After outgrowing the small German city of Leipzig and shifting focus to the cavernous halls of Cologne's Trade Fair Centre (Koelnmesse), the expanded and re-branded Gamescom took 2009 by storm. Attracting just shy of 250,000 attendees and more than 450 industry exhibitors during its inaugural year, Gamescom has subsequently established itself as the world's biggest videogame conference. Will Gamescom 2010 enjoy similar success or pale by comparison?
Last year's press conference highlights saw Sony officially whip the covers off its much talked about PS3 Slim - gaming's worst kept secret of 2009 - and announce the upcoming availability of downloadable 'minis' for the PlayStation Portable. Meanwhile, EA showcased its usual array of heavyweight titles while Lionhead boss Peter Molyneux formally announced Fable III during a Microsoft presentation that focused on scant little else. Nintendo, somewhat oddly, was conspicuous by its absence.
The press conference line-up for 2010 is once again devoid of Nintendo, the Japanese giant evidently keen to hold back any major announcements until safely back on home soil during September's Tokyo Game Show. EA will, of course, be sticking to its tried and testing approach of blinding the media hordes with copious amounts of eye candy. And, to that end, we're expecting a first proper look at Dragon Age 2 along with more on Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, FIFA 11, and the Medal of Honor reboot. So much for EA's (largely abandoned) focus on new IPs.
Microsoft appears to be adopting a different tack this time around, not least because of its upcoming Kinect motion-sensing camera. Rather than just presenting the regular parade of suits-on-a-stage, Microsoft's three-hour conference will also include a special 'Play Day' event, which you'd be mad to think will contain anything more than an array of Kinect demo booths and the platform's official European release date. In terms of software highlights, there's an outside chance Microsoft could close its presentation with scene-stealing Gears of War 3 content, but it's more likely Halo: Reach and Fable III will take top billing and surprise absolutely no one. Somehow it seems inevitable that first-party Xbox 360 software will take an uncomfortable back seat to Kinect at Gamescom 2010 - whether we like it or not.
Having already used Gamescom to reveal the PS3 Slim in 2009, current chatter suggests Sony's press conference will culminate in the unveiling of a PSP-branded smartphone created in conjunction with Sony's industry partner Ericsson. Capable of downloading and playing PSP games, the rumoured handset is expected to carry a 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, Google's Android operating system (v3.0), and a 4.1-inch display. Leading up to that announcement, which doesn't quite qualify as a PSP2, Sony will sing the showfloor praises of Killzone 3, inFamous 2, Motorstorm: Apocalypse, LittleBigPlanet 2 and Gran Turismo 5. It may even shine a spotlight on Resistance 3, which would finally lend some weight to that giant billboard. And let's not forget an obvious focus on PlayStation Move, the distinctly Wii-esque motion-control system that continues to show an immense amount of promise - yes, we're looking at you, Microsoft.
When it comes to open showfloor content, Gamescom 2010 will be a tad shorthanded where publishers are concerned, namely because the likes of Capcom, Disney and Sega are not attending. Capcom's decision to stay away centres on the original 2006 banning of Dead Rising in Germany and also the country's continuing lack of certification for Blue Castle's upcoming sequel Dead Rising 2: Case Zero.
"As you are probably aware, the first Dead Rising was banned in Germany and as we are still awaiting a verdict from the USK (certification board) for Dead Rising 2 it would be remiss of us to promote the sequel to consumers in Germany," outlined Capcom Europe in an official blog post.
As for Sega, it chose to explain away its no-show back in early July by vaguely pinning its decision on "commercial" reasons. Subsequently, some of the major games missing from the showfloor will include Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds, Epic Mickey, Vanquish, Valkyria Chronicles 2, Shogun 2: Total War and, of course, Street Fighter X Tekken.
So who and what will be at this year's show?
