Gamescom 2015 officially kicked off on Wednesday morning with the EA Press Conference, in which they announced a few new features for a number of their upcoming slate of games. FIFA 16 got a new “Ultimate Team Draft” mode, allowing gamers to get their hands on legendary stars without having to sink plenty of time (and no doubt plenty of money) into the regular FUT mode. It was announced that Need for Speed will have a blend of real-life FMV sequences featuring esteemed motorsport names blended with in-engine cut scenes to provide an engaging and dynamic story mode. Star Wars Battlefront had a new multiplayer mode announced, PVZ: Garden Warfare 2 got some pun-tastic “Grass Effect” content announced, and The Sims 4… Well, The Sims 4 had a cringe-worthy display of misjudged stage activity, with a full blown “party” taking place on stage, leaving everyone in the audience absolutely baffled.
After all the noise, lights and the genuinely heartwarming moment when Unravel showed up again, I took a trip to the EA booth to see what the announcements could mean for the titles in question. Everything I got to see was hands-on, but unfortunately I didn’t get time to see everything due to time constraints (and one technical mishap!) but here are the impressions of the games I managed to try out.
One of the undoubted stars of EA’s E3 press conference, Unravel is an impossibly charming 2D physics based platformer, featuring Yarny, a cat made of bright red yarn. Throughout the game, Yarny will begin to (as the title suggests) unravel, leaving a trail of thread behind him. I’m really pleased to say that the game plays as well as it looks. The opening cut scene managed to convey an exceptional amount of emotion without uttering a word, as Yarny’s creation happens almost by magic. Throughout my all-too-brief time with Unravel, I had a huge smile on my face, it really is a wonderful title. All of the backdrops are beautifully rendered, with objects that catch Yarny’s eye, allowing for some nice yet subtle animations that help draw your attention to them as well. Yarny can climb back up any ropes if you happen to fall into an area you’re unsure of, as well as tie the trail to strategic points in the world, allowing you to build makeshift bridges and trampoline-like connections that allow you to leap higher up in the world. The physics based gameplay allows for some clever environmental puzzles that only promise to get more difficult as the game goes on, and I can’t wait to see more from Yarny and the world being created around him.
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is one of the games I was most looking forward to seeing at the show. Being a fan of the original, I was somewhat skeptical of the possibility of bringing back a much loved, but undoubtedly flawed franchise, particularly with how they were going to handle things such as combat. Fortunately, the news is positive. The presentation of the game at the press conference confirmed that protagonist Faith “doesn’t need weapons”, and that “She is the weapon”. I saw an extended version of the gameplay demo shown off in the press conference, and played a 15 minute chunk of the game, focusing on some of the smaller side missions that are available to you throughout the came. During the gameplay demo, much was made of the alternate paths that can be taken throughout the missions, and that how you choose to infiltrate and execute them is entirely up to you. Want to climb up a statue? Sure thing. Maybe take the stairs? Absolutely fine. Each area is a mini sandbox for you to run, jump and roll all around. Navigating those areas will be seamless as well, with the team at DICE working hard to ensure that there will be no loading times once you’ve entered the city of Glass. The art style has had a shift from the first game too. Gone are the ultra-sterile’ white, yellow and blue areas of the first game, replaced with a city that feels lived-in, with puddle-soaked pavements at the beginning of Faith’s story through to buildings that, whilst shiny and new looking, feel more lived in than before.
Control wise, it plays much like the original. The left shoulder/bumpers control whether Faith goes over/under obstacles, with X/Square being your primary button when you run into trouble. The combat has received a tweak as well, and if you time things right, you can incorporate enemy takedowns into your free-running without really losing too much momentum, a major complaint of the last game. One more thing that’s been fixed is the trial & error nature of the original. As well as the dynamic red highlights that were a staple feature, highlighting the way you need to go, there will also be Splinter Cell-esque hints emblazoned across surfaces in the game to enhance the directions. It was a subtle, yet much welcomed touch. I’m still slightly skeptical on the return of Faith and the Runners, but these demos quelled a lot of the uncertainty that was going round in my mind in the run up to its release early next year.
Star Wars Battlefront
Without doubt, this was the thing I was most looking forward to at the show (aside from maybe MGSV). The excitement I had in the minutes preceding the hands-on demo was something I’ve not felt for a while when it comes to games, and I was genuinely disappointed when I was eventually told that the demo time was up. We got to play the announced-that-morning Fighter Squadron mode, with an intense battle playing out over the DICE-designed planet of Sullust. Being thrown into an X-Wing or a TIE Fighter, the mode starts with the classic panning shot of the craft, before being launched into dogfights galore. 10 human players on each side are complemented by 10 AI fighters, bringing the total numbers involved in the chaos to 40 ships. Multiple power-ups dotted around the ground allow you to replenish your ship’s shields, reduce the cooldown on your special abilities, and pilot one of the special “legendary” ships. My fear is that once people figure out where they are, then there will just be a mad rush to those spots to get to fly the Millennium Falcon at the start of each round, but… IT’S THE MILLENNIUM FALCON!
The sights and the sounds of everything surrounding Battlefront was mind-blowingly genuine. That TIE Fighter scream, that X-Wing laser sound, it’s all there. DICE made a big deal out of it in several press conferences up until now, but it’s only truly apparent when you get your hands on and immerse yourself in the game. Cockpits are accurately rendered, with every visible aspect looking like it’s seen a few battles in its time. The game looks spectacular as well, and it was running very smoothly without any frame hiccups at all.
Also on display was the wave-based mode, Survival. This takes place on Tatooine, and was shown off with 2-player split screen. Once again, DICE have nailed the feel of one of the most iconic locations in the Star Wars universe, with rocks and sand dunes undulating across the landscape. Playing as “rebel scum” and fighting off waves of alarmingly accurate Stormtroopers, Survival mode feels like more than the typical “Horde Mode” even though it has most of the tropes associated with it. I suppose it’s because I’ve got a soft spot for Star Wars, but it felt great to have a game based on the franchise that’s based in the locations we all know and love, and feels true to the movies we’ve all grown up with and love. After some apprehension that the game would end up feeling like the prequel trilogy, I’m getting excited for its November release now.