GamesCom 2009 Preview

Cologne here we come...

Having first opened its European doors back in 2002, the Games Convention (GC) in Leipzig, steadily grew in size and stature to the point where it was rivalling its North American equivalent E3 in terms of attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors, a multitude of heavyweight industry players, and a fair few of us ever-willing journalists.

Much like E3 before it, Germany's GC has gone through something of a rebirth in 2009, shifting its geographical placement within Das Fatherland to Cologne (Koln) and changing its name to GamesCom. However, unlike E3, the newly revamped trade fair isn't about to lose any of its colossal scale or impact and, come later this week, the Kolnmesse will play host to more than 400 international exhibitors eager to pedal their gaming wares across 120,000 square metres of floor space.

Luckily for you, but perhaps not the soles of our feet, your humble team will be dutifully pounding the show floor and reporting on every last mover and shaker, whether that be PlayStation or DS, gadget or gimmick, booth babes or looted merchandise - we're there for you (at least indirectly).

Given that event organiser BIU (Bundesverband Interaktive Unterhalungssoftware) represents more than a dozen of the world's leading videogame companies, it's perhaps no great surprise to learn that industry giants such as Sony, Nintendo, Microsoft, Electronic Arts and Activision will be vying for attendee attention from their respective booths when GamesCom's doors officially open on the morning of Wednesday, August 19.

But, in looking to spare you the monotony of a complete exhibitor parade (leading lights include: Bethesda, Capcom, Eidos, Konami and Ubisoft), let's jump straight to the show's core component by casting a curious eye over the potential software highlights of Cologne's inaugural GamesCom trade fair.

Firstly the big guns, those flagship titles and franchise sequels crawling slowly along the developmental pipeline that we've all grown pretty familiar with and are now growing increasingly anxious to play - a desire Luke, Jason and I can hopefully quell next week.

Sony has confirmed that PlayStation fans can look forward to spending a little GamesCom time with the likes of interactive investigation Heavy Rain, truly massive multiplayer MAG, adventure sequel Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, and platformer Ratchet & Clank: A Crack In Time.

Interestingly, Nintendo's software presence at the event still isn't set in stone, although a host of images plastered on the Japanese giant's press invitations would suggest the appearance of The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, Professor Layton 2, Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story, and New Super Mario Bros. for Wii. There's still no sign of a new Wii-based Zelda or more information regarding the confirmed Metroid re-imagining.

Similarly, Microsoft's first-party offerings have not yet been confirmed, although its Wednesday press conference is likely to contain much of the content already rolled out at E3. Ubisoft's line-up also remains a mystery beyond web rumours that point to the likes of Assassin's Creed 2, RUSE, Red Steel 2, Silent Hunter 5, Rabbids Go Home, Academy of Champions and Avatar - a list that concerns us due to the omission of potential big hitters such as Splinter Cell: Conviction and I Am Alive.

Arriving in the form of super heroics, grandiose gunplay and flashing fists, action-themed gameplay will be in plentiful supply during GamesCom, with Electronic Arts offering Army of Two: The 40th Day, Dante's Inferno and Mass Effect 2, and Capcom set to laud Lost Planet 2 and Dark Void while Namco Bandai provides a platform for Tekken 6 and Champions Online, and Bethesda Softworks sprays down WET.

Pausing only for breath... Eidos will be looking to push Batman: Arkham Asylum and the shamelessly cute Mini Ninjas out of the shadows, while Square Enix continues banging the drum for Final Fantasy XIII and Final Fantasy XIV, and games legend Hideo Kojima will be in attendance to help hawk the likes of Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker and Silent Hill: Shattered Memories for Konami. Oh, and there'll also be a little game called Modern Warfare 2 on show too, but who's ever heard of that?

From a European sporting perspective, fans of the leather-clad bladder (that's soccer to our American chums), can expect iconic Konami developer 'Seabass' to provide an eagerly awaited premiere for Pro Evolution Soccer 10, as will Electronic Arts (EA) for main genre rival FIFA 10. Meanwhile Activision will be motioning for snot-nosed attendees to 'pull up their pants' and show some adoration for Tony Hawk RIDE, which may even involve seeing the game's interactive skateboard controller in action.

Racing tastes are duly catered for through Moto GP 09/10, the surprisingly promising Need for Speed Nitro and the gorgeous, feature-packed Forza Motorsport 3 - although increasingly impatient PlayStation 3 owners may be left grinding their teeth at Sony's apparent unwillingness to bring Gran Turismo to the show in anything but its reduced PlayStation Portable form.

