Like every year, several games and publishers received gamescom awards from the organizers of this event. Most of the winners are big names like Marvel's Spider-Man or Fortnite. One exception is the prize for the best indie title, which this year went to Lost Ember from German developer Mooneye Studio. A few years ago, this project was successfully funded by Kickstarter.
Lost Ember lets players explore a beautiful world ruled by nature. We control a wolf with a special gift: the ability to possess the body of other beings. The 3D environment is full of fish, eagles, buffalo and more. All of them can be possessed easily just by pressing a button on the controller. After that, we see everything from their perspective, which allows us to go places the wolf can't reach. Small creatures, for example, can fit in small tunnels. Some of them are near-sighted so that objects in the distance can look blurry for them, and possessing another creature can change the way we see things.
This is not a game where you run the risk of dying, and there is no combat. The important thing is to know where you need to go and what animal can make that happen. Lost Ember is not supposed to be challenging, so there won't be very complex puzzles. It's an exploration-heavy adventure game, but it does come with a story. Along the way, we discover memories telling us why there are no more people in this world. Ghostly appearances replay important moments of the past. While the game doesn't rely on dialogues, it will be fully localized in English and German.
Playing the demo was an enjoyable experience, especially since this world is rich in variety and the visual style is quite intriguing. Running through the green fields, diving underwater and discovering a hidden ruin, jumping down a waterfall, or simply flying as a bird and watching the ground from way above, there's a lot to see and explore.
Lost Ember is aiming for a release in early 2019 for Windows PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
Similar to Lost Ember, the main character in Uprising Studios' SCARF lives in close touch with nature. This is meant to be an exploratory 3D platform game for all ages, and watching THQ Nordic’s presentation made us remember other atmospheric games like Journey and RiME. In some ways, SCARF seems to share the same idea.
There is a story, but it's not as prominent as you'd expect from a full-fledged adventure game. In short, SCARF deals with the question of what it means to be a hero and to fulfill a destiny. Interestingly, there are two main protagonists: the playable character (a strange looking fantasy creature in white) and his red scarf. Their agenda is often not aligned and, at first, we don't know what this piece of cloth wants.
Three areas will be explorable: the Meadow, the Desert, and the Mountain. Along the way, we discover memories and other secrets. We also meet creatures that look like the playable protagonist but usually behave like kids. Among other things, we can play hide and seek with them, or try to catch them. Once we succeed, a question arises: Do we give the scarf what it wants, or not? Of course, we don't want to spoil too much at this point. Throughout the journey, our hero gains several tattoos, which gives him a more and more unique look and reflects the progress of the story.
While the gameplay focuses on exploration, there is also a lot of jumping and running. Dying isn't something to worry about here, but if you mess up a jump, it might be necessary to do some backtracking. Amongst other things, the scarf can take shapes like wings; that way even a chasm can be crossed. With this red sidekick, we can overcome many obstacles. The developers from Salamanca expect five hours of playtime.
SCARF relies on nonverbal communication, so there's no voice acting. Instead, the orchestral soundtrack does a pretty good job accompanying the action with music. Sometimes it is more present, other times it's more subtle.
The Spanish studio is aiming for a release on PC sometime around the end of the year or the beginning of 2019.
Season of the Warlock
Another point-and-click adventure game is The Season of the Warlock from enComplot. It's about the Victorian aristocrat Lord Alistair Ainsworth, who finds a talking painting of a powerful warlock in an old castle. Depending on how the player deals with that situation, there will be two paths to play this story with completely different puzzles to solve.
We have seen this project several times over the past few years. The bad news is that there isn't much new to share since last year. The good news is that Javier Cadenas assured us that it's close to being finished and the goal is to release it in 2019. Other than that, the developer is considering a release on consoles, but for now, PC has priority.
We took a look at the French 2D adventure Edgar, which is the debut game from La Poule Noire. Though still in an early stage of development, the demo gave us a good idea of what to expect. The main character is a 40-year-old man who lives alone on his farm with several hens. His parents taught him some questionable things, which is why he is afraid of people. Unfortunately, there is an accident on his farm, forcing him to visit the next village for help. There he meets some inhabitants even weirder than himself.
According to the studio, inspiration comes from the old LucasArts titles, but also from Night in the Woods. The humor reminds us of the adventure classics, but the gameplay is likely going to be more casual. The open world elements are remarkable, with the player actually deciding when to start the main story. Before that you can talk to several NPCs, and most of the areas of the village will be accessible from very early on. Weather will change, and there are plans for day-night cycles. It's not clear yet whether this will be triggered by the story, or after a certain amount of time. Weather and time of day will most likely have an effect on the environment. If Edgar needs to talk to someone at a bar, for instance, he probably won't find this person while it's still sunny outside.
Along with the main story, there will be optional stuff to do. For example, we heard that if Edgar doesn't take a shower for a while, people react to him in different ways. However, we only played the first location at the farm, where we did some harvesting and fed the hens. There was already a lot to interact with, which gave a good idea of his daily routine.
At this point, Edgar has only been in development for a few months. Judging from that, it's quite possible that some things will be subject to change. Nevertheless, the first minutes with this bearded protagonist showed promise. The cartoon graphics look charming, and the humor works fine so far. There is no release date yet, but the indie studio hopes that development of the whole project won't take longer than 18 months.
Nubla 2: M. The City in the Centre of the World
In English-speaking countries, the PS4 exclusive The World of Nubla was released in 2016. Playable for one or two players, the idea was to use paintings from the Spanish museum Thyssen-Bornemisza as backgrounds for the short 2D adventure game. With this didactic approach, Gammera Nest hoped to make art more accessible, creating Nubla together with students from a university. While the gameplay of the first installment is simple and not fleshed-out, the visual style does make up for some of the flaws.
At gamescom, we saw bits of the second chapter. The core team hasn't changed much but there are a few more professionals helping with the development this time. Just like before, paintings from Thyssen-Bornemisza (which contains art from the late Middle Ages to the 20th century) are transferred to this fantasy world. While experiencing a story about temporal and spatial frontiers, we see the art of painters like Edward Hopper, Max Ernst, David Friedrich or Joseph Cornell. Some of them are even NPCs we can talk to. The new story is a continuation, but there will be a recap of previous events so playing the first episode is not required.
From what we saw and played during our appointment, the gameplay has changed quite a bit. Although the developers mention classic adventure games like those from LucasArts as the most important influence, there are many platform elements this time. Those who know Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons will recognize certain gameplay aspects. In some levels you control two characters at the same time with one controller (if you play solo). One character is controlled with the left stick, the other with the right stick. Each of them has different abilities: one is smaller but with jumping skills, while the other one is bigger and stronger. Usually it takes both of them to get from A to B. In terms of difficulty, it's not supposed to be a hard game, which is understandable because the goal is to stay accessible to a younger audience.
Gammera Studio told us that the approximate playtime for this chapter of Nubla will be around six hours. Compared to the pretty short first part, that sure sounds like a lot. We don't know the release date yet, but it shouldn't take too long until it is finished.
Translation of this article from German provided by the author, Matthias Glanznig.