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Gamescom mini-previews

Gamescom 2011
Gamescom 2011
It will take you 21 minutes to read this feature.

Along with the adventures we’ve fully previewed in the past few weeks, there were also a number of other games in various stages of development that we saw at the gamescom in Cologne. Our demonstrations didn't allow for a detailed preview of each, but we can certainly share what we've seen so far. In this article:

- Asylum

- The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav

- Deponia

- Haunted

- Jack Keane 2

- Jurassic Park

- The Lost Chronicles of Zerzura

- Lucius

- Memento Mori 2

- Adrift

- City of Secrets 2 and The Freak Files

- Dream Chamber

- Phobos 1953

- Second Guest

- Sunset



Asylum

 

The horror adventure Scratches, by Argentinian developer Nucleosys, depended largely on its haunted house atmosphere and subtle ways of increasing tension until you were too scared to enter the basement even if nothing frightening had actually happened so far. Agustín Cordes has since started a new development studio, Senscape, and is now working on another horror. Asylum will take place in and around the huge, abandoned Hanwell Institute, and at gamescom Agustín gave us a sneak peek from the game. There was no actual gameplay to be seen yet, but the entire ground floor of the asylum was ready to be explored.

 

The story revolves around a former patient who has hallucinations and decides to go back to find out if something that happened back when he was a patient could have triggered them. The hospital is now abandoned and in poor shape, but when the main character walks the lengthy hallways he remembers them as they were when he was there previously, filled with other patients and staff. Slowly, memories of hatred and pain begin to emerge as you realize what a despicable place it was and what terrible things have occurred within its walls.

Movement is node-based, offering full 360-degree turns in each node. The main character, who remains nameless for now, is always very much present as you can hear him breathing and he will often comment on whatever you look at. The game will contain many more animations than Scratches to make the world seem more alive, and dynamic changes in music and sound effects will complement the extensive exploration. Asylum will be much bigger than its predecessor as the building is huge, and all of it will be accessible, with no closed doors or wings. There will be a map to facilitate fast travel, and the girl at reception, Julia, acts as a guide. Whenever you are at a loss for where you should be going or what you should do, you can go back to her and she will assist you.

Even without any gameplay, the atmosphere alone was enough to create a definite impression. But with no fixed release date and no confirmed publishers, we continue to wait in anticipation for the next bit of information Senscape releases.

 

The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav

 

In Germany, the Dark Eye universe is very well known. Originally a table-top Role Playing Game, there have been several video games set in the fantasy world of Aventuria, most of them RPGs. Now Daedalic is creating a point-and-click adventure game set in Aventuria, called The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav, and they showed us a bit of this impressive looking game in action.

A small town in the kingdom of Andergast is the main location of the game. Thirteen years ago a seer visited the town, and as nobody liked what he predicted the villagers burned him at the stake. Just before he died, he pointed to a small boy, singling him out as the one to bring the town a great deal of bad luck. The boy, who is called Geron, has now grown up to be a bird catcher, and suffers under the prediction since nobody wants him anywhere near. Getting rid of a plague of crows might just be the chance he needs to prove that his reputation is undeserved, but the task will not be as easy as it sounds.

We were shown a couple of puzzles involving cheating at a lottery by stealing the winning ticket (you'll need to distract a sales woman) and using inventory on the environment to collect leaves made out of metal, such as a copper oak leaf or a bronze maple leaf. Later in the game, Geron has to find a way through an Orc camp by making a statue they worship spew 'blood'. This involves a string of finding and combining objects, because you'll need to cross a stream and find a way to create the illusion of flowing blood from the mouth of the statue.

The game is based on the same engine as A New Beginning, and the hand-drawn backgrounds look beautiful and rich in atmosphere. The characters are based on 3D models but have 2D textures, which makes the animations look very fluid. Chains of Satinav is firmly based in the Dark Eye lore, and though it will not be necessary to have any previous experience with the franchise, players already familiar with it will recognise lots of details, such as the language of the Orcs and a song that until now existed only as text, but has now been fitted with a melody.

I’ve enjoyed the RPGs in the Dark Eye world a lot, and with the rich graphics and pedigree of Daedalic behind Chains of Satinav, I am definitely looking forward to this game, though when it will arrive is still unknown. The German release is planned for spring 2012, but no international publisher has been announced yet.

