Hax Monster Attends Gamescom 2016!

Posted by: Jason Silverain / Category: , , , , ,

Each and every year E3 is on the tip of every gamer’s tongue. On the one hand that’s not a weird thing. After all, E3 boasts all the interesting reveals every year and is like a US pro-guns presidential candidate fundraising at the NRA in that money is shot at it as if there is no tomorrow. in 2016, for instance, Sony hired an entire orchestra to play for their press conference. But wasn’t there also another large gaming conference? One that is not just a place for companies to announce the next big disappointment (does No Man’s Sky ring a bell?), but actually a place where games are played? You know, the thing that you are supposed to do with games?

That’s right! Gamescom in Cologne boasts 877 exhibiting companies from 54 countries and, unlike E3, lets you play titles before they are released. No dumb marketing speeches or pre-rendered trailers, just the game as it is. Nur schade dass fast alles auf Deutsch ist!  
(“Just a pity that almost everything is in German!” - For you none German speakers -Silverain)

I ventured from my internet grotto and took a train to Cologne so I could have a taste of all the big upcoming AAA releases, but before I share my review of this sumptuous buffet, what is Gamescom itself like as an event? Gaming is no longer a neglible little subculture for nerds and attracts wider and wider audiences, but in spite of that Gamescom still managed to feel quite friendly and a fondness for games still brings people together and always provides nice topics to chat about with strangers as you wait in one of the many many queues. Also, you might just find yourself queuing next to one of the protagonists of Payday or Portal because cosplayers too are a large part of the convention. A downside is that almost everything, from signs to live gameplay demos, is in German, which is really shooting the convention’s international ambitions in the foot. Some developers are visibly struggling in English at E3, I can’t imagine how they’d pronounce something like ‘Fernseher’!
(Once again the English translation is "television" - Silverain)

The first paragraph might give the impression that Gamescom is free of that despicable pointless hype generation, but that’s not the case. Among the many booths, there are quite a few where there is nothing to play at all. Instead, all we get is a man with a microphone talking German and getting you to yell their company name out loud. Whoever yells the loudest has a change of being tossed a free t-shirt. And whenever I took my glasses off and looked from a distance the entire display seemed like an insane political rally. This is the game of what I can only describe as the most mindless capitalism ever with an almost fascistic appearance. 
So, how about those games? Looking at game releases, this was a quite mediocre Gamescom, with no huge releases such as Skyrim to look forward to. The most interesting development is not a game. It is something out of this world. Something out of a virtual world, to be precise. Virtual reality really captures the imagination of the crowd and has, therefore, often tried to break through. But after many failures, such as Nintendo’s Virtual Boy, the big break is finally here! All the big competitors were present at Gamescom. So, to put it plainly: Which was the best?

For a special Treat Hax Monster has recorded some of his experiences of Gamescon 2016 with a few brief first impressions. - Silverain.

Oculus VR

When a man is tired of Gamescom, he is tired of life. There are enough booths to entertain avid gamers like me for at least a week, so to save time I didn’t try the Oculus Rift at Gamescom, but at an electronics store in the centre of Cologne. A big VR showdown wouldn’t be complete without the Rift, so that’s why I included it here. Anyway, on that noisy dull shop floor I lived my first VR experience and it surpassed all expectations. All I got to see was a tech demo where you could only move your head and look about, but with a very high resolution and direct response to head movements you immediately forget you are wearing a big lunchbox over your eyes and look like a dork. I had no headaches or motion sickness. Movement, such as sidestepping, is intuitive and requires no practice. It is, however, a very weird sensation when you manage to glitch your camera into a solid object and that, of course, shatters immersion. Still, the Rift’s high resolution and very good peripheral vision make it a great experience.

HTC Vive
After the Rift, my expectations were rising faster than an elevator tied to a ballistic missile, so the Vive, the most stupidly named VR system of them all, had quite some shoes to fill. Me and my mates had to queue for four hours before Gamescom opened to be able to rush to the Vive in time and that was just to reserve a spot for three hours later. But it was all worth it. The Vive would certainly be my favourite system of the three, mostly because of that it could actually show an interesting gameplay implementation. Besides the glasses you also hold two controllers that look like the result of breeding a TV remote with the grip of an assault rifle. These, in game, can then be used as swords, guns or big pink dildos, depending on whether you would be playing Fruit Ninja, any VR shooter or the inevitable Saints Row 4 VR port. 

