First up was the EA Press Conference which was packed out by media from all parts of the globe (although I certainly seemed to be the only one from New Zealand).
GamesCom – Tuesday 18th August 2009 (Day 1)
GamesCom is set to take place in Koelnmesse, which is home to one of the largest convention centers in the World, making Cologne a busy media hub of Europe. However, the two leading press conferences (EA Games and Sony Computer Entertainment) were held in the tiny, industrial suburb of Mulheim. When journeying there by train, all I could see were clothing factories and a giant warehouse that seem to sell kilometers of electrical cabling. It hardly seemed an appropriate place to hold a prestigious press conference. But located at a place called E-Werk (which appeared to be a nightclub or a place they would hold an industrial heavy-metal gig for Goths), the venues were a huge juxtaposition to their surrounds.
The presentation quickly got into EA's up-coming FIFA '10 – which was received by rapturous applause (football being Germany's official sport). Although many fans are perfectly happy with FIFA '09, EA appear to have gone that extra mile to improve on their successful franchise. Some of the highlights include more intelligent AI, full control over your movement with the ball, the ability to completely customise your set pieces and plenty more. We were also shown the New Virtual Pro mode where players can scan their faces into the game and have a virtual representation of you playing for the team of your choice. It looked stunning, but I won't commit until I get a hands-on later this week.
Next up was EA's fitness simulator on the Nintendo Wii – EA Active. It started with your typical Nintendo trailer showing beautiful people all having the time of their lives with the controllers. Looking around the room, it was obvious that the media had seen it all before and demanded more. However it only got worse when the demonstrator then jumped onto the stage in his gym gear and invited a German TV celebrity and former Olympic medalist to join him for his work-out. Truthfully, it was the only way to showcase such a game and the end result did look intense. We saw the participants in acts of running, jumping, trying to stay balanced on one leg and upper body work-outs such as boxing and rowing. EA Active will provide a range of activities for all sorts of fitness work-outs and should be a crowd-pleaser (especially for the female market).
Following that painful display of human physical activity was a presentation on The Sims 3. On stage was Julie Turner, a Senior Director who has been working with EA Games for over eight years straight. This November marks the release of the first add-on for the highly addictive Sims 3 entitled World Adventures. It allows fans to take their beloved Sims out of the humble little town they are used to and plonk them into strange and wonderful worlds. Well, Egypt, China and France anyway. But each of these places are bordering on the fantastical and exaggerated features of those regions. For example the dusty, desolate deserts of Egypt are filled with hidden treasures, pyramids and undead Mummy's who kinda just chase you around for a bit. To be honest, it seemed like a strange direction for the Sims 3 and looked like one of those numerous YouTube clips where people have re-enacted scenes using their Sims. In this case, Indiana Jones. However with enough people all hammering out their second lives in the Sims 3, it's safe too say that this add-on to change the scenerary is going to be popular. A nice touch from EA was to gather up International artists and have them perform tracks in Simlish for the soundtrack (currently announced are artists like Nelly Furtado and Pixie Lott with more coming).
Next on the agenda was Battlefield: Bad Company 2. The presentation started off by reminding us how awesome the franchise is (and how it's so much better than the Call of Duty series). To their credit though, Battlefield 1943 is an amazing title that has helped changed the dynamics of how people buy games (Battlefield 1943 has had over 1 million downloads to date). Bad Company 2 builds on a similar frame-work and as such, looks to be a much more realistic game than the original Bad Company. They have placed more emphasis on vehicles and vastly improved the sense of destruction that was present in the first game. Using a new version of the Frostbite engine, we are being promised accurate structural damage now with the example of a sniper being able to shoot a small hole in the wall of a building and stick his gun out of it as a make-shift spy hole. Of course, this works the other way as well as once he's discovered – an enemy could bring down the entire building on top of him. Another exciting feature about the game is a emphasis on team-work, letting four-man squads complete objectives together for tactical advantage. But there was very little on show and I am hoping to get a hands-on before the week is out on Bad Company 2.
