Gamescom 2014 concluded this weekend, leaving in its wake several hundred thousand gamers from around the world exhausted after a week-long bacchanal of new title announcements and world-first hands on experiences. Empire saves you flying out to Germany with our pick of the ten most exciting games on show this year.
Remember Rayman? Imagine what a new game from the guy behind that franchise would be like. Now forget it, because whatever you imagined is nothing like WiLD, the latest from Michel Ancel. An open-world survival game with clear influences from Aboriginal, African, and Native American cultures, the big deal here is the ability to play as any living creature. Humans, wolves, and catfish were shown, along with more unusual creatures, including giants and skeleton shamans. It's a stunning-looking world and an incredibly ambitious concept that we can't wait to see more of.
The reboot of Lara Croft was very well received last year, and the remastered 'Definitive Edition' for PS4/Xbox One even more so. In what was easily Microsoft's biggest announcement of Gamescom, the sequel, Rise of the Tomb Raider, will be an Xbox One exclusive when it launches around Christmas 2015. It's a massive coup, considering the character's traditionally close association with Sony platforms (though never being exclusive to them), and predictably the internet response has been gnashing of teeth and bearing of venom sacs. However, format wars aside, Rise is looking to be a massive, truly next gen evolution of the new Lara. The biggest problem is waiting over a year for it.
In what has to be one of the smartest game announcements in a long time, Sony showed a trailer for a creepy looking game called PT at its press conference, bigging up the fact it was the world's first interactive teaser trailer. No one paid much attention. Fast forward 12 hours and the internet had cracked it – the anonymous 'indie' game was actually the new Silent Hills, a reboot of the horror franchise from Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro, starring Norman Reedus of The Walking Dead fame. No further information has been revealed, but that teaser – available now on PSN – is enough to have us pre-emptively sleeping with the lights on.
As the newest game from Hidetaka Miyazaki, the creator of Demon's Souls and the first Dark Souls, Bloodbourne has a lot to live up to. Thankfully, it's already looking like it matches fan expectations. There's a strong family resemblance to Miyazaki's earlier titles, with third-person combat against disturbing, horrific enemies. However, this is just a hair more story-focused, with the action taking place in a Victorian-style undercity and exploring themes of hope versus despair. As well as moving away from the medieval setting of its spiritual predecessors, this updates the combat too, with more projectile weapons and tactical approaches, such as dousing enemies in oil to maximise damage from fire spells. It's looking bleak but brilliant.
Nintendo don't typically make much of Gamescom – strange, when the company’s European office is based in Germany – but nevertheless, crowds swarmed to the Nintendo stand in the consumer halls. Of the games on show, Splatoon was easily the favourite. A new title first shown at E3, the game takes the team-based multiplayer of Team Fortress and transplants it into a world where squid-human hybrids splatter the arenas with ink of their team's colour, creating paths and areas for them to swim through in squid form. It's fast, inventive, and a joy to play – exactly what you want from Nintendo.
The Dead Island series has never quite known what it wants to be. Still overshadowed by its hauntingly beautiful announcement trailer for the first game, which ultimately turned out to be a rather banal zombie-slaying craft-em-up, it's taken a few entries for it to find any footing. With new developers Yager taking over development – best known for the excellent Spec Ops: The Line – and stepping up to next gen consoles, it finally feels ready for prime time. Dead Island 2 transplants the zombie apocalypse to real-world California and ups the comedy factor, revelling in the anarchy of the downfall of civilisation. It's not as raucous as, say, Dead Rising, but with vast open areas, active time quests that affect the world, and integrated multiplayer, it's a huge improvement and already feels the best in the series.
The final instalment in the sleeper hit fantasy series, The Witcher III: The Wild Hunt caps the life of demon hunter Geralt of Rivia. Taking the leap to open world fantasy RPG – think Skyrim – CD Projekt Red is certainly going out with a bang, with a sprawling expanse to explore that's roughly 35 times bigger than the previous game. Battles remain deliberately difficult, requiring thought and preparation rather than wading in, while the narrative choices and impact they have on the story are deeper and more intricate than ever before.
Getting our hands on the playable monsters of Evolve was a highlight of Gamescom, and we're most impressed by the fact you don't actually feel massively overpowered compared to the four human players you'll be battling. The Kraken feels spritely and agile, but surprisingly vulnerable until you've consumed enough wildlife to level up to your final evolution, where you'll rain down electro-bolt destruction. The Goliath is the opposite – slow but physically powerful, able to sustain more damage but rarely evade attackers while trying to evolve. There's a phenomenal balance between the human teamwork and the rampaging monsters, and frankly, it's the sharpest and most fun multiplayer experience we've had in a long while.
Where Dead Island is trying to steer just clear of Dead Rising's silliness, Sunset Overdrive embraces it, injects it with amphetamines, and then pumps the volume up. It's the usual story – mutant apocalypse caused by shady soft drinks company – but the sheer irreverence with which the downfall of humanity is treated is a delight. Insane weapons, amazingly swift traversal of its open world, lightning fast combat and some genuinely funny bits of dialogue are shaping this up to be a sun-soaked, sugar-rush of craziness. Sunset Overdrive is clearly a game Microsoft is pinning big hopes on, but judging on audience reaction at Gamescom, those hopes are well founded. Tremendous fun.
Ubisoft's open world adventure (yes, another one – they're kind of a recurrence this year) showed off new areas and new mechanics at Gamescom, most interestingly its Shangri La areas. Almost an in-game version of the Blood Dragon spin-off from Far Cry 3, these see you tripping into the past world of mythical heroes, the experiences there affecting the course of your present day quest. It's a complete tonal shift, adding an element of fantasy to the shooter, and feeling like a callback to classics such as Hexen – something we don't see enough of in games now. Plus, Far Cry 4 has the angriest elephants you'll see in a game this year. Not to be missed.