GamesCom 2023: Starfield, Xbox and co-operative shooters

GamesCom 2023: Starfield, Xbox and co-operative shooters

Ever since E3 gave up on its confusing existance and flip-flopping between being a conference for gamers / the press / maybe both / nobody at all, Gamescom is carrying the torch for the biggest gaming conference for the world. Just a few years ago, it was a “gaming conference” we wanted to check out. Now, almost a decade later Gamescom is an experience that is highlighted in red each summer on my calendar.

The week before Gamescom is always one of mixed feelings. There’s the excitement because Gamescom is approaching fast, an event that’s completely dedicated to games. It’s like a music festival for nerds, except you get to hold the instruments, sing the songs and don’t have to burn to a crisp in the afternoon sun. On the other hand, the autistic part in me yells “WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS?” until Gamescom starts, because Gamescom is big, two hours away and an event where you’re constantly surrounded by other people, noise and non-stop impulses.

However, as day one approaches the jitters are usually replaced by more excitement. We were heading to Gamescom for all four days so we were prepared for a marathon. That means that me and my brother are equipped with a backpack, food, cash and foldable chairs – a must-have if you’re spending more than a game at Gamescom.

Day One – Starfield

It’s hard to describe why Gamescom is so exciting if you are not into video games. But the moment we stepped into the sacred halls the good vibes overflowed any remaining feelings of “Why am I doing this to myself?!”

As you enter the halls, you are greeted by the various boots, of which some are louder than the others. Our day one tradition is to explore all the halls of Gamescom, which is quite the expedition. We walked 13,5 kilometers on the first day, trying to get a glimpse of all the boots and what they had on offer. One booth that was hard to miss was the Xbox booth – which was the biggest Xbox booth we’ve seen at the event this far.

After we’d seen all the booths of Gamescom and inhaled the games, the atmosphere and the vibes of gamers being at one place to have a good time, we decided to end the day by visiting the Starfield booth. We knew that Starfield wouldn’t be a playable demo but we were nearing the end of our energy levels after hiking across Gamescom and the Starfield booth offered us an opportunity to look at some of the gameplay of Gamescom.

Starfield was presented by a German speaking woman representing Xbox, which meant we had a hard time understanding what exactlty she was saying. However, she more than made up for it by her enthusiasm. We might not have been sure what the lady was saying before playing the trailer but she sounded excited to be there and to be able to play Starfield soon so it was hard not to feel excited about the gameplay we got to see afterwards.

Day one is traditionally a day that we don’t get a lot done, and this “Day One” wasn’t different.

Day Two – The Day We Circled The Xbox Booth

Although the Xbox booth was one of the biggest out there, it wasn’t the most popular out there. This is probably partially a result of the declining popularity of the console – mostly due to their own doing – and wrongs from the past they are trying to correct. However, the Xbox booth has always been a favorite of ours and it was no different this year.

Getting to the Xbox booth proved to be challenging on day two, though. A rain storm decided to stalk us from our starting location until well into Germany, setting the road(s) blank in at least two different places. The non-stop rain also made it hard to make pace, but eventually we arrived at Gamescom for some good old gaming.

Due to some minor issues – headaches are a bitch when you are at a gaming conference – we didn’t felt like traveling a lot, and looked for “quick wins” which are short queues where we could get our games on a game in relatively short time.

We spend 90% of the day at the Xbox booth, where queues were usually shorter than at other booths for exactly the same game. We got to play the following games, for which I’ll try to write a short review.

Ghost Runner 2

A rogue-lite game in a cyber-punk game where you’re a sword wielding bad-ass who has to cleave his way through levels. Not entirely my piece of cake as I’m not a huge fan of repeating the same segments of a game over and over again, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad game.

Immortals of Aveum

A game by EA, this is a first-person magic shooter. The part we got to play was fun, but the different types of weapons weren’t really explained. The game was fun but without a clue as to what the game was about it’s a bit difficult rating it. You get to shoot things with magic, for some reason in a world, because…?

I’ll probably look into this game if there’s a discount, but for the moment I’m not excited enough to spend my money on it.

Ara: History Untold

Ara: History Untold is a PC game which is coming to PC GamePass. During the presentation of the Xbox representative we got to see actual gameplay. We were guided through twenty turns of the Civ-like strategy game. The game looked fun and interesting, and has some interesting takes on the genre that might make it worth playing. There are plenty of strategies that can be deployed to achieve victory, and the game looked good.