 

Deponia

 

 

Along with The Dark Eye, Daedalic also have Deponia in development. Deponia is a planet that functions on different levels. The surface is one big garbage dump, where the lowest social class is doomed to live. The main protagonist Rufus lives there, but he feels he deserves the chance to rise higher one day – quite literally, as the rich live in floating cities above the clouds. Rufus is always scheming and plotting ways to get there, such as building a harpoon to shoot himself to the Monorail that connects the cities high above, but all to no avail. Then one day a girl plummets out of the sky and Rufus sees an opportunity. If he helps her get back, he may gain access to her world. However, as he nurses her back to good health he falls in love with her and his plan falls apart.

The setting provides a unique range of opportunities, and the game will be filled with wacky puzzles like trying to catch an escaping toothbrush and making sure your socks match by dipping them in liquid. The graphics are done in a comic style in full HD, with little funny animations all over the screen. Apart from a few new screenshots and a new release date of Q1 2012, there actually isn’t much new to report since our preview two years ago, as Daedalic have been busy with a lot of other games in the meantime, but with Harvey’s New Eyes just released in Germany, they should now have plenty of time to concentrate on Deponia again.

 

Haunted

 

German developer Deck13 is probably best known for the Ankh trilogy, but lately they've made a couple of non-adventures too. They haven’t forgotten their adventure roots, however, and have kept hard at work on Haunted, a supernatural but funny adventure game. At gamescom it was fully playable in German, giving us the chance to experience first-hand what the game is all about.

Haunted revolves around Mary, a homeless girl in Victorian London. She lost her little sister Emily in a terrible train accident, and ever since that fateful day she has been plagued by visions and dreams in which Emily can be heard begging for help. But now Mary hears the voice when she is awake, too – or maybe she is still dreaming; she's not so sure herself anymore. Unable to escape it, Mary decides to follow the voice and ends up in one of the buildings at the University of London, where she stumbles and loses consciousness. Some time later, she awakes just in time to discover professor Lindsey Ashford about to dissect her, having assumed she was dead. As a fresh corpse is needed to experiment on, the professor orders her manservant Ethan to kill Mary.

During her escape and the six-chapter adventure that follows, Mary meets a number of helpful ghosts that all have a specific ability that Mary can use to overcome obstacles she encounters, just like you would use an inventory item. They follow her around and chat amongst themselves, making fun of the situation and each other. The ghosts are a strange bunch, from a pirate named Oscar the Terrible to a Scottish freedom fighter and a bottled genie.

The game doesn't restrict itself to London, as we will get to visit several other locations including Scotland and Transylvania. The locations are colourful in a dark, slightly eerie way, and Mary and the semi-transparent ghosts look good. The environments are done in full 3D, which isn’t just a way to make the game look attractive, but a feature to be used in exploration and puzzles as well. Some rooms are larger than the screen and you'll have to look (or climb) up and down to see everything, such as discovering what's on a high shelf or under a platform. Instead of simply clicking on an object for a close-up, you can actually move Mary around to have a look for herself. If you're afraid this may cause you to overlook lots of items, don't fear as a hotspot locator is available as well as a hint system.

The game was playable on the show floor, but because of the very crowded and loud circumstances at the fair I wasn't able to play long enough to form a strong impression. The game looks and feels nice, but the puzzles seemed a bit on the easy side, as it was always very obvious to me which ghost would be helpful, though this could very well become harder later in the game. We’ll know soon enough, as Haunted is already out in Germany and will be released in English in the first quarter of 2012.


Jack Keane 2

by Harald Bastiaanse

 

With the sequel to Deck13’s colourful 2007 adventure still in early development and its German publisher Astrogon keeping a tight lid on things, all anyone has been able to see of Jack Keane 2 consists of a couple of promotional pictures so far. What we did learn at gamescom is that a new in-house graphics engine will apparently be used, and Deck13 promises better camerawork and overall graphics and design while keeping the same basic style of the first game. What we know of the story is similarly limited to the fact that it starts with Jack being imprisoned in Shanghai for some reason. A couple of characters from the first game will make a comeback, including one in particular that designer Jan Klose would have really loved to tell us about, but couldn't.

The developers are aiming for puzzles that are challenging but not far-fetched and obscure, pointing to the learning curve of Angry Birds to illustrate how you can appeal to the casual audience and still have worthwhile challenges later on that people will feel pleased about solving. The humor is set to be along the same lines as before, but fresh. For instance, the first game turned out to have many jokes about clothing, an inadvertent running gag the sequel will try to avoid, while adding some of its own type of embarrassing situations. It’s far too soon for any concrete release details, but Jack Keane 2 should come out in 2012. Jan told us the summer seems most likely, but that's not confirmed and probably relates only to the German version in any case.

