Highlights: Gamescom 2012

I can’t deny, as a gamer, I’ve been a little bored recently. The last few months have been a bit of a dry spell, especially in contrast to last year’s tirade of top-quality games. Some might take this as a sign that 2012 just isn’t the year for console gaming – but instead I dug my heels in, packed my bags and made my way to Cologne, Germany to visit Gamescom, the biggest games trade fair in the world, to see what games we can expect to enjoy in the coming year. Just like the scorching 36-degree weather in Cologne, the forecast for the gaming industry is good.

Tomb RaiderTomb Raider 2012

To begin with Tomb Raider is to begin on a high note, and indeed Crystal Dynamics’ reboot of one of my favourite franchises was more than a pleasant surprise considering how I had been anticipating it with quite some trepidation. The classic oh-so-British heroine is back, though in not in the form we know her; instead of spitting out one-liners whilst effortlessly traversing cliff faces and solving puzzles, Tomb Raider sees Lara on her first ever ‘adventure’ – though upon viewing the first hour of gameplay, it’s better to describe it as a ‘survival’. Shipwrecked on a totally explorable and beautifully rendered island inhabited by bloodthirsty savages and wild animals, the presentation of Lara is amongst the most believable I’ve seen in a video game. She hunts for food with the new addition of a bow and arrow, shows real pain from the brutal punishment given out by enemies and the environment, and yet shows real strength of character in overcoming the barrage of obstacles in her way.

Tomb Raider is set to release in March 2013, and from what was shown in this preview, is bound to be an incredible journey.

Call of Duty: Black Ops II
Call of Duty: Black Ops 2

This year’s iteration of the game we all like to tell ourselves we ‘DEFINITELY won’t buy this time’ has been a bundle of surprises. The trailer’s explosive way of saying ‘suddenly it’s the future’ and ‘also you’ll be riding horses’ seemed to stand out from the rest of the series enough, but I was also pretty surprised at the thirty minutes of multi-player I got to play. Firstly we were run through the new Class Creation system, which is more flexible than ever, Instead of having the usual ‘primary, secondary, grenade, special grenade’ setup, you now have a set number of additions you make to the class as a whole, rather than to each slot. So, for example, if I didn’t fancy having a special grenade slot at all, that could be one extra attachment to my assault rifle.

There’s also a Wild Card slot, a boost you can give to any part of your class, such as giving yourself two ‘Perk 1’ slots. Of course, we’ve yet to see the extent of how this can be exploited – if we know Call of Duty, people will find a way – but for the time being it’s a great way to further CoD’s signature customisability. As for the gameplay, Black Ops II is by far the slowest pace of the series. For me, this was great; as a Battlefield player I much prefer having time to think about my tactics, movement and objective play, and Treyarch are clearly pushing for much more teamwork in Black Ops II. Naturally, this isn’t to everyone’s taste, and it could be argued that people don’t come to Call of Duty for anything but lightning-fast, bullet-drenched action. What I wasn’t impressed with was that once again, Call of Duty refuses to up the ante in presentation.

The colour palette is a dry mix of browns, greys and tans, with the same unspectacular animations and sound effects as the last five years of CoD games. The killstreaks, too, seem reluctant to make good use of the effectively limitless possibilities of futuristic warfare – instead, we’re stuck with the usual drones, choppers and missiles. I had been hoping that Black Ops II would finally be the Call of Duty that forgot about trying to be believable, and go headfirst into absurdly over the top theatrics, but that doesn’t quite seem to be the case. Regardless, it’s beyond doubt that Activision’s yearly outing will dominate the Christmas markets again, and Black Ops II drops this November.

Dishonored
Dishonoured 2012 Gamescom

Bethesda made quite an impression on the gaming community when they dropped a trailer for Dishonored in April that showed off an excellent portrayal of steampunk fantasy and gameplay that looked like Bioshock with knives. An attractive prospect for sure, and one that could yet be lived out – but not yet, it seems. The 30-minute demo exhibited at Bethesda’s booth was good, but not great; while the art style’s graphic novel vibe was nicely pulled off, the gameplay has a fair few issues that need ironing out before its October release. The stealth simply doesn’t feel quite right – the lack of shadows means you can’t help but feel that enemies just should be able to see you, and I often found the way they didn’t seem to notice that their friend just very loudly took a crossbow bolt to the head.

The game also overwhelms you with a huge number of tools for very simple tasks, leaving you feeling like you shouldn’t even have to be bothering with stealth; though try fighting your way through the game and you’ll be quickly cut down to size. This strange imbalance was disconcerting even before the game completely bugged out and crashed a few minutes later. Make no mistake, there’s hope for it yet, and Arkane’s blockbuster certainly has potential, but it’s going to need some changes made first.

Further reading

www.tombraider.com
www.callofduty.com
www.dishonored.com

Henry McMunn is a games journalist who currently spends a great deal of his time listening to 50s swing, smoking cigars and watching Chris Morris satire. You can follow him on Twitter @failboatskipper

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