The Roundup: E3 Previews, Zelda Theories, Cyberpunk Controversies, And More!

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 report in from the madness of E3. Plus, reviews of a pair of first-person experiences that couldn’t be more different and a big moment for the Critics Circle at the Games For Change Festival.

E3 has begun, and whether they’re out in Los Angeles or here in New York, many of our critics are working overtime to cover the news, games, and sights of the year’s biggest gaming show. First, we turn to Nintendo, which made the surprise announcement of the expo when it debuted a trailer for a previously unannounced sequel to The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild. It was a short, ominous clip that set the tone for a much darker Hyrulian adventure, but Russ Frushtick slapped on his sleuthing cap and dug into what little is there to dredge up a few theories about where the series is going next. Where exactly is this cavern that Link and Zelda are exploring? What’s the deal with that spooky corpse? And most importantly: Will we finally be playing as Zelda? Russ has some thoughts.

Reporting from LA, Felicia Miranda got some hands-on time with one of Bethesda’s biggest games of the show: Wolfenstein: Young Blood. And while Felicia found the Nazi-slaying shooter action to be just as frenetic and enticing as we’ve come to expect from MachineGames, what impressed her most was the starring duo of Soph and Jessie, the charmingly irreverent twin daughters of series protagonist B.J. Blazkowicz. Their banter and cooperative assaults, Felicia found, give Young Blood a whole different feel.

Over at the EA side of things, Imad Khan interviewed Lee Horn, lead product manager for Apex Legends about what fans should expect to see during the hotshot battle royale’s second season. Between Wattson, a new defense-oriented character, and a new gun with slow-moving projectiles, Horn says Respawn is hoping to help players survive just a little bit longer when trouble comes their way. You can read his thoughts on those pacing tweaks and a whole lot more in Imad’s interview.

Stepping away from the E3 festivities, Ebenezer Samuel reviewed Sony’s latest major PlayStation VR release, Blood and Truth. While the story of this simplistic crime drama didn’t do much for Ebenezer, he was able to forgive Blood and Truth thanks to the details and feel of its VR shooting. “Instead of trite button-presses or rote mechanics, Sony works to make the game feel real,” he wrote. “So you pump your pump-action shotgun to reload it, grab grenades off your chest. It’s satisfying, and pairs with solid traversal mechanics to feel fun.”

And over at The Washington Post, Christopher Byrd, reviewed a completely different kind of first-person game, the “fjord noir” mystery Draugen. Rather than tossing virtual-reality grenades, Draugen has you exploring a rustic Norwegian village in search of your missing sister. What you and your AI companion, Alice, end up finding, though, is a town stricken by tragedy and a mystery brimming with twists. “More than enough games have made a virtue of bombast,” Christopher wrote. “Here’s to hoping that more developers and players find inspiration in low-key titles.”

From Beyond The Circle

Just as E3 is wrapping up, one of New York’s major gaming events is getting ready to spring to life: the 16th annual Games for Change Festival. From June 17 to June 19, keynotes, panels, and workshops revolving around games and social impact will take over the Parsons School Of Design. Our own Harold Goldberg will be participating in a panel on June 18, bringing the Critics Circle perspective to a discussion on what game-design curricula can do to teach students social and emotional learning (SEL) skills, in addition to the usual STEM skills. Of course, that’s a major focus of the Critics Circle’s mentoring and education work, and the wider we can spread that message, the better!

For the second year in a row, CD Projekt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077 is one of the most talked about games of E3, but bubbling beneath all the hype is a bit more negative conversation this time around. First, there was the spotting of an in-game ad featuring the hyper-sexualized image of a trans model alongside the slogan “Mix It Up.” CD Projekt and its gaming storefront, GOG, have run into controversy in the past with comments and jokes that veer into transphobia and alt-right humor, so critics immediately began questioning whether the image’s intent and whether it was created in good faith. Later, Eurogamer published a conversation with the Kasia Redesiuk, artist who conceived the in-game poster. She explained that her intention was to comment on the oppressive, dehumanizing nature of corporate advertising in the game’s world. “This shows the sexploitation of those people, and many of our advertisements feature this sexualisation,” Redesiuk said. “We sexualise men, women, and people in between, all to show how terrible this is.”

Elsewhere on Twitter, critic Casey Explosion posted a lengthy thread digging into the anti-Japanese xenophobia at the heart of the cyberpunk aesthetic and its frequent invocation of Japanese imagery—an element that extends into CD Projekt’s game. A few professors from the NYU Game Center picked up on Casey’s writing, and added their own contributions, including Naomi Clark, who gave some valuable contemporary context for growing up during the anti-Japanese anxiety of the ’80s, and Bennett Foddy, who provided some great further reading on the link between cyberpunk and Asian imagery.

That’s all for this week. Thanks 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.

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