One thing that I didn’t neccesarily like about the game is how the tech tree works. Instead of having a tech tree where you can forge your own path, you are limited to researching technologies that are drawn for a pile. That means that, if you unlock the option to research a technology, you are presented three random options from the pile instead of being free to choose. Maybe it works fine in an actual game, but this feels like a weird choice and we’d have to play an actual game to figure out if this is something that works in reality or no.

Armored Core VI

FromSoftware decided to revisit their series of mech games. A series of which I didn’t know it existed until recently. In it, you are placed in a mech and have to battle yourself past mechanized opponents in all forms and sizes – and of course it’s a FromSoftware game so some of these opponents are really big and difficult to defeat.

What we got to play was a single level. Not being a 100% familiar with the controls and the mech’s weapons and abilities made it slightly difficult to perform well, which showed in the fact that we never made it to the final boss fight. From what I understand, you get to take on a level in a single run, and although you get access to a “repair kit” there are no do-overs. If you fail, you need to start the mission over and just do better.

All in all the mechanics and gameplay of Armored Core were very fun. This would be a game that I would buy if the price is right or if there’s no other games that are demanding my attention (Cough, Starfield, cough). This could be *yet another hit* from FromSoftware.

Age Of Empires IV

Microsoft shadow-dropped the Xbox version of Age Of Empires IV during Gamescom which meant you got to play it before I had a chance at GamesCom. At its core the formula of this RTS Legend has never changed (although there was a dramatically received attempt during Age Of Empires III) and so you would be a fool to expect “more of the same, but better looking and in a modern sauce” of this version.

Playing Age Of Empires IV on a controller instead of a c ontroller and mouse isn’t ideal for me. I’m sure the development did a great job migrating the experience, but having to remember what trigger, stick or button to click to select a group of guys was a little too much for my brain to handle when you’ve taught yourself to click and drag your way through games when you were younger.

It wouldn’t be fair for me to comment on how good / bad the experience on the Xbox is because of it. However, the game looks great and is nearly identical to the experience on the PC so if you are comfortable playing slightly more complex games with a controller don’t let that stop you from trying out this game. It’s available on GamePass, after all.

Infinity Strash

“Infinity Strash” has a much longer title, but let’s go with Infinity Strash because that’s the only thing I remembered as I switched from my browser to Microsoft Word to write this review. Infinity Strash was one of those games at a dual booth. And when confronted with a dual booth, GamesCom has taught us that “whichever game is fine” is usually the best strategy to avoid long lines”. That’s how we ended up playing this game.

This game is apparently set in the Dragon Quest universe, a game series I. can’t really tell you anything about because I never played any of them. Based on the demo, Inifinity Trash is a game with RPG elements where you are part of a team of three with the goal to defeat a gauntlet of dungeons which become increasingly more difficult. You get to choose between a number of dungeons for each round, each offering specific bonuses to one or all of your characters if you defeat the dungeon.

With little clue about what was going on we tackled some dungeons who became increasingly more difficult. The game was fun and challenging. The gameplay was solid and the graphics were fun, but based on the demo alone I’m not sure if this would be a game I would enjoy as I usually want a little more substenance from games (says the guy who started playing Gunfire Reborn).

Might be worth picking up for fans of the Dragon Quest series or people who enjoy the feeling of a “rogue lite” RPG game.

Banisher / Space Marines II

The Xbox booth is a beacon of green in Hall 8 of Gamescom. The booth spanned the entire width of the hall and was by far the biggest booth we’d seen in Gamescom history. To call it our “home away from home” would be, well, not that far from the truth. Between the countless stations to play games, the Porsche from Forza Horizon and cool gadgets, this was one of the best stands out there at GamesCom. However, after a long day of circling in and around the Xbox booth we got a little bit tired but still wanted to stretch the day out a bit. That’s why we headed to the Focus Entertainment booth, which promised us a “World Premiere”.

Focus Entertainment had built a mini movie theatre, including the chairs, and presented two games. They’d brought gameplay footage of two upcoming games, Banished and Warhammer Space Marines II. Neither of the games really grabbed my attention, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t look or sound good – the trailer also doubled as a showcase for Dolby Atmos. Which, interestingly enough, both games apparently don’t support when they’re available.

While I probably won’t be buying either of the games at full price, it was an interesting end of day 2 of Gamescom.

Driving back home, things got interesting as the tunnel close to Kolnmesse was apparently closed to an accident. We had to rely on our good friend Waze to find us an alternative route, which didn’t really wasn’t a problem. However, due to fatigue and a longer route the journey back turned out to be longer than pleasant. We hoped to get enough rest for day two of GamesCom!

