Games

Cars

Mike Schiller

We are finally getting to the point where controlling the avatar on-screen is actually like taking on the role of the movie's protagonist.

Publisher: THQ
Genres: Racing
Price: $39.99
Multimedia: Cars
Platforms: Every major system, including PC and Mac
Number of players: 1-2
ESRB rating: Everyone
Developer: Rainbow Studios
US release date: 2006-06
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There's an interesting thing happening in the world of animated movie-licensed games, and it's made plainly clear by Cars, THQ's adaptation of Pixar's most recent entry in the animated life-given-to-inanimate-objects genre: the lines are being blurred. We are finally getting to the point where controlling the avatar on-screen is actually like taking on the role of the movie's protagonist, except adding the concept of choice allowing the player to make decisions in a human way rather than a Pixar/Disney sugarcoated bad-car-goes-good kind of way. I mean, this isn't Ultima or Fable or anything along those lines -- you're not going to be able to make your version of Cars' Lightning McQueen fall to the dark side, running over unsuspecting roadsters or anything like that -- but there's a whole new plot to be explored in the Cars video game, and you can explore it at your own pace with the voices of Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Tony Shalhoub, and the great John Ratzenberger around to entertain you the whole way.

Predictably, the kids love this game. The visual and audio presentation of Cars is exactly what needed to be done to draw the movie's audience into the game, regardless of whether that audience happens to be old enough to understand the nuances and choices involved in a free-roaming atmosphere such as the one that this game features. Mostly, young children quickly realize that they can pick up the controller and drive around as their favorite cartoon character of the moment and run into stuff without consequence, stuff that looks and sounds like the world that Lightning McQueen inhabited in the movie. If that's what they want to do, that's all they have to do, and the mere presence of that choice sets Cars apart from the typical, linear, story-based movie adaptation that forces plot development and level-beating on players whether they want any part of it or not.

Don't get me wrong, Cars is, at its heart, a racing game, as it probably should be. As a racing game, it's not bad, although older players used to things like the F-Zero and Gran Turismo series will find the racing to be pretty useless. The difficulty level is skewed heavily toward younger players, and there aren't a lot of subtleties involved when tearing around the tracks. Cars does, however, do a good job of reminding you that you're playing a cartoon, with such unrealistic (and fun!) in-race options as jumping and flipping around for a little backwards driving, an option especially useful for taunting your opponents whether you're in one-player or multiplayer mode.

What makes Cars interesting, however, really does come down to the fact that THQ didn't just want to make a racing game, which they easily could have gotten away with. Instead, we get a huge, free-roaming atmosphere with all sorts of different terrains and navigational challenges, all of which need to be explored thoroughly thanks to one "mini"-game that sends the player on a search 'n collect mission that only the most patient players will be able to complete. The fact that mini-games even exist, however, is yet another thing that sets Cars apart from an awful lot of other games of its ilk. It's like Grand Theft Auto for the eight-year-old set, a whole set of different challenges, some culled from the movie, some not, but all of which unlock new challenges, allowing the world that the player inhabits to expand and get more interesting as play continues. Tractor Tipping, in particular, is a bit of excellent sneak-based gameplay that's actually more difficult than expected for a car game whose straight-up racing never presents a challenge. Each of the main characters from the movie has his or her own mini-game at some point in Cars, all of them fairly different (though all, obviously, involving driving), and all of them at least mildly entertaining.

As a matter of fact, if there is anything troubling about Cars (the video game), it's the issue of continuity, with a heaping side of character regression. I don't think it's giving away too much to say that Cars (the movie) was a story about a cocky protagonist who finds humility and heart via a change in his surroundings. In the game, which takes place after the events of the movie, Lightning McQueen is once again cocky, conceited, and a little bit too sure of himself for the "character development" of the film to have truly taken hold, thus unwittingly making the character more one-dimensional than the movie would have us believe. This isn't even to mention that you can go all Pimp My Ride on your car, giving it different paint jobs or super-sized off-roading wheels, if that's you're thing. These sorts of touches take a movie about heart and turn it into a game that rewards the most materialistic of inclinations.

There are other minor problems as well, as there are far too many load times (making the kids go "UGGGGHHH!") for an animated adaptation, and graphical glitches rear their heads on occasion. Even so, for the most part, Cars is a step in the right direction for the much maligned genre of film-licensed video games, allowing for the oft-sought-after feel of actually inhabiting the characters from the game, while offering gameplay elements that will be pleasing to five-year-olds and 50-year-olds alike. Would that more developers with movie licenses in hand allow themselves the aspirations of THQ.

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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