The Roundup: PlayStation 5 And Xbox Series X First Impressions, Watch Dogs: Legion Reviewed, And More!

By Matt Gerardi

Welcome back to The Roundup, the New York Videogame Critics Circle’s look at our members’ writing and news from around the world of videogames. In this installment, our writers finally get their hands on some new game consoles. Plus reviews of Watch Dogs: Legion, Tell Me Why, and EA’s latest Star Wars game, as well as a fascinating look at how South Korean society produced so many of the world’s top esports players.

Xbox Series X/S and PlayStation 5 units are finally out into the wild, and some of our members already have their review units in hand for early impressions and reports. Dan Ackerman, along with fellow Cnet writer Lori Grunin, collected all the info about both consoles that any potential buyers could need, with a focus on practical concerns like size comparisons and real-world use cases for storage. Dan also put together full unboxing articles and photoshoots for both the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5, in case you wanted to see what these puppies look like fresh out of the box.

Mike Andronico also unboxed a fresh PS5, dropping a full video of the process and showing off the radical look of Sony’s huge new system. He also dedicated an article to his first impressions of the PS5’s new controller, which packs advanced haptic feedback to get your hands closer to the game. Each PlayStation 5 comes pre-installed with 3D platformer Astro’s Playroom, and the game makes great use of this new controller tech, Mike says. “By using the DualSense’s built-in speakers, haptic feedback and adaptive triggers in concert with one another, the game delivers a tactile experience that’s unlike any I’ve felt before,” he wrote.

But before all this futuristic tech arrives, we still have plenty of new games coming out for our current (old?) consoles. Earlier this month there was Star Wars: Squadrons, EA’s new take on some classically styled Star Wars space combat. Patrick Lucas Austin reviewed the game for Time, and while he found that the story and dialogue of the singleplayer didn’t hit the mark, he did get swept up in the intensity of its multiplayer space battles.

There’s also Watch Dogs: Legion, the first of Ubisoft’s three big open-world games for the fall. Austin Walker‘s review of this third entry in the Watch Dogs series explores the game’s attempted sociopolitical commentary and integration of procedurally generated characters on its own merits, as well as in the context of both our political moment and Ubisoft’s infuriating 2020. And while the game certainly has lofty ambitions and interesting design decisions, Austin writes that it ultimately doesn’t amount to anything radical, a fate all too emblematic of the blockbuster games industry from which it hails.

For Wired, Jonathan Lee set out to answer an esports question that had been nagging him throughout his years of covering competitive gaming: Why is it that so many top South Korean players come from working-class families? So he spoke with numerous competitors, esports professionals, and academics to figure out what exactly it is about South Korea that has produced so many of the world’s best players, and why so many of those players come from families with humble backgrounds. The answer, he found, lies largely in the fabric of South Korea’s socioeconomic realities and internet café culture.

Finally, on the Circle site this week, we were treated to Jade Entien’s thoughts on the latest game from Dontnod Entertainment, Tell My Why. Jade, one of the high-school age writers from our mentoring program, found a lot to relate to in the game’s depiction of queerness. “I would highly recommend this game to anyone who may be struggling with themselves and who use videogames to space themselves from the outside world,” Jade wrote. “The majority of shows on TV can only wish to hold a candle to the story of Tell Me Why since it’s a steady-paced mystery and coming of age kind of story that I can see people enjoying for a long time.”

From Beyond The Circle

This week, Vice published a very insightful essay from Adesh Thapliyal discussing Raji: An Ancient Epic from Indian studio Nodding Head Games. The game made a splash this year when Nintendo highlighted its impending Switch release in a Nintendo Direct video, letting the developers speak for their own work and emphasize the game’s roots in Indian mythology and culture. But Thapliyal notes that for all the game’s merits, particularly its attempts at progressivism, Raji can’t escape the conservative, fundamentalist nationalism that has defined India’s government in recent years. “The ‘folklore’ that media like Raji peddle have very little to do with the common folk at all,” Thapliyal writes. “Raji creates a world where the 21st century’s upper-caste, middle-class Hinduism is projected onto the far-off past, which tells us nothing about the past but does reinforce a widely-held delusion in the present.”

The masters of videogame horror at Frictional Games have returned to the world of their breakthrough hit, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, for another disturbing frightfest. The studio’s second entry in the series, Amnesia: Rebirth, moves the terror to Algeria, a setting that imbues the game with a ton of real-world resonance, as Reid McCarter writes in a great piece for Bullet Points. Take heed: McCarter does walk through the entirety of Rebirth’s strange plot in order to pick apart its pessimistic outlook on human history and nature, so you might want to hold off if you’re planning on giving this one a go.

This week, we’d also like to highlight the launch of a new gaming-related 501(c)3 non-profit called Hit Save! It’s an organization focused on community-driven game preservation efforts, with a particular eye for developing methodologies for documenting and maintaining the various physical and digital media materials that surround games. The group’s current efforts include the development of Scanning.Guide, an informational hub containing tutorials and methodologies for creating high-quality scans of physical gaming ephemera like boxes, manuals, and cartridges. They’re also pursuing what they call the Indie Preservation Project, which seeks to interview independent developers from around the industry and the world to document their stories and development processes. “Through these efforts we will help to ensure that both current and future generations will be able to research video games, their history, and the stories of the people who made them,” the group writes in its introductory blog post. 

That’ll do it for this Roundup. Thank you for reading, and we’ll see you again soon.

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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