E3 has a been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. And while that seems like a weird and dramatic way to open an article reviewing my Gamescom journey, it’s important to note because what I’m about to say might sound like blasphemy: Gamescom is, from what I’ve experienced, the best video game conference in the world. For while it lacks that indescribable E3 magic, it seems to do everything E3 does and elevate it to the next level. In our industry’s terms, it’s a next gen conference.
Before I talk about what makes Gamescom so great, I want to take a second to address what is probably everyone’s main concern – that Gamescom is in Germany. Unfortunately due to the cost of international travel on both your wallet and your body, most people won’t give Gamescom a chance. That is a fair argument to make and one that I can empathize with, even as someone who loves to travel. My rebuttal is that although many would consider this a negative, it is also works to Gamescom’s favor in many different ways.
Firstly, Germany is a beautiful country to visit. I flew into Düsseldorf International Airport and was able to make it to the convention in under an hour by taking only two trains. The route could not have been easier and was fully explained on the Gamescom website. Also, with your Gamescom ticket comes a free travel pass that covers all public transportation costs while visiting. Germany wants you to have a great time at Gamescom, but encourages you to explore the rest of Cologne while you are there. And while English is not their first language, it is understood and spoken at enough of a level that every interaction I had while visiting was pleasant and easy.
The culture is also just foreign enough to add to the experience while not throwing you off your routine. For example, you wouldn’t believe how proficient the Germans are with pretzels. I’m not talking about small, inconsequential airline pretzels, but giant real pretzels, carrying a weight that demands the respect of those that wield them. I had pretzels for breakfast instead of muffins, for lunch instead of sandwiches, and for dinner instead of bread. And don’t even get me started on Schnitzel. I felt God in the restaurant I ate at last night and His instrument of delivery was the Schnitzel. I can also confirm that there is no bad “coffee” in Germany. I put that in quotes because what is an Americano to Americans, is coffee to Germans. Their normal cup of “coffee”is just high quality espresso mixed with hot water.
As far as the convention itself is concerned, Gamescom has struck a perfect balance of work and play. I won’t lie, it is an overwhelming experience to walk into at first. Gamescom spans the entirety of the Koelnmesse, a massive fairgrounds that contains ten connected “Halls” (gigantic showrooms), all of which are packed full of people celebrating their love of Video Games. And when I say full of people, I mean FULL of people. I was shocked at the number of visitors; I honestly could not believe it. Every single square inch of the complex was buzzing with life and the energy was infectious.
Halls 1-4 are business only, meaning that press/media/industry has its own areas for meetings complete with restaurants, bathrooms, cafés, and lounges. I have never experienced such hospitality in my life as every cup of coffee or bottle of beer was not only free, but encouraged by the many vendors throughout the business area. Gamescom also reserves certain hallways and floors for business only, meaning that moving between meetings and appointments is convenient and quick as well.
The rest of the Halls are split up between Indie Developers, Retro games, Technology, AAA Developers, Cosplay, and, everyone’s favorite, Merchandise. There is not one aspect of the industry that isn’t covered by Gamescom and that isn’t hyperbole. In the Technology hall, there were four competing video game chair vendors. VIDEO GAME CHAIR VENDORS. They had a bigger combined space than SEGA did at E3. Let that sink in.
I saw new technology being used by developers to push our medium forward and old technology being played by those who remember where it started. I saw parents with the same expressions on their face as the children they brought with them. And if all of that wasn’t enough, there was live music, food trucks, two press centers, and even some inflatable bounce houses for kids scattered throughout the entirety of the grounds. To try and make a bad analogy, Gamescom felt like Woodstock while E3 felt like Lilith Fair.
But by far and away my favorite moment of Gamescom was sitting down and playing smaller titles with the developers who made them and, not speaking a word of each other’s language, communicating through our common love of playing video games. I know I said Gamescom doesn’t have that special E3 magic, but believe me when I tell you that it has a magic all its own.
While I only had one day at Gamescom, I really tried to capitalize on the amount of time I had. While most of the AAA titles I saw were very similar in presentation to what was at E3, I got to see some exclusive Death Stranding footage that I will do my best to sum up below. But first I want to share some other thoughts (and pictures) of what stood out to me the most at Gamescom:
- Sony didn’t show up to E3 this year and it’s presence was sorely missed. They bounced back in a huge way with a booth that almost had its own German zip code.
