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, critics give Google Stadia a workout under real-world conditions and find that it’s definitely got some room to improve. Plus Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order marks the return of good Star Wars games, we welcome two new members, and Valve finally announces its return to Half-Life.
Google’s first big steps into the gaming industry finally reached the public this week, as its cloud-streaming service Stadia went live for early adopters who went in on the company’s $130 Founder’s Edition package (and were lucky enough to have their package and access codes actually get delivered). Stadia is a big swing, and this limited launch is surely engineered to give Google plenty of time to fine tune things before the service is in the hands of more people. But how is it looking right now? Well, some of our critics gave the service a shot and reported back.
At Geek.Com, Jordan Minor described the “almost magical” feeling of seeing a high-end shooter like Destiny 2 running near-seamlessly on a phone. But things went south when he booted up Stadia, over wi-fi, on his home TV. Noticeable input lag, washed out colors—on a technical level, it just didn’t hold up. Pair that with an uninteresting launch lineup and a host of vital features that have been delayed—4K streaming on PC, achievements, friend passes, voice recognition—and you’ve got a promising idea that’s just not yet fully realized. “It’ll crash and burn or become the real deal,” Jordan wrote, “and either way your patience will be rewarded.”
Circle founder Harold Goldberg also ran into some Stadia technical issues. In his impressions posted to the Circle site, he recounted trying to stream some games while on wi-fi—Gylt, Stadia’s lone exclusive, and Shadow of the Tomb Raider. The former stuttered enough to be “palpable,” he said, but not enough to ruin the game. In the latter, however, the stuttering and input lag was noticeable enough to render Lara’s movements sluggish and unnatural. Harold’s committed to checking back in once Stadia has some time to develop and he can hard-wire his connection straight into the internet.
In non-Stadia releases, EA tried yet again to make good on its exclusive rights to Star Wars games by entrusting the license to the developers at Respawn Entertainment and letting them build a sprawling singleplayer adventure. That game, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, just hit shelves, and Joshua Rivera reviewed it for Kotaku. Beyond the inherent pleasure of finally getting another decent Star Wars game, Joshua was most impressed with—and even a little unnerved by—Respawn’s ability to borrow and demystify the action RPG formula FromSoftware cemented in its celebrated Dark Souls series, maintaining some of the tension and challenge and environmental grandeur of those games while softening it for mainstream audiences with generous difficulty choices and that sweet Star Wars sheen.
Finally, we’re glad to report that the Critics Circle recently welcomed two new members into its ranks! First up is Whitney Meers, a writer and editor who has worked with Huffington Post, The Leaderboard, Comedy Central, and truTV. She served as a consulting lead on Newsweek’s special edition guide to Fortnite, and she currently contributes regularly to The Gamer, where she specializes in Apex Legends coverage. Welcome Whitney!
And we’re also excited to welcome Annie Pei. Annie is a writer and segment producer for CNBC and has helped the financial outlet with its coverage of games and esports. Earlier this month, she traveled to Paris to cover the League of Legends world championship finals and came back with a profile of Riot’s continued attempts to expand beyond League of Legends and the games industry after the debut of an internally developed hip-hop group called True Damage. Give it a read!
From Beyond The Circle
Dr. T.L. Taylor, a professor of comparative media studies at MIT and the director of research for the gaming diversity advocacy group AnyKey, headed out to University of Montana in Missoula to give a lecture on the lack of inclusion in esports. Thankfully Aidan Morton, a reporter from the college paper, was on hand to deliver a detailed summary of the talk, bringing us a few of Taylor’s vital insights about women in esports and the cooling force of harassment. “Harassment online is not simply an individual offense,” Taylor told the crowd. “It doesn’t just harm the person it’s directed at. It acts socially. It splashes across all who see it.” Morton also spoke with Nikita Ware, a player for one of the university’s esports teams, to get her live reaction to the presentation and to hear about the kind of harassment she has dealt with online.
It’s been a whopping 12 years since Valve delivered the last chapter in its genre-defining Half-Life series. The studio’s silence regarding any follow-ups and the wait to see its cliffhanger ending continued turned Half-Life 3 or Half-Life 2: Episode 3 or whatever you want to call it into one of gaming’s ultimate memes. This week, though, Valve announced plans to return to the Half-Life universe—albeit not for a sequel, but rather a new game that takes place prior to the events Half-Life 2 and stars that work’s breakout character, Alyx Vance. The catch is this new installment, titled Half-Life: Alyx, is a VR exclusive. But as three of its lead developers explain in this fascinating, lengthy conversation with friend of the Critics Circle Geoff Keighley, it’s far larger and more ambitious than the slight, tech-demo-like VR games we’ve gotten used to over the last few years. As one might expect out of Valve and anything Half-Life related, this is an attempt at showing the world how to make a full, big-budget first-person-shooter using virtual reality, much like Half-Life 2 was an attempt at changing the way we perceived and deployed videogame physics. We’ll find out how successful Valve is when the game launches on multiple VR platforms in March 2020 (unless it gets delayed, as these games tend to do).
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.