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The best games from Gamescom 2019

(Image credit: Paradox Interactive)

With Gamescom 2019 behind them, Fraser Brown and Andy Kelly have taken over this week's news recap to share the best games they played or saw at the show. Here's our full list of PC games that were at Gamescom (opens in new tab).

Fraser: A lot of Gamescom was a rerun of E3, so while the big-name games like Cyberpunk 2077 (opens in new tab) (which we'll see 15 minutes of gameplay from (opens in new tab) next week) and Bloodlines 2 were all on display, it's hard to get enthusiastic about a hands-off demo from June. 

Avengers, however, had quite a bit more to show off, and I'm as surprised as anyone to discover that, gosh, I actually quite liked playing what still feels like a pretty conservative superhero action romp. The demo was on rails, unlike what will apparently be a considerably more open game, but it was a great showcase of the heroes' diverse skill sets. They all feel dramatically different from each other, to the extent that they could belong in entirely different action games, from God of War to Anthem. Iron Man still sucks, though, and I'm still waiting for some enemies that aren't just some dudes with guns.

Andy: With the first Kerbal Space Program being one of PC Gamer’s highest scoring games, I was pretty eager to see Kerbal Space Program 2 (opens in new tab). It’s by a different team—Star Theory rather than Squad—but when I shared a beer with creative director Nate Simpson, who has thousands of hours logged in the original, I knew it was in safe hands. It’s clear this guy loves Kerbal, and I’m really excited about what he told me about the new game: particularly interstellar travel and building colonies. He was reluctant to say what players would find in other star systems, other than ‘new challenges’, which is deeply intriguing. And on a more superficial level, the new explosions look bloody brilliant.

(Image credit: Private Division)

Fraser: The real winner of Gamescom was strategy. Yep, a whole genre. Humankind (opens in new tab), Knights of Honor 2 (opens in new tab), Empire of Sin (opens in new tab), John Wick Hex (opens in new tab), Desperados 3 (opens in new tab)—I'm probably missing a few and have to keep others secret. Sorry! They're the worst things to show off in this kind of environment, where it's loud and busy and nobody has much time, but I got some hands-on time with a few and almost had to be forcibly ejected from some of them after staying well past my appointment. 

Hex forced me to rewire my brain in front of a very polite man who only judged my mistakes a tiny bit. It's like nothing else I've played before and might be properly brilliant. I just never want to play it in front of people ever again. Empire of Sin, meanwhile, gave me my favourite Gamescom developer chat: talking to Brenda and John Romero about STDs. It's complicated. OK, it's not that complicated. The game has brothels and horny gangsters. Desperados 3 probably has some brothels, too, but I was more interested in the sneaky, tactical cowboy game's final character. She's able to control the minds of humans and animals to set up some excellent distractions and murders, or link two enemies together so that killing one kills the other. It's all very Dishonored, and not accidentally. It's still firmly in the vein of Shadow Tactics, Commandos and the old Desperados, but it promises to be a bit weirder and more elaborate. I'm well into it.

Andy: On the RPG front, I finally got to play Shenmue 3, running on a PC, and I still can’t believe I’m even typing these words (here's our preview from E3 (opens in new tab)). I’m a massive Shenmue fan, and have been since the first game was released in 1999, so consider my opinion here heavily biased, but I thought it was brilliant. I spent 50 minutes wandering around a sleepy village in the Chinese countryside called Bailu, talking to people, playing minigames, exploring, enjoying the atmosphere. I also trained at a dojo and got into a fight. It was a vertical slice of sorts, establishing the structure and style of the game. The best thing I can say about it is that it’s Shenmue. Proper Shenmue, exactly as it should be. And it looks better than the screenshots released so far suggest. I was playing at 4K and spent a good 15 minutes of my demo just staring at the detailed, cluttered environments and the clouds swirling in the sky above the mountains.

(Image credit: Taleworlds)

Fraser: I was struggling to think of any other 'good bits', but I haven't even mentioned Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlord (opens in new tab)! It was one of the first things I played, so it feels like a distant memory, but a bloody great one. I took over a castle, sat on a throne, dabbled in politics and mercilessly slaughtered peasants. A piddly 30 minutes of singleplayer isn't nearly enough time for something like Bannerlord, but it was a busy half-hour that should keep me going until it hits Early Access next year.

Andy: Back on the topic of sims and strategy games, a while back I wrote a big cover feature for PC Gamer about Planet Zoo (opens in new tab), interviewing a dozen devs about creating the game—but now, at Gamescom, I finally got to play it. And man, I am going to lose so many hours to this thing. I love the idea of Planet Coaster more than actually playing it, purely because I’m not that into theme parks. But I love zoos, and the idea of taking care of these realistic, beautifully rendered, painstakingly researched animals really appeals to me. My demo was guided by a developer, but I still got to try a few things out: building enclosures, dealing with escaped animals, buying new ones to exhibit, and using enrichment toys to make the animals happy. I messed around with the terrain tool, dropping grass, trees, and other stuff to make the place look prettier (and the animals happier) and I left with a powerful desire to play more. I’m gonna be all over the beta. And wait till you see the baby tapirs. They’d melt the hardest hearts.

The week's top stories

Around the office

Aside from attending Gamescom, Andy reviewed Telling Lies (opens in new tab), the new FMV mystery from Her Story creator Sam Barlow in collaboration with developer Furious Bee. It's quite good, he says—"brilliantly written and acted detective thriller that tells a compelling story in a unique way."

Meanwhile, Phil published an interview (opens in new tab) with Kerbal Space Program 2 creative director Nate Simpson—check it out for a lot of information on the sequel, which most notably adds colony building and multiplayer.

(Image credit: Bungie)

Jody investigated how teachers are using Minecraft (opens in new tab) in their classrooms, Matt Elliott sought out the worst MMO he could find on Steam (opens in new tab),  and Tim wrote a lengthy response (opens in new tab) to Destiny 2 game director Luke Smith's 12,000-word Director’s Cut updates, which is classic Tim.

That's it for this week. If you play Minecraft, go hug a bee this weekend (opens in new tab).

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Tyler Wilde
Tyler Wilde

Tyler grew up in Silicon Valley alongside Apple and Microsoft, playing games like Zork and Arkanoid on the early personal computers his parents brought home. He was later captivated by Myst, SimCity, Civilization, Command & Conquer, Bushido Blade (yeah, he had Bleem!), and all the shooters they call "boomer shooters" now. In 2006, Tyler wrote his first professional review of a videogame: Super Dragon Ball Z for the PS2. He thought it was OK. In 2011, he joined PC Gamer, and today he's focused on the site's news coverage. After work, he practices boxing and adds to his 1,200 hours in Rocket League.