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Gamescom 2014: Microsoft Roundup

The big and small from Microsoft in Cologne.

by James Thomas Aug 20, 2014


  • Gaming Article

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    Gamescom 2014: Microsoft Roundup
    Emblazoned in shocking green, Microsoft’s stand virtually shone out of the darkness of Hall 6. Its shock exclusive Tomb Raider was nowhere to be seen but Forza, Fable, Sunset Overdrive and Halo more than made up for that in the AAA space. Elsewhere their rejuvenated approach to indies was reinforced with an ID@XBOX section showing off the smaller titles that would lead the charge.

    Fable Legends


    Evolve isn’t the only four-on-one multiplayer experience lurking around at the moment. In Fable Legends four plucky adventurers take on one evil overlord as they battle to seek fame and fortune. They’re made up from a number of mages, healers, melee specialists, and ranged fighters and all fit the Fable world decidedly well.

    That’s all well and good but playing the villain is where things get interesting as you gaze down upon the battlefield from on high, spying the adventurers as mere insects. From this view you get to spawn various critters and drag them around the map constantly hampering the other four’s progress. As well as the huge troll that’s very prominently in the trailers there are also a swarm of close combat goblin-creatures and archers to harry them from afar. Each section is a well-contained RTS as you purchase, deploy, and poke your troops into position. On top of that you get to control the environment, pulling up spiked barriers just as the unsuspecting hero is about to walk through it. A trick that will never get old.

    It’s a departure from the Fable series but not necessarily a bad one. It’s still a great universe to play in, full of British humour and Albion’s colourful landscape but it’s the team makeup I think that will prove strongest here. That and the legitimised griefing from the Villain.

    Anticipation rating: watching with interest.

    Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime

    Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime


    As my wife and I made our way round the ID@Xbox section we pounced on anything that showed the merest hint of co-op. Turns out Lovers is all of the co-op.

    Flying a spherical craft through space you and a buddy control four turrets, one rotating cannon, shields, and navigation, all of which are activated independently from various terminals scattered throughout the ship. When fending off lumbering asteroids this is easy enough; one of you steers whilst the other hops back and forth between shields and the nearest gun clearing out the threat. There’s a little run between each station but it’s not too bad. When you’re against a swarm of rocket firing aliens approaching from all angles it gets a little more fraught.

    You weave the craft away from the fire, trying to park it so there’s as little of your bulk facing them as possible. One then tries to swing the shields into place before you both scurry between turrets frantically trying to dispatch the aggressors before your lovely planet-ship explodes. There’s a constant babble of conversation as your report and pass targets off to whoever’s closest. I’ve played many co-op games in my time but this is already one of my favourites.

    It reminds me somewhat of the chaos that can be caused in the board game Space Alert, whereby only through communication and combined actions can you succeed. Here not only do developers Asteroid Base achieve that with aplomb but they do it with such an accessible set of rules and controls that the barrier to entry is near zero.

    Anticipation rating: take my money!

    Funk of the Titans

    Funk of the Titans


    Looking back at my notes on this one I see I’ve scrawled “a finite endless runner.” Though that phrase alone may have meant my extreme pretzel consumption was bringing on delirium by this point I distinctly remember playing as Shaft dressed as a gladiator taking on Lady Gaga with missiles for nipples.

    As exciting as that may sound I'll pull you back to the "endless runner" portion of that paragraph. You barrel through a music themed world jumping gaps, collecting records, and dispatching skeletons as they stand distracted tapping their feet to the music. There's no control of your speed, you just head forward through this bizarre take on history reacting to the threats as they come.

    It seems harmless enough but from the title I was hoping more would be made of the music. You could see evidence of Titans but the Funk was seemingly underplayed. Each level did possess a certain amount of challenge but currently I'd question whether its got enough depth or humour to see it survive long term.

    Anticipation rating: we'll wait and see.

    No Time To Explain

    No Time To Explain


    There you are dancing in your living room when you from the future turns up exclaiming "there's no time to explain, follow me!" OK, that's fine, but then a giant crab claw bursts through the wall and grabs your future self and drags him away screaming. The only sensible course of action is to pick up the heavy duty laser he's dropped and follow him.

    Cue dozens of levels where you inexpertly use the laser as part-rocket pack, part excavator, using its supreme power to blast you off your feet and over huge gaps or to burrow through rocky tunnels. That's the theory, anyway. Once fired you're at the whim of physics so you'd better hope you've angled your launch correctly otherwise you'll do yourself a mischief.

    It's a simple premise that can be fiendishly hard at times due to the imprecise nature of your tools, but that's half of the challenge. This is backed up by a supreme sense of energy, too, with each new level dropping you in a slightly different time period but always with your future self being held tantalisingly out of reach forever yelling that you should probably try harder to help him.

    Anticipation rating: watching with interest.

    Spectra

    Spectra


    Already available in the Windows App Store, this wireframe racer is coming to consoles. Racing what looks like an old school GameBoy along a blue highway through the stars, you zip along at a fair old whack, nipping in and out of obstacles and picking up points along the way.

    It's very traditional, the only real aim being to get a high score and to stay on the track as long as possible, but does have a moreish quality about it. You can eek better totals by cutting corners, by winding in and out of the obstructions, and by chaining pickups. Each added element pushes you to failure so its easy just to hit retry and give it one more go.

    Anticipation rating: watching with interest.

    Ori and the Blind Forest

    Ori and the Blind Forest


    Seeing Ori moving reminded me of a cat - sleek, elegant, and graceful. It's matched by the backgrounds that this white guardian spirit moves through too, as each section I encountered seemed a labour of love, unique and virtually hand drawn. With the lighting adding a surprising illusion of depth to a 2D game it truly is a showcase not just for ID@Xbox but the Unity engine as well.

    The game itself appears to be somewhat of a Metroidvania. Areas of the forest are locked off until you acquire certain skills and the map itself was sprawling and rife with branching secrets. My time was spent trying to scale an important tree, yet my route took me through deep caverns and across swinging logs as I kept getting distracted as each new avenue presented itself. It is by collecting the orbs that usually greet you at the end of these diversions that you can buy skills and progress further.

    By restoring a sacred tree I unlocked the wall jump and further scavenging upgraded the potency and rate of fire of my magical weapon. The combat surprised me a little as it's not direct by any means as, instead, Ori fires tiny shards of light in arcs towards his foes. No aiming is required though as they loop through rock and home in on the closest target. When facing the leaping, purple insectoids and this lightning is blasting everywhere it can be quite a display.

    Whilst not entirely how I originally imagined Ori to be, The Blind Forest is looking incredibly promising. As I caught up later with the Xbox media briefing and saw the set piece of Ori doubling jumping, freezing enemies, and rushing to escape a rising tide, it's clear there's a lot more to it than simply being a well presented platformer.

    Anticipation rating: take my money!


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