance of encounters, better suited to a shotgun or a sniper, for example, though nobody wants to swap their upgraded assault rifle for something more bog standard.
The core gameplay loop is excellent, however, considering that's been in place for over a decade, any new twists on the old formula could use work. There’s still time between now and the final release in October, so here’s hoping that Turtle Rock really hears the beta feedback.
You can find weapons and attachments outside of saferooms, but it's difficult to determine their viability while battling ridden.
What did you think of the Back 4 Blood beta? Let us know below.