 

Jurassic Park

by Harald Bastiaanse

As we’d already done a substantial preview before gamescom, we used our latest look at Jurassic Park to get a few more things cleared up. Of particular importance was the matter of difficulty, which is a traditional concern for Telltale games. Telltale wouldn't straight-up say that Jurassic Park is going to be more difficult than Back to the Future, emphasizing broad accessibility instead. But they hope to address the issue through optional difficulty, where some of the harder puzzles will be discretionary; more casual players (or those who just want to reach the end quickly) can ignore them while others get some extra challenge and backstory insights out of them. A similar system is used for the QuickTime Event sequences (though they don't like calling them that) in dangerous situations: you don't have to beat all of them, but the more you overcome, the more respect your character gains later on and the better the general outcome. The optional aspects should also add some replay value, more so since there will be a scoring system and trophies involved.

Another issue was the matter of mouse-and-keyboard controls. Unfortunately, the preview we saw still didn’t have support for these in place, but we did hear that mouse gestures will be used in the action sequences. And then there's the unusual release details. Jurassic Park will come out on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC and Mac on November 15, but in a surprising development, the episodes will not be spaced out monthly but will all come out at once, with North America getting retail discs at that time. (This is due to specific circumstances, not because of any change of philosophy on Telltale's part.) The PS3 version may or may not be download-only and Europe may or may not end up getting the game a bit later (naturally, PC and Mac downloads at least will be available worldwide through Telltale's store). A version for iPad 2 will follow sometime afterwards.

 

The Lost Chronicles of Zerzura

 

 

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition! Certainly not in a game, yet that is exactly what Cranberry Production is going to base its next adventure on. Brothers Ramon and Feodor are living a quiet life in Barcelona. While Feodor is trying to invent a flying machine that will one day make him famous, Ramon is more interested in going on an adventure. He gets himself into trouble and is arrested by the Inquisition, which is notorious for making people 'disappear'. Feodor will have to use all facets of his brilliant mind to find Ramon, and not only will he have to unravel his family ancestry, he must also travel around the world to find clues to the legendary lost land of Zerzura, certain that there is a connection somewhere.

Some puzzles we saw involve making complex da Vinci-inspired machines by combining the necessary objects on a sketch until they fit together correctly. It is not immediately clear when you are trying to make something that will not work, as your creation will get constructed regardless. It's only when you try to add the final part that it will break down into the components once more and you can try again. The graphics are a mixture of realistic looking backgrounds and 3D animated characters, which looks very nice indeed. Fortunately, the game isn’t even that far off, as The Lost Chronicles of Zerzura should be out in the first quarter of 2012.

 

Lucius

 

Claas Wolter of Lace Mamba Global took us for a walk through Shiver Games' supernatural 3D adventure Lucius, in which you play the titular six year old son of Satan. Lucius’s grandfather was a politician who sold the soul of his firstborn grandson to the devil in return for more political power. It's now time to cash in on the deal, but the devil isn't happy with just the one soul. Instead he wants Lucius to kill all family members and staff in the huge mansion, but in such a way that all the murders look like accidents or suicide.

Lucius looks and feels like an open-world game, as you can walk around freely, but you will have 'missions' that involve killing your intended target, being careful not to leave any marks or be discovered. Starting off easy with tasks like locking up a maid in a freezer, the complexity increases rapidly as you'll need to make sure nobody suspects you as well as find new ways to get rid of people. As the spawn of the devil, Lucius will acquire some supernatural powers like telekinesis and mind control to make someone with a weaker mind do things they don't really want to. If the prospect of killing others is disturbing to you, the boy will also find out that his family members aren't exactly saints, as each has a dark secret or has been committing a terrible sin.

The mansion is huge and full of secret passages. There will be a map to help orient you but it will not enable fast travel, as that is considered too unrealistic within a house. Lucius will also keep some kind of diary with notes to himself, and you can contact the devil through a Ouija board to communicate with him about the mission. The version we were shown was an early one, with many placeholders present and several cutscenes absent, but despite its grisly subject matter (or maybe because of it), the game looked very interesting already. Its twenty-odd missions will reportedly take up to fifteen hours to finish, which perhaps explains why its release target has been pushed back several times, most recently to the first quarter of 2012.

 

Memento Mori 2: Guardian of Immortality

 

In Centauri Production’s Memento Mori 2 we return to the story of Max Durand and Lara Svetlova, who have married since their first adventure ended. They now both work for Interpol and are spending their honeymoon in Cape Town, South Africa. Max is having terrible nightmares and creates horrible paintings depicting blood and violence. In the first chapter we play as Max, who’s visiting a local art museum and investigating a theft there. Lara gets a phone call to return to Lyon immediately to investigate another theft, then learns that during her absence Max has been killed in a car crash. She doesn't believe he is really dead, however. His body was never found and she thinks he may still be alive.

