The Beat

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Gunclub Editorial Tab 2

Mid-August is here, which can mean only one thing: the focus of the games industry (and of all gamers already beginning to salivate over the prospect of this Christmas’s blockbusters) has shifted squarely to Cologne, where the Gamescom show will run until the end of the week. Not only is Gamescom indisputably the finest videogames show in Europe, since it moved from Leipzig to Cologne last year, it has really begun to give E3 a run for its money.

Electronic Arts, meanwhile, has established itself as the company which traditionally gets the Gamescom bandwagon rolling, by being the first to throw a glitzy press conference. As ever, we were there, and as usual, EA wowed the crowds with some spectacular demos and big announcements. The joy of Gamescom is that, since it takes place a crucial few months after E3, it treats us both to first appearances of games which weren’t quite ready to be shown in Los Angeles in June, and to graphic demonstrations of games which have come on an awful lot in those two months.

Ten blockbusting games

EA Europe general manager Jens-Uwe Intat introduced proceedings and immediately elicited a cheer by stating that EA would follow the press conference format it introduced at E3, namely to concentrate on ten titles. Cutting, in other words, right to the chase. For the record, the games appearing at the Gamescom press conference were The Sims 3 Console and The Sims Medieval, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Dead Space 2, Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit, Medal of Honor, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age II, Crysis 2, Bulletstorm and FIFA 11. Now, the eagle-eyed among you will quibble that adds up to 14, rather than 10 games. But only ten were extensively demoed at the press conference. Given the welter of information that we were bombarded with, we will now attempt to pick out the best bits.

Harry Potter shows a new action-adventure face

It was the first time that Harry potter and the Deathly Hallows – the penultimate Potter game – had been shown in public, and executive producer Jonathan Bunney said: “We have taken a new direction with the game. The story lends itself to great adventure gameplay, and this time, there is no Hogwarts and no school rules – just life and death.” At which point, up to the stage bounded James and Oliver Phelps, aka the Weasley twins from the movies, to demonstrate the co-operative Challenge mode, operating on Micrrosoft’s super-cool Kinect system (parents take note – your Potter-obsessed kids will be badgering you for a Kinect this Christmas). Their demo was set in the Forest of Dean, and involved them taking on Death-eaters and Snatchers, aiming and firing offensive and defensive spells using gestures tracked by Kinect. It was announced that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will come out on pretty much all formats this November.

Even hotter pursuit

A long and fantastically impressive demo got everyone even more excited about Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit, and gave us more of an insight into its innovative Autolog function, which basically lets you race your friends even if they are offline. Matt Webster, Hot Pursuit’s producer, explained that Autolog had sent him a message saying one of his friends had beaten his time on an event called Blacklisted, so he jumped into the game in a bid to retrieve bragging rights. A long race against fellow robbers – pursued, naturally, by a posse of cops in impossibly exotic machinery – ensued. It was immediately obvious that Hot Pursuit has already reached a stage at which it is incredibly polished and jaw-droppingly cinematic, and we got to see some of the more sophisticated devices the cops use as races move to their conclusion, such as tyre-shredding spikes dropped from helicopters. We also got a November 18 launch date and discovered that buyers of the Limited Edition version of Hot Pursuit will get two exclusive cars (including the gorgeous Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione) and early access to four others. We literally could not be more excited about the wondrous Criterion getting the chance to make a need For speed game.

Isaac fixes the electricity

We were treated to a completely new Dead Space 2 demo which showed that it will contain some pretty diverse gameplay. Isaac was indulging in a bit of space-walking, in an attempt to restore electricity to The Sprawl, using his trusty tools. Judging by the fact that he only had to deal with a few necromorphs in the process, we would guess that this was taken from one of the game’s earlier levels. When he had fulfilled his duties as a sparky, he then free-fell back to The Sprawl, dodging or passing through gaps in all manner of space-detritus. Dead Space 2, we learned, will arrive on January 28, and the Limited Edition version for the PS3 will include the whole of Dead Space Extraction in full HD.

Four-barrel shotguns could only mean Bulletstorm

The anarchic Bulletstorm featured, thanks to a new demo which introduced a typically OTT gun: a four-barrel pulse shotgun. There were new enemies on show, too, called Burnouts, which could only be shot via the oozing sores on their bodies. And we received a tantalising glimpse of the game’s giant boss of bosses. Which looked like it would take some defeating, to say the least.

BioWare gets busy

BioWare’s Dr Ray Muzyka stepped up to the stage and, while he didn’t get particularly down and dirty with the demos, he did have some important announcements to make. One, in particular, will please Sony aficionados: Mass Effect 2 is, at last, coming to the PlayStation 3 – in January 2011, to be precise. He added that for the first time, Star Wars: The Old Republic will be playable on the Gamescom show-floor, and that it will be showcasing its space-combat – we’ll report back on that. And he tantalised us with the information that Dragon Age II will feature a new art direction, “Reinvented storytelling”, and more responsive controls. And we’ll only have to wait for it until March 11 2011.

Crysis 2: multi-storey multiplayer

Crytek chose the Gamescom press conference to treat us to the first glimpse of Crysis 2’s multiplayer, and it was indeed wondrous to behold. With two teams of six playing the game live, it was pointed out that the game’s intricately designed evocation of New York is very vertical, so when you play the multiplayer, you’ll have to be on the lookout for attacks from above and below. Crysis 2 appeared to have come on in graphical terms since E3 – it was noticeably more colourful – and the multiplayer action was mighty hectic. We’ll be able to play it on 25 March.

More Sims world domination

Games simply don’t get any bigger than The Sims, with 125 million units sold worldwide, and although it wasn’t demoed, we did learn some new facts about The Sims Console. Karma, it seems, will play a huge part in the game: once your Sims unlock Achievements, you will be able to purchase karma points, which in turn let you unleash fearsome powers to the benefit or detriment of your sims -- such as earthquakes. We’ll be able to play it for ourselves on October 26.

We did, though, benefit from a demo of The Sims Medieval, which looked like a complete riot – sick Sims being treated with leeches, others in the stoicks being pelted with rotten tomatoes and even a duel between a King and a Knight over a fair maiden featured.