Moving on, Jack Black's Brutal Legends was next. As Tennacious D would say, “techno tried to destroy the metal” - but in EA Games' case, it's more like a lawsuit from Activision. However we were spoken to by Tim Schafer, the President of Double Fine Productions who assured us that all that was behind them and that EA are releasing Brutal Legends this Rocktober. For those who don't know, the game is basically what would result if Jack Black got freaky with God of War on a hot Summer's afternoon. You play as Eddie (voiced by Black) who is a struggling but passionate lead singer/guitarist in a heavy metal band. We were quickly shown a couple of bits of gameplay focusing on the items that Eddie will have available to him – a close-quarter axe, a guitar that allows you to riff your enemies to death and a narly jeep-like thing to hoon around in. The combination of the game's hellish visuals, fast paced action and Black's humour ought to produce a great game for that twenty-something year old market. Time will tell though as there could be issues with the camera controls and the repeitiveness of the gameplay from first glances. EA have promised a downloadable demo of the game to try out around mid-September.
Following on with the Hell theme, Dante's Inferno was next on show. Based loosely around the darkly epic poem titled, Divine Comedy. The game is a third-person hack and slash type of affair and it's hard not to compare it to God of War again. You control Dante, a veteran of the Crusades, who chases his beloved Beatrice to free her soul from Lucifer himself. As his pursuit takes him through the 9 Circles of the Inferno, he will battle demonic monsters and face his sins, his family past and his war crimes. Cue slaughtering heaps of fiery beings and encountering some big bad guy scenarios with the old “button pressing to finish him” type sequences. However Dante's Inferno includes the ability to allow the player some control over their actions that follows the theme of “free-will” in man described in the poem. Whilst battling fallen angels you can chose whether to be ruthless in your kill and earn Unholy points for a particularlly gory finishing move. Or you can earn Righteousness points by saving their soul. Your karma will affect your powers and abilities in much the same way as Infamous allowed us to do. The sulphur and brimestone visuals do look a treat and I am hoping to get my little hands on this soon (however the game isn't due until February 2010 so the chance for some code is slim).
Bioware then took to the stage, pledging their allegiances to EA Games with a triple whammy of titles. November this year marks the release of Dragon Age: Origins – an epic fantasy RPG that gives players the depth of gameplay that Mass Effect delivered but in a completely new surrounding. Following this, Mass Effect 2 was on show in the form of trailers and sample gameplay footage. Commander Sheppard makes his return for the sequel but it appears that the storyline has a much darker edge to it this time around. Bioware have mentioned the concept of proper squad behaviour ensuring that players not only have to recruit team-mates but keep them onboard and loyal to the cause as well. Expect a compelling storyline, tastier cinematics and deeper gameplay for Mass Effect 2. Bioware are so sure of this franchise that they have already mentioned Mass Effect 3, claiming it was always intended to be a trilogy. Hopefully your actions in the sequel will affect what happens at the start of the third title, making that last game a totally unique experience for everyone playing. The last Bioware announcement was regarding Star Wars: The Old Republic. Unfortunately nothing new was released regarding this title (we saw the trailer in German though) but I hope to get a closer look shortly.
And finally, the last title for EA's press conference was the latest Need for Speed addition to the family called Shift. I was pleased to see that Shift is a dramatic change in direction from past Need for Speed titles. Everything about the game is more realistic now, giving players accurate c*ck-pit views, breath-taking graphics, actual real-life track recreations, better physics and impressive damage effects. Every action you do on the track is recorded now too, tracking a player's style in every race. Now you will get rewarded no matter how you drive – be it calm and using the best line or aggressively road-ragey and intent on taking out everything in your way. There's no question, Need for Speed: Shift looks set to give the Forza franchise a decent run for its money this year.
NZGamer.com would like thank Activision, Capcom, Microsoft NZ, SCENZ, SEGA, THQ and Ubisoft for making this trip possible.