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 give impressions from the first few hours of Ghost Recon Breakpoint and from many, many hours of Borderlands 3. Plus Ubisoft gets in on teaching coding concepts through games and much more.
We’re kicking off this week with a Ubisoft double feature starring two games that couldn’t possibly be more different. First there’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint, the French publisher’s latest attempt at injecting its Tom Clancy brand of military shooters with all the looting and leveling of open-world role-playing games. Heather Alexandra reported back after blasting through its first five hours, finding it “isn’t a game out to shatter the mold; instead, it wants to slide comfortably into it.” That mold, it turns out, involves a whole lot of finding better guns and gear to replace your old guns and gear so you can fight bad guys with their own stronger guns and gear. The best news, though, might be that the game is set on a fictional corporate-owned-and-operated island (overrun by rogue military operatives, of course), freeing Ghost Recon Wildlands’ deeply troubling representation of a drug-addled Bolivia that stirred up so much dismay and even a mild diplomatic incident.
Jordan Minor wrote about the announcement of a new game that’s on the other end of the Ubisoft spectrum, Rabbids Coding! It’s a free-to-play educational game using the company’s wacky, screaming bunny-like mascots to teach players basic coding concepts, like logic and experimentation. As Jordan points out, “Plenty of other games have featured simplified coding as their main mechanic,” but it’s always heartening to see more publishers take their own stab at getting kids (and plenty of adults!) interested in this crucial concept.
Sara Clemens kicked off this spookiest of months with an essay (reprinted from Unwinnable’s latest Exploits zine) about the deep, human fears so often found at the heart of the horror genre. But like the best horror novels, movies, and games, Sara had something more socially relevant on her mind with this piece, which ultimately served to unpack the startlingly familiar evils lurking beneath the all-American veneer of Stephen King’s Derry, Maine—and provide a rallying cry for battling them back.
Now that they’ve had time to blast their way through it, a couple more of our critics took the time to lay down thoughts on Borderlands 3. Ebenezer Samuel covered the game for The Daily News, calling it an “excellent” sequel that was worth the excruciating seven-year wait. And what makes it excellent in his eyes is sticking to what Borderlands has always done best despite the formula it pioneered being expanded in major ways over those seven years. It’s the “zounds and zounds of guns,” as Ebenezer describes them, and the endless customizability they bring to the table.
Sophomore intern Ronald Gordon was just as taken with the game, but for him, the biggest appeal was in the humor. It’s a tone that goes beyond just the obvious jokes—although Ronald found himself enjoying plenty of those—and finds its way into the general absurdity of it all, of the zany, mutable guns and the cartoonish physics and the outlandish character designs.
Circle intern Isaac Espinosa shared his thoughts on the unique pinball-based adventure Creature in the Well. Isaac was most impressed with the game’s ability to build tension and make him feel small, often thanks to its ominous darkness and the looming threat of what lies within it. But it’s that feeling that makes Isaac’s victories “even more triumphant.” He was less appreciative of the game’s difficulty, though, which he argues jarringly spikes to unfair levels and “can be daunting to players who haven’t gotten used to the controls,”
From Beyond The Circle
Shawn Layden, the thoughtful head of Sony PlayStation, departed the console maker this week, in what many websites have posited was a power struggle at the highest levels of the company. For us at the Circle, it’s a sad departure. Shawn once took time to mentor our students in the Bronx, and what he said there is still remembered fondly by students. As students gatherered around a laptop for his Skype talk, Layden said that you didn’t need to know how to code to work for PlayStation, you needed to know how to write, how to communicate succinctly and how to work together in teams. He urged students to go to college and the high school students hung on his words. While Shawn Layden is gone and that’s makes me wistful, Sony has made a long-term pledge to mentor the underserved students we serve. We all know executives come and go and that the new folks at Sony will continue to work hard as fans and critics alike await the release of the fifth PlayStation generation. But Shawn will be missed as well. -Harold Goldberg
The normally very separated spheres of professional and collegiate esports collided in an interesting way this week when Becker College in Massachusetts announced it was bringing in Nicholas “Shifty” Travis, a coach who previously worked in the Overwatch League, to head the university’s varsity Overwatch team. DotEsports’ Will Strickland reported on the news, speaking with Shifty and the manager of the college’s varsity esports program about how Becker, which is the home of a well known game design program and the country’s first esports management degree program, is serious about investing in the growth of collegiate esports.
Last night, The Strong Museum of Play in Rochester held its second Women in Games event. Just as it did last year, the museum, which features several collections dedicated to preserving and showcasing the tremendous innovations women have brought to videogames throughout the medium’s history, invited a distinguished panel of women from around the industry to speak. That group included Funomena CEO and Journey developer Robin Hunicke, 343 Industries exec Kiki Wolfkill, designer and academic Elizabeth LaPensée (who gave an especially fascinating micro-talk about her work designing games focused on the cultures of Indigenous people), The Learning Company founder Ann McCormick, Vicarious Visions studio head Jen Oneal, and several more well known creators and executives from across all kinds of games disciplines. Luckily, the event was streamed and archived on Twitch.
And speaking of preservation, Gamasutra reported on some exciting news coming out of the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, which recently announced it would now be preserving videogames developed in Australia. The organization’s initial selection is an eclectic mix of eight games from across nearly four decades of gaming history, from the 1983 illustrated text adventure The Hobbit to acclaimed modern releases like Hollow Knight and Florence. The wide ranging selection has a practical purpose as well, Jan Müller, the CEO of the National Film and Sound Archive, explained in a press release. “It provides an overview of the evolution of the medium, as well as an opportunity to identify the archival challenges in preserving the different technologies employed – both software and hardware.”
That’ll do it 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.