Day 3: Storm Troopers and Co-operative shooters

It might be hard to believe but we headed to Gamescom day 3 in tip-top shape. We were ready to have a blast at GamesCom.

With all head- and other aches out of the window we felt like exploring a little more so we started out in Hall 5. Hall 5 is home to both universities, companies, Indie games and merch. We passed a small booth that grabbed the attention of my brother.

Although we explore all of GamesCom at day one, it’s hard to see everything. See as in actually notice everything it has to offer. Which is why visiting more than one day feels like an absolute must if you want to get the most of of GamesCom.

The game that got the attention of Kenny was Chicken Detective 2, which is a game-noir lead by two chicken-detectives. No, not detectives that are afraid but actual roosters. The point-and-click adventure proved to be an entertaining, humorous mystery. When starting the game you can choose between two modes. You can play the game in “color mode” or in black and white, as the developers intended. While it’s generous to even include a color mode, the film noir feel of the game added an unique touch to the game that would be lost if you don’t play the game in black-and-white.

To add to the mystery of the game, the booth was empty on the last day. The only witness to the developer fleeing the scene was the walls of the booth which were covered in art for the game. Perhaps we can deploy two certain detectives to find out why the developer skipped on Sunday?

Stampede Racing

Next up was the Level Infinite booth, one of the bigger booths at Gamescom. We decided to line up for Stampede Racing, which turned out to be a Battle Royal racing game. The Mario-kartesque game starts with 60 racers (of which most were AI during Gamescom) and it’s your job to survive various events by finishing in the top X. Stampede Racing was an interesting take on the kart-genre and could be a fun game for both casual and more serious racing gamers alike although the people who own a steering wheel or even a full setup might be ignoring this game.

I managed to make it to the final round of the game, where I ended 5th or something. The Battle Royal element of the game added a layer of strss to the game, especially in the first round, because I didn’t want a booth person to walk up to me and say “Okay, you’re eliminated, please leave” after just one round. Fortunately for me I barely scraped by after the first race, inching my way into a top 30 finish. Making the cut got easier from there, although the “Battle” variant race was also a little confusing. How can there be so few cars to lob weapons at with a 30 car field?!

As we were queueing for the game, we were sitting next to a wall. That wall held the empty goodie bags that were handed out to people after playing the game. Somehow, some of the other visitors of the game thought we were the middle man for a shortcut to just hand them out bags, something we did for a few people until we decided things were becoming awkward so we told people that you had to participate in the game to get one. This might or might not be true, but either way our days of handing out loot and not receiving it ended right there and then.


Next up, we decided to give GTFO a try. This isn’t a new game by any means. The survival horror shooter has been out for a while but was still a big draw. Since we’d never played the game we didn’t really know what we were in for. Knowing it was a co-op game added some pressure, and the social stakes only got higher as the Level Infinite people applied what I’ve become to call “Human Matchmaking”. While people were lining up they’d be trying to make sure that people were part of groups of four so that they wouldn’t have to waste time creating complete groups at the entrance. This system actually makes a lot of sense when you think about it.

Because of this we were adopted by two Germans, one of whom was cosplaying as a Stormtrooper on a beach vacation, and his female friend. After finding out we’d never played the game before they explained the fundamentals of the game to us (stay stealthy, don’t shoot if you have to) so we’d at least have a clue of what to do.

When it was our time to play – on keyboard and mouse, a combination we mostly have experience with to play Microsoft Excel – we descended into the world of GTFO and managed to find the Artifact by surviving most of the rooms. On the way back, things got heated. First, the most experienced player from our group fell as we were being attacked from behind, and soon after the rest of our team fell. We did surprisingly not-bad for first timers, but it wasn’t exactly enough for the grand prize – anyone who completed the level got to pick an item from the swag corner of the booth. But hey ,at least the German guy won a t-shirt. Thanks for teaching us, German Stormtrooper Guy!

Payday 3

“We’ve already played a co-operative shooter… We might as well check out Payday 3 at the Microsoft booth, right?” The next game was PayDay 3, another co-operative game where you play a team of bank robbers. Once again we were paired up with two randoms.

As one does with co-op games, we were provided headsets. Ironically, the only two people actually using these headsets were the two players that are notoriously single player games – me and my brother. We were trying to figure out how the game worked but once we got the hang of it we carried the team throught the game. That’s to say, I found the materials to break into the vault and then as we tried to escape got downed by the police. As it turns out, Kenny had headed back into the bank to get the final bag of money and when he came back “he saw us all lying down”. He managed to revive us in clutch, dropped off the final bag and we actually managed to escape with two bags of money. Go us!

