Reviews

The OnLive Cloud Gaming System

OnLive does feel something like the future of digital distribution.


OnLive

US Release Date: 2011-06-17
URL

Loading up OnLive on a PC is vaguely like loading up Steam for the first time. There's all these games available to you right now. While lacking the immense catalog of Steam, OnLive as a cloud gaming system, of course, offers an even greater sense of what “now” can mean to the gamer, though.

With no downloading, one can just access a game stored on a remote server and start playing. The first game that I loaded up was Borderlands and following a few seconds of loading time, there was the familiar intro movie running on my PC looking much as I remembered it on console. Having now played with the system on PC with a very good internet connection for over a month now, I can report very few latency issues. I have occasionally received a brief “Network Problem” warning while playing (which prompted me to save just in case), nevertheless, my games suffered no ill effects as a result, and I continued playing at the same speeds. The only problem moment that I can report was over the Thanksgiving holiday when the picture broke up a little while I was playing Saints Row: The Third, though it wasn't anything very long lived or especially alarming.

Unfortunately, I can't speak to the experience of OnLive on its microconsole, which allows this same cloud gaming experience, but direct to your television. In the weeks that I had the system, I was only able to connect to the service three times via the microconsole (once allowing me to download an update and the other two times in which I actually played for a little while). When I could connect, it ran well. Otherwise, I have received regular connection errors, which technical support reported was a problem encountered by some users that their engineers are currently working on. Browsing the OnLive tech support forums, I read a number of threads that suggested that this problem has emerged for some owners around the time of the UK launch of OnLive, however, OnLive did not verify this one way or the other.

That being said, the service on PC was extremely approachable, with a simple intuitive menu system that can be navigated quickly and efficiently. Like Steam, OnLive offers games for purchase with most of these purchase items being newer releases, like the aforementioned Saints Row: The Third or Batman: Arkham City (the former of which was available on OnLive at launch, the latter of which became available on the system a few weeks after its physical release). Some of the games are in the “newish” category, like Bastion or L.A. Noire (though it is The Complete Edition, featuring all of the recent DLC that didn't ship with the game). Additionally, for a $9.95/month subscription fee, OnLive offers a library of over 100 games that you can access at any time.

While some of these games are what I would consider shovelware, I was delighted to find that quite a number are actually very good games. I was especially pleased that some classics, like the original Deus Ex, were there for immediate play. Titles in the PlayPack bundle include, for instance: Batman: Arkham Asylum, Bioshock, the original Fallout, Hitman and Hitman 2, Just Cause, the 2008 Prince of Persia, S.T.A.L.K.E.R., Tomb Raider: Anniversary, Tropico 3, The Witcher, etc.

Assuming that OnLive continues to build this library of games, I find the idea of having immediate access to even more classics available for a reasonable monthly fee fairly attractive. It is something that I would be willing to subscribe to, as a gamer that likes to revisit games that I no longer have the discs for or that are on previous generation consoles (or have the opportunity to play for the first time, if I missed them in the last few years or maybe years and years ago). Much as I love Steam, I know any number of gamers that pick up an old game here or there for a few bucks during a Steam sale that they then never get around to playing. The monthly fee would relieve a bit of “Steam sale guilt” as you can dabble with something and move on if it isn't quite what you remembered or wasn't something you actually were in the mood for yet if it is available as part of this bundled group of freely available games.

The other feature that is interesting is the ability to watch other players in the OnLive “Arena” who are currently playing games on the service. I'm not one who finds watching others play games especially engaging, but the ability to hop quickly to peep over the shoulder of another player before you buy a game clearly has its advantages. I suppose that someone looking for some help with strategy in a Tropico game or something like that might also find being able to watch someone else build a city in that game somewhat interesting, too. It does recall the arcade era, when looking over shoulders before you get the chance to play, was a fairly normative social activity. You do have the opportunity to cheer or jeer a player that you are watching as well, which adds an odd and sometimes off putting (when you get jeered while playing) experience.

OnLive does feel something like the future of digital distribution. What it amounts to is something like the gaming equivalent of on demand television services that offer immediate access to television shows and movies, some of which might be offered “for free” as part of a monthly charge, while newer media costs a bit more. As long as the library of games (both PlayPack “freebies” as well as the addition of fresh titles for purchase) continues to grow, I'm pretty sold on the PC version of OnLive, something that can be accessed with just a free download and purchase of a subscription. As I said, I can't say how good the microconsole experience might be. If connections stabilize, I could see dropping the $100.00 or so (microconsole systems range from $119.00 to $159.00, depending on the contents of the bundle) to play on my own HD television, so I hope that the service can get things fixed for users like myself.

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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