First up was Fruit Ninja and I immediately noticed one big drawback to the controllers: you select options by moving your digital controllers towards big floating buttons, so moving your hand to scratch your head might unwillingly throw you into some random game mode. That was essentially my first experience of VR Fruit Ninja, but when I actually started playing I noticed that, in the game, you can move your hands and whatever you hold in them with almost the same dexterity as in reality. Estimating distance or the position of your hands is really easy because of the high resolution, 3D glasses and excellent tracking of hand motions. One could almost throw a controller in the air and catch it with the glasses on.

After Fruit Ninja I went on to an arcade shooting game, which felt equally intuitive. The graphics were a bit glitchy, but that didn’t diminish immersion because of that the controls were very direct. This game also made use of the Vive’s other strong selling point, besides the controllers: you can move freely around in an area about as big as a small room. Two sensors, stuck high on the walls of whatever room the system is set up in, keep track of where you are and where you are looking. Whenever you are about to move out of bounds the Vive indicates this by showing a big blue grid, indicating the barrier, moving in towards you. Like moving your hands, walking is as easy as it is without the glasses on and this intuitiveness is the reason that VR, after so many attempts, is finally making it’s big breakthrough. 

Technology never allowed motion tracking this precise before and now just that is the reason why we can put the glasses on and immediately know what we are doing. Coming back to the shooter I played, the ability to walk around is nice, but it’s a shame that that game counts on you being able to look in almost every direction simultaneously to see incoming enemies, because the Vive does have one big drawback: you have next to no peripheral vision. Wearing the Vive can best be described as looking through toilet paper rolls. Luckily, you do get used to that quickly and then the immersion is pure gold. In conclusion, the Vive is definitively the strongest of the three systems I tried thanks to it’s controllers and the ability to move.

PlayStation VR

Moving on from the pretentiously named Vive to the extremely straightforward PlayStation VR was quite a pain, and not only because of that the system is very much inferior to the Vive. The queue for the PlayStation VR booth where you could also actually play a game the stupidly named ‘Robinson: The Journey’, were roughly four hours long and I was unfortunate enough to become enormously nauseous over that time. So, when I finally could try the third and final lunchbox, this one decorated with big blue sci-fi lights, I had to throw it off again after two seconds and make a waggling beeline for the nearest trashcan. Luckily the staff let me in again after I came back so I could discover that I had spent four hours of my life waiting for a dull, repetitive instruction-following simulator game which barely made any use of the VR. 

You see, unlike the other systems, which were meant for PC, the PlayStation VR was made for…Place your bets! The Nintendo 64! No, just kidding. The system is made for the PlayStation 4 and games that use it need to also use the PS4 controller. 

So you can still look around by moving your head, but you do everything else with the controller as you would in any other game. But consoles are made for playing from a couch, so you can’t easily move yourself 180 degrees around to look back. To solve this, the game lets you move yourself about 20 degrees at a time to the left or right by tapping the right analogue stick in the according direction. Then, if you want to adjust your view more precisely, you need to do so by looking around by moving your head. Unlike the Oculus and Rift, which you just use by moving your head and hands as you would in reality, this stupid system is ultimately finicky. For instance, if you want to see something to your right, you will move your head in that direction to look. Then, if you come to the conclusion that you can’t quite reach it, you need to switch to using the analogue stick, suddenly requiring you to think about your movement with an entirely different ruleset. Then, if you want to move left again because you want to resume your way, you will move the analogue stick to rotate yourself to the left, but once you are again facing the way you want to go, you still need to rotate your head to look forward again and then you’ll be looking too far to the left, and so on. 

