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 drink with the devil in Afterparty, wrestle with their hate of war and their enjoyment of Call of Duty, and try to play Red Dead Redemption 2 on PC. Plus, Wendy’s gets in on the popularity of tabletop RPGs in a most troubling way.
After detours into sci-fi futurism, World War II, and battle royale, the latest Call of Duty finds itself back at the near-future setting that made it the juggernaut it has been for the last 12 years. Joshua Rivera reviewed the psuedo-reboot—simply titled Modern Warfare—for Kotaku, using the game and its harder-than-ever attempts to tug at the real-world horrors and struggles of war as an opportunity to reflect on his own inner turmoil over loving, well, just about anything these days. To Joshua, the game is equal parts enjoyable and “repugnant,” ticking all the boxes of a well designed, perfectly functional shooter while clumsily invoking some very loaded, grim imagery to say nothing much at all beyond “the argument that the good guys on the ground should be free to do whatever they think needs to be done once the bullets start flying.”
If you prefer your games with way less grit and gore and way more snappy dialogue, Night School Studio’s Afterparty might be for you. Christopher Byrd provided some thoughts on the game, the studio’s follow-up to its teen-adventure cult favorite Oxenfree, at The Washington Post. It concerns two young adults who find themselves sucked out of our world and into Hell, where they concoct a plan to best Satan himself in a drinking contest to earn their freedom. As Chris tells it, once they start flowing, the drinks and the quips don’t stop, resulting in a game that “ably emulates the manic tempo of being young, smart (and stupid) and having a wild night out.”
One of 2018’s biggest games, Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption 2, made its anticipated PC debut this week, but despite looking better than ever, the game seems to be having a rough launch. After experience them firsthand, Samit Sarkar ran down the issues for Polygon, which included everything from interrupted downloads to complete failures to launch and, once the game is running, frequent crashing or lengthy, unexplained hitches. As Samit says, “It’s all a bummer,” but hopefully fixes are on the way to help patch up this promising port.
Last month, Wendy’s released a shockingly dense, well constructed fast-food-themed tabletop RPG in the vein of Dungeons & Dragons. Naturally, this bizarre stab at a relatively niche market got a ton of press, and Wendy’s even paid a sponsorship fee (which was later donated) to get the game played on Critical Role, the internet’s most popular live-play show. In an op-ed that recently was republished from Unwinnable’s October issue, Stu Horvath went deep on what makes this particular advergame so insidious, from the fact that it’s exploiting a sub-culture that still carries a “loser outcast vibe” to the game’s thinly veiled allegorical premise, which pits players against fantasy stand-ins for McDonald’s characters and essentially asks players to, as Stu writes, “march into the Ice Jester’s house and murder him and all his henchmen…er…employees.” And Stu rightfully points out the whole thing gets even worse when you consider it’s all set against and recontextualized by Wendy’s exploitative business practices in the real world.
And finally, we turn to the Critics Cirle site, where Ronald Gordon shared his insights on the first chapter of Song Of Horror, an episodic horror game that launched on Halloween. The game trapping players in a haunted house where a bloodthirsty creature stalks them at every turn, and he found the experience utterly terrifying. That’s not only owing to the startling noises and the murderous monster on your tail, but also the befuddling density of the mansion and the notion that any character who dies is gone for good. “That monster isn’t even the scariest thing you have to worry about,” Ronald wrote. “It’s the game itself.”
From Beyond The Circle
Everyone is familiar with the 2015 FIFA corruption case that rocked the real world of soccer. Well, now, the world of virtual soccer is suffering through a scandal of its own. Eurogamer published an in-depth report about, what author Jordan Middler calls, “a pseudo-match-fixing scheme” in which a group of pro FIFA players used a secret Discord server to collude and work out a way to avoid playing each other online, thus ensuring they’d be matched against weaker opponents and helping all of them rack up more wins. What makes this especially troubling is that this is all wrapped up in EA’s rules for FIFA’s highly competitive “Weekend League,” which gives players better rewards for the amount of wins they pick up during each weekend window but does not consider the quality of the opponents they face. With microtransactions so wrapped up in the fabric of FIFA, this essentially means these colluding players are juicing their numbers and enriching themselves through powerful free rewards that make their teams even stronger and would have otherwise cost them oodles of real-world money to purchase. For its part, EA announced it had taken action to suspend pro player Christopher “NYC_Chris” Holly, the first esports player contracted to the NYCFC, from two upcoming competitive events after he was implicated in the collusion. But there’s no word on whether EA will take action to alter its exploitative and, apparently, exploitable Ultimate Team mode.
Since 2008, the programmers and digital punks running the A MAZE. festival have built it into an independent, inclusive, joyful platform for games in all their bizarre, beautiful forms. In that time, the organization has run annual festivals in Berlin and, previously, Johannesburg, as well as game jams, exhibitions, and pop ups around Europe and Africa. Now, A MAZE. has taken to started a Kickstarter funding campaign in an effort to maintain the events’ independence and grow the team behind the shows. The group is seeking €50,000 Euros to put toward that goal and has raised just over €25,000 with 18 days remaining in its campaign. “Our main focus isn’t on business,” they wrote on their campaign site. “Our core is art, experimentation, hot shit, and inspiration.” That’s a sentiment I think we can all get behind.
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.