Because the music/rhythm cow's teats are not quite milked to the point of explosion, those gamers looking to thrash plastic replica instruments and wail into karaoke microphones are taken care of thanks to the likes of Guitar Hero 5, LIPS No.1 Hits, DanceDanceRevolution and Just Sing! Of course, the real battle for GamesCom notoriety in this particular genre sits squarely with turntable extravaganza DJ Hero, the late-to-the-party appearance of Band Hero, and the potentially checkout-busting arrival of The Beatles: Rock Band. Where's your money? Ours is firmly on the latter.

In terms of possible standout titles, we'll likely be gravitating towards Brutal Legend, simply because combining Tim Shafer and Jack Black is pure win in our book. And we'll also be keen to sample id Software's scrumptious RAGE and Gearbox Software's cel-shaded Borderlands, both of which are roaming first-person shooters that catch the eye and look set to deliver post apocalyptical visions similar to Bethesda's 2008 award winner Fallout 3. And, speaking of Bethesda, its latest science fiction RPG epic Brink will be demoed (non-playable) at GamesCom and, surprise, surprise, our hands will be itching and our gazes will be firmly fixed.

We'll also be watching intently during the Microsoft/Lionhead press conference following confirmation of Project Natal's presence at the show, and also the prospect of some mystery announcement from Peter Molyneux's award-winning studio - which has stoked our interest after the befuddling appearance of none other than Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara on Lionhead's official Web site.

Other show events that might but probably won't succeed in distracting visitors from their hands-on time with some of the year's biggest games, include the German PC case-modding championship, a special job and career centre for budding designers and developers, industry workshops, a Retro Gaming exhibition, an official cosplay Guinness World Record attempt, freestyle rallycross races on a specially constructed track outside the Kolnmesse, and even a GamesCom beach (banana hammocks at the ready).

Ahead of the trade fair's public opening on Wednesday, the midweek gaming headlines could already be overshadowing the first-day glitz and glamour based on any bombshell announcements that may emerge from a certain, much talked about Sony press conference scheduled for the preceding Tuesday evening.

Although third-party publishing behemoth Electronic Arts will be similarly looking to bathe in the media spotlight during its own late afternoon conference, all eyes will likely be focused on Sony in anticipation of it ending a near eternity of rumour and finally revealing a PlayStation 3 price cut alongside an aesthetically repackaged PlayStation 3 Slim console.

Widely viewed as two of the worst kept secrets in gaming (right behind Sony's recently unveiled PSP Go), the revamped PlayStation 3 Slim and a hardware price cut could well be held aloft to an auditorium of rolled eyes and sardonic journo applause during GamesCom, and recent whispers regarding the Xbox 360 would seem to support that possibility.

Specifically, as the fresh-faced trade fair looms large, speculation continues to mount that Redmond-based Microsoft is preparing to phase out the 20GB Pro version of its Xbox 360. Such a move would facilitate a price reduction for its 120GB Elite model and help combat any emerging aggression by Sony, while also better positioning its 120GB platform to support the wealth of downloadable media cramming the virtual shelves of Xbox Live Marketplace.

Also, although Sony has remained staunchly defiant over recent months that it has no plans to reveal a PlayStation 3 Slim and is more than satisfied with market performance based on established pricing models, it made something of a rod for its own back earlier this month after tooting the business horn a little too loudly.

The boastful tooting in question was emitted by Sony Corp. chief executive Nobuyuki Oneda, who revealed during a meeting of investors that PlayStation 3 manufacturing costs have been reduced by a whopping 70 percent since the console launch in late 2006.

Bearing that in mind, pre-GamesCom rumours of a 299 USD PlayStation 3 Slim are beginning to look more tantalisingly credible, not least because current industry estimations suggest it now costs Sony approximately 240 USD for each PlayStation 3 that rolls off the production line.

Games to see, games to play, press conferences to absorb, interviews to conduct, notes to take, news to write, features to compose, booth babes to ogle, cosplayers to mock, and copious amounts of cold beer and sausage to be sought - and not nearly enough time to cram it all in. Keep your eyes peeled to this site next week as we strive to steer clear of the German ale and Wurst in order to bring you GamesCom coverage devoid of spelling mishtakes, mustard stains and sudden outbursts of expletive-riddled vitriol because some spotty teenager with B.O. was hogging the Uncharted 2 demo.

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