Reviews

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was a weekend of awe, it was a weekend of fury, it was an age of perfection, it was an age chaff, it was the height of the series, it was the lowest of quality, it was a creation of pushing forward, it was a creation of stumbling backward -- in short, the game is a bit of a mixed bag.

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Rated: Teen
Players: 1-16
Price: $59.99
Platforms: Playstation 3
Developer: Naughty Dog
Release Date: 2011-11-01
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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was a weekend of awe, it was a weekend of fury, it was an age of perfection, it was an age chaff, it was the height of the series, it was the lowest of quality, it was a creation of pushing forward, it was a creation of stumbling backward -- in short, the game is a bit of a mixed bag.

Being a fan of the Uncharted series since the beginning, I was eagerly anticipating this game, and then I played it. It wasn’t a disappointment because Uncharted 3 starts off with a great opening sequence and some real goosebump inducing imagery that sets the player up for another great globe hopping adventure full of challenges to overcome and vistas to explore. But after a while, once the new game smell has worn off and the game has to stand on its own merits, a sinking sense of gloom and also one of annoyance started to come over me.

Nothing was technically wrong with the game. There were enough interesting settings and ideas throughout, all of which were rendered beautifully enough to distract from the underlying problems -- initially. It was only in retrospect, looking back from the second half, that I understood my uneasiness with it. Around the midway point in the Syria section, I found that I wasn’t enjoying myself. In fact, I was actively starting to hate the game. The story became an excuse for random tangents that distracted from any central focus, a problem that the previous more tightly written games had so clearly avoided. This lack of focus culminates in the cruise ship section, the purpose of which I can only describe as providing a demo scene for Uncharted 4: The Search for Atlantis. It has no point in the game and actively rips open plot holes in the fabric of the story that didn’t exist before. Even worse is the fact that this most pointless part is also the portion of the game with the best pacing and level design.

The first half of the game is almost completely dominated with the shooting galleries that the Uncharted series used to be known for and got so right. They were exciting and became mini-narratives in their own right, creating a nice flow from one fight to the next. Piece by piece, Uncharted 3 seemed to throw all of that out the window. The shooting somehow became worse in the transition from 2 to 3. The aiming is sloppy, the audio/visual feedback is "samey," leaving the player with an incorrect sense of how well they are doing, and the game sometimes acts incorrectly in response to the input given. These problems have since been fixed by giving an option to change the settings back to Uncharted 2’s shooting mechanics. However, I only learned this after the fact, and the solution might as well be non-existent if you don’t know that the option exists. It doesn’t help with the encounter design, which require that in some parts that you be clairvoyant. At one point, the only way to proceed (as in, not die immediately) is to pull off a move that you’ve never performed before and you will never have to perform again.

After the halfway point, Uncharted 3 becomes good. Not just good, but the game becomes a phenomenal experience that offers moments that outdo every other spectacular section from the first two games. It instills the emotions of fear and awe in the player by running the gamut from presenting relatively subtle visual cues in the environment to outright screwing with your mind. Once you enter Yemen, it’s like you’ve entered a completely different game. That game feels like it remains on track with the basic premise of the plot, finding the City of Brass, the Atlantis of the Sands. The sections provide tension without being derivative of what has come before. The glorious vistas reminiscent of Lawrence of Arabia are allowed to speak for themselves, and the mind screwing dream (?) sequences add a layer of depth to the action and to the characters, while still being visually unique and disturbing. The scope of the game washed over me, and it finally felt like an Arabian adventure.

The complete change in tone and execution makes it feel like a completely different game. The combat becomes interesting in these levels, offering unique twists in nearly every single encounter. There are sequences that actually feel like you are in the shoes of a movie action hero, something that the grand set pieces completely fail to do because they feel like they are more about the development team yelling, “look what we can do,” at the player instead of adding anything meaningful to the purpose of the game itself. Once the game changes up the formula, we are treated to an actual cinematic experience, while still feeling like it is an experience that is all within our control. My only major complaint with the second half of the game is that it is too short and underdeveloped, a crying shame thanks to all that time wasted in the first half.

If I’m being vague, it’s because it is very easy to spoil not just the plot, but also the emotional resonance that coming into the experience of the second half fresh delivers. But that in and of itself is a major problem. With few exceptions all of the phenomenal quality material is in the slightly shorter second half of the game. To get to it, I had to slog through hours of pointless story padding and a combat system that is so frustrating and rage inducing that I think that I actually damaged the circuitry in my DualShock. The game tried to get me invested in searching the château, but it feels like an incidental moment in the game because I already know that this is going to end up in the Arabian Desert, and I can’t figure out how this moment connects in any meaningful way. And after Syria, Chloe and the new guy get shipped off to Uncharted 4’s waiting room, making me question what the point was of having them in the story at all. Toss in the fact that Syria is a segment that is stretched out far too long and the previously mentioned head-scratching boat segment along with an underwhelming ending, and we have a mess of a game with a schizophrenic focus.

Instead of learning about the political machinations of Elizabethan era Europeans, I want to know more about the Arabian mythology that informs the game. I want to know more about the City of Brass. I want to know more about who these desert riders are and what their deal is. I want to know more about the villains, besides that they are generically evil and power hungry. I want to know more about how the ancient past ties into the present day goings on in the game. I want to know more about Drake’s past and learn what makes him tick. I wish I could end on a twist on Sydney Carton’s ending speech, “it’s a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done…,” but I can’t because Uncharted 3 as a whole really isn’t.

6

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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