 

Lara’s search for the truth leads her on a journey around the world, visiting places like Finland and San Francisco's Chinatown. The game will have eight chapters that include a third playable character who hasn't been revealed yet. Much attention has been given to the technology behind the investigations Max and Lara undertake. For instance, discovering fingerprints on a ledge will involve dipping a brush in powder and dusting off the entire ledge bit by bit, reapplying powder several times. It will take quite a while to find them all, as we were shown. The next step is to compare the prints to those of known criminals, choosing a number of features that look unique to that particular fingerprint. The difficulty of the puzzles will be on the same level as the first game.

We saw an early version of the game with no cutscenes in place, but we were promised a very high level of textures and facial animations. The 3D engine will be put to good use not only in the background locations but also for looking at items in your inventory, enabling you to examine them from all sides. The hotspot highlighter returns, as well as a diary that automatically stores the documents you encounter. There will once again be several different endings to the game, depending on your choices, such as choosing to believe or disregard some clues involving the paranormal. Memento Mori 2 should be released in the first quarter of next year, and is projected to take between ten and fifteen hours to finish.

 

The Second Guest

 

Although this game will supposedly be ready for release around Halloween, at least in Germany, very little is known about Twice Effect’s episodic horror-crime adventure The Second Guest. According to publisher Headup Games, the game is a mix between Agatha Christie and H. P. Lovecraft, while the 2D graphics are obviously inspired by Tim Burton, though it will also have quite a bit of humour. The Second Guest is set in 1923, when a student named Jack Ice receives a telegram inviting him to the reading of the last will and testament of Lord Averton, whom he doesn't even know. Jack travels to Grace Castle anyway, only to discover that Lord Averton’s demise definitely wasn't of natural causes. Moreover, all the guests including him are now on the killer's hit list. During a thunderstorm, the castle gets cut off from the outside world, so it’s up to Jack has to find out what has happened and what binds him to Lord Averton.

 

The story will unfold across five episodes, the first two of which will be bundled (at least in the German retail version). Some events will be optional, and two players using the same object in different ways will get different information from it. Each episode will have its own goal and a complete story, but each consecutive episode will import certain key factors from the previous ones. That way, different players can have very different experiences. For example, if one player interacts with a tree in a certain way, it will start making jokes, while another player may choose to ignore the tree completely and it will remain silent throughout the rest of the game. A third player could end up having a serious conversation with the same tree. Even the music is dynamic and will respond to the actions of the player. Dialogues are very important in the game, but the characters look fairly stereotypical. A boatswain called Bubbles, for instance, looks like Captain Haddock from the Tintin comics, and he tends to drink and swear a lot.

Puzzles will be very logical, as the developers don't like the nonsensical combine-everything-with-everything approach. There will be machines to repair in Myst-type puzzles, as well as inventory-based and dialogue-based challenges. Many will be layered, so you’ll get a clue in one place about a sunken ship, and when Jack discovers where the ship is and goes there, he will find a new clue leading him to a different place. There will be a hotspot highlighter and a map, and a hint function that will give rhymed clues for those in need of one. The developers promise there will be lots of coincidental animations, so if you pass a tree four times, it will not always show the same mouse running from the same hole, but will display a different animation every time. The game certainly looks very nice, and The Second Guest sounds like an intriguing game, so hopefully we’ll be hearing more about its English release (currently confirmed for download-only through Meridian) before long.

 

City of Secrets 2 and Freak Files

by Harald Bastiaanse

 

AideMMedia has several new iOS adventures in the works, though unfortunately they couldn’t show us too much of them. We did see enough screenshots for City of Secrets 2 to know that Mr. Moles is back in the starring role, and that the sequel is shaping up to be as good-looking as its predecessor. Surprisingly for what seems to be a budget title, it will even feature in-house motion capture. The developers have also taken some feedback on the first game to heart, implementing a better hint system and making arcade sequences skippable after a few failed attempts. They hope to release the game this year, and assure us it will be no later than Q1 2012 at least. City of Secrets 2 will be available for PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Android devices.

Beyond that another adventure game for those same platforms will follow called Freak Files. The early marketing materials are not very revealing, but do mention alien planets, conspiracies and whatnot, while the screenshots suggest a style similar to City of Secrets. We also briefly glanced at the casual titles in production, including Asylum 5D, which takes place in an abandoned psychiatric hospital that’s haunted by angry and desperate ghosts, and Lazarus Creek, which centers around an old tunnel and the disappearance of seemingly-hypnotized people. Both games are expected to have hidden object elements mixed in with some lite adventuring.

