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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.

Fraser: A lot of Gamescom was a rerun of E3, so while the big-name games like Cyberpunk 2077 (which we'll see 15 minutes of gameplay from 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. 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, Knights of Honor 2, Empire of Sin, John Wick Hex, Desperados 3—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). 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! 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, 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, 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 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 in their classrooms, Matt Elliott sought out the worst MMO he could find on Steam,  and Tim wrote a lengthy response 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.

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Tyler has spent over 900 hours playing Rocket League, and slightly fewer nitpicking the PC Gamer style guide. His primary news beat is game stores: Steam, Epic, and whatever launcher squeezes into our taskbars next.