458 exhibitors, 120,000 square metres, 17,000 trade visitors, 4000 hacks and 245,000 people later, the first annual gamescom show in Cologne is over, and while it was less showbiz than the E3 that preceded it by two months, it put more new games in front of more gamers than any other show worldwide.
We were among those in attendance, and having overcome our torturous one-hour jetlag (Tom slept on the plane both ways, fact fans), we put our heads together this morning to come up with our game of the show. What's more, we had agreed in advance to put our heads together with our friends all around the Eurogamer Network, so, once you've decided our decision is rubbish, you can skip to page two and get fed up with lots of people whose work is only available in languages you can't read, too. On with the shame!
Best of the Nation: Star Wars: The Old Republic
Eurogamer's favourite game of gamescom 2009 might have won for any of many reasons - the fact that it's not only the first MMO to be fully voiced, but will be localised into French and German; the inclusion of persistent NPC or companion death, threatening to inject some risk and consequence into questing; or just the fact the presentation was held in a Jedi Temple (or the inherent MMO bias of the Eurogamer gamescom Awards voting panel).
But the Sith Warrior made a particular impression. Boarding an Imperial ship, he has to deal with an Imperial captain who disobeyed an order. Canon suggests it's goodnight windpipe, but he can also be spared. Keeping him alive means you gain the benefit of his experience and the respect of the crew, which helps in dealing with boarders later on. Dark side classes can be light-side positive, and vice versa - a difficult thing to get right, but then BioWare doesn't do the path of least resistance.
FIFA 10 - Peter Moore can (and does) say what he wants, but FIFA 09 didn't just fail to make our Top 50 last year because sports fans are few and far between at Eurogamer; it fell by the wayside because it was only nearly brilliant, over-reliant on sprinting and open to exploits online. But FIFA 10 is brilliant. 360-degree dribbling is the banner headline, but artful tweaks across the board breed variety and realism in subtle but important ways. We might have expected it to be the best sports game at gamescom by the distance of several football pitches, but it was only a few yards off best game, too.
Diablo III - Gorgeous, visceral and impossible to walk away from, Diablo III currently doesn't exist as much more than three character classes (four, if you weren't at gamescom at all, but over in California for the BlizzCon unveiling of the Monk). That's enough to be going on with, though; each one is a game in itself, full of personality, power, mechanical sophistication and its own special brand of knife-edge risk. Diablo was always this quick, but it's never been this clever before.
Borderlands - Games are all so serious these days. Once upon a time we used to run around green hills grabbing floating rings and jumping on robots which had poor defenceless bunnies inside them. These days it's all moral relativism this and Randian objectivism that. Borderlands, meanwhile, is about getting together with three of your friends, or two or one or none, and rumbling around a weirdo planet called Pandora setting fire to midgets, beating up giant gash-faced dogs named after heroin, and then looting corpses for randomly generated guns. It's Diablo meets Fallout, assuming they both came for a good time, and it looks brilliant.
Assassin's Creed II - For us (although not, we accept, for nine million other people), Assassin's Creed was a 'nearly' game, pregnant with potential that the midwives of the 13th century ultimately failed to deliver. For all we know, Assassin's Creed II may also be flattering to deceive, but it's certainly very flattering, and the linear sub-level idea implemented for the gamescom demo, along with the ambitious Renaissance setting and hooks into the Pazzi conspiracy, is sufficient to suggest that 2007's most mysterious action-adventure may be bettered in 2009.
Best of the Network: Heavy Rain
For the Best of the Network award, each site in the massive Eurogamer Network was given an equal number of votes, and their choices compiled into a top game and four nominees. It's the way we figured out the local choices, but on a broader scale. And there's no accounting for taste in that, which is why Heavy Rain is apparently the network's game of the show.
Don't get me wrong, I think Heavy Rain is fascinating and ambitious, and there is no one at Eurogamer.net who doesn't want to play it and find out whether David Cage and his colleagues at Quantic Dream can deliver on their stated aim - to get you emotionally involved in a vast whodunnit with four playable characters. But the gamescom demos were lethargic and rather forced, especially the evening at home with Ethan Mars looking after his son.
Positives? This is the natural evolution of the point-and-click adventure genre, allowing you to walk around and probe your environment, and offering no end of possibility in terms of outcomes. It's as far away from a quick-time event as Quakeworld or PGR. The quality of the character design, too, and motion capture-driven animation, is peerless. If Quantic Dream can find the drama to match the technology and design framework, this will be extremely special. For us though, the jury's still out on that part.
FIFA 10 - Aha. Clearly we haven't thought this through, because here we are trying to summon another paragraph on FIFA a page later. Then again, it's a game that offers much to discuss. gamescom saw the unveiling of Virtual Pro mode, where you can customise a player to your liking, download your Game Face, complete training regimes and then use him in 10v10 matches and other modes. There's also the first in what will be a succession of yearly steps toward revamping Manager Mode, beginning with a quest for greater base-level authenticity - probably a good thing, judging by Portsmouth's Premier League-topping exploits in my ongoing FIFA 09 session and Man United's impending relegation.
Diablo III - Again? Alright then. The Barbarian is a juggernaut of rage, tabbing between right-click cleaves and slams to keep the damage optimal and the fury high. The Witch Doctor's a midfield general of undead critters, daring to get up close and personal, dashing and retreating like a one-man Zerg (well, one man and his zombie dog). The Wizard pulls, freezes, retreats, sends in a spectral self and bombs from afar before closing in to destroy with the merest touch. And the Monk? He makes monsters explode just by punching them and has an attack that's a blizzard of 2D Street Fighter cutouts... It can't come soon enough, and it definitely won't.
Mafia II - 2K Czech's Jarek Kolar told me that the Mafia II team doesn't really speak to Rockstar North, despite what you would imagine are similar technological goals. Perhaps it's because 2K Czech's vision of an open-world organised crime adventure is a very real adventure into organised crime of the 1940s, thick with sexism, disproportionate violence and cars that drive slowly and can't handle rain on the road. It's grim, quite tense and uncompromising, like the sharp end of The Sopranos or a Scorcese film. Should be very interesting.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 - Ignored in the Eurogamer.net list on account of a frustratingly brief two-minute demo, for our European brethren there was clearly no denying its charms nonetheless, and in a sense they were right: the Spec Ops demo may have been over quickly, but everything between breaching the wall and the end-of-level stat screen was fantastic. Laser sights slashing through the air from enemy vantage points, bullet impacts on the riot-shield visor, the weight of the atmosphere, and the consistency of the frame-rate. Plus, it reminded us of Alcatraz flick The Rock, which has John Spencer in it, and we loved John Spencer. At least bring one developer next time though, Activision, please?
It's all over...
...until gamescom 2010, which takes place in Cologne from 18th to 22nd August next year. We'll be there.