- Stadia, in a power move that only Google could pull off, set up its booth directly across from Nintendo. They are not intimidated at all by the Big Three and honestly their energy was hard to deny.
- CD Projekt Red once again stole the show for me with their behind closed doors screening of CyberPunk 2077. The bar they had set up at E3 was back but this time it was adorned with even more decorations, even going as far to get custom bottled beers with companies from the game! It was so cool I kept an empty bottle to bring home. Having been lucky enough to see the demo before at E3, I was really able to focus on smaller details during the presentation. One of things I didn’t pick up was how good the sound design is even in the demo build. The different dialects of people talking throughout the marketplace, the whispered prayers of individuals within the church, the deep thud of a man getting punched to death by a robot – these details pulse throughout the game and give life to the world.
- Along with AAA games, I got to spend time with some Indie games that really caught my eye as well. My favorite of the bunch had to be VirtuaVerse. If CyberPunk 2077 would have been a 2D, traditional point and click adventure, it would have looked and felt exactly like this game.
- Netflix had its own booth which surprised me and really promoted itself as a company who cares about translating their fans favorite franchises into video games. There were multiple demos set up showcasing their Stranger Things adaptations while also offering a look at their new Dark Crystal game.
While wandering around the business center, I saw a tweet from Kojima saying that exclusive Death Stranding footage that has not been revealed yet was being shown off at the Sony booth. I immediately set up an appointment following my CyberPunk meeting later that evening. Everyone else must have too because in the amount of time it took to get my confirmation email, the rest of the appointments got booked for the day. I don’t know why they had neglected to mention this information earlier, but I’m glad that they didn’t or I would have had no chance of getting in.
The first thing I have to talk about is how this game looks even in its demo build. This is the first time many people have had the opportunity to see uncompressed footage of Death Stranding and it looks absolutely stunning in real time. I wish there was a playable demo for everyone to get their hands on so they could see it themselves. Both the cutscenes and gameplay were remarkable in every since of the word. The details in the grass, the stains on Sam’s suit, the bubbles in the BB tank, even the reflection of light passing through the urination stream- all of it was incredible! Death Stranding is definitely going to be a showcase of the PS4 Pro’s capabilities.
As far as the content I got to see, it was everything from the opening night of Gamescom and one all new cutscene. Since you can see the stuff from opening night on your own, I’ll only talk about the Gamescom exclusive footage.
The cutscene, titled “Briefing”, focused on Sam being asked to do a job by Die-Hard man and takes place in what looks like the Oval Office. The UCA (United Cities of America) is broken and separated throughout the land. Die-Hard man wants Sam to travel west, spreading the news that the UCA is forming again and that cities throughout the country are signing up to be reconnected through it’s Chiral Network. Sam asks how people could believe in the movement and Die-Hard man introduces us to Lindsey Wagner’s character, Amelie. She will be the next acting President of the UCA and has already gone West spreading her philosophy of reconnection and unity. Along the way she was kidnapped and is being held hostage by a group of radicals who want to keep the UCA disconnected. What Sam sees in the room is actually a holograph, as she is still being held captive. This is why they want Sam – to continue her work throughout the country until she can be freed.
Things that I took away from the cutscene:
- More character information.
- Sam and Amelie clearly have a past together. Sam seemed to feel like that “they” abandoned him while she insisted that he walked away.
- At one point, Amelie said Sam looked great because he was aging. She noted to Die-Hard man that she couldn’t age because she was still “stranded on the beach.” Apparently she hasn’t aged a day since the last time Sam has seen her over ten years ago.
- Not much has been heard from Death Stranding’s score, but the music accompanying the scene was beautiful. It perfectly set the tone, balancing the hope for a reconnected UCA and the desperateness to do so. I cannot wait to hear more of Ludvig Forssell’s work!
- Kojima has matured as a director. This scene was incredibly moving even with no context as to what came before it. The subtlety in the actors expressions along with the writing have me excited to see how this narrative plays out and the choices he has made while doing it.
So that’s it. That’s my Gamescom trip in a nutshell. I want to take a moment to thank everyone in Germany that made my trip so wonderful annd everyone at home that made it possible for me to go in the first place. We will be giving out some swag on our Twitter soon so make sure you follow @splashdamagebro for your chance to get some exclusive Gamescom 2019 merch! And as always make sure to subscribe to our podcast on iTunes (and leave a review!) to stay updated with what we’ve got going on.