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 members return with reports from vastly different worlds: some beautiful and otherworldly, some ravaged by disease and disaster, and some filled with ridiculous memes. Plus, a timely pair of stories highlights the human cost of fueling the battle royale genre.
Sony’s Days Gone is one of two big new releases this week, and Joshua Rivera reviewed the motorcycling zombie-apocalypse adventure for Kotaku. Ever since the game was revealed, onlookers have been skeptical of its tired premise and open-world tropes, and Joshua argues that the final product doesn’t do much to disprove those impressions. One thing that could have set it apart is reflecting on the moral acceptability of violence and nihilism in the post-apocalypse, but Joshua argues that Days Gone merely dangles that self-examination in front of players before moving on to more scrounging and killing and a story about a grieving tough guy finding a new life. “It’s a saccharine frame that attempts to paper over messy, incoherent themes with sentiment,” Joshua writes, “only to draw more attention to them.”
Also at Kotaku, Heather Alexandra shared some thoughts on the latest expansion for Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, “Fate Of Atlantis.” This new DLC picks up where the main game left off and leans way into the series’ science-fiction elements, splitting players’ time between battling conspiracies in the modern world and surviving a squabble between gods in ancient Greece. Heather was especially impressed with the size and look of the expansion’s new environment—a vibrant, vast representation of Elysium—and the way it packed meaningful choices and consequences into its missions.
One of the Circle’s favorite games of 2018, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, received a major update last week, adding a new character—Joker from Persona 5—and a nifty new tool that lets players create their own levels. Joker was hugely anticipated and has already made a big splash in the Smash community. If you’re looking to learn a bit about him and step your Persona game up to the next level, Imad Khan wrote an exhaustive guide for Tom’s Guide on the most effective ways of playing as this dashing new competitor.
As for the new stage-building mode and content-sharing tools, well, early results are about as silly as you might expect. Jordan Minor dove into the madness and came back reminded of Nintendo’s last great social-media experiment: the glorious, ill-fated Miiverse. “Exploring the beautiful trash pouring out of the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate online community is like a whole new game unto itself,” he wrote.
And finally, Ronald Gordon explored a wasteland of a different sort: the quiet, weather-ravaged world of Far: Lone Sails. This adventure game, which arrived on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 this month, charmed Ronald with its tiny protagonist journeying through a large, uncaring world. “I’d suggest it to people who enjoy managing systems and who value a journey with a hopeful ending for a better tomorrow,” he wrote. “In fact, that optimistic finale makes the gameplay in Far: Lone Sails into a trip that everyone should embark upon.”
From Beyond The Circle
This week, Polygon published the latest in a torrent of exposes on toxic working conditions at major developers. Colin Campbell’s investigation reveals the human cost of Fortnite’s success, with sources saying it’s not uncommon for Epic employees and contractors to regularly work for 70 hours per week—or more—and suffer blows to their health and well being. A big reason for the constant crunch, sources explained, is the mandate to keep the game fresh with regular updates and new content, a strategy for which Fortnite has received much praise from players and the press.
The same day, Vince Zampella, CEO of Respawn Entertainment, spoke about his studio’s philosophy for updating Apex Legends, one of Fortnite’s prime competitors. While players and the press have praised Epic’s constant stream of updates—the same strategy that has put the game’s developers into this state of perennial crunch—Apex Legends has been criticized for a lack of updates and new content. Zampella, speaking at the GamesBeat Summit, said his team is looking to rebalance the size of its content releases for Apex after a disappointing first season. But noted they won’t be changing its original plan of providing large seasonal updates at a slower pace, a strategy driven in part by upholding the quality of life of Respawn’s developers.
Last month, artist, game developer, and NYU Game Center alum Easton Self released a game called Selfless. It’s a beautiful personal statement rendered in sketches and text and photos, described by Self as “an interactive sonnet about my experience coming out” after a “religious, conservative” upbringing. In an, ahem, selfless move, Self has been donating all of the game’s proceeds to the It Gets Better Project, a nonprofit dedicated to outreach and advocacy of LGBTQ youth. He recently made the game free-to-download, but donations are still encouraged and will continue to benefit It Gets Better.
This week, the nonprofit Video Game History Foundation helped provide the world with another fascinating bit of gaming ephemera. This time it’s never-before-seen material from the development of Sonic The Hedgehog 2, including development documents, sketches, and sprites of enemies that never made it into the game. The files come straight from Tom Payne, an artist who worked on Sonic The Hedgehog 2 and kept his old materials in a collection of floppy disks that the VGHF and the owners of a California retro-gaming store helped convert into images for the world to see. You can check out all the material and read the whole story of this treasure trove on the Sega-focused MegaBitesBlog.
That’s all 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.