Although not showing its strength via an official keynote, Nintendo will be offering plenty of floor space to long-awaited and much-covered titles such as The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and Metroid: Other M. No great surprises there. Chances are E3 will repeat itself in Germany for Nintendo, with most people walking away from its booth stunned by the left-field beauty and invention of Kirby's Epic Yarn, which looks like a massive hit-in-waiting. Factor in the return of Donkey Kong on Wii, Professor Layton and the Lost Fortune for DS, and the casual appeal of Wii Party and Tetris Party Deluxe and the Japanese titan pretty much has its ass and its bases covered. Sadly, word is that the Nintendo 3DS will only be available for viewing behind closed doors.
Gazing across the offerings of other leading publishers, it's likely that Square Enix and Eidos will be seeing a lot of booth traffic thanks to the inclusion of Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, while Ubisoft will be working hard to drum up interest in Assassin's Creed Brotherhood, H.A.W.X. 2 and a certain San Francisco reboot of the vroomtastic DRIVER series.
The words 'strong software line-up' can usually be found in close proximity to 'Bethesdas Softworks' and, as if proof were needed, Gamescom 2010 will include id Software's unstoppable E3 juggernaut Rage alongside Fallout: New Vegas, Brink, and Hunted: The Demon's Forge. Konami will attract plenty of interest with Castlevania: Lords of Shadow and Metal Gear Solid: Rising (should it actually make an appearance), but it's almost guaranteed that the European crowds will be flocking to its booth for Pro Evolution Soccer 11. Deal with it, U.S. sports fans, this 'soccer' thing is kind of huge over here.
After last year's rip-roaring failure of Tony Hawk: Ride, it comes as no surprise whatsoever to see Activision using Tony Hawk: Shred as an attempt to justify all the R&D cash it flushed away through its ground- and potentially limb-breaking skateboard peripheral. And for everyone else with more than a passing interest in half decent games, there's always Call of Duty: Black Ops, DJ Hero 2, and Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock to fall back on.
Meanwhile, because there's really no keeping EA in the shadows, everyone's favourite purveyor of sequels and annual statistical upgrades will be confirming its heavyweight status on the showfloor through Crysis 2, Rock Band 3, The Sims 3, FIFA Manager 11, along with Star Wars: The Old Republic and Darkspore. Those lucky enough to enjoy some alone time behind closed doors with EA will experience thrills and terror aplenty courtesy of Bulletstorm, EA Sports MMA and Dead Space 2.
Other games of note worth searching out while fighting for air and elbow space inside the Koelnmesse include: 5th Cell's Super Scribblenauts, which will hopefully carry all the invention of the original DS game while improving upon its awful controls; Namco and Ninja Theory's tantalising Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, which promises to blend the grace of Ubisoft's recent Prince of Persia reboot with the open-world action of Darksiders. Oh, and don't forget Michael Jackson: The Experience (Cha-mon!).
Although there's no concrete evidence to substantiate any of the following, we thought it only right to earmark some of the potential 'surprises' Gamescom 2010 may yet be remembered for.
Case in point, Sony will reveal in-game footage for The Last Guardian after confirming the high-definition Ico and Shadow of the Colossus collection for PS3. Mass Effect and Uncharted are due third instalments, and both could make their global debuts in Germany. Also, Ubisoft will raise a few eyebrows by revealing a massive new AAA title. Less likely is the prospect of Sony dropping jaws by announcing that Mass Effect is finally coming to PlayStation 3. If none of that grabs you, how about lightning striking twice as Microsoft once again sets fire to its chequebook by not only showcasing Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto V (London) but also bolstering the announcement with timed exclusivity and Xbox 360-specific content. Stop laughing... it could happen.
Seriously though, the only real highlight of Gamescom 2010 will be the appearance of Bernadette Kaspar over in Hall 9.1 of the Koelnmesse. Hailing from Graz in Austria, the lovely Bernadette just so happens to be Playboy's Playmate for the month of September, and she'll be helping Bigpoint promote its new browser-based MMORPG Poisonville, which she'll also be starring in. Given Bernadette's obvious promotional assets, there are bound to be plenty of bigpoints hovering nervously around the booth, which will also be populated by an array of "beautiful girls dancing around the clock." It remains to be seen whether that means the dancing will literally never end, or a prominent centralised time piece will be involved.
See you in Cologne.