Reviews

'Borderlands 2': A Game, Not a World

Eric Swain

The world as it stands in Borderlands 2 isn’t a place; it is a strangely shaped arena. There is lip service paid to life on this rock, but none of it is convincing as all of it begins and ends within the sight of my gun barrel.


Borderlands 2

Publisher: 2K Games
Format: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PS3, PC
Price: $59.99
Players: 1-4
ESRB Rating: MAture
Developer: Gearbox Software
Release Date: 2012-09-18
URL

Borderlands 2 begins with a cinematic opening, which both my friend and I though would make for an awesome opening for an animated series. We thought the same for the first game. Your posse of vault hunters are on a train in a firefight. Then it explodes, and the game begins with you waking up in the snow after the fact. From there, the game is an endless cavalcade of shooting dudes, looting chests, and checking menus to make various stat numbers go up. All the while, I struggled to figure out what was going on, as I was thrust from one objective to the next.

“But wait,” you say, “Borderlands 2 isn’t a game about its story. That’s just there as a bonus.”

Then what is it about?

“It’s about the shooting.”

Ok. We’ll assume for the moment that I accept that premise. Then what does Borderlands 2 do to differentiate itself from the rest of the pack of first person shooters? FPSes have been so ubiquities in the current generation of consoles that the mechanics have been fine-tuned to within an inch of their life by every developer under the sun. You walk, you aim, you pull the trigger, and enemies fall dead. There is only so much variation within that formula of actions.

“But the world is different. It’s colorful and cartoony,” you say. “It’s also got a sense of humor.’

Context. Yes, that is important -- as when the basics of something become so refined that the only way to stand out and be something unique lies in how the game presents itself. I will grant that the world of Boderlands is different and the art style certainly lends itself to color, and a post-apocalyptic cartoon is the only way that I think I could describe this world adequately. But those are descriptors. None of that means that it’s good. I’ll hold off on the humor for a sec, as it fits into my next point. Borderlands 2 is different than most other FPS by virtue of its context, but fails to capitalize on it in any interesting way.

See in the beginning when I have to follow a chatty robot named Claptrap, who insists that I am now his minion, I did so because that’s what you do in game. I had no earthly idea why I was following him. I had no reason other than that the game told me to. This bewilderment went on for hours. I was pointed to a group of baddies in a snowy shantytown, and I shot them. Then I went to an ice island and killed a bunch of 6-legged yetis. I’m not even sure that was part of a quest because after killing everything on the entire map, I went back to the starting area and walked in the other directions where I finally got more instructions. Eventually I started following some woman’s orders over the radio. I had no clue who she was, nor how she fit into any of this “get the three esoteric items to do a thing” quest that I was on at the moment. I met more characters and none of them ever bothered to explain what was going on or what their relationships to one another were.

“The game tells you soon enough what’s going on.”

This went on for 10 hours. People talked and talked, but nothing was said, nothing was explained. I was hustled from one meaningless “to do list” to the next, making, as far as I could tell, no progress towards any sort of ultimate goal. By then, I had managed to piece together who everyone was and what the main conflict was about. But it was too late. The game had failed to contextualize. The world as it stood wasn’t a place; it was a strangely shaped arena. Nay, it was the prop sets of a high school amateur dramatic society. There was lip service paid to life on this rock, but none of it is convincing as all of it began and ended within the sight of my gun barrel.

I will grant that there are moments when the game shows creativity or at least love for inspiring works. Some of the sidequests have a spark to them that made me smile in appreciation, but that soon faded as we got to the business at hand of shooting more dudes. I wont spoil them here because discovering them is one of the few joys of Borderlands 2. They are bright spots amid the dull monotony.

“Maybe at the beginning it’s like that, but it gets better,” you protest. “The game changes when you level up and get new abilities and can tweak your characters with the right guns, shields, and relics to match.’

I can appreciate what Gearbox is going for, but the execution falls short. Each rule or concept is fine on its own, but in combination they end up making the game routine. Samey shooting galleries broken up only by the need to loot chests or check the gun stats in an unwieldy and poorly thought out menu system. I’m getting more powerful because the numbers tell me so, but it never feels like it. I could take down enemies more easily, survive more punishment, but the game compensated by simply throwing more at me in a steady stream. I’m doing what I did before only in greater numbers. In the end, it all evens out.

“So, you’re saying it’s a bad game?”

Not at all. It’s not a bad game, but it’s not a good game either. What’s depressing about Borderlands 2 is that it is a game designed to wile away your time. It doesn’t offer anything other than a method to pass 20-30 hours in mild contentment. Sometimes that’s what a person is looking for. A movie to watch for the afternoon that is fine while it is on and disappears from your mind as soon as it’s over, an airport novel to read on a long flight to wherever and the pages fade when disembarking, or the mindless pop music station that you listen to so you don’t have to drive to work in complete silence. If that’s what you need, then Borderlands 2 is the game to get.

5

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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