 

Dream Chamber

by Mark Jones

 

Unaware that this game even existed before gamescom, when we ran into the folks from Reply Forge, they were eager to tell us about their upcoming episodic adventure game Dream Chamber. Eager… but not entirely able. They didn't have any gameplay footage to show us, and they are currently in publishing negotiations which prevented them from revealing too much, but they did confirm a few things. Firstly, that it won't be long before it's released and secondly, that it will be available on the PC, Mac, and iPad, though they didn’t rule out the possibility of an Android release in future. The game features distinctive noir-style graphics with a soundtrack composed to sound authentic to the 1920s and ‘30s. We don’t know how many episodes are planned in total, but the developers expect that the second instalment will be released just a few months after the first.

Set in the U.S. at some point during the era of prohibition and the Great Depression, Dream Chamber will have players step into the shoes of Charlie Chamber, a wealthy man-turned-private detective who will have a new case to solve in each episode of the series. While each episode will be self-contained, there will be an over-arching plot thread that connects them all. As the name suggests, dreams are going to be an important part of the game and Chamber will use his dreams to help him solve cases.

 

Phobos 1953

 

 

 

German publisher UIG is launching a new product line in which they will market games developed by independent developers. One of the games in their “Play Indie” lineup is Phobos 1953, which is an adventure from the developer of Outcry, Phantomery Interactive. The game will explore the depths of the human mind, particularly what fear can do to people. It is a prequel to a movie called Phobos, which takes place in a night club where people disappear, but Phobos 1953 does not presume prior knowledge. The game is firmly based in reality, using real military plans to reconstruct underground shelters and historical documents about projects that the KGB conducted on the limits of human endurance, the psychological impact of fear and the possibility of telepathy. The shelter has been abandoned but perfectly preserved, and your task is to find out what has happened there and why the project was closed down. You soon find out you're not alone, however, as you will be observed by an unknown person who uses the internal communications system to talk to you. You don't know if they're on your side or not though, making your experience a fearful one as well.

The atmosphere in the game reflects the setting in the fifties in the USSR very well, with a dark, dirty, derelict look and feel. We were shown a puzzle that involved getting the lights in the shelter to work by powering up a generator with the correct switches (found in a document) and thawing a cable with a Bunsen burner. Once that's done, you can use a disc grinder to cut your way into an office where you’ll find a key to another room along with a radio. Switching on the radio and finding a certain station, you will receive a hint for another puzzle, without which it will be impossible to solve. Unfortunately, neither UIG's PR representative Tamara Berger nor I knew any Russian, and the game has not been translated to English or German yet, so we could not continue past this point.

 

Sunset

 

 

Sunset is another game in UIG's Play Indie series, but it is still in the very early stages of development. It looks like it will be a bit (or a lot) like Portal, in that it uses physics as the basis for its puzzles. In the distant future, the sun is at the end of its life cycle and is cooling down, causing a terrible Ice Age on Earth. Fortunately, scientist Rupert Collin has found a way to create an artificial sun, but the success soon goes to his head and he considers himself godlike. As Arthur Evans, you have to find a way to defeat the tyrant with a Portal-style 'gun' you can pick up and use to move and change the physical property of objects to solve the many puzzles. We're not quite sure if there are any reflex-based puzzles, but the concept certainly has potential, so it’s another game to keep a watch for in 2012.

 

Adrift

 

As we were walking through the Business Hall, we were approached unexpectedly by French developer DontNod Entertainment, as they wanted to tell us about their first game with the working title Adrift. This is a science fiction game that will be released 'late 2012' on both PS3 and Xbox 360. Adrift is set in 2084 (a nod to George Orwell's 1984, of course) in the city of Neo-Paris. The premise is based on the progression of social media, which has advanced to the point that it is now possible to digitize and store memories that can even be traded and sold. Everyone is equipped with a Sensen device (short for Sensation Engine) that is used to record everything you see, hear, smell and feel, and the game’s tagline "Remember you soon" is a hint to the possibilities of the memory trade. Only a few people have control over the exchange market, however, and they have enormous power. We as a society have agreed to this, but we're also a bit scared of what they could do with it.

Most of the presentation centered around the team of award-winning artists and developers behind the game, how they met and came up with the idea, and how they created the future Paris from extrapolating what is happening now in terms of changes in demographics, global warming, technology and architecture. They described the game as an action-adventure with lots of exploring and some light platforming elements, but they also said there would be combat. The plot sounds intriguing enough and the concept seems solid, but without more information about what players will actually be doing or just how much action there is going to be, we're not sure where it might fall along genre lines. We will keep tabs on this title though, as we like what we’ve heard so far.


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