By Matt Gerardi
Welcome back to The Roundup, the New York Videogame Critics Circle’s weekly look at our members’ writing and news from around the world of videogames. This week, our critics are wrestling with the glut of new releases that hit in February. Plus, we welcome and congratulate the Critics Circle’s two newest interns.
Over on Polygon, Russ Frushtick provided an initial review of Anthem, the latest game from BioWare and EA’s shot at establishing a Destiny-style living loot-shooter. Despite making a good first impression with its exhilarating sense of flight, Russ found the game quickly devolves into a bland, rote series of uninspired missions. Worse, he argues, all that flying and blasting ends up at odds with BioWare’s attempts at storytelling, which pull you out of the action and force you to slowly walk around a peaceful hub full of one-sided conversations. “It’s frustrating seeing the game’s various designs mash against each other,” Russ said, “like a soggy jigsaw puzzle where the pieces no longer quite fit.”
Another of last week’s big releases was Far Cry New Dawn, a direct sequel to Far Cry 5. It gives the setting of its 2018 predecessor a post-apocalyptic makeover but retains the locale and all the same explore-sneak-and-shoot action for which the series is known. In her review, Kotaku’s Heather Alexandra found New Dawn got more repetitive more quickly than other Far Cry games, but she was fascinated by some of the themes lurking beneath its familiar surface: an obsession with fathers (in multiple senses of the word) and a willingness to toy with the series’ sense of reality. Here at the Circle, senior intern Ronald Gordon looked at New Dawn as his first Far Cry game and came away generally impressed with characters like the antagonist twins Mickey and Lew.
And rounding out our critics’ coverage of the latest tentpole releases is Christopher Byrd‘s review of Metro Exodus in The Washington Post. He related this journey through post-apocalyptic Russia back to classic Russian literature and noted 4A Games has imbued Exodus with a surprising amount of humanity—both emotionally and tactilely—that allows it to feel more grounded than most first-person shooters. Praising the technical detail and grimed-up style of its visuals, Christoper closed by offering this high praise: “It may well be my favorite post-apocalyptic game since The Last Of Us.”
In addition to his work at Tom’s Guide, Mike Andronico is the host of the People Playing Games podcast, where he has conversations with, in Mike’s own words, “cool people doing cool things in games and entertainment.” Past episodes, which you can find here, have included critics, developers, and esports figures. Mike’s latest show features a conversation with Jeremy Kaplowitz, a New York-based comedian who created Lizard People Of New York, a popular parody of Brandon Stanton’s Humans Of New York, and is now the editor-in-chief of Hard Drive, a satire of the games press and industry. It’s a wide-ranging conversation that’s well worth a listen, particularly for the talk about how Kaplowitz tackles the tremendous challenge of writing videogame comedy that’s actually funny.
This Roundup is also a perfect opportunity to welcome Elizabeth Ballou, who’s come aboard the Critics Circle as a new intern. Elizabeth is an MFA candidate in game design at the NYU Game Center, she co-developed the poignant, characterful adventure game Gray Skies Dark Water, and her writing has appeared in multiple outlets, including a feature about the fate of Her Interactive for Kotaku. Most recently, Elizabeth’s work appeared on Girls On Games, where she published a fascinating interview with Sayakat Cosplay, a professional cosplayer and costume builder.
Another welcome is owed to Zante Barker, out newest Critics Circle intern from the Bronx’s DreamYard Preparatory School. Zante’s first review was published this week, giving us an inside look at the recent re-release of 2003’s Sphinx And The Cursed Mummy. Zante found the game’s Egyptian aesthetic and emotive characters charming but was frustrated by some archaic elements that weren’t modernized for this HD re-release.
And finally, a hearty congratulations from all of us here at the Videogame Critics Circle goes out to our intern Kimari Rennis, who has been accepted into NYU’s Future Game Designers program. Kimari’s been an invaluable part of the Circle during her time with us, and we wish her the best of luck in this exciting course!
From Beyond The Circle
Congratulations to Kotaku’s Cecilia D’Anastasio, whose expose on sexism at Riot Games recently won the Writers Guild Of America award for Digital News. D’Anastasio’s impactful, in-depth reporting also won her the Critics Circle’s 2019 Game Journalism award. In both cases, she dedicated the prizes to the sources who bravely spoke up to help expose the studio’s toxic culture.
And while we’re talking about Kotaku, the site recently published a guest editorial written by Liz Shuler, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, who called on game developers to unionize. Her letter came days after Activision Blizzard enacted mass layoffs while boasting about its record earnings, setting off a firestorm of anger around the industry. Efforts to organize developers have gotten more prominent in recent years as the curtain around the industry’s exploitative labor practices and executive pay is pulled back ever-further. Shuler’s letter is the first statement to the games industry from America’s largest union federation and should be seen as a major moment in this potential labor movement.
This week, Ramiro Corbetta, designer of Hokra and the director of Long Island University Post’s game design program, announced the Game Educator’s Conference, a conference for university-level teachers of design and development. The event will be held on April 6 at LIU’s Brooklyn campus and will include speakers from the NYU Game Center, Parsons School Of Design, Drexel University, and more. Attendance is free to full-time and part-time university-level educators, but Corbetta warns that space is limited.
Esports are an established institution at this point, with professional and college leagues happening all around the world. The natural next step is for that competition to trickle down into high schools, and that’s a phenomenon that’s slowly been building across the country over the lasts several years thanks to organizations like the High School Esports League and PlayVS. Parents might be skeptical about the value of letting their kid spend time in a high-school esports club, but as we’ve seen over and over—including in last week’s Roundup—research suggests playing these games might have cognitive benefits. More importantly, as this heartwarming video from the North American Scholastic Esports Federation shows, they can also offer fantastic social and leadership opportunities to students who might have trouble finding them elsewhere.
That’s is for this week’s Roundup. Thank you for reading, and we’ll see you next week!
Matt Gerardi is a writer from New York, the former games editor at The A.V. Club, and a member of the New York Videogame Critics Circle.