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 to speak their minds about Sony and Microsoft’s new consoles, from their performance and innovation to the downright ugliness of the things. Plus, reviews of a few Sony launch games and a look back at PlayStations past.
It’s nearly impossible to get a hold of a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X/S right now, but the consoles are, in fact, out there. Our writers have spent weeks putting these new machines through their paces and have plenty of thoughts about how they turned out. Sherri Smith reviewed all three systems at Laptop Mag. Regarding the PlayStation 5, Sherri reports that the console easily pulls off its leap in power from the PS4, but what ends up stealing the show is Sony’s commitment to innovation in hardware design, especially in the form of the new PS5 controller and its detailed haptic feedback. The Xbox Series X doesn’t pack the same experimental spirit, Sherri says, but it lives up to its pitch as the beefiest console around and is backed up by Microsoft’s impressive commitment to subscription services. “The most next-gen thing about this next-gen console is Xbox’s deep games catalog and the ways you can access it,” she wrote.
Meanwhile, on PC Mag, Jordan Minor composed an ode to the Xbox Series S, the sleekest and also shockingly capable of the four new console models that launched last week. Sure, it’s not quite as powerful as the Series X or the PS5, Jordan notes, but it reigns supreme in physical looks department. “There’s just something so indulgent about how huge and hideous these next-gen consoles are,” Jordan writes, “next-gen consoles that are already indulgent purchases that many may not have the privilege to purchase in the middle of a pandemic.” The Series S, though? “It plays pretty new games just fine, without ruining my feng shui, so bless its stylish little heart.”
Circle founder Harold Goldberg was busy reviewing a slew of PlayStation 5 launch games for The Washington Post. First up was Bugsnax, the offbeat bug-hunting adventure game from the developers of Octodad that immediately took over social media after its reveal. Harold was just as smitten with the game’s characters and writing, but he found the game’s puzzles lacking, thanks to too much repetition and some vexing mechanics. Sackboy: A Big Adventure, meanwhile, lands as a serviceable and mighty cute platformer, but without “more backstory, more information, more new play, more innovation, more nuance” that’s just about all it amounts to, he says. Harold also took to the Circle site to publish a personal essay about the PlayStation 5 and how it fits into his career in the games press (even if it doesn’t easily fit into his home furnishings!).
Also on the Circle site, we featured a pair of reviews from our senior interns. First up was Ronald Gordon, who shared his thoughts on Supergiant Games’ beloved roguelike Hades. Ronald’s found himself completely taken with the game—its lavish art, its furious action, its exciting music. The story and characters truly stand out for him, too, and kept him captivated to the point of losing a whole weekend in the blink of an eye.
And Isaac Espinosa told us all about Bartlow’s Dread Machine, a new dual-stick shooter styled after a fantastical take on Gilded Age technology. Even for this often-difficult genre, Isaac found Bartlow’s Dread Machine to be particularly tough. But the unique style and crafty level design kept him fighting through it. “And it’s an experience that’s worth the time it takes to master it, even though I couldn’t,” he said.
From Beyond The Circle
At Rock Paper Shotgun, Natalie Flores recounted the elation of seeing Overwatch’s Sombra for the first time. “After over a decade, I could finally play as someone who looked like me and wasn’t an amalgamation of stereotypes,” she thought. But in this piece, Natalie goes on to discuss how, in the years since Sombra, every major multiplayer FPS has rolled out a Latina character that follows roughly the same mold, and it’s been a wholly disappointing experience to see developers pull from the same bag of harmful tropes and stereotypes. “Through Sombra, Loba, Raze and Reyna, I can appreciate being able to see myself as poised, self-assured, and assertive,” Flores writes. “But that’s not all Latinas like myself can be. It’s not all we are in the real world, especially one that seeks to grind our nuances into dust. It stands to reason that we shouldn’t be portrayed as just this in fictional worlds.”
This week, the always-great Yussef Cole reviewed Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War’s singleplayer campaign for Polygon. Activision’s marketing of the game had already come under scrutiny for the way it exploited real-world anti-progressive conspiracy theories. It turns out, the game itself is far more toothless but nonetheless struggles with its representation of Cold War politics. Cole identifies two paradoxical approaches to the conflict that run head-to-head against each other throughout the story, ultimately dragging the whole thing down. “On the one hand, the game seems to recognize the arbitrary divisions of the conflict, its false messaging and self-fulfilling propaganda,” he wrote. “On the other, it heaps upon the player an endless stream of heavy-handed jingoism, of defending the ‘Free World’ from the evil, Communistic threat.”
Last year, we talked a bit about the funding and opening of Wonderville, the permanent Brooklyn base of operations for Death By Audio Arcade’s radical indie-gaming space. The arcade survived through all the misery and economic hardship of 2020, but with COVID-19 exploding again and the city ramping up restrictions, its owners are worried that these next few months could be its last. So DBAA is working hard to raise funds through the end of the year, hoping to bring in enough donations to help Wonderville at least pay its rent and utilities for the next six months. You can find more details and links to contribute on the arcade’s fundraising page. Plus, DBAA will be hosting a telethon on December 20, holding auctions and raising funds live on the Wonderville Twitch channel.
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.