Controlling my character feels like aiming a cannon, having to first select the horizontal position to look in, then moving my head to adjust the vertical position. What also didn’t help was that the resolution was insultingly low and that Robinson: The Journey was a mind-numbingly boring game, with all of the challenges you face being simple physics puzzles or climbing obstacles that you can’t fail, all while being hand-held by a dumb robot that rips off that one floating orb robot from the beginning of Destiny, which itself was a rip-off of Wheatly from Portal 2. In short, I don’t see much of a future for this manner of using VR technology. I know that you can’t use the analogue sticks to move entirely freely, since that would be sickening as your sight moves while your head doesn’t but my point is simply that you can’t use VR goggles while sitting still and using a traditional controller.
As I move on to cover the games I played I should note that some of these are probably out by the time this review goes online. You may consider my news on those games as a first impression rather than a preview.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

I don’t know about mankind, but I sure was divided about whether there should be another Deus Ex sequel or not. Sure, Deus Ex: Human Revolution was a great game with a great story that possessed one unique quality that Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 purported to have but lacked: it dealt with a topic that in the near or, maybe, far future could seriously become of large social relevance: inequality in society caused by human augmentation technology only available to the rich. Great as it was, Human Revolution’s endings in my mind can’t very well be mixed with the world of Mankind Divided, where the once so powerful augs have been expelled from society by ‘natural’ people. 

What’s also iffy about the story is that it still revolves around Adam Jensen and you can’t constantly have all events in the entire universe keep revolving around that guy without making it all seem a bit forced. Jensen’s role seemed over by the end of the last game and I would really like to learn someone else’s backstory by now. But the demo didn’t really show much story, how is the gameplay? Well, the demo opens with Adam Jensen sitting in a helicopter, being flown to a building in a large city that is taken over by terrorists. It’s his job to resolve the situation. Then, his boss asks him if he wants a lethal or non-lethal weapon, after which he asks if he’d like a short- or long-range gun. If this doesn’t sound enormously familiar, then you probably didn’t play the second mission of Human Revolution. The intro isn’t the only copy-paste job here. The graphics are identical. Gameplay is also still the same, with maybe one or two abilities added. But with Deus Ex I don’t really mind that so much. Its gameplay is solid as it is and it’s mostly there to serve the story. But, as I said, I consider the quality of Mankind Divided’s story to be uncertain. Since this game is already out by now I’d recommend waiting for a price drop before you buy it.

Sniper Ghost Warrior 3

Only in a word where false advertising and consumers that dare not leave their comfort zone can cause even pus-coated turds to sell like hot cakes can a series like SGW, or Shitty Gun Wank in full, manage to muster a whole three instalments. 

I played a few missions of SGW2 and that game was about as hand-holding as a police officer guiding a violently arrested serial killer to the station. I am pleased to say that the demo gave the impression that the game improved significantly in this point. I was dumped in a small open environment and was given an objective inside a military base and had multiple directions to approach the target from. This constitutes a complete summary of all that was good about the game. The apple can’t fall too far from the tree. It became clear that SGW 3 still inherited it’s predecessor’s almost creepy American nationalistic attitude when I heard my gravely-voiced commander talking nonspecific military lingo in my earpiece, telling me to attack non-specific generic rebels. 

Of course, that alone isn’t enough to deduce the entire plot but it at the very least is a clear indication that nothing really changed here. With that covered, what was my gameplay experience like? Completely broken. As I knew that the game had ‘Sniper’ in it’s title somewhere, I decided to try and snipe enemies off one by one from a distance, which worked well until some mortar managed to deduce my exact position, even though my gun was silenced, and then killed me in one direct hit. Seemingly the mortar was thrown in there to compensate for retarded AI as I could have kept shooting at the normal soldiers for hours before they’d find me, probably by accident. Since I was tired of poking holes in things from a distance, I just ran into the enemy base with my pistol, drew their attention and then waited at a small hole in the wall and shot them one by one as they came out. This murderqueue tactic then worked a lot better, which puts the final bullet in the sniping part of this sniper game, therefore one-hitting the thing in its entirety. Avoid this rubbish at all cost.

