Most of the year, Cologne is just a lovely city on the Rhine. You can explore the history of the fourth largest city in Germany – it’s where cologne came from, don’t you know? – visit its huge cathedral or sample the local nightlife, but for one week in August, the games industry descends upon the city in force. Despite having only started in 2009, Gamescom has quickly established itself as the largest of games expos, and is perhaps now second in prestige only to E3.
I arrived in the country on Monday morning having, unlike most people coming across from the UK, braved the Eurotunnel. Operation Stack had been cleared over the weekend, but the problems of migrants trying to get through the tunnel to the UK manifest themselves as the train was suddenly brought to a standstill just a few hundred metres from the platform. Migrants, it turned out, had got through the fences and onto the tracks once more this morning, with our train stuck for 40-odd minutes as they were cleared and the police checked under the train. Yet despite having been plastered all over the news for weeks and having now been directly affected by it, it’s still an issue that I find difficult to comprehend.
Monday’s baking hot sunshine gave way to the persistent rain of Tuesday, as I sorted out a local sim card to avoid egregious roaming fees – not even 3’s Feel at Home scheme can save you in Germany – watched dubbed versions of Die Simpsons and The Big Bang Theory on Germany’s equivalent to E4, and engaged in some mild thumb twiddling while waiting for Gamescom to get underway today.
Despite my earlier comparison, Gamescom is a little bit different to E3, with the doors (officially) flung open to the public and hundreds of thousands of people – most of them on school holidays, that’s for sure – flooding the vast corridors and halls of the Koelnmesse. As the first day, Wednesday is generally a bit quieter than the rest of the week, where you’ll be contending with a sea of bodies and vast queues for all manner of games, but that’s only by virtue of it being a designated press day. Even so, they do still sell tickets for the public, so it’s not like it’s just journalists and exhibitors wandering around.
Even with that scale and the several years of gathered momentum, I can’t help but feel that this year’s Gamescom is a little bit different to recent years. A lot of that comes from the show’s closeness to E3 this time around, with Sony deciding that they would have little to be able to discuss with just six weeks to prepare. Instead, Sony will be holding a press conference at the Paris Game Show, later in the year.
Last year already saw EA move from a distinct press conference in a separate venue to one on the show floor as the expo gets underway, and they’ve stuck with this set up once again, meaning that there was just yesterday’s press conference from Microsoft with the usual pomp and sense of occasion that we might expect. It’s certainly a far cry from the seemingly endless string of manufacturer and publisher showcases that we had prior to E3.
And yet there’s still going to be plenty of games to see and lots of announcements to keep track of. I foolishly didn’t build any gaps into my schedule for getting from one appointment to the next as I did last year, which may completely break me come Friday night, but there’s a lot of great and interesting things that I’m looking forward to seeing.
Two highlights from today will be Dark Souls III, a game which I’m rather excited for despite only having been inducted into the Souls series with the tangential PlayStation exclusive Bloodborne, and Hellblade, with Ninja Theory ambitiously trying to tackle the subject of mental health in a medium which often struggles to deliver nuanced storytelling.
At the end of the day, it’ll be time to retire to a pub and drink late into the night, before heading to bed and getting up bright and early to do it all over again.