Gamescom 2019 round-up: Part 3
Reporting from E3, GDC, AdventureX, Gamescom and other gaming events around the world
Feb 3, 2020
Jan 27, 2020
Following Part 1 and Part 2 earlier this week, we wrap up our coverage with the third and final round-up of gamescom 2019's bumper crop of upcoming adventure games – this time featuring impending comets, sullen detectives. and of course spore-ridden, giant technology-laden islands.
In this traditional adventure set in an alternate 1920s where mechanical yaks, dieselpunk and robot armies are the objects and themes du jour, you play eccentric pilot and engineer Pola Zagórska. Alongside her robotic chum Pascal, Pola’s on a mission to save her father who’s been kidnapped by his own invention, a vicious supermachine called Valkiria. The key to success seems to lie in pieces of a mechanical heart scattered across the world, which when joined together will create the mysterious “Brassheart” – supposedly the only way to send Valkiria packing for good.
Hexy Studio's Norbert Pokorski
Firing up the demo, I was immediately struck by the colourful and detailed Deponia-esque 2D graphics. Gameplay is traditional point-and-click fare, with lots of mechanical gadgets and gizmos to look at and pick up as inventory. I wanted to explore every nook and cranny of each metal-infused expanse to discover more about its retro robotic lore, where batteries and gauges sit alongside AI and anti-gravity generators. At the start I had to help Pola find some way of getting her poor pilot out of a plane that had crash landed and was in danger of blowing up at any second. Getting the pilot loose required a mixture of finding and combining the right objects and an intriguing logic puzzle involving trying to set a clock to the right time and date to get that aforementioned mechanical yak working.
You can use Pascal the robot on certain objects like lasers and levers that need powering up, and he also serves as a location-specific hint system. With one tap this friendly automaton, charmingly voiced by one of developer Hexy Studio’s own team members, will offer a cryptic clue to any puzzles close at hand. It’s a nice way of helping you move on in the game without giving everything away. The gentle banter between Pola and Pascal is fun and elicited a chuckle or two, especially around Pascal’s reluctance to reach certain necessary puzzle-related objects due to his fear of heights: “You’re levitating all the time!” “I know, and it’s terrifying!”
Though traditional in its design inspirations down to a tee, with such an intriguing premise, tight puzzles and a beautiful world to dig deep into, Brassheart may well prove to be more than just the sum of its parts when it hits Windows PC sometime around October of this year.
Minute of Islands
Studio Fizbin's Oliver Olrich
Sail the high seas and fix broken giant technology in this narrative 2D side-scrolling adventure from the creators of The Inner World. A mysterious storm of poisonous spores has infected the group of islands that a young upstart mechanic named Mo calls home. Luckily she’s got all the engineering know-how and a certain wand-like device called the Omni Switch that can restore the ancient defense mechanisms (made by giants that live under the islands) built to resist such attacks. Don’t let the bright, comic-style graphics fool you: travelling through the bacteria-ridden archipelago will take its toll on Mo – even in the short demo I played, contact with the damaging germs left her coughing and spluttering as she struggled to fix the three machines needed to return the island back to its former glory.
Developers Studio Fizbin were keen to show me how Mo’s headstrong personality impacts the game. As you jump and climb around each island, which will each represent a different chapter of the game, a narrator comments on Mo’s actions, which sometimes go against the player’s will. At one stage the diminutive protagonist is given the option of kicking back with one of the island’s occupants with a bottle of wine, but whilst I was all for a bit of grape-infused relaxation, Mo thought differently, so the narrator had no choice but to comment that she was too focused on her quest to care about wine at the moment, and on with the story we went.
Each island will have its own unique style and feel, but all will hold a couple of environmental puzzles to solve and branched pathways to take so you can choose which ones to work on and which way to go first. Along the way are “memory points” that allow you to cause Mo to remember a certain anecdote about something related to that spot which draws you more into the lore of that island. You can also opt to brush past them all, just like with the many collectibles you can pick up (or not) in secret areas along the way, though the team told me these will serve more of a purpose than just being a meaningless completion statistic.
