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 tussle with the best and worst of Mortal Kombat 11 and take a trip with the latest Oculus VR headset. Plus, more reports on poor labor practices at major studios and a wild story from the world of game preservation.
It’s hard to believe Mortal Kombat is still going strong after 27 years of gory fisticuffs, but here we are, nearly three decades later, with Mortal Kombat 11 being hailed by some critics as the series’ best offering ever. Fighting-game fanatic Mike Andronico came to that conclusion in his review, calling it “an incredibly complete package for casual and competitive players alike.” Mike was especially impressed with the game’s story mode, which pulls from the series’ lengthy history to tell an “utterly ridiculous” time-travel tale that he believes tops every other campaign NetherRealm Studios has delivered thus far.
It’s not all great in Mortal Kombat 11, though. One of the most universally panned parts of the game—aside from its overwrought and slow-as-molasses system for unlocking new outfits and gear—is the presence of former MMA fighter Ronda Rousey. She was brought on board to voice Sonya Blade and is noticeably worse than every other voice actor in the game. But in addition to delivering a lousy performance, Rousey also has an unaddressed history of delivering a few lousy, hateful opinions, making her inclusion in the game even more disappointing. Heather Alexandra addressed the situation with an article that can best be summed up by its own headline: “Ronda Rousey Being In Mortal Kombat 11 Is Bullshit.”
And just in time for MK11‘s release, Harold Goldberg put together an article for The Washington Post that surveyed several developers, critics, and pro players to help answer one simple question: What makes a good fighting game? The experts’ answers took many different forms—from the technical to the deeply personal—but a few constants emerged.
Also at The Washington Post this week, Christopher Byrd reviewed Sony’s Days Gone. While its zombie-apocalypse premise did nothing to alleviate his weariness with those stories, he found the game’s open-world adventuring to be absorbing enough on its own, owing to a pleasing rhythm of fighting and scrounging and exploring in the beautifully rendered Pacific Northwest.
Over at CNET, Scott Stein provided an incredibly thorough early review of the latest Oculus headset: the portable, all-in-one Oculus Quest. According to Scott, one of our resident VR evangelists, the Quest is the best self-contained VR device yet, offering a solid virtual-reality experience without the need for a beefy computer or a phone to help power it. And just how thorough is Scott’s review? Well, this intrepid critic even schlepped the Quest to Aruba to play while on vacation, just to see how “portable” it actually is.
And finally, Kimari Rennis, one of our high-school interns, dipped into the recent remake of Resident Evil 2 for her first taste of classic Resident Evil. The game’s claustrophobic environments and sadistically limited resources had her stressed from beginning to end, but through the power of will (and the pause button), Kimari made it through this “compelling horror survival story” and says she hopes to investigate the rest of these classics.
From Beyond The Circle
While Mortal Kombat 11 has been mostly lauded, its developer, NetherRealm Studios, has found itself at the center of a controversy regarding its labor practices, treatment of women, and treatment of temporary contractors. In the days leading up to MK11‘s launch, multiple developers who previously worked with NetherRealm took to social media to tell their stories of countless 80- to 100-hour work weeks, poor pay, and harassment from senior and full-time employees. Both PC Gamer and US Gamer reached out to those developers and other sources to confirm the details and provide deeper insight into the way NetherRealm has allegedly treated its most vulnerable workers.
In other workplace-malpractice news from the industry, Kotaku‘s Cecilia D’Anastasio learned that Riot Games, maker of League Of Legends, filed a motion to stop its employees from taking legal action against the company. The move comes a year after D’Anastasio’s explosive expose about the culture of sexism at Riot and just months after five current and former employees sued the company for gender discrimination. According to her report, Riot’s lawyers claim the five women who filed the suits had signed contracts with arbitration clauses that protect the company from potential lawsuits. Later, Waypoint reported that a group of Riot employees were organizing a walkout in protest of the company’s decision to enforce those clauses.
We got another strange tale from the world of game preservation this week. Ars Technica‘s Kyle Orland reported on the sudden appearance of a publicly available ROM file for the game Akka Arrh, an Atari arcade game that was nearly complete but never widely released. There were reportedly only three cabinets ever built, and their current owners, while willing to display them at shows like the California Extreme arcade expo, never copied the game files into a form that could be spread across the internet and played on MAME, the incredibly prolific arcade emulator. So how did the game finally end up on the web? Well, some in the community believe a ludicrous bit of high-tech ROM thievery might have gone down. But is it true? We’ll let Kyle fill you in on those details.
This week marked the induction of the latest class of games added to The Strong Museum Of Play’s World Video Game Hall Of Fame. The museum held a ceremony to announce the five selected works: Colossal Cave Adventure, Microsoft Solitaire, Mortal Kombat, and Super Mario Kart. It’s a nicely eclectic mix of titles, with Mortal Kombat and Mario Kart being the big crowd-pleasers, Solitaire being the unexpected but totally deserving pick, and Colossal Cave Adventure being the historian’s choice: largely unfamiliar to the masses but incredibly influential upon its release way back in 1976.
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.