Reviews

Immortal Defense

L.B. Jeffries
Part of the cast of Immortal Defense

Enemies becomes friends, religions decay, and the universe you went into heaven to defend becomes unrecognizable.

Publisher: Radical Poesis
Genres: Puzzle, Action, Multimedia
Price: $23.00
Multimedia: Immortal Defense
Platforms: PC
Number of players: 1
ESRB rating: Not Rated
Developer: RinkuHero
US release date: 2007-06-02
Website
Developer website

One of the funny things about plots in video games is that the medium, in its current form, tends to lend itself to certain stories. Fantasy and science fiction aside, the average video game always has to incorporate obstacles, conflict, and struggle within the narrative. That's true of most stories, but in video games these elements are particularly palpable because generally, the player's function is interacting with those problems. Yet rarely do stories ever address the conflict itself, probably for the same reasons actors don't look directly into the camera. That's the means of connection with the video game world and to acknowledge it would be to break that bond. But the indie game Immortal Defense has managed to create a powerful story that marches right up to that element and forces the player to question everything about it. The end product is a tower defense game with one of the best stories I've ever experienced.

A tower defense game is centered around giving the player a variety of options for defending something, and then swarming them with enemies. From that perspective, the game is quite good. You set up nodes along a set path that enemy units travel upon. Each node has a variety of stats, you level them up with credits, and you get more credits by killing enemy units. There's enough variety in each node that players will be able to choose from a variety of strategies to beat each level. With a practiced eye you can tell which part of the path will slow ships down and lay a clever trap. Or, you can layer the ambushes in waves so that you don't get overwhelmed once the stronger forces arrive. Each campaign adds a layer of complexity to your strategies by throwing in multiple paths for enemy units, shifting terrain patterns, and a huge variety of enemies traveling in warp space. You can adjust the difficulty at any time, so there won't be many moments of getting stuck but plenty to occupy challenge junkies. Finally, the game manages to keep things interesting by having a boss battle at the end of each campaign that requires a totally different strategy each time. It's a unique take on the tower defense genre, and fans of it will find plenty to keep them busy here.

It should be noted that within this reimagining of tower defense games is the use of 'visual distortion' as obstacle. There's nothing as disorienting as Space Giraffe here, but be prepared for enemy units to use lens flares and blurring lights as just one of many reactions to your assaults. In a genre like tower defending, being able to see each and every unit is central to playing. The fact that the designers take advantage of that makes perfect sense, but for some people it's considered cheating and if it offends your sensibilities concerning fair play then be warned.

The story itself is that your character has been separated from his body and transformed into a path defender. You only exist in hyperspace and are able to intercept spaceships which are otherwise defenseless in this state. You leave behind your wife and unborn child for the sake of defending your home from invaders who are dead set on conquering your world. What makes the game so impressive is that it takes this scenario and flat out runs with it. The dilemma of returning to your body after you've achieved supernatural abilities. Your relationship with the mortals back on your home planet who begin to worship you as a God. And as the centuries drift by, the way history slowly gets re-written around you. Enemies becomes friends, religions decay, and the universe you went into heaven to defend becomes unrecognizable. The game handles all of these topics with deftness through a short round of dialogue before each mission. Characters often simply broadcast their prayers to you, the immortal defender, pleading for your help or asking for answers. The game even goes so far as to question your relentless destruction of life after you realize what you're doing is both wrong and meaningless.

John Thornton, the game's writer, explains in an interview, "The player can 'win' in a perfectly acceptable way by just ceasing to play in those final moments: he can set the game aside, never pick it up again, and that means that the player has come to his senses and abandoned his efforts. But that also means that the protagonist ceases to exist in any meaningful way. If the player finishes the game, it's a different kind of 'win.'

Yet because Immortal Defense opts for this existential break-down as the main theme, it ends up entering strange territory for a video game. The narrative is built around a second-person structure rather than a first-person. A second-person structure is Half-Life 2; you're Gordon Freeman, you're shooting this guy, you're happy Alyx is alive, etc. A first-person narrative would involve the character you're playing talking and having their own separate identity. Given that this is a game about becoming a divine being and questioning the very reasons you exist anymore, the choice of second-person is a problematic one. My connection with the game starts fine: whee, being a God is fun. But as the sophisticated story and events start to take me in strange directions, that connection begins to break down, and I separate my identity from the protagonist. It's me having the break-down within the game, in other words. If this were a first-person title and I were just observing the protagonist's story, the disconnect wouldn't happen because I wouldn't be thinking "I don't want to do this”. I'm just watching them act and occasionally assisting them. Instead, by using the second person, the game just makes me scratch my head and wonder why I can't cope with existence anymore. I'm not proposing the game would be better in the first person, Thornton clearly intended me to have these intense moments of reflection while playing. But at the same time, I'm not sure what to make of a game that induces them by blasting me out of the experience. Should a video game ever do this? I don't really know.

Special mention also goes to the soundtrack of the game, which was composed by one of the developer's dads. It's a haunting and evocative soundtrack that can be downloaded for free here. Several of the tunes have been stuck in my head for ages and these songs make the haunting solitude of your time in warp space all the more real for the player.

Kim Swift and Erik Wolpaw, the writers of Portal, noted in an interview that the key to putting a plot into a video game is by looking at the three variables of player, plot, and game as a delta. With the player as the basis, the game design and plot attach and come together at the top. All three forces have to be carefully managed and play tested throughout, so that the player is satisfied both with the game and how they interact with the story. Ideally, the game and story should intersect eventually in this figure. Here is a game that tempers all three variables responsibly: the player's input, the game's design, and the story's control over you. Immortal Defense, this game experience, is a fine thing, a new and wonderful thing. It pushes the boundaries of narrative in video games and it questions the very nature of the experience a game should provide. As the classy Helen Humes jazz song says when you turn on the game (lifted from the Public Domain, no less), "Where shall I go, when I go, where I go? Since you have sent me away. And what can I do, when I do, what I do?”

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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