Hitman: the episodic one

My Hitman experience thusfar consists solely of Hitman: Absolution and for what it’s worth, it seems that the new instalment of the series does improve on Absolution significantly. Absolution’s biggest flaw was that it had a dumb plot and a lot of plot-related missions that didn’t even involve any assassinations, but just required you to reach the end of the linear level. It seems that Hitman: the episodic one wraps all that nonsense in a body bag and buries it in the woods. Now there are only large open-ended levels with no objectives besides one or multiple targets. On top of that, you can find information or eavesdrop on conversations to discover new killing opportunities, break open doors with either the key or a crowbar and all mechanics from Hitman: Absolution are still present. This is the best way to sequelize a gameplay-oriented game: you just throw in more stuff for the player to use. Maybe it could have used a bit more change, since I constantly felt as if I was just playing DLC for Absolution. The graphics haven’t changed one bit and, like in Absolution, you will eventually get tired of being stealthy and will resolve every mission by walking through the level, shooting everything that moves. In spite of that, Hitman: I don’t even know what to call it any more does get a recommendation.

Battlefield 1

You don’t need me to tell you that Battlefield 1 is the worst title for anything ever since Mazda unveiled the ‘Titan Dump’ light truck, and I don’t need to waste words on story here, since I presume most of you know how the first world war went. Then you probably also know that that was nothing like what’s going on in Battlefield , which is full of automatic weapons, has a conspicuous absence of trenches and throws away tanks and planes like a military ordnance producer exceeded its quota for the year. With historical accuracy out, all that’s left is gameplay and I can at least say that that mostly holds up. 

The destructible environments are back, which means that the series has essentially caught up to Battlefield 3 in that area. The same applies to the concept of a large powerful vehicle dominating the map, like a large plane. That was one of the core points of the Armoured Kill DLC for Battlefield 3. Well, it’s not entirely fair to say that BF1 is just a poorly executed mod for a series predecessor of five years ago. The destruction is a bit improved, with bombs leaving craters as they go off, and the graphics are pretty neat. But I’m still lost on why Dice chose this particular setting if they are going to reproduce it so poorly that we might as well have been fighting in operation Desert Storm, with our assault rifles and airplane bombardments. Battlefield 1 isn’t quite the number one in the series. I’d recommend buying Battlefield 3 with some DLC instead of this.

Titanfall 2

Identical to Titanfall 1, except for a grappling hook that I couldn’t figure out how to use. I’m afraid that this series is already lost in the black hole of endless copy-paste sequelizing. 
Gears of War 4

Gears of War 4 really is cover-based shooting boiled down to it’s boring essence. For ten minutes I did nothing except for running through completely interchangeable environments and shooting at aliens that popped up out of cover. I couldn’t die since my teammates revived me instantly and, since I could just hide in cover indefinitely if I’d like to have a little nap, the biggest challenge was managing to aim at the enemy with the most clunky and rough aiming controls ever. It’s so dull that I can’t even make a stupid joke about this one.

Dead Rising 4

It’s filled with quite a lot of visceral joy a la Serious Sam and the graphics are pretty neat but beyond that there was nothing the demo really let me judge. I can say from common experience that one should be wary when a book, film or game reaches the fourth instalment. Most intellectual property ends after one iteration or forms a trilogy. If it goes beyond the trilogy then usually the developers will push it to its limit and let it wither away further as the number on the box gets longer and longer. So in short: DR4 seems quite ok, but be vigilant.


It’s always nice to find something fairly new in an avalanche of games with high numbers on the end and Steep seemed pretty nice as a game too when I saw the E3 footage, even if it doesn’t have avalanches. Freely wingsuiting, snowboarding and skiing through the alps is pretty cool and the snow physics seemed quite advanced. And since the days SSX had huge success it’s clear that there can be a pretty big place for a good snowboarding game. 
I just don’t think it will be this snowboarding game. 

Sure, it’s fun, the snow behaves very realistically and the game looks good, but essentially there is nothing that you play for. A medium-sized open world and the ability to wingsuit, snowboard, ski and para-sail is all the game involves. There seem to be no races against AI, nothing to unlock and no goals at all. This means you’ll have to find all your entertainment yourself and once you’ve descended from each mountain with all four means of transportation there’s simply nothing left except for crashing into the frozen lake and finding out that your character will spin indefinitely around its axis when you do that. It’s possible to play in multiplayer, but then you can’t really do more than ski alongside each other without further interaction. So there is insultingly little content, nothing to achieve or unlock and product placement is about as in-your-face as you can get it without using 3D technology. No matter what price this will be, I can already tell it’s too steep!