Payday 3 was fun and interesting. The gameplay loop hasn’t really changed, you’re a team of criminals trying to do a bank heist. While doing that you are confronted with alarms, the police and other difficulties – only some of which can be solved with bullets. The gameplay was interesting and intense and it was one of the games I felt strongly about after leaving the booth. I will probably be checking this game out if it ever comes to Gamepass or becomes cheaper, but I’ll have to find my “communicating with strangers” voice to make the most of these bank heists – because random people that are walking around the map not telling you what’s going on isn’t it as was proven by the two silent Germans on our team who were doing who-knows-what.


The final game we played on Saturday was Towerborne, an Xbox exclusive. The demo we got to play was very limited so it’s hard to tell what this game has on offer story-wise and gameplay wise outside of the core loop, which is a side scrolling beat-em-up type of game where you walk from left to right to try and defeat as many enemies as possible. As is usual with those types of games, the nuance is usually lost on me and I just try to push buttons until enemies disappear from the screen.

The surprisingly short demo didn’t really teach me whether this game is one I will want to be playing in 2024 but it’s apparently coming to Gamscom so it won’t cost us an arm and a leg to find out if it’s an enjoyable game next year.

Day 4: Stray Games As We Say Goodbye

I woke up on Sunday with mixed feelings. As much as Gamescom is one of the best experience to, uh, experience after four days it can be exhausting. On the other hand, I was excited for the last day of Gamescom because, hey, it’s Gamescom. But I was also slightly sad because I knew it was the last day and I was worried that the “good vibes” would be gone as soon as we left GamesCom. By “good vibes” I mostly mean the warm, fuzzy gaming I got from playing video games – something I don’t do enough of during the year as I mostly spend my time pretending to be a content creator who’s just one lucky break away from finding a very niche project that will make him thousands of dollars.

We headed to GamesCom for the fourth and last day, and when we arrived we don’t really have a battle plan other than “play more games”. After wandering around a bit through hall 5 and 10 we discovered that the booth of Chicken Detective was already empty. Mysterious!

When we don’t have a game we definitely want to play we usually end up at the Xbox booth, so we went to the Island of Green to see if we could play a game. And we could. We could, indeed.

Persona 5: Tactica

I’m not sure if I am getting the title right, but we played a turn-based tactics game set in the Persona universe where a team of Phantom Thieves probably try to steal something. I’m not sure, we were thrown in the middle of a tutorial and there wasn’t a lot to build on.

Turn-based tactic games are either hit or miss depending on your preferences. Personally I don’t hate them, but you don’t see me playing them often either so I don’t feel like I should be commenting on the gameplay.

As “games based on a games” do, this will probably be a game that will mostly be fun to play for people who both like the original series and turn-based strategy games. I’m sure there must be an audience for that; I must admit I’m not always in touch with what people actually play outside of my “single player for life” bubble”.


Sega had banners all over the halls telling people to play Hyena’s, so we visited their very large and very blue stand to line up for the game although we didn’t really know what to expect. It was a new title that would go into beta (soonish), so what was there to know?

Well, Sega had us covered. Visiting the Hyena’s booth was a two-part experience. First, we were shown an introduction video for the game which explains the basic premise of the game. Next, we were sent off to play the game in teams.

If there’s one thing you need to know about GamesCom it’s that it can be loud. That meant that it was hard to follow the introduction movie. We understood the gist of it, but what wasn’t a 100% clear is that Hyena’s mixes game modes up.

Hyena’s is a co-operative shooter where colorful characters team up in groups of three to perform a heist on a ship. In order to achieve this they first try to gear up through an Apex Legends like system of weapon mods and shields. The team then tries to find their way to a vault where a priceless object is stored – in our case a giant Sonic statue.

Once you manage to hold off security and grab the object, you need to try and exfiltrate and that’s where things get spicy. Up to that point it’s mostly been a PvE game. But the different teams, should they not get killed on their way there, end up in a common area where they’ll all try to make it to their extraction point. In theory that leaves room for PvP shenanigans. I’m not a 100% sure if that’s something you should focus on, because by the time we got there our German friend had run off and gotten himself killed, so I chased him and my brother only to end up shot in the face by a guard. Kenny told me that he did, in fact, had to fight other mercs, but I can neither conform nor deny this. If that’s the case, Hyena’s offers an unique formula to the game of games.

Playing Hyena’s was fun and exciting, but unfortunately we got wiped first. The nice Sega dude said we could play some PVE instead until the rest was done, but we didn’t quite understood the message on how to do that exactly. He’d walked us trough it and guaranteed us that “okay, you can start”. But we could, not in fact start, because the PVE mode had never bene selected. When we eventually did we had a second chance at glory and defeated the AI. Victory!


