Gamescom 2018: It’s Time For VR Indies To Strike Back

by Jamie Feltham • August 20th, 2018

Gamescom isn’t what it once was and yet it’s bigger than ever. It wasn’t so long ago that Germany’s massive gaming convention was considered a sort of sequel to E3, with Sony hosting a massive press conference and Microsoft providing updates on many of its most anticipated Xbox games. These days, though, Gamescom is more about the boots on the ground than it is making the headlines. Scores of gamers flood in the thousands to get their hands on any spare controller left dangling at an idle kiosk. It’s been so successful in this regard that now it’s E3 that’s aping Gamescom.

That means there’s plenty of VR to play and it’s all about the indies.

Big publishers still haven’t embraced headsets like many were hoping they would. You won’t find many Rifts, Vives and PSVRs as you traipse the gigantic booths owned by the likes of EA and Activision, then, but if you go in search of the smaller indie spaces you’re bound to be rewarded. One of Gamescom’s lesser-known features, sadly closed off to the public, is an international hall in which various countries bring along a selection of developers to showcase their work.

It’s been the case for the past few years that this is where VR really shines at the show. Not with big blockbuster games the likes of which only Sony could pull off but instead more creative, inventive and riskier ideas that paint a vibrant picture about the future of VR. This year, for example, we’re really looking forward to getting a first glimpse at The Fisherman’s Tale, a story-driven puzzle game published by Arizona Sunshine developer Vertigo Games, which looks unlike anything we’ve yet seen in VR. We’ll also get a deeper look at the wildly inventive world of Crazy Machines VR among others.

Gamescom’s diminished importance to the press has given these smaller studios a lot of breathing space in the past few years. No longer do the larger corporations feel the need to provide sparkling new trailers and lengthy gameplay demos, and the playing field has been leveled out as a result. Sure, much of the public is still going to get their hands on the next Call of Duty, but I’ll be on the show floor with time to hunt down genuinely intriguing VR content. There aren’t many shows where I’d have such a luxury.

Franky, I think that makes Gamescom one of the most important VR shows of the year. It’s no secret that indies have been VR’s saving grace, with games like Onward, Moss and Downward Spiral not only keeping us in our headsets throughout the year but in many cases genuinely showing the bigger studios how it’s done. It’s not often that we get time to reflect upon that.

Most of all, though, I’m looking forward to stumbling upon some unknown new reality that hasn’t reached my inbox over the past few weeks. That’s how I discovered games like EverspaceEden Tomorrow and others over the past few years, and they’re often what I remember most when I think back to past trips out to Cologne.

There will be chances to see VR on a grander scale, of course. Bethesda’s new Wolfenstein VR game is going to be on show at the HTC Vive booth and Sony is bound to have this holiday season’s PSVR line-up on show, but I always head to Gamescom excited to see the projects that couldn’t make it to E3. Let’s hope we can uncover a few more gems.

Don’t expect a week of crazy announcements for VR, then, but I wouldn’t sleep on Gamescom either. Your new favorite VR game might just be lying in wait.

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