Sea of Thieves

This one takes gold in the Olympic event of ‘most annoying E3 trailer’, for a trailer that apparently believed that the best way to make a game seem fun is to have a few underpaid actors constantly yell at each other how much fun they were having (Just like in the E3 trailer for that Star Trek VR thing). What little gameplay you could see was mostly there for them to overreact to, like the ability to play the accordion or drink beer. When I started playing I found out none of that nonsense comes down to more than an animation and maybe the entire game is just Youtube fodder for people to overreact to. All the gameplay you will see from a moment to moment basis is the ability to lower or raise the sails and anchor, steering the ship, firing the cannons and fixing the hull. We played for about ten minutes and although it was fun, after that I’d seen almost all there was to see and I didn’t feel like coming back.

Watchdogs 2

All right, we’re one instalment in and I still can’t figure out how to spell this game in a way that isn’t absolutely retarded. Unfortunately we couldn’t get hands on with WD2 but from the live gameplay demo I saw it became clear that it’s a pretty straightforward sequel, only set in San Francisco and with a stock ‘hip’ protagonist. 

I know that the first game was exceptionally dreary and that they want to tackle that, but protagonist Markus his appearance just makes him look like what an 80-year old thinks a 20-year old is like. It also gets pretty incongruous when our hipster protagonist, almost committee designed to be the ultimate nice guy, grabs a machine gun and starts mowing people down, which I’d certainly do if I got bored in a sandbox. 
Apparently, you can get through all of the game without killing anyone, Deus Ex style. To allow that there are a few new toys, like a stun gun, to make that easier, although a stun gun doesn’t differ from a gun in any practical sense, so going for the non-lethal option doesn’t offer new gameplay. 

There are a few other new gimmicks that add slightly different gameplay, like two drones that you can use to get around the first game’s trademark camera hopping. I do fear that being able to fly over the enemies with a quadrocopter, tagging them all in the process, might make sneaking runs a bit too easy. You can also use the other drone, an RC car, to get up close and hack stuff that you can’t reach. And in a hacking game, that makes almost everything a lot easier. But how about things that aren’t hacking? Well, according to the live demo presenter, the driving is significantly better now. I wish I could’ve tested the game to see if he was right, but it’s beyond my abilities to wrench control over a video game by telepathy. All I can say is that it looks a lot more like the driving in Need For Speed games, which means that it’s streamlined to the point that it feels more like driving a drift-happy hovercraft rather than an actual car. 

Moving into the more banal details, you can now fully customize your outfit. So, if you are mad and have a burning desire to play a man wearing Crocs, then here’s a game for you! Also, there’s a co-op game mode, so that there is someone that can appreciate your Crocs, but if you want to go for full Croc-appreciation, you’ll have to exploit the exceptionally dumb gameplay mechanic about gathering Twitter followers by taking pictures of stuff, which is again very incongruous with the massacres that the player is free to commit at any time. Although a gameplay demo is by no means ideal for understanding all the shortcomings of a game, it at least shows a few bugs that even the best let’s-player can’t hide. One guard on a rooftop glitched his way on to the wall guarding the edge of the roof as if he was about to commit suicide. Corpses that are propelled by explosions look as if they are being dragged along on an invisible cable and sitting in a car sometimes launches you out through the roof as if James Bond pressed the wrong button. I think the same goes for WD2 as for Dead Rising 4: It might be alright, but stay vigilant.

My three days at Gamescom were intense, but fun and I can surely recommend visiting the conference at least once. Just stay away from all those advertisement rallies. If the day ever comes that Germany is once again gripped by a fascist dictatorship, let’s at least make sure that it isn’t run by EA.

(Sources: Gamescom website, URL:http://www.gamescom-cologne.com/gamescom/index-9.php, checked on 24 august 2016)


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