I am going to keep this summary short and sweet. I have no idea what Wayfinder was about and the game gave me zero hints. Instead, I ended up in a dungeon where there wasn’t really anything to do or find, only adding to the confusion. Apparently it’s a game where matchmaking happens when you enter a dungeon or something? This was lost on me entirely so when I decided to quit the weirdly empty dungeon a little German guy was confused and wondered why he was suddenly leaving the dungeon as well.

Since I’m a gaming savant I more or less connected the dots. It was me that had betrayed him. How or why, I don’t know. I didn’t even know someone was *in my team*.


Another Level Infinite game, Synced is a co-op shooter for PC where teams of three try to make their way through a dungeon. We managed to battle our way through the dungeon as the game was mostly straight-forward – except when the nice lady of the booth told me to push “G” to use a special attack – a button missing from their instruction papers.

Either way, we managed to fight our way through the dungeon and were returned to what seems like a home base, which is when I learned that Synced is a surprisingly colorful world that probably features a base hub where you can do things you can’t do in the demo.

There was also an option to “sync” with slain enemies, but because demo there wasn’t really time to get into what the implications for that were for us in the game. It’s fair to assume that it’s a pivotal part of the game, which is named “Synced”, after all.

Synced felt fun and the graphics and character design make me want to find out more about this game so I can continue to fight enemies with my surprisingly chipper female character I was operating. I’ve added it to my increasingly long “Buy someday” list. That makes for at least two Level Infinite games that achieve this highly strived for status.

Party Animals

Yet another game at the Xbox booth, party animals is a team based(?) brawler where you choose one of the titular “party animals” to participate in – one can assume – party games. In the demo we got to play, we took part in a 4v4 game (paired with two enthusiastic German dudes) to take on the rival team.

Party Animals is one of those games that is both simple to understand and hard to win. The controls were basically “run around”, “kick”, “headbut” and “hold / throw ball” but that doesn’t mean that playing the game of “Electric Football” that we were participating in was easy.

The goal of the demo was to throw a (sometimes) electrical ball into the goal of the other team. And of course, they don’t want that to happen so a brawl breaks out.

At first, we were crushing the opposition. Unspoken teamwork lead to a 4-1 lead. We quickly figured out that if everyone protects the runner instead of chasing the ball, we all win. We also discovered that running with the ball is, in fact, a bad idea. It’s better to throw it away towards your opponent’s goal and then recover it. Which is what was did.

Somehow, our tactics didn’t suffice as the opposing team crawled back to 4-4, but in the end we managed to squeeze by.

Party Animals was probably one of the most “fun” games that we played at GamesCom, in the sense that everyone participating was actually laughing and having a good time. Hell, even of the participants were having a good time as they were trying to figure out the chaos on team. Party Animals will probably indeed by the life of the party. And since It can be played online but also locally with friends, there’s a little in it for everything.

Just remember… throw the ball. Electricity bad.

The Crew Motorfest

After “Party Animals” we felt that we’d pretty much played everything there was to play – well, within our taste of games – but we made one last stop for The Crew Motorfest. You can’t tell a lot from a short demo – although the intro makes me think the game takes place in a Forza Horizon-esque event – on Hawaii and had to then race a bunch of vehicles in succession – which is probably the intro to the actual game. The racing was smooth, the cars looked great, and The Crew is likely going to be a really interesting racing game when it comes out and one I’ll likely be buying although I’ve never finished 1 or 2.

I did had one hick-up with the game while riding jeeps. I had to jump across a gap and clear a ramp to do so, but I hadn’t realized that my jeep had 9 gears. So I didn’t make enough speed to clear it and had to retry. Multiple times. While playing on a screen facing the people waiting to play. I felt like dying on the spot.

So, yeah, Forza… I mean, The Crew Motorfest looks like a great game. Since no Horizon game is coming out I’m strongly considering picking it up.


GamesCom 2023 is over already, again? That’s crazy.  I think we played a record number of games despite some physical difficulties and we had a blast during all four days.

Some minor points of criticism are the price of the parking – increased by another 25% – and that the hat I really wanted to buy was already sold out by Sunday. But other than that, attending GamesCom for four days while travelling by car is a choice and the consequences are for me to carry.

One downside of GamesCom is that it makes my usual stick of “pretending to be a content creator” feel boring, and I start to talk myself into the idea of “you could be a gaming journalist again”. Which is unlikely, but we’ll see. I’ve decided to start by writing down my experience of GamesCom and we’ll take things from there.

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