Mortal Kombat: Deception

Arun Subramanian

At first, the violence ruffled feathers, but with time the uproar over violence began to focus on other games, and Mortal Kombat became increasingly irrelevant.

Publisher: Midway
Genres: Fighting
Subtitle: Deception
Price: $49.99 (Kollector's Edition $59.99)
Multimedia: Mortal Kombat
Platforms: PlayStation 2 (also available on GameCube and Xbox)
Number of players: 1-2 s
ESRB rating: Mature
Developer: Midway
US release date: 2007-07

When Street Fighter 2 was all the rage in the fighting game community, I initially paid it no mind. At that time, there was another game that had captured my fancy. It was trite, with almost no strategy. But Wrestlefest featured The Ultimate Warrior, The Legion of Doom, Ted Dibiase, and other Vince McMahon creations from the world of the WWF. As a diehard wrestling fan at the time, that was enough for me. By the time I got bored of Wrestlefest, people had been honing their Street Fighter 2 chops for months. I was left behind with no way to catch up. But the quarters stacked on the screens led me to believe that this wasn't an isolated frenzy. Surely another fighting game would come out and I could get in on the ground floor.

Some time later, a friend's older brother came home from his job at the barber shop. This was a job he adored because it was right next to an arcade. That was when I found out about Mortal Kombat. Admittedly, there was far less strategy than in Street Fighter 2. But tactics were replaced by copious amounts of blood and a style that reflected a more digitized photographic effect than the cartoon-inspired Street Fighter 2.

When Mortal Kombat 2 came out, gamers were taken by surprise. The jump from the first one was astounding. With far more playable characters, untold secrets, increased speed, and even more bloody violence, Mortal Kombat 2 eclipsed it's predecessor in every way, making a game that was much more enjoyable and had a certain amount of strategy.

The series went downhill from there. Although Mortal Kombat 3 and Ultimate Mortal Kombat were enjoyable, the strides made between the first and second installments in the series proved to set expectations too high. The third game added a run button that minimally affected matches, and Ultimate was simply a compilation of sorts with all the series combatants. By this time, too, three-dimensional fighters had started to capture that minds and quarters of arcade gamers as well. The Tekken and Virtua Fighter series' were making two-dimensional fighters seem like old news.

Midway responded by trying to take Mortal Kombat into the third dimension with Mortal Kombat 4, a game I played exactly once. It barely registered a blip on the radar of most gamers. The franchise's place in a societal context had also been altered over time. At first, the violence ruffled feathers. There was a lot of controversy when the first game hit home consoles with the revelation that while Sega would be keeping the violence intact, Nintendo would be removing the blood and gore. With time, the uproar over violence began to focus on other games, and with the release of two movies and an album, Mortal Kombat became increasingly campy and irrelevant.

Midway decided to take some time away from the series until last year's Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance. This time, the game was 3D, but also a good deal of effort went into gameplay and it was largely well-received. I only played Deadly Alliance once, but I decided that I would pay attention to the next installment, Mortal Kombat: Deception, especially when I found out that it would be playable online -- effectively resurrecting the arcade culture that had allowed the series to flourish in the first place. By and large, Deception is a mixed bag. It's a game that tries to do a bit too much with a stale concept. Certainly it has stirred some feelings of nostalgia, but having played it, I would now much prefer to be at a Mortal Kombat 2 cabinet with a friend from that era. To be sure, the matches online can be amusing if you are matched against someone of a similar skill level, and the fighting portions of the game look great. But the whole experience is somewhat shallow. There is little room for improvisation. Play is determined almost entirely by the memorization of rote combos. Moves which break combos are arbitrarily limited to three per match.

Another problem is the unlockable content system, which is carried over from Deadly Alliance. You must buy unlockable characters among other miscellaneous items in the Krypt. In Deception, the currency to do so is gained by going through Konquest mode, a third-person action/adventure that has been derided by critics as a remarkably boring experience. Plus the degree of graphical polish in the fighting portions of the game was not carried over to the Konquest mode. I resent the fact that in order to play as certain characters, I have to perform fetch-quests for people I don't care about in a graphically poor environment. A far better system would have been to emulate the arcade days of yore, and have new characters be released on a time basis, or per the number of matches that had been fought. The other two modes are a Super Puzzle Fighter clone and a chess mode. Both are amusing to a degree, but I doubt anyone would invest a good deal of time in them.

The real problem is that the entire series has always lacked depth. When the average gamer was 15, that was okay because we just wanted blood. But now there's other games that can shock us more gratuitously because of the doors that Mortal Kombat opened as a franchise. Although decapitations and impalements are present in Deception, it will almost certainly be ignored by those opposed to video game violence. They have Grand Theft Auto to worry about. I've read that Midway would like to release a new addition to the franchise every year from now on. Although I think that such a goal can only serve to help make the series relevant again, I sincerely hope that they take lessons learned from better playing 3D fighters like Soul Calibur 2 to develop a game that doesn't only remind me of the fun I used to have playing Mortal Kombat 2, but also brings depth to the series. Keep the frilly extras. Just give me a pure arcade fighting experience again.

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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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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