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Credit: Infinity Ward

The Week in Gaming: Studios, developers pause and reflect on Black Lives Matter

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Jun 5, 2020

Welcome to The Week in Gaming, the place where we pause each week to take a look at the video game news beats both big and small that you might be missing — while also taking a peek around the corner at what's ahead. Check in each Friday for news (and occasionally even views) on everything from sprawling RPGs to Metroidvania platformers to the latest in VR and free-to-play. We'll even throw in a good old-fashioned board game every now and then!

As with every corner of the entertainment world, gaming has taken a temporary pause as studios stop to give space for concerns far heavier than video games.

Whether respectfully stepping aside and ceding the moment to the serious news of the past days, or taking a more active role by sharing ways they're contributing, game companies dialed back the typical June hype for upcoming releases this week. That doesn't mean fans are lacking for gaming news (there's actually a ton of ground to cover this week) — but the spotlight is shining brightest on how studios are tapping the brakes to reflect on bigger social issues that affect the world beyond the screen.

Out of respect for the police-involved death of George Floyd, and the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests to compel government to address racial issues in law enforcement and beyond, Sony postponed the heavily promoted PlayStation 5 reveal event that it originally had scheduled for June 4. So far, Sony has remained quiet on announcing a new date. In a string of similar delays, the hugely hyped chance to snag new information on one of the year's biggest pieces of gaming news was by far the most seismic, and Sony's decision — which came early in the week — set the tone for many companies to follow with similar gestures of their own.

Fortnite is delaying the long-awaited start of its Season 3 and the in-game events that'll close out Season 2. In a blog post, Epic Games said the timing's just not right to invite fans to get in a celebratory mood. "Recent events are a heavy reminder of ongoing injustices in society, from the denial of basic human rights to the impact of racism both overt and subtle against people of color," Epic wrote in announcing Season 3's new start date.

"We're acutely aware of the pain our friends, families, team members, players, and communities are experiencing. We believe in equality and justice, diversity and inclusion, and that these fundamentals are above politics. The team is eager to move Fortnite forward, but we need to balance the Season 3 launch with time for the team to focus on themselves, their families, and their communities."

The new date for Fortnite's live season-ending event "The Device" is Monday, June 15, while Season 3 is slated to get underway on Wednesday, June 17.

CD Projekt RED is delaying its Night City Wire event to unveil new information for Cyberpunk 2077. Originally scheduled for June 11, the developer explained in a tweet that "more important discussions are happening right now and we want them to be heard."

Mike Pondsmith, the African-American creator of the Cyberpunk board game on which 2077 is based, told VGC last year that politics will play an integral role in the video game version. The studio reinforced its own position in the tweet: "We wholeheartedly stand against racism, intolerance and violence. Black Lives Matter." Night City Wire's new date is set for June 25; Cyberpunk 2077 arrives on Sept. 17.

Activision is postponing the start of new seasons of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Warzone, and Call of Duty: Mobile, which were originally slated to begin rolling out on June 3. Later in the week, developer Infinity Ward added a new pop-up message in support of Black Lives Matter to Modern Warfare.

"Right now it's time for those speaking up for equality, justice and change to be seen and heard," tweeted CoD's official news account. No new start date for the next wave of Call of Duty content has yet been revealed.

EA SPORTS also delayed a June 1 event for pro football franchise Madden NFL 21, tweeting to fans that it's not game time this week.

EA SPORTS explained the delay by saying its "immediate attention is on actions we can take to drive change against the unjust treatment and systemic bias that is plaguing the nation and our world." No new date has yet been announced, but EA CEO Andrew Wilson revealed in a lengthy online message this week that the company is contributing $1 million to racial justice and anti-discrimination causes worldwide. It's also double-matching any outside donations from individuals throughout the month of June.

"Beginning with the Equal Justice Initiative, the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, and with more partners to come, we are deepening our support of organizations working to stop systemic racial injustice, fight discrimination and protect human rights in the U.S. and beyond," Wilson wrote, while also announcing a "Community Conversation" for June 9 that's open to everyone who works within the company.

The Pokémon franchise is adding its voice to Black Lives Matter with a $100,000 donation, along with a $100,000 contribution to the NAACP. In a statement, the official Pokémon Twitter account emphasized that "[t]here is no place for oppression within our community":

Square Enix, in the midst of enormous success with Final Fantasy VII Remake, also revealed via Twitter that it's donating $250,000 to Black Lives Matter and other charities, and that it'll match any donations made by its employees. For Black Out Tuesday this week, the company also switched gears on social media by sharing links to "helpful resources" to address racial equality and justice reform:

​​​​​​Things have been weighty across social media and on the ground in actual cities and homes throughout the U.S. in recent days, and entertainment will always be there to help divert our minds from the toughest parts of life. But at least for this week, corporate leadership in the gaming community saw fit to lay the controllers aside and let the nation turn its attention elsewhere.

The delays aren't long, and it's encouraging to know that a lot of the games and reveals that were already in the works represent content that studios are eager to show off. Patience, y'all — fun times are still ahead, but right now is a good chance to pause and reflect.


The best of the rest

While we keep our attention on the more serious news in the world this week, there was quite a bit of tangible gaming news that broke along the way. As for that ...

SEGA's getting small — ridiculously small. Say hello to the Game Gear Micro, a bite-sized revival of the 8-bit glory days that comes in four colors that, in a clever bit of marketing, mean more than just collect-'em-all aesthetics. Each colored Micro comes pre-loaded with its own exclusive lineup of four classic Game Gear games (of course Sonic the Hedgehog would show up on the blue one, while yellow gets the Shining Force treatment). Check out the Japanese preview below, and watch your Game Gear shrink:

SEGA on YouTube

The Game Gear Micro is SEGA's way of commemorating the company's 60th anniversary (yes, it's really been around that long), and collecting all four will even compel SEGA to throw in a scaled-down version of its Big Window magnifying glass — the better to see the action on the Micro's 1.15-inch screen. Releasing Oct. 6 in Japan, via The Verge, the Micro will cost about $50 per unit and runs on USB-rechargeable AAA batteries. There's a downside, though: We don't know if SEGA has any plans to release this tiny treasure outside of Japan, so write those letters in the smallest font you can — and have Sonic rush-deliver your requests to the powers that be.

Legendary expansion — The next update for Pokémon Sword and Shield is nearly upon us, and Nintendo is playing up the new Legendary Pokémon who'll be squaring off in this month's The Isle of Armor expansion, as well as looking farther ahead to The Crown Tundra, which is expected to follow in the fall.

Check out the three-minute trailer for a peek at two new Legendaries, plus alternate forms of classic monsters (we're especially digging what they've done with Slowbro):

The Official Pokémon YouTube channel

Via CBR, Regieleki and Regidraco are the two new Legendaries, with Regieleki appearing as an Electric-type Pokémon and Regidraco a Dragon-type. The Isle of Armor arrives on June 17, with The Crown Tundra coming in November. Catch 'em both by grabbing passes for each expansion at the Nintendo eShop.

Konami's surprise — It's not a new Metal Gear game, but it is a brand-new title from Konami, one that no one saw coming until the recently quiet publisher surprise-released a scrolling action platformer called Skellatack this week for PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC (via Steam).

Framed with haunting organ music and filled to the creaky rafters with a Halloween carnival's worth of spooky themes, Skelattack sends Skully, your comedically cute bony protagonist, off on an adventure with help from a batty little sidekick. Here's the trailer:

Konami on YouTube

Skully's a "member of the newly deceased" who's still getting used to the whole post-life thing, and pops to life when his new eternal home of Aftervale is threatened by still-living humans. Konami and developer Ukuza Inc. pick up the backstory:

"Instead of seeking gold or other treasure, the humans kidnap Aftervale's elder skeleton, Elzedon, and attempt to steal the magic that kindles the spirits of the dead — the Blue Flame. Together with Imber, Skully's trusty bat friend, players will jump, slash, and flap their way through the Underworld in an attempt to stop the human threat, save the Elder, and protect the Blue Flame."

Sounds simple enough, and the dark subterranean platforming action (as well as the character design) reminds us just a little of Team Cherry's Hollow Knight — one of the coolest platformers about desiccated husks (or anything else) to be found on either side of this mortal coil. There's no word of a physical release for Skellattack, but it's available now for not too many bones: All platform versions of the game are going for $19.99.

Visualizing Valorant — Valorant is finally out in the wild, and the new cinematic launch trailer gives what may be the best look yet for reluctant newcomers who hung back while watching the game's massively popular beta playthrough on Twitch. Riot Games essentially made a mini-movie to set up some backstory for Phoenix and Jett, a pair of Agents (Valorant's name for its roster of character class protagonists) who end up in a face-off over Jett's attempt to plant some kind of mysterious, important-sounding device:

VALORANT on YouTube

As the trailer shows, Phoenix is all about the heat, while Jett is a knife-slinging assassin who just happens to know a thing or two about firearms when the timing's right. In addition to showing off what these two can do, the clip does a good job of giving players an overview of how Valorant is distinguishing itself in the crowded free-to-play shooter category. It's free and it's finally here: Check out Valorant for PC now at Riot's landing page.

Spare parts

- It's just a sliver-sized tease, but anyone who's hungry for any taste at all of how next-gen console games are shaping up visually can at least sample this week's brief new look at Godfall. The upcoming action RPG was among the first new games to be announced for the PlayStation 5, and represents a completely new IP from developer Counterplay Games and Borderlands publisher Gearbox.

The new teaser shows off a close-up look at Silvermane, one of the playable characters whose armor can be kitted out with "Valorplates." Not too much is known about Godfall, but the original trailer shows off a high fantasy setting, with Counterplay teasing "looter-slasher" third-person gameplay that leans on melee combat.

It all looks appropriately next-gen slick — which stands to reason, considering that the PS5's SSD drive is reportedly such a big step up from current console horsepower that Epic Games actually decided to rewrite portions of Unreal Engine 5 to take full advantage of it, via VG24/7. Godfall doesn't have a firm release date, but is expected to arrive for PlayStation 5 and PC sometime this holiday season.

- Nothing to see here but sweet, sweet nostalgia looking great on the Nintendo Switch: The console-retooled version of Thunder Force AC, a 1990s arcade classic that forgave no fast-twitch, side-scrolling mistakes, launched this week for the Switch — and it's even prettier than we remember. Check out the trailer and head to Nintendo online for details, which include some minor upgrades for the Switch version and a nice price of $7.99.

SegaAmerica on YouTube

- Speaking of Nintendo, two great franchises from console generations past have just made their Switch debut. Check out trailers for BioShock: The Collection and Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition:

Nintendo on YouTube

 

Nintendo on YouTube

Both collections feature graphically upgraded versions of stone-cold classics in their respective categories: BioShock revolutionized first-person shooters with an enrapturing Manchurian Candidate-style story twist, set in a completely unique utopia-gone-wrong underwater Art Deco metropolis. Xenoblade Chronicles, meanwhile, went on to become one of the most critically praised games (not just RPGs, games) in the entire life cycle of the Nintendo Wii. Visuals and menu presentation for the new Switch version have been massively overhauled, so much so that returning players will feel like they've essentially been given an entirely new Monado — and an entirely new Xenoblade.

BioShock: The Collection and Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition both hit the Switch on May 29. Get more details and snag your copies by heading to each game's Nintendo landing page.

- THQ Nordic and 38 Studios are bringing one of the prettiest RPGs to grace the PS3 and Xbox 360 to current game consoles. A fully remastered version of 2012 fantasy RPG Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is coming this summer; retail leaks suggest an Aug. 18 release, though the publisher hasn't yet confirmed that date. The original game's Twitter account recently sparked back to life to pledge "stunning visuals and refined gameplay" for the remaster, which also will include all the post-release DLC — as well as a cute little tweak to the title, which isn't too hard to spot in the above tweet (or the Twitter account itself).

- Find out what Bungie has planned for Destiny 2 Year 4 next week, when all will be revealed in an announcement unveiling where the game's upcoming fall expansion is headed. In a handful of cryptic teases, the studio appears to be hinting that place will be the Jovian moon of Europa. Drift on over to Bungie's social channels at noon ET on June 9 for the full reveal.

- Amazon is discounting pre-orders for the PS4 and Xbox One versions of Assassin's Creed Valhalla (which is also heading to next-gen consoles) for a limited time. Valhalla is set to release sometime this holiday season.

- Toss a coin to your Witcher: CD Projekt RED surpassed a huge milestone this week with The Witcher franchise, topping 50 million lifetime game sales for all Witcher titles. O valley of plenty, indeed.

- Congratulations to Obsidian Entertainment, which took home a Nebula Award for Game Writing this week for sci-fi RPG The Outer Worlds. Far out!

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