You can do your best to help restore young Mo’s world in early 2020 when Minute of Islands is released on Windows, Mac, PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.
Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit
(L-R) Tag of Joy's Justinas Malijonis, Šarūnas and Žilvinas Ledas, Mingailė Striaukaitė
The “George and Nico” vibes are strong in this tale of an American thrown into ancient European history, which isn't surprising as some of the team behind Crowns and Pawns were involved in the acclaimed freeware fan sequel Broken Sword 2.5: The Return of the Templars. This is a traditional point-and-click adventure taking place within a grand tour around Europe to uncover a mysterious family secret, uprooted from its buried past when main character Milda travels from her home city of Chicago to read the last will of her deceased grandfather. Hijinks and melodramatic villains soon appear, and it’s up to our blonde American to uncover the family riddles that reveal the secrets of the king who was never crowned.
The demo saw me exploring the abandoned house of Milda’s grandfather in Lithuania for clues. The clean, realistic renderings draw comparisons to other modern 3D adventures like Telltale’s Sam & Max series. Wearing its classic adventure influences on its sleeve, items can be picked up and combined in inventory, and the puzzles I encountered felt like just the right level of making you feel faintly clever for solving them but never so taxing that you’ll be stumped for too long. For example, you discover that some of the blank pages you’ve been picking up through the house may have invisible ink on them, so you’ll need to figure out how to reveal what's hidden and then find the right items required and hey presto, you’re onto the next challenge: deciphering what on earth is written in the ink!
Here’s hoping this tale of historical intrigue can live up to its classic heritage when it’s unearthed on Windows, Mac and Xbox One in 2020.
A comet’s about to hit the sleepy town of Laburnum Creek, but even given their evident impending doom, some of the inhabitants don’t want to leave. As an inquisitive writer named Laura it’s all perfect fodder for your next book, so you ride on over to the forested former health resort to interview the remaining few and find out what’s keeping them from packing their bags.
Backwoods Entertainment's Matthias Nikutta
Unsurprisingly, all is not as it seems at a place where people are willing to die rather than deal with some admittedly unique real estate issues, so Laura soon finds herself uncovering the buried secrets of the townsfolk. The game, from the team behind Unforeseen Incidents, will take place in the days leading up to the comet’s impact, with gameplay consisting of Laura building up friendships with those around her and conducting interviews with the people left behind. I got to try the interview mechanic with one of the residents. This lets you choose various approaches – friendly, sarcastic, direct, etc. – to get more from your subject. There are no puzzles in RESORT; the main challenge will be picking your own path through these interviews, but there’s no wrong way to play. As well as conversing with them, there will also be side quests from the residents which Laura can complete to endear her a little more to them, and maybe help her reveal something juicy.
With all of this rushing around, it’s a good thing there’s a gorgeous 3D expanse in which to do it, taking in Firewatch-like sun-blushed pine trees and crystal clear lakes either on foot or in your trusty orange station wagon. Developers Backwoods Entertainment say they chose to keep the graphics low-poly to fit with the retro 1970s setting, which also might explain Laura’s groovy afro hairstyle and flares. Camera angles proved quite obstructive and awkward in my playthrough, which undermined some of the fun, but there’s still time for this to all be polished up long before the game is released.
RESORT is planned for a 2021 launch on PC and Switch.
Stormling Studios' Oral Samli
In this ode to cyberpunk and Lovecraftian cosmic horror from the makers of Conarium and the Darkness Within series, you play hacker-for-hire Randolph Carter, one of the few members of society still thriving in a post-apocalyptic future world gone badly wrong. The groups of people who have managed to survive alongside our protagonist live inside a citadel called the Domed City Providence, but wouldn’t you know it, Randolph soon discovers something that warps his version of reality altogether.
Whilst you’ll come across all kinds of weird and freaky creatures in Transient, like a fluorescent jellyfish alien, this is a puzzle game, not an action game. Logical brainteasers like sliding several circular tiles so that all the serpents depicted on them eat their own tails are dripping with Lovecraftian lore, but I also had to make use of a “scanner” function to pick out details in an investigation scene I otherwise couldn’t see to solve one challenge. You’ll swap between reality and another alternate dream state – sometimes at will and sometimes very much not – as you delve deeper into the secrets of Providence and the mysterious forces within it. I got a definite BioShock vibe from the dark hallways and misty, neon-drenched rooms all rendered in first-person 3D, though the gameplay felt much more linear in the section I played rather than allowing exploration of this alternative realm how you like.
The demo didn’t give much more away about why this is all happening to Randolph, so you’ll have to wait until Transient’s 2020 release date on PC, PS4 and Xbox to delve any deeper into this shadowy tale that straddles the line between the real and the abstract.
Mad About Pandas' Partrick Rau
Sometimes games suffer from choice paralysis, throwing so many options and pathways at the player that you feel overburdened with things to decide. Not so in Hitchhiker, a first-person 3D narrative-driven game where you play – what else? – a memory-stricken hitchhiker who is picked up and dropped off along scenic backdrops by the cars of five different strangers. Along the way, as you listen to the tales the drivers have to tell, you’ll also uncover more about your own dark backstory and maybe even figure out why you started this journey in the first place.
But a vehicular version of a walking simulator this is not. Whilst you will sit back and listen to each person’s anecdotes, jokes and occasional (terrible) songs, responding to them through different dialogue choices, there are also surreal environmental puzzles to solve, all with their own theme depending on who’s at the wheel. In my trip, driven by a mustachioed, drawling, baseball cap-wearing farmer who couldn’t wait to tell me the whole world was a giant conspiracy theory, I had to guess the answers to riddles being read out on the radio that all related to what I could see outside my window. Things started to get surreal when the radio presenter started talking to me directly – not everything stays on the straight and narrow planes of reality in your adventures along the dusty highways.
With its philosophical musings and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it hallucinogenic visuals, Hitchhiker plays like a particularly strong acid trip version of Jack Kerouac’s beatnik road trip novel On the Road. If you’re down for such a wild ride, you can catch a lift later this year on PC, PS4, Xbox One and Switch.
Are you a hard-boiled gumshoe who gets results by any means necessary? Or do you wait a while, bide your time and make friends on the inside until you have enough evidence to bring in your enemies? You get to choose between these or several other shades of grey paths to walk in Critique Gaming’s noir detective story about bringing down a mysterious terrorist organization, The Liberation Front.
As the lead detective, your goal is to dismantle the extremist group radicalizing members of the public. You do this mainly through conversational puzzles where you have to guess which move to make next to crack your suspect. Do you ask them a question directly? Or do you try to gain their trust first? As well as a heartbeat monitor at the top right of the screen, you also get visual cues as to how you’re faring. On this the team have sought a high level of realism to bring each of the interrogated to life, hand-drawing every animation in black and white by rotoscoping more than 1000 photos of over 40 actors. The effect is an eerie quality of half-real and half-animated, akin to a highly lifelike version of Hotel Dusk’s art design.
In the brief demo I saw, I really could tell when my suspect was getting angry or sometimes nervous. On that front, you don’t always have to play by the book when you’re asking questions. If you want to create fear, you can – there will be less ethical tools to use like the “wall slam” to get your point across too. With a timer ticking down before the interrogation has to end, you may find yourself resorting to measures you’d rather go unnoticed in the press releases.
As you’re a member of the police, you will have to deal with the media and a PR report tracks your success through variables such as your public popularity and press approval. You’ll have to measure this, as well as managing your strict budget and which of your agents you assign to certain missions. Mess up too many times and you could be fired – or even interrogated yourself. With ten planned chapters comprising as many hours of gameplay, I was impressed by the scope of Interrogation and hope that it hasn’t bitten off more than it can chew. The team say they want the game to be difficult and even frustrating at points – you won’t get everything the first try, because that’s not how real-world interrogations work.
Interrogation might not be for everyone, but with its challenging themes and striking gameplay, it sure feels like something that everyone should try. The game is set to be released in late October or early November on Windows, Mac and Linux.
In this puzzle-oriented adventure game, players switch between two woodland creatures or “Weavelings” – one deaf, one blind, using both of their complementary senses to venture through a fantasy world of light and nature. Controlling only one creature at a time, you’ll have to rely on your companion if you want to restore their destroyed homeland. For example, the stoic, slower Blind can “see” only a limited part of the world closest to him in blacks, greys and whites by tapping his stick on the ground, but can hear everything around him. Meanwhile, tap a button and switch to the sprightly, smaller Deaf and whilst suddenly lush colourful 3D waterfalls and forests come swirling into view, all sound is lost. Puzzles require a mix of both senses, such as using Deaf to leap across platforms Blind can’t see to flick a switch, then using Blind’s staff to strike buttons in a certain pattern to open a gate. A fun concept in a short demo, it’ll be interesting to see how much the obstacles develop past these basic forms in the full game, and also how the pair’s relationship will grow as you progress. Weakless is due out at the end of this year on PC and Xbox One.
Whilst sleuthing my way through the latest Darkside Detective: Season 2 demo at Adventure Treff’s party, I also got to find out a little bit more about Sunken Spectre, another project some of the developers at Spooky Doorway are working on. Playing as Jacqueline Moore, the fearless captain of the titular ship, you set off sailing the high seas, free diving for treasure, accepting quests from landlubbers, and getting into scrapes with your sworn enemy Royale Le Strange. The 3D game already sounds gloriously pulpy in concept, with the team emphasizing they want it to feel like you are playing a rip-roaring adventure inside a Saturday morning cartoon. There will be three play styles – on land, sea and underwater – and hopefully plenty of scope for becoming a badass pirate within the proposed 10-15 hours of gameplay. You’ll have to wait until 2022 to get your cutlasses into this one though, when it’s planned for release on PC, PS4, Xbox One and Switch.
The Flower Collectors
I got to take a quick look at concept art and a bit of the backstory behind The Flower Collectors, a new game from Mi’pu’mi, the developers behind The Lion’s Song. Set in Barcelona in 1977, a time of civil unrest, and featuring a cast of anthropomorphic animals, you play ex-cop Jorge, a reclusive bear bound to a wheelchair. You’re joined by aspiring feline journalist Melinda as you investigate a large-scale political conspiracy. You’ll piece together clues you gather on an interactive corked pin board in Jorge’s room, and the team told me there’ll be different endings depending on your actions and deductions. Mi’pu’mi also hope to create an empowering message about disability as Jorge comes out of his shell and interacts increasingly more with his cat friend, which if implemented properly could make for a heartfelt and refreshing narrative. The Flower Collectors is on track for launch on PC and PS4 next year.
Jules Verne, the shape of fantasy
Play the famous novelist himself in Gametopia Studios’ side-scrolling pixel art narrative adventure, as he tries to escape a parallel world where his famous works co-exist. Riffing mainly off Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Journey to the Centre of the Earth, the game plays as a blend of platforming and puzzle elements. In my demo I had to find hidden pages scattered throughout an island I’d washed up on. It wasn’t quite made immediately clear why, but my initial confusion was soothed by the pleasing lo-fi graphics surrounding me. You too can play the pixelated playwright upon the game’s release on Windows PC in early 2020.
Season of the Warlock
Alistair Ainsworth is an English Lord obsessed with the occult who wants to prove that magic exists but gets more than he bargained for when a portrait of a warlock starts talking to him. The story then branches into two pathways, where you can choose to sign up with the warlock and do his bidding, or not and instead put all your effort into discovering why the portrait is enchanted and eventually exorcise it. If that premise sounds familiar, it’s because The Season of the Warlock (originally announced under the title The Weird Story of Waldemar the Warlock) has been a staple of our gamescom coverage for quite a few years now. I come mainly bearing news that enComplot assures me the point-and-click 3D adventure is still coming to Windows, Mac and Linux, and unless cursed by a real life warlock we can expect to play this camp horror adventure sometime next year.