Games

Bioshock 2

The way that the player serves as a role model through the choices made throughout the game will ultimately contribute to the identity of his daughter. This is a game, then, about parenting and how modelling choices effect generations to come.


Bioshock 2

Publisher: 2K Games
Format: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), Playstation 3, PC
Price: $59.99
Players: 1-10
ESRB Rating: Mature
Developer: 2K Marin
Release Date: 2009-02-09
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Returning to Rapture is a bittersweet experience. Gone is the sense of your own fragility and the terror evoked in the opening scenes of the first game as you first encounter both Rapture and its denizens. Inhabiting the role of a powerful Big Daddy and knowing what kind of a world you are already getting into, allows the decaying undersea city to feel more familiar and comfortable than the first game ever did. Additionally gone is some of the wonder of Rapture's atmosphere, the novelty of the period music wafting over the devestated ruins of what was once an elegant, stream lined art deco paradise.

Nevertheless, the atmosphere of Rapture (one of the great strengths of Bioshock's aesthetics) and its evocation of a time associated with an idealized nostalgia, ironically shattered by the same forward thinking idealism of a generation of Builders is still so carefully crafted and lovingly rendered that the wonder of the game world's novelty is replaced with an appreciation of 2K Marin's attention to detail, familiar as it is. There are still wonderful set pieces here and surprising moments.

Comfortable and “homey” (which is, perhaps, appropriate in this game, which is so focused on the intricacies of family) as Rapture feels, though, new lead designer, Jordan Thomas, takes a completely new approach to the kind of storytelling and exploration of themes that the setting of Rapture provides than that of his predecessor, Ken Levine. Levine's writing critiqued the player's own perceptions of free will and agency within a game world. As the chains tatooed on the protagonists of the first game's wrists indicated, despite our sense as players of games that we have control over our own actions in such interactive fiction (and despite the game's own nods to pure libertarianism in the form of Andrew Ryan's objectivist philosophy), the player's will is more often an illusion in games as designers force us down the twisted passageways of their own stories, not ours.

That player's balked at the infamous encounter with Ryan when the player's own control of his in game avatar was wrested from him in order to demonstrate the limited power that an individual has in the world, seems an appropriate enough response. Levine's point was to emphasize the player's helplessness and magnify it. It seemed to have been his point in creating a game that otherwise was full of choices about how to build and design a character, a character whose powers were augmented by a moral choice to rescue or save Little Sisters. Despite all these seeming choices, Ryan's libertarianism seems bankrupt in the hands of a universe that coaxes you towards a goal that is not of your own design.

Intriguingly, Thomas's approach to reconsidering Rapture was, perhaps, to first listen to the outcry of players about the enforced limitation of choice on the player and craft a game that explores will and its outcome in a wholly different way. The choice of offering Ryan's opposite, a pure egalitarian (or “collectivist” in Ryan or Ayn Rand's world view), Sofia Lamb, as the antagonist in this game might overtly suggest a choice to invert the vision of the first game. If the decay of Rapture in Bioshock was a testament to the bankruptcy of greed in an unrestrained libertarian culture, then the twisted, nearly suicidal outlook of Sofia Lamb's “Family” becomes a stinging indictment of a utopia based on the common good at any cost to the individual.

However, the political and philosophical interests of the first game are also made subordinate to a storyline much more personal in nature than that of the first game. The cultish fidelity of “The Family” to the common good is a mere shadow of the game's interests in looking at the family as a personal, not political experience. By recasting the player as a literal daddy (the metaphor of occupying the diving bell uniform of Rapture's Big Daddies being as telling as the tattooed chains marking the identity of the protagonist of the first game), the game seeks to explore the role of guiding a little one (or in this case, Little Sisters) on a path throughout the game's world. This is metaphorically represented through the added ability to not only rescue or harvest Little Sisters, but to also adopt them, meaning that, as a Big Daddy, the player will haul their Little Sister around and protect her from splicers as she collects Adam from the dead. Thus, the player takes on the traditional role of a father as protector in appearance and activity (or to shirk those traditional roles by “using” his children to feed his own ego).

The choices that the player makes in the sequel are less limited than in the first game, as several key decisions to kill or allow characters important to the plot also exist. These choices, along with the choice to adopt, harvest, and rescue Little Sisters, shape the player to some degree (providing more or less Adam to be used by the player to power himself up as well as perks granted or denied based on the choices of who to spare or kill), but even more significantly, these choices effect how the player (as a literal) daddy will effect the attitudes and goals of his own daughter, Eleanor (the central plot of the game focuses on the player, Delta, rescuing his daughter from Lamb's clutches).

In other words, if the theme of Bioshock suggests an idea that free will is an illusion, the father-daughter dynamics that guide the plot and gameplay of the sequel suggest that choice is exceptionally meaningful. The way that the player serves as a role model through the choices made throughout the game will ultimately contribute to the identity of his daughter. This is a game, then, about parenting and how modelling choices effect generations to come.

The idea bodes well for Bioshock 3 as it suggests that there is a future for the series. After all, if one generation can effect the next by molding its best attributes into something fresh and new, then the next game may too have an equally fresh way of approaching old ground.

8

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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