Another year, another Gamescom as we go hands-on with some of the biggest titles of 2017 and beyond.

By Nathan Lawrence

Gamescom continues to prove it’s so much more than just European E3 (uh, E4?). The 2017 iteration of the annual celebration of all things gaming was, once again, the biggest one yet. For unknown reasons, the organisers had shuffled the event up a day, but despite the mid-week kick-off, it was a sold-out affair, except for opening day (Wednesday). More inspiring than the impressive turnout was the reality that the show was opened and attended by Chancellor of Germany, Dr Angela Merkel. It’s the kind of commitment to European gaming that stands as a stark contrast to Australia’s lacklustre political support for the booming entertainment medium. But we digress.

We had the pleasure of running through the packed halls between back-to-back appointments, eager to see, play, and talk about as many soon-to-be-released games as possible. It’s always hard to go past the tent-pole AAA games. EA had a signature diverse showing with titles across a number of popular genres.

Star Wars Battlefront II promises to be the kind of game that many had hoped its predecessor would be. DICE has joined forces with newly formed storytellers Motive Studios and expert digital-mechanics Criterion Studios to create a Battlefront sequel that’s on target to deliver what was sorely lacking from the original remake: content and depth. Starfighter Assault mode is a big improvement on Battlefront’s Fighter Squadron, built under the deft direction of masters-of-handling Criterion.

"Battlefront II promises to be the kind of game that many had hoped its predecessor would be"

On the shooter front, EA was also championing the soon-to-be-released Battlefield 1 DLC, In the Name of the Tsar, as well as competitive mode Battlefield Incursions, which we can’t talk about right now because of embargoes. Activision, EA’s biggest competitor when it comes to shooters, was surprisingly light at Gamescom this year, albeit with two juggernaut FPS IPs on hand – Call of Duty: WWII and Destiny 2. We enjoyed what we played of the CoD multiplayer beta content, which takes the series back to not just its World War II roots, but also to more of a squad-focused approach and less of a one-man-army power fantasy. Destiny 2 continues to look stunning on PC (in 4K, no less).

Both Activision shooters are being released in the coming weeks (Destiny 2) and the coming months (Call of Duty: WWII), respectively. We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Blood Orchid, the soon-to-be-released next round of DLC for the hugely popular and ever-improving Rainbow Six Siege. The three new operators and new Theme Park map immediately felt right at home. The operators promise to, once again, change the meta, and the new map has the potential to become a fan favourite.

Speaking of coming-soon games, EA showcased sporting titles such as Madden 18, NHL 18 and FIFA 18, the latter of which looks to have key improvements over the first foray by EA Sports into a Frostbite-powered game in FIFA 17. Stay tuned to finder for our FIFA 18 interview. If racing is more your jam, Need for Speed Payback looks like a lot of cinematic fun, at least in terms of the campaign. We took other racers for a spin, too. Forza Motorsport 7 looks even prettier than the Frostbite-driven Payback, especially in 4K on an Xbox One X, and The Crew 2 impressed in terms of the open-world option to switch between plane and boat at any time (as long as there’s room). Milestone’s Gravel had less of a chance to race to the head of the pack with its last-gen visuals and average arcade racing. In fairness, this comparatively smaller racing game isn’t expected to go toe-to-toe with the big-budget competitors.

"Fe looks less Breath of the Wild and more a curious mix of Journey with Ori and the Blind Forest"

Speaking of smaller titles, EA Originals Fe (read: fay, which means "fairy") made a welcome return, despite its absence at E3 this year. No hands-on, unfortunately, but the hands-off session did involve a developer play-through of a game that looks less Breath of the Wild and more a curious mix of Journey with Ori and the Blind Forest. There’s less of an emphasis on combat and more on sneaking, with the developer's pledge of minimal player handholding and a deliberate attempt to make players enjoy the discoveries found in getting lost.

It looks like Cuphead is actually (finally) coming out, too. We went hands-on with it, and thankfully in co-op. We say “thankfully” because Cuphead is as tough as it is beautifully presented. It may look like a colourised and gamified version of the 1928 Mickey Mouse: Steamboat Willie cartoon, but its gameplay is more of the 2D Dark Souls ilk, with a nice mix of challenging platforming sections and a strong emphasis on boss battles. It’ll kick your butt, but you’ll love it all the same. We did.

Deep in proper indie territory, I Hate Running Backwards is a procedurally generated infinite runner, which has Croteam’s blessing as an official Serious Sam spin-off. Like Cuphead, it’s a tough game made easier in co-op play, and swinging your cooldown-controlled hammer is just as important as getting rounds down range. With weapons inspired by Insomniac, this has the makings of a sleeper hit.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to play State of Decay 2, but we did get to watch a live play-through of the hostile simulated world. Two devs worked together to try and complete an objective, but it all went pear-shaped early on. They failed to complete their main objective, lost a car and a newly recruited NPC, and rushed back to base to decide the fate of an infected playable character. The problem is the zombies had decided to invade: one of the players died (mind the permadeath) and another playable character died. It showed that this zombie sequel with smarts has the potential to deliver on the ambition of the original game. Total War: Arena surprised us with how much depth Creative Assembly has managed to inject into a fast-paced RTS experience that’s still accessible. The team has looked at history to inspire gameplay mechanics, and the promise of 10-minute strategy matches offers something that your average RTS experience can’t match: a quick hit of action-packed cerebral gameplay.Shifting over to family-friendly titles, LEGO Worlds is looking and playing surprisingly well on Switch. No features have been lost in the Switch port, and the devs talked about plans for free LEGO Worlds content over the next 12 months (alongside new premium packs, such as a monster-themed addition). Speaking of LEGO titles, LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2 takes an interesting minifig step into tempting back fans jaded by increasingly samey additions to the core LEGO games.

"LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2 takes an interesting minifig step into tempting back jaded fans"

There’s a massive hub to explore, with iconic Marvel locales from across space and time as well as the option for seamless underwater exploration. Combat promises to be more layered and punishing this time around, and there’s even a new never-before-seen character or two to unlock. Microsoft is also revamping Kinect titles Disneyland Adventures and Rush: A Pixar Adventure, alongside Xbox One launch game Zoo Tycoon to include controller, Kinect and/or keyboard/mouse support, depending on whether you’re playing on Windows 10 PC or Xbox One. Zoo Tycoon looks the business, but the other two are definitely more targeted at kids. Ubisoft was pushing VR again this year with a couple of vastly different titles. Space Junkies is a zero-g shooter where you can merge your space cowboy fantasies with 360-degree combat. The biggest danger of this game is ensuring you have enough physical room IRL so you don’t bash your Vive controllers into the wall…like we did (sorry, Ubisoft).

On the opposite VR spectrum, Transference is a cerebral puzzler that has you entering the memories of various people. We knew it was going to be weird, but we didn’t expect it to be as creepy as it was. Ubisoft is showing it understands the importance of wave-two VR experiences that are more than just glorified tech demos.

Aside from the sheer glorious nerdiness of Battlefront II, the two games that impressed us the most were of the open-world variety. Assassin’s Creed Origins quickly showed that a year break between Creed cocktails was a sage decision. Origins looks glorious in 4K, but it’s the sprawling and lived-in game world, plus the improvements to combat depth and tactical decision-making, which have us walking like an Egyptian. The hype is real. Last, but certainly not least, Middle-earth: Shadow of War is incredible. With only half an hour of play-time and so much to do, we opted to tackle a fortress siege. These tactically rich encounters reward savvy initial planning, while the actual battles play out like epic deleted scenes from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies. The emergent moments are so on point that the water-cooler discussions about different play-throughs are going to be as varied as they will be genuinely exciting.With some of these titles being released in September, Gamescom tends to flag the unofficial commencement of the end-of-year release period. There are a lot of great games releasing this year and beyond, and Gamescom 2017 highlighted some of the ones that’ll be eating into our gaming budgets and consuming